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December 31, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, December 31, 2004

A look back at 2004 A look back at 2004 (December 31, 2004)

The year in Mountain View's headlines

By Candice Shih

In a year when the presidential election and the war in Iraq dominated headlines nationwide, Mountain View had its share of shocking, uplifting, tragic and sometimes just plain weird stories.

In 2004, the most controversial police officer was a dog, a man sued a school district to get his property tax money back, the city council passed a voluntary ordinance, the struggling day workers center divided in two, and the mayor received wide public approval in an election while being taken to court by his family.

But none of these ranked as the biggest local story of 2004. What was it? You'll have to read to the end to find out.

City News of 2004

While the Mayfield zoning fight has not been resolved, the city council put to rest several other issues.

* City leaders approved the Palo Alto Medical Foundation's plans for the former Emporium site, passed a voluntary historic preservation ordinance, demolished the old senior center, broke ground on the new efficiency studios and Graham reservoir, accepted a citywide wireless Internet proposal and made a deal with their employees, who had rallied at City Hall. The Limelight nightclub also closed after the city forced it to change its admittance policy.

* Despite intense media coverage, council members decided to keep the VIP passes to Shoreline they receive every year. And City Attorney Michael Martello was cleared of any wrongdoing in his relationship with Pamela Read, manager of Foothill Disposal, a city contractor.

* The city's budget continued to face pressure from the state and its rising employee costs. The city addressed the challenge by eliminating eight positions, increasing development and inspection fees and promoting state Proposition 1A, which passed.

School News of 2004

Public school districts faced challenges in finding the money and leadership to provide quality education for local children.

* After last year's defeat of Measure E, a $2.5 million parcel tax measure, the Mountain View-Whisman School District put Measure J before local voters. The $1.6 million measure, which costs the average homeowner $75, passed on March 2.

* Despite the victory of Measure J, the Mountain View-Whisman district is still planning to close one elementary-school campus next year.

* And attorney Aaron Katz, who lives in Saratoga but owns property in Mountain View, has sued the district, claiming the election was illegal.

* Both the Mountain View-Whisman and Los Altos school districts are searching for new superintendents. Jim Negri unexpectedly announced his resignation from the post at Mountain View-Whisman in August. Marge Gratiot is planning to retire from Los Altos at the end of this school year.


Elections of 2004

Local residents battled it out for positions in public service on the city council and school board, as well as for statewide offices, on Nov. 2.

* Mayor Matt Pear and Council member Nick Galiotto were re-elected, and newcomers Laura Macias and Tom Means were also elected, replacing two-term Council members Rosemary Stasek and Mary Lou Zoglin.

* Pear, who received the most number of votes among the candidates, was the city's top official this year, presiding over council meetings and taking leadership on local business issues. He later made headlines when his aunt and cousin sued him over his management of the family trust.

* Rose Filicetti and Carol Fisher retired from their posts on the Mountain View-Whisman school board and were replaced by Fiona Walter and RoseMary Roquero. And trustee Gloria Higgins was re-elected.

* Mountain View voters continued supporting Democratic candidates, re-electing state Assembly member Sally Lieber and electing Elaine Alquist to the state Senate.


Crime of 2004

The Mountain View police had their hands full this year, dealing with routine traffic violations and petty thefts while searching for suspects in burglary and murder cases.

* Police still have not identified suspects in the shooting death of Alejandro "Alex" Fernandez, a junior at Los Altos High School, on Rengstorff Avenue. Police suspect gang activity was a factor but have not identified any suspects.

* Local residents were given a scare but were unharmed when registered "high risk" sex offender Hector Chavez moved to Montecito Avenue in August. Under pressure from his neighbors, who feared for their safety and lowering property values, Chavez and his wife left the city in September.

* Mountain View police also made the news when a police canine bit a handcuffed man on Sept. 4 without being ordered to on and when, on Dec. 10, officers nabbed a man accused of entering girls' bedrooms at night.

* After being accused of killing a passenger near Moffett Field while driving intoxicated, Joshua Aragon pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and received a 6-year prison sentence.

* A case that began in 2002 when Seti Scanlan killed a Burlingame bank teller and shot a Mountain View police officer in the face ended when he was sentenced to 296 years in prison in September despite asking for death. Scanlan had been a Mountain View resident and a Trader Joe's employee.

* Philanthropists who wanted to donate cars for good causes were warned in May that Gary Kegel's Mountain View car lot -- which was purportedly benefiting a battered women's shelter -- was operating illegally. Although Kegel continued to insist his charity was legitimate, he said he took his business "underground."


People we lost in 2004

Some people who passed away this year in Mountain View were known by many, others by fewer. But all their losses were tragic.

* The war in Iraq was felt locally when Mountain View resident Lt. Ken Ballard was killed in small-arms fire in An-Najaf on May 30.

* Other residents died in senseless ways. Two men, Alan Liu and Jim Dein, were killed while biking. Liu's killer, Harvey Hereford, was convicted of driving drunk and manslaughter. David Espino is being prosecuted for the second-degree murder of Dein.

* Kate Wakerly was the founder of the Voice and a strong advocate of the day workers and other local causes. She died in April following a long struggle with breast cancer.


Miscellaneous News in 2004

Transitions took place throughout the city in transit, toxics, business and more.

*The day workers center split in two after disagreements over its leadership. Maria Marroquin, its previous director, continues to serve as one of the faction's leader.

* Caltrain introduced baby bullet service and reinstated weekend service in June. The Highways 85-101 interchange project continued, eliminating the Middlefield Road exit and closing the main highway for several nights.

* And while residents in northeast Mountain View have been aware of the toxic contamination that lurks underground, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency went a step further in addressing it. It began testing the amount of toxics present in homes west of Whisman Road and found an unsafe level of contamination in at least one.

* The year was a fresh start for the Community School of Music and Arts, which opened its new facility on San Antonio Circle. And it was a bitter end for local anesthesiologists who left El Camino Hospital following a contract dispute.

* But the year's biggest story that put the city in the nation's spotlight was the growth of Google. The initial public offering of the popular search engine was widely reported and made millionaires out of many local employees.

Is Google's success a bellwether of the tech economy or an aberration? We'll have to wait until 2005 to find out.

E-mail Candice Shih at [email protected]

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