Top 10 stories of 2017: Picnic Day brawl tops the list

Headline-grabbers

1. Picnic Day brawl: Police and civilians got into a nasty fight, with both sides saying the other started it
2. Mosque vandalism: A Davis resident broke windows and bicycles at a local mosque after she became radicalized
3. UCD welcomes new chancellor: Gary May became the seventh leader of UC Davis
4. Imam sermon, apology: Imam Ammar Shahin used the word “filth” to describe Jews and called for their annihilation
5. Fathers on trial: Three area men were charged or accused in the deaths of their young children
6. Housing crisis: Some relief is on the horizon as apartment complexes are being built
7. Teacher pay: Davis teachers want to bridge the compensation gap that exists in comparable districts
8. Trackside Center: Infill project near downtown shopping, transit overcomes neighborhood opposition
9. Downtown changes: Some treasured local businesses have relocated, downsized and closed
10. Legal cannabis: A dozen applicants hope to sell it in Davis when it becomes legal next year

In most cities, crime stories are read more than any other; this is true for Davis as well. But that doesn’t mean the only stories worth knowing about are related to police investigations or trials.

Sure, Davis saw its share of those kinds of stories become major news in 2017 — murders, melees and mosque defacement all made the list of the top 10 stories of the year, as selected by The Enterprise reporters, editors and photographers.

But issues about where and how our town will grow, what businesses are thriving and which are leaving, and how Davis will manage cannabis when it becomes legal in California next year also have earned spots among the most year’s newsworthy.

Also making news is the arrival of UC Davis’ seventh chancellor, Gary May. His steady hand has been a welcome shift after a tumultuous period at the university following former Chancellor Linda Katehi’s resignation in 2016.

The Enterprise news staff presents the top 10 of this past year:

1. Picnic Day brawl: Picnic Day 2017 went down as one of the city’s most volatile on record following a brawl on Russell Boulevard between a group of civilians who were partially blocking the roadway and three plain-clothed police officers who had pulled over in an unmarked van to move them.

Each side accused the other of starting the melee, which was filmed by a passing motorist’s dashboard camera and resulted in the arrests of five African-American and Latino people who accused the officers of racial profiling and excessive force. Two officers sustained head injuries during the incident.

Dubbed the “Picnic Day 5,” the defendants charged in connection with the brawl made plea deals in August and early September, admitting to misdemeanor battery charges as well as felony resisting-arrest counts that will be dismissed if they successfully complete one year of probation.

The incident triggered an internal-affairs investigation into the officers’ actions, which set off a new round of controversy when the first person selected to conduct the investigation, former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, claimed on his radio show that African-Americans were better off before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

McGinness withdrew from the probe amid the outcry and was replaced by former U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott. That investigation is complete, but the findings are yet to be released to the public. An announcement is tentatively set for later this week.

Local residents also aired demands for a stronger police oversight program in response to the incident, prompting the city to hire two outside consultants to gather input from various stakeholders and issue recommendations as to which oversight format would best suit the community’s needs.

A series of public meetings to solicit that input began in early December, with a final report expected to be delivered to the City Council by April 30.

2. Islamic Center vandalism: The Davis community was stunned when a vandal was caught on surveillance video smashing windows, damaging bicycles and draping raw bacon on door handles at the Islamic Center of Davis on Russell Boulevard during the early hours of Jan. 22.

Three weeks later, Davis police and the FBI announced an arrest — Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, a Davis High School and UC Berkeley graduate whose bail was increased to $1 million in light of her social media posts in which she expressed “dreams and aspirations of killing people,” glorified Charleston, S.C., church shooter Dylann Roof and made racially charged comments — radical beliefs that filled an emotional void, a psychiatrist later concluded.

Charged with vandalism and committing a hate crime, Kirk-Coehlo ultimately pleaded guilty to all counts and was sentenced to five years’ probation, community service and counseling, a punishment mosque leaders decried as too lenient. Court reviews in August and December revealed that Kirk-Coehlo has complied with all of her probation terms but is having trouble finding employment.

3. Welcome, Chancellor Gary May: A new leader of a university is always news, but Gary May’s arrival was eagerly awaited since it came on the heels of a fairly dramatic end to his predecessor’s term as chancellor.

After seven years at the helm, Linda Katehi resigned in August 2016 after an independent investigation commissioned by the UC Office of the President found that the chancellor had “exercised poor judgment, not been candid with university leadership, and violated multiple university policies.”

May, 53, spent nearly three decades at Georgia Institute of Technology, where he served as dean of the College of Engineering for the past five years. He has said of his new university, “I don’t think the story (of UCD) has been told well nationally,” and he has been on a listening tour of campus, the community and Sacramento.

Speaking of Sacramento, one of May’s primary stated goals is to better engage UCD with the state’s capital, and he has been working on a new university-wide strategic plan. May, an avid “Star Trek” fan, has named that plan “To Boldly Go.”

4. Imam sermon/apology: Controversy returned to the Islamic Center in July, when Imam Ammar Shahin delivered a sermon — a video of which was posted online by the Middle East Media Research Institute and translated from Arabic to English — in which he used the word “filth” to describe Jews and called for their annihilation.

The sermon was in response to the shootings of two police officers at the Mosque Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and subsequent security measures that angered the Muslim community there.

Davis mosque leaders initially claimed Shahin’s comments were mistranslated and taken out of context, but Shahin later delivered a public apology in which he acknowledged that his words were hurtful and pledged to increase his interfaith activity.

Local community and religious leaders accepted Shahin’s apology and urged him to back up his words with actions, but some say that has yet to be forthcoming and continue to call for his resignation.

5. Fathers on trial: 2017 saw three criminal cases in which Yolo County fathers were arrested in connection with the deaths of their own children: Frank Rees, charged with involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment for his role in the 2015 of his infant son Justice Rees; Robert Hodges, accused in September of asphyxiating his three children, Kelvin, 11; Julie, 9; and Lucas, 7 months, as well as attempting to kill his wife Mai Sheng in West Sacramento over purported financial troubles; and Markeese Carter, charged with the November drugging and drowning of his 4-year-old daughter Aminatu-Amaya Abdul-Raafi in Putah Creek in Winters.

Carter has been ordered to stand trial on murder and sexual assault charges, Rees made a plea deal that resulted in a six-year prison sentence, and Hodges recently pleaded guilty to all the charges against him in order to avoid the death penalty. He’ll be sentenced on Jan. 19.

6. Davis’ housing crisis: The city’s airtight rental housing market soon may ease up a bit, with City Council approval of 570 single-occupancy bedrooms for students in the Sterling Fifth Street Apartments project, on the site of the former EMQ FamiliesFirst complex.

The Lincoln40 student apartment project on Olive Drive is making its way through the city approval process, and UCD has announced a developer for the former Orchard Park student family housing site on campus, near Highway 113.

And the Nishi developers are back with a proposal to build 650 apartments that would house 2,600 students on the wedge of land sandwiched between Interstate 80 and the UCD campus. Davis voters would have to approve that project, if it makes it through the city approval process. A previous project proposed for Nishi, which featured research-and-development space for university startup companies as well as housing — failed at the ballot box in June 2016.

Lastly, city officials are pressing for more on-campus student housing than is envisioned in the campus’ Long-Range Development Plan.

7. Davis teachers are restive: Davis teachers pressed the school board repeatedly this fall to raise their salaries and improve their benefits package to be on par with the salaries and benefits offered at other nearby school districts.

Teachers staged demonstrations at school board meetings displaying black balloons (signifying teachers who had left for other districts or other careers) and other similar tactics. Dianna Huculak, president of the Davis Teachers Association, has been reminding trustees of the teachers’ concerns at every school board meeting since summer.

The school district doesn’t dispute that there is a compensation gap between Davis and other nearby districts. Davis has comparatively fewer students who are English learners or who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals; this equates to Davis receiving less of the supplemental funding for the education of these students than other nearby districts get.

Superintendent John Bowes announced in December that he had helped negotiate an agreement with other Yolo County education agencies that will bring Davis an additional $700,000 in revenue for special education next year, and $900,000 more annually for special ed in subsequent years.

That might put the district in a more flexible position to address the teachers’ concerns. Trustees also will study the possibility of proposing a parcel tax to improve teachers’ salaries and benefits.

8. Trackside Center: The proposed mixed-use densification redevelopment just east of downtown drew the opposition of neighbors who are concerned about the size and scale of the project and its impact on the Old East Davis neighborhood.

Developers — 40 local investors — reduced the size of the building but opposition remained. Nevertheless, the Davis City Council approved the project on a 4-1 vote in November.

The project, located just east of the railroad tracks on Third Street, will be home to 27 apartments and 8,950 square feet of retail space at completion. Neighbors have sued the city, however, on environmental grounds.

9. Downtown changes: It was another year of comings and goings in downtown Davis. Early in the year, Watermelon Music left its longtime downtown location for new digs in West Davis, and Whole Foods closed its store at the Davis Commons shopping center.

Jennifer Anderson, president of Davis Ace, announced that she was “right-sizing” her store and rebranding the popular housewares department as Cookery & Company.

Philz Coffee has been remodeling the former DeLuna Jewelers site at Second and E streets, with an opening coming soon, and Caffé Italia closed its doors on Richards Boulevard after 35 years to make way for a new hotel and conference space.

Longtime Fleet Feet owners J.D. and Chris Denton sold their store to Sacramento Fleet Feet retailers, who will continue to operate the store on Second Street.

Parking — or more specifically — lack thereof, remains a challenge for all downtown retailers and restaurateurs.

10. Legal cannabis: Few issues have taken up the time of local elected officials as much as cannabis did in 2017.

With recreational cannabis use becoming legal in 2018, the City Council has been focused on who can sell in Davis and where. A dozen applicants are seeking to open dispensaries in Davis and the City Council early next year will select four of them to open up shop in town.

Meanwhile, how revenue raised from legal cannabis — both from taxes and a community impact fund — will be spent continues to be a focus of the council. At the same time, medical cannabis remains a vexing issue for Yolo County, with commercial cultivation a frequent topic of discussion among county supervisors.

For more than a year, permitted businesses have been growing medical cannabis on up to one acre in unincorporated areas of the county (all commercial activity related to recreational cannabis remains banned) but the future of the industry locally remains in doubt.

County supervisors have been divided over how much to regulate and tax the industry. The board placed a poison pill in the interim ordinance on medical cannabis cultivation requiring voters to approve a tax on cannabis in June or the entire ordinance allowing cultivation will sunset. However, supervisors themselves have been unable to agree on a tax measure thus far.

As well, Davis residents plan to circulate a petition for signatures that would require the county to treat cannabis like any other agricultural product.

Other stories of note:

* Aggie athletics: That seismic reading you’ve felt in the community has been centered in the athletic department at UC Davis. Among the significant 2017 happenings in Aggie Nation were the men’s basketball program making it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and winning a first-round contest. At the same time, the women’s squad, a Big West Conference regular-season champion, advanced to the Sweet 16 of the WNIT.

There were big changes in the UCD football program, too. With the addition of former Aggie fullback Dan Hawkins as head coach and the breakout season of All-American wide receiver Keelan Doss, Aggie fans had lots to cheer about. (See top sports stories of the year, Page B1.)

* City Council race: With two City Council seats open in June, and incumbents Robb Davis and Rochelle Swanson staying out, the race is wide-open. Seven people have entered the contest, and more candidates could be coming.

* Nishi 2.0: Just a year after a close loss at the polls, local developers revive their plans for the Nishi property, proposing 650 apartments that would house 2,600 students. This time, there is no research-and-development space envisioned in the project. If the City Council approves the project in the new year, it will go on the June ballot for another vote of the people.

* Hotels face opposition: New hotel projects faced a gauntlet of opposition in 2017. A Hyatt House extended-stay hotel approved for Cowell Boulevard was sued by a citizens group, the Davis Smart Growth Alliance, whose membership includes another local hotelier. Burrowing owl supporters sued to block construction of a Marriott Residence Inn near the Target store and developers of the Embassy Suites hotel at Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive significantly scaled back their plans after a citizens group filed a lawsuit.

* #Me Too: The national reckoning over sexual misconduct empowers a UCD administrator to accuse a UCD emeritus music professor of sexual assault and rape, stemming from incidents that took place approximately 30 years ago. Danny Gray, 50, who is the director of academic employment and labor relations in the UCD Office of Academic Affairs, drafted a lengthy statement naming D. Kern Holoman, 70, as his attacker when Gray was an undergraduate student at UCD in the late 1980s.

— Enterprise staff writers Lauren Keene, Jeff Hudson and Anne Ternus-Bellamy contributed to this report.

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