Top 5 Berkeley city news events of 2016

Rachael Garner/File
A bystander livestreams the growing anti-Trump protest on UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza to Facebook. Social media played a key role in the growth of the protest in opposition of Donald Trump's election as US President on UC Berkeley's campus on Wednesday, November 9, 2016. Berkeley, Calif. (Rachael Garner/Senior Staff)

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Michael Meehan resigns as BPD chief

On Sept. 20, Berkeley Police Department Chief Michael Meehan resigned after more than six years of leadership. His resignation, effective immediately, came at a time of growing criticism from both his own officers and the Berkeley community.

In a departmental survey, BPD officers expressed their frustration that Meehan didn’t advocate enough for his staff before Berkeley City Council, with goals such as hiring more officers and obtaining Tasers. The public, on the other hand, often felt that Meehan was moving the department in a more militarized direction.

Meehan acknowledged his staff’s criticism in two internal emails he sent in August, promising to be more transparent with his department about working toward change. Merely a month later, he resigned from the department — the fourth police chief in the Bay Area to resign since May.

Although Meehan didn’t state his reasons for leaving BPD, some of his colleagues speculated he was looking into retirement.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley appointed Capt. Andrew Greenwood as acting police chief in Meehan’s stead.

— Chantelle Lee

Fire rips through Berkeley church

On Sept. 30, a three-alarm fire broke out at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church on Channing Way.

Visibility on the 2300 block of Channing Way was obscured as smoke began billowing out of the building about 12:30 p.m. By 1:50 p.m., the roof had collapsed. Sixty firefighters from the Berkeley and Oakland fire departments responded to the incident.

The fire predominantly affected the church’s office and classroom spaces, and BFD was able to prevent the spread of fire to the church’s auditorium.

The 94 children and 14 staff members of the church’s daycare were unharmed and transferred to the Berkeley City Club on Durant Avenue during the fire. In addition to fire damage, the church campus also suffered extensive water damage in its basement, library and archives. Church officials said, however, that they would continue to hold regular events, such as Sunday school.

The church held a benefit concert at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Oct. 18 and raised $15,000 for fire-related costs not covered by insurance. On Nov. 30, Berkeley City Council approved the relocation of the church’s emergency winter shelter—which was damaged in the fire—to the North Berkeley Senior Center.

— Harini Shyamsundar

Jesse Arreguin elected as city’s 1st Latino mayor

During this year’s general election, Berkeley elected Jesse Arreguin as its first Latino mayor.

After Arreguin garnered 47 percent of first-ranked votes, there were seven distributions of ranked-choice voting, leading to Arreguin’s victory with nearly 52 percent of the overall vote. Running a grassroots campaign, he defeated main opponent Laurie Capitelli, who was widely considered the race’s front runner and earned thousands of dollars more than Arreguin in campaign contributions.

Arreguin ran against a diverse pool of candidates: Capitelli, fellow City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, entrepreneur Bernt Wahl, UC Berkeley graduate student Ben Gould, community activist Zachary Runningwolf, homeless resident Guy “Mike” Lee and retired senior citizen Naomi Pete.

Arreguin ran his campaign based on advocacy for strong progressive policies and stressed building affordable housing units, increasing city resources for homelessness and further raising the minimum wage. As mayor, Arreguin also hopes to facilitate greater regional collaboration and increase the accessibility of Berkeley City Council through holding mayoral office hours and district town hall meetings.

Arreguin’s election marks Berkeley’s first change in mayoral leadership since previous mayor Tom Bates was first elected 14 years ago. Arreguin was sworn in at Old City Hall on Dec. 1.

— Jessica Lynn

Donald Trump’s election spurs massive protests

In Berkeley, Donald Trump’s election sparked four nights of large protests, during which students and community members marched through the streets — some joining Oakland protests that later became violent.

The day after the election, thousands of East Bay students from Berkeley High School, Albany High School and El Cerrito High School also marched through the streets of Berkeley and onto the UC Berkeley campus, where they flooded the area surrounding the Campanile. They peacefully gave speeches about their opposition to the president-elect.

Campus group RISE, an undocumented student advocacy group, also organized a sit-in on Sproul Plaza, protesting Trump’s proposed immigration policies.

While the first and third nights of protest in Oakland were largely peaceful, violence peaked on the second night of protests, during which an empty police car was set on fire and police deployed tear gas. Over the course of the Oakland protests, at least 41 people were arrested. One woman also sustained major injuries on the first night after she was hit by a car when protesters took to Highway 24.

The protests had largely subsided five days after Election Night on Nov. 8.

— Jessica Lynn

36 die in Oakland warehouse fire

A fire broke out in an Oakland warehouse during an electronic music event Dec. 2, killing eight people with Berkeley ties.

Among the victims were UC Berkeley juniors and roommates Jenny Morris and Vanessa Plotkin, and campus alumni David Cline and Griffin Madden. Nick Gomez-Hall, a staff member at Counterpoint Press in West Berkeley, and Chelsea Dolan, a DJ at campus radio station KALX, also died in the fire, as did Em Bohlka and Donna Kellogg, who both worked at Highwire Coffee Roasters in Berkeley.  

The fire began at the “Ghost Ship” warehouse about 11:15 p.m. and took four hours to extinguish. As the fire raged, the roof of the building collapsed.

The high death toll of the event, reaching 36, has been attributed to the warehouse’s several alleged code violations, including a lack of proper exits.

Oakland’s city planning department had opened an investigation into reports of garbage accumulation Nov. 13 and later confirmed the reports, according to Darin Ranelletti, Oakland’s director of planning and building.

The tragedy raised concerns that artists had been forced to live in unsafe structures to afford housing in the Bay Area. At a Dec. 5 vigil, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin pledged to expand safe housing for artists.

— Jessica Lynn

Contact the news desk at [email protected].

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