The year began with a puff of smoke as California’s legalization of recreational cannabis use went into effect on Jan. 1. Everyone from cardholders to newbies and recidivists lined up outside of pot shops all over San Jose—the only South Bay city to allow dispensaries.
Even those who don’t indulge in the devil’s lettuce could be forgiven for wondering whether they were in the grips of some kind of terrible trip. Paranoia and the kind of magical thinking many of us engaged in while listening to Pink Floyd in our freshman dorm rooms seemed to be the norm in 2018.
Over the course of these past 12 months, it has become painfully clear just how much influence social media has over our daily lives. January began with Facebook introducing major algorithm changes. In an effort to combat the proliferation of fake news and foreign influence campaigns, the social network de-emphasized all news—effectively emphasizing your crazy uncle’s meme rampages and your ex-lover’s vaguebooking.
And it’s only gotten worse from there, as continued revelations of tech giants playing fast and loose with our personal data have continued to surface. Google even tried to build a search engine for China, codenamed “Dragonfly,” that, according to The Intercept, would require logins before searching, track user locations and archive personal search histories with a Chinese partner that would have “unilateral access” to the data. Google CEO described the initiative as “early stage” since only 215 employees, according to an internal memo that Google ordered recipients to delete, were working full-time on Dragonfly.
And then there’s Elon Musk. The man behind everyone’s favorite electric car and those awesome reusable rockets started the year by shooting a Tesla Roadster into space. He proceeded to make headlines by smoking a blunt on Joe Rogan’s podcast, beefing with rapper Azealia Banks on Twitter, messing with global markets through a series of erratic tweets, planning to go to Burning Man with girlfriend and electronic music composer Grimes, then announcing he would not go to Burning Man on account of an SEC investigation into whether he had misled investors. In September he accepted a $20 million handslap but was redeemed for all his craziness when the Model 3 started breaking sales and safety records.
Beyond the foibles of the tech industry, there was plenty more to shake our heads about. The #MeToo movement took down Dominic Caserta; a subcontractor working on a downtown development used slave labor to erect a pair of highrises; and Stanford University researcher and psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford stood up to the now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by recounting her memories of a high school party where she says he forcibly groped her.
Boxy apartments sprouted on the former sites that once gave the valley its character, San Jose lost two more hardware stores, Lowe’s and Orchard Supply. Someone even stole the freakin’ old neon sign! Now, where are people going to buy blue tarps to live under?
Oh, and electric scooters absolutely took over Silicon Valley.
It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. This final Metro Silicon Valley issue of the year is all about looking back on all the strange, infuriating and preposterous things that went down in 2018 and saying, “Sayonara!”
Weed the People
Californians rang in the New Year by standing in long lines to buy legal weed—no medical card required. It took more than a year to implement, but Prop. 66, passed by voters in 2016, ushered in a new era by expanding access to anyone over the age of 21 and replacing the longstanding nonprofit requirement with a new corporate model.
San Jose City Hall booted a marble statue of Christopher Columbus. Public pressure from indigenous and Latino activists was cited, but truth was, the oversized tchotchke matched grandma Carmella’s living room better than the modernist municipal building designed by pervy architect Richard Meier. The tribute to the European colonizer was gifted to the city decades ago by a local Italian-American club, which volunteered to find a new piazza for the polarizing monument.
After resigning as Milpitas city manager for allegedly misspending taxpayer money to cover his personal legal battles, Tom Williams had no problem finding well-paying jobs, thanks to a little help from his friends. He worked as a private land-use consultant while shopping around for another public sector gig, which he finally landed in his hometown of Millbrae despite his reputation.
Folks who donated to the bond campaign under John Lindner’s purview were shocked to learn that the Franklin-McKinley School District trustee had been spending it to remodel his home and jet-set with his family, among other things. As a condition of his plea deal, Lindner relinquished his post and agreed to pay back $18,550—more than $10,000 short of the sum he stole.
McCormick & Schmick’s, the upmarket seafood and steak house at the San Jose Fairmont, got temporarily shuttered by health inspectors who found vermin and other ickyness in the kitchen.
Once one of the country’s largest daily papers, the Mercury News got battered by more layoffs as part of cost-cuts campaign by its mansion-buying hedge fund overlords. The cuts came on the heels of a Pulitzer win for the Merc’s regional chain’s coverage of the deadly Ghost Ship Fire.
Winchester Goes Hollywood
San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House, a Victorian mansion rendered long ago into an architectural oddity by a rich widow’s paranoia, made its big-screen debut. The horror flick starring Helen Mirren as the titular heir of the Winchester rifle fortune was forgettable, but it sparked renewed interest in the legend of Sarah Winchester and her stranger-than-fiction mystery home.
Mummy’s the Word
An enterprising East Palo Alto resident tracked down the guy who burglarized his home by matching surveillance footage to the suspect’s music videos. For Victor Bell, a 24-year-old Redwood City rapper known as Mummy 500, life apparently inspired his art. Police say Bell, who was already on parole for residential burglary, rapped about breaking down doors and making off with stolen goods. They arrested him when he showed up to a meeting with his parole officer wearing jewelry from both burglaries.
It was a scandal of epic proportions with profound implications for democracy in the digital age. When the Guardian broke news that the Cambridge Analytica firm misused data of scores of millions of Facebook users, it sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S., it raised questions about the effect of voter manipulation on Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency. Across the pond, it set off state-led inquiries into its sway on public support for Brexit.
Capping off a stunning downfall for Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission accused her blood-testing startup of tricking investors by lying about everything from how the technology worked to how much revenue it was raking in. The federal complaint cemented the legacy of Theranos—and its once-high-flying CEO—as the latest cautionary tale of Silicon Valley hype and hubris.
As allegations of mishandled sexual abuse claims began to mount against Presentation High, patrons responded by more than doubling their donations to the embattled parochial school. Alumnae director Kristin Cooke Schneider boasted about the cash haul, saying support has “never been stronger” and that community members “have a positive shared experience, and they sent that message loud and clear.” They sent a message, all right, and it didn’t sit well with the former students accusing the school of ignoring their claims of sexual misconduct.
ICE to Meet You
Bay Area counties pride themselves on their “sanctuary” policies, which basically forbid local authorities from automatically cooperating with federal immigration agents. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, however, managed to gain entry into local jails. San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy apologized and Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith called it “a mistake.”
This year, speculators got hot on Bitcoin before losing their shirts. Reports of people betting the farm on the new cryptocurrency made headlines and then … the bottom fell out. But 2018 also marked the year that people really started paying attention to blockchain. It’s still unclear if there is a future for cryptocurrency, but plenty of Silicon Valley thinkers believe that blockchain technology—Bitcoin’s foundation—will be a game-changer. By decentralizing and encrypting data, it will make the world a better place. Now, where have we heard that before?
Fund and Games
A Nonprofit Quarterly investigation into sexual harassment at the billion-dollar Silicon Valley Community Foundation rocked the donor-advised fund manager to its core. Revelations that one of its top fundraisers, the magnetic Mari Ellen Loijens, would bully or sexually harass her subordinates led to a brutal public reckoning that resulted in her departure along with that of CEO Emmett Carson.
One of Silicon Valley’s stodgiest law firm’s decided to cash in on cannabis. Hopkins & Carley attorneys Chuck Reed—who as San Jose mayor initially took a hard line of marijuana decriminalization—and colleague Mark Heyl spearheaded the firm’s fledgling cannabis practice.
Santa Clara Councilman Dominic Caserta faced allegations of nearly two decades of sexually harassing, bullying or groping girls and women, including a report that he wore nothing more than a bath towel around campaign workers. During his campaign for a Santa Clara County supervisor seat, two young campaign staffers came to Metro/San Jose Inside to expose his misconduct, prompting Caserta to resign from the council, suspend his campaign and otherwise withdraw from public life.
Oh, the Caucasity
Campbell Union High trustee Matthew Dean thought he’d school some teens by whitesplaining how to toughen up in the face of adversity—even if they’re called the N-word by a peer. The two-term schools official and former Campbell mayor used a parable about fat-shaming his son to illustrate how kids need to find the “diamond” in demeaning insults hurled their way. One 17-year-old recipient of Dean’s wisdom begged to differ. “When you’re called the N-word, there’s no diamond in that,” Muskaan Sandu said. “There is danger in that.” Dean opted against running for re-election.
Dopesmoker, by San Jose stoner metal trio Sleep, is arguably the most ambitious metal album of all time. The hour-long single track takes everything heavy from the genre, slows it down by about a hundred beats per minute, and creates something so earthshaking it approaches biblical proportions. More than two decades after their initial breakup, Sleep returned, releasing The Sciences on April 20 (natch). The album has garnered high critical praise and serves as the soundtrack to many a smoke sesh.
Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara County judge who became the face of rape culture after sentencing Stanford rapist Brock Turner to mere months in jail, got democratically ousted from the bench, despite opposition from a local legal community that feared it would chill the bench’s independence. It marked the first successful judicial recall in California in nearly nine decades.
The Don Elevator
Don Morrissey’s professional descent from lieutenant to sergeant and then deputy was no secret at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office or in the ranks of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association he presided over as president. But the details that led to him losing his sergeant stripes didn’t become public until he appealed his demotion using his union’s funds. Records appended to his court petition offered a rare glimpse into the law enforcement disciplinary process, which is far more opaque in California than most other states, and cost Morrissey’s political allies—like sheriff hopeful John Hirokawa—dearly.
On Oct. 12, 1974, 19-year-old newlywed Arlis Perry was found slain at the altar of the Stanford Memorial Church. Someone had rammed an icepick through her skull and violated her with church candles. Semen was found on a nearby kneeler and a palm print was imprinted on one of the candles, but it wasn’t enough to catch the killer, so the case went cold for 43 years. In June of 2018, investigators found evidence pointing to Stephen Crawford, the campus security guard who told cops he discovered the body the morning after the murder. But just as police were closing in on his San Jose apartment, Crawford picked up a gun and took his own life.
Smartphone, Dumb Robber
A teenager breaking into a Palo Alto home blew his cover when he woke up the couple who lived there to ask them for the WiFi password.
The Mad Flasher
A butt-naked cyclist hauling ass down Highway 101 slowed traffic as rubberneckers tried to memorialize the brazen commuter with cellphone pics, some of which went viral. The same guy was spotted earlier in the day sans clothes outside a local massage parlor. San Jose police eventually caught up to the guy, who was sent to the hospital instead of jail.
Tales from the Encrypt
The human toll of misinformation became painfully clear when residents of a rural Indian town of Rainpada near Mumbai, India saw videos on WhatsApp warning of outsiders abducting children. They they beat five strangers to death and authorities were unable to trace the source of the videos. A spokesperson for Facebook-owned WhatsApp told BuzzFeed News “We believe that building ‘traceability’ into WhatsApp would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp. … WhatsApp remains committed to working with others in society on the challenge of misinformation though we will not weaken the privacy protections we provide.”
Blocked and Banished
It started with Apple halting distribution of Alex Jones’ podcasts, but the other major social media platforms quickly followed suit. YouTube terminated his channel. Facebook deactivated four of his pages. Spotify pulled all his programming for “hate content.” Twitter took its sweet time but finally caved, excommunicating the controversial media figure who turned fear-mongering into a cash cow, and arguably provoked actual violence such as the shooting inspired by his “pizzagate” conspiracy theory about politically connected pedophiles.
A tiff between a rancher and a landowner in South County escalated into a Wild West caricature that left a bunch of cattle carcasses riddled with bullet holes and resulted in the alleged gunslinger’s arrest on animal cruelty charges.
Mural of the Story
For more than three decades, “Mural de la Raza” captivated onlookers with its detailed tapestry of Chicano culture and civil rights history. The artist, Jose Mesa Velasquez, created the painting on the side of the old Payless ShoeSource building in San Jose’s East Side with help from a local community center. The beloved mural mysteriously vanished one night—that is, all but for the face of the Virgin de Guadalupe—prompting a public outcry. The artist wound up suing the landlord, claiming the new property owner broke the law by neglecting to tell him about the planned cover-up.
Beth Laurine, the interim head of San Jose Regional Hospital’s emergency department, ranted her way out of a job by railing against “dirty illegals” on her then-public Facebook page. The nurse, who hailed from a Pennsylvania suburb, then tried to blame the messenger for her inability to find a job after outing herself as an apparent xenophobe.
A subcontractor working on the twin high-rise Silvery Towers in downtown San Jose had to pay a six-figure settlement and face criminal charges for apparently enslaving workers. Federal investigators say Nobilis Construction CEO Job Torres Hernandez, who was hired by high-rise developers Full Power Properties, required undocumented Mexican immigrants to work tortuously long hours by day and sleep in squalid shipping containers by night. Legal observers called it the most egregious labor trafficking case in recent memory, and it earned the glistening skyrise across from San Pedro Square a new nickname: Slavery Towers.
It’s an old con, but with a digital twist. A snail-mailed letter threatens to expose some deep, dark secret unless the recipient coughs up a small fortune in Bitcoin to keep it hush-hush. Apparently someone thought they’d cast their net among affluent Silicon Valley denizens with guilty consciences and money to burn. It’s unclear how many fell for the scam, but the Santa Clara County District Attorney issued a PSA of sorts to caution people against taking the bait.
Book of Jobs
Apologists for Steve Jobs love to talk about the late Apple co-founder’s charisma, intellect and uncanny ability to be right. In a heartbreaking memoir, Small Fry, Lisa Brennan-Jobs forced the world to confront her father’s dark side. He refused to install heat in her bedroom, denied that the Apple Lisa was her namesake and on his deathbed told her she smelled “like a toilet.” But even Brennan-Jobs, whose paternity her father denied though a DNA match confirmed it, says she forgives him.
It may pale compared to his other missteps—which include calling a rescue diver a pedophile, abandoning his post as Tesla chairman and making headlines with his weird, erratic tweets—Elon Musk’s toke on Joe Rogan’s podcast became the billionaire’s most most-memed foible of 2018. It also drew a very public rebuke from the U.S. Air Force and prompted an investigation by NASA.
Menlo Park gynecologist James William McCarrick allegedly found his job so arousing that state regulators are trying to revoke his license. According to the California Medical Board, Dr. McCarrick got carried away with his infatuation for a young patient he’d bombard with dick pics and cringey sexts between hook-up sessions.
While local officials quibbled over the when, where and how much of temporary homeless shelters, a group of activists chose to ask for forgiveness instead of permission. Hope Village sprang up on a vacant state-owned lot in San Jose as an act of civil disobedience, a way to show the city what an organized homeless camp could look like. Though the site was forced to relocate, the media attention forced local politicos to lend a hand by finding a new spot for the experiment and finding money to someday scale out.
Jennifer Chang played a long con during her time as accountant for the city of Cupertino. Prosecutors say the former civil servant stole a combined $790,000 from taxpayers by cashing fraudulent checks over the span of 14 years.
Hidden inside a cave in Israel, Stanford researchers discovered the earliest-known beer-making operation, which appears to predate cultivation of the first cereals. The 13,000-year-old brewery suggests that our ancestors learned how to ferment grains before figuring out how to bake them.
That’s What She Said
Christine Blasey Ford stood before the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth. The unassuming Palo Alto University psychology professor then recounted what she could about the night 36 years prior when she said then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh sexually assaulted her. By the end of the four-hour hearing, Blasey Ford had proven herself as a believable witness. Kavanagh was nonetheless confirmed to a lifetime judicial appointment.
Jimmy Oh, Geez!
This was supposed to be the year. Things were looking up for the 49ers after the team snagged Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots halfway through last season. The rising star closed out the year by winning every game he played. It appeared that the storied franchise of Joe Montana and Steve Young might finally have a team that could justify the construction of Levi’s Stadium. Then Garoppolo, who fans had been calling Jimmy Gesus, tore his ACL in the third game of the 2018-19 season. There’s always next year.
Paint the Crown Red
Silicon Valley’s ties to Saudi Arabia came under renewed scrutiny after the brutal slaying of WashPo journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder the CIA would later pin on the kingdom’s Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. The Saudi royal famously hobnobs with Silicon Valley elites while SoftBank—the largest tech investment fund on the planet—pumped billions of Saudi dollars into U.S. startups, including a host of them in the Peninsula, South Bay and the rest of the Bay Area.
Well, That’s Settled
San Jose ended its practice of using cute undercover cops to honey-trap gay men by public park lavatories back in 2016. But a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from the discriminatory enforcement lasted another two years. The settlement hammered out between SJPD and the plaintiffs’ self-described “toilet lawyer” Bruce Nickerson won six-figure payouts for several of the wrongfully arrested men. But bigger still, it grants Nickerson access to arrest records so he could find other gay men victimized by the agency’s enforcement.
Let Us Prey
The latest wave of accountability for deviant priests prompted the San Jose Diocese to release the names of 15 clergy members “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children. But the move came ahead of a more consequential announcement from the California Attorney General’s Office, which announced that—for the first time ever—state prosecutors would investigate the Catholic Church for the sins of its fathers.
Tran of Attack
There’s never a dull moment with Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran, whose foray into office involved a plagiarized Obama speech and cribbed Jay-Z apology followed by repeated pronouncements about his aspirations to “go viral.” In the lead-up to his re-election, Tran’s political foes tried to paint the mayor as something worse: a communist, an awkward hugger and an offbeat rapper. By year’s end he announced a run for Santa Clara County supervisor, potentially against Councilman Anthony Phan—the guy who admittedly created the communist-flag mailer.
Goat Outta Here
A livestock rustler made off with a herd of 60 goats—all of them preggers—right after Turkey Day. The incident made for some snarky headlines, but it was no joke to Brian Allen, the Morgan Hill landscaper who relied on them for his landscaping business.
Sign of the Times
In another mysterious theft that grabbed South Bay headlines, someone pilfered the big illuminated Orchard Supply Hardware sign from the site of the original San Jose store off of San Carlos. The property owners filed a police report, and as of press time, the sign had yet to be located.
California Highway Patrol officers became suspicious when a Tesla driving at 70 mph around 3:40a, on U.S 101 didn’t respond to lights and sirens. Los Altos Planning Commission chair Alexander Samek, 45, turned out to be asleep at the wheel. Officers pulled in front of the autopiloted vehicle to slow it to a stop and arrested Samek for driving—or not driving—under the influence.
Sealed documents from an old lawsuit by a defunct app became an unlikely thorn in the side for Facebook, which was already reeling from a year of damaging exposure that began with the gut-punch that was the Cambridge Analytica scandal. A 2015 complaint filed by Six4Three over a bikini photo-finding app called Pikini made headlines this fall when the U.K. government acquired sensitive records as part of an inquiry into #FakeNews. The trove of questionably acquired data suggested that Facebook considered selling user data prior to 2014—something the social media giant has denied doing.
Making Up for Lost Time
The S.F. 49ers gave the star treatment to a fan who’d been wrongfully imprisoned for 20 years for a murder he didn’t commit. The team flew Malcolm Scott and his brother out to a game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where they reportedly rolled out the red carpet for him, offering a tour of the venue, a chance to meet the team’s GM John Lynch and one of his all-time favorite players, linebacker Keena Turner.
The Google Effect
Google’s plans to build a new headquarters in downtown San Jose cleared a critical hurdle when the city sold more than 10 acres of public land to the search and advertising giant. That’s a small fraction of the development footprint, which is expected to transform 50-plus acres around the Diridon Station into a dense urban hub of offices, shops, eateries and public plazas linked by pathways and adorned with public heart. It’s a dream come true for business boosters, but a source of anxiety for residents who fear the new corporate neighbor will exacerbate already exorbitant housing costs.
Annual holiday culture wars and the ongoing #MeToo reckoning ignited debate about whether radio stations should play the 74-year-old Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Throughout the U.S., several radio stations pulled the song off the air, igniting heated debates on TV news and social media. San Francisco radio station KOIT initially yanked the 1940s duet for its predatory undertones. But uproar from listeners prompted the station to change its mind.
New Feature Request
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo gave electric scooter companies an ultimatum: Get off the sidewalks or split. The mayor advised Bird, Lime and other scooter startups to come up with a geo-fencing feature to prevent riders from traveling along sidewalks. Otherwise, he threatened to ban them outright.
> It was a scandal of epic proportions with profound implications for democracy in the digital age. When the Guardian broke news that the Cambridge Analytica firm misused data of scores of millions of Facebook users, it sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S., it raised questions about the effect of voter manipulation on Donald Trump’s ascendance to the presidency.
Fortunately for California Democrats, the Cambridge Analytica scandal RAISED NO CONCERNS WHATSOEVER among Republican moguls about Governor Brown’s signature legislation AB1921, “ballot harvesting”, and the Miracle of Orange County where six GOP House seats flipped to the Democrats.
Far from sparking any outrage, or thinking of it as a scandal with profound implications for democracy, Republicans just watched with bemused fascination while bushels of absentee ballots cast by dead (Democrat) people were transported to the vote counting centers by private (Democrat activist) groups.