FAIRFIELD — America’s economy may be improving, but local governments found 2012 to be one big, fiscal headache – and the biggest local story of 2012, as chosen by the Daily Republic staff.
California dissolved redevelopment agencies in February, depriving cities of a key revenue source. Fairfield in April declared a state of fiscal emergency and shut down its downtown theater. With the city teetering on its own version of a fiscal cliff, City Councilman John Mraz declared it had one foot on a banana peel.
Cities looked at different ways to keep programs going. Voters in Fairfield, Rio Vista and Vacaville in November approved sales-tax increases. A nonprofit group stepped forward to run Fairfield’s downtown theater. Suisun City allowed the sale of fireworks for the first time in years to raise money for the city’s July 4 fireworks show.
Meanwhile, Solano County continued to use savings to cover a structural deficit. It also looked for ways to deal with a state realignment program that sent more former state prison inmates to the county, part of a state effort to ease its own budget and prison overcrowding problems. California voters in November passed Proposition 30, a statewide sales tax increase, likely sparing the county of more trickle-down budget cuts from the state.
All of this set the stage for 2013, when local governments hope to see some improvements in the local economy that would also boost their own fiscal fortunes. But nobody predicted the local economy would suddenly start going gangbusters.
“I see gradual improvement,” Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn said.
The rest of the top 10 stories of 2012:
It was a bloody start of 2012 for Fairfield with eight homicides in the first four months of the year.
Quincy Quinney, 26, of Suisun City, was the city’s first homicide victim of 2012. He was shot and killed Jan. 7 late at night at an apartment complex at 2000 Clay Bank Road. No suspects have been named.
Jesus Amaya, 20, of Fairfield, was shot and killed shortly before midnight Feb. 1 in what Fairfield police have said was a gang-related shooting on Hayes Street. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Miguel Bastida, 18, and Adam Vasquez, 21, are awaiting trial. Vasquez’s brother, Mario Vasquez, 20, the suspected shooter, remains at large.
The city’s third and fourth homicides occurred during a marijuana deal gone bad at the Parkway Gardens town houses. Vedell Jamar Chew, 24, and Bernard Francis Knight, 18, died at the scene. Marcel Rutherford-Chew, 18, is awaiting a probable cause hearing on murder charges.
Clarence James, 47, of Fairfield, was shot March 12 in front of a home on Hayes Street. A few weeks later Cheynah Watson, 19, was found stabbed to death the morning of March 31 behind a home on Fourth Street. Warren H. Sloan III, 41, is accused of both killings. He is in custody awaiting criminal proceedings.
The seventh victim of violent crime was Tyrone A. Lacy, 29, of Suisun City, who was shot and killed April 11 after a fight at Perk’s Bar and Grill on Parker Road. The suspect in the shooting, Alejandro Leon, 24, of Fairfield, remains at large.
The city’s eighth homicide of the year was the result of an April 23 officer-involved shooting on the 700 block of Gold Coast Drive that left 51-year-old Robert J. McMullan dead. McMullan was shot as he and the officer struggled in the foyer of McMullan’s home.
The surge in homicides did not portend to a trend for the rest of the year. 2012 will likely end with a total of nine homicides.
Keshia Baker was a track star at Fairfield High School before graduating in 2006, but that was nothing compared to the summer of 2012. Baker, a University of Oregon graduate who is pursuing two master’s degrees, won an Olympic gold medal.
She’s the first Fairfield-Suisun School District product to do so.
Baker was part of the U.S. women’s 4×400 relay team – running the first leg of the first qualifying race, then watching her teammates bring home the gold in later rounds. After winning in London, she visited town in August, then stopped by her alma mater in October.
“A lot of people say ‘just put your mind to it and you can really do anything,’ and honestly, it’s true because all I did one day was make the decision that this is what I was going to do and I stuck with it,” she said in August. “And now I finally get to see the results. I would just say it takes time, be patient, and don’t give up when you hit obstacles along the way.”
While the near future looks bright for the Fairfield-Suisun School District after the passage of statewide Proposition 30, that was far from the case in the beginning of the year.
To help close a $6.5 million budget gap, the school board voted to close Sullivan Middle School. Parents and other supporters signed petitions, decried the closure at public meetings and developed a proposal of ways they thought the district could keep the middle school open. The closure sent students to new schools, which created some headaches on the first day before becoming a new routine for children and parents.
School sports and other extracurricular activities were originally targeted to be eliminated as well, but were eventually saved when the teachers’ union took reductions to continue funding for them. The district reported that the reductions were returned to the teachers after the passage of Proposition 30.
California Highway Patrol Officer Kenyon Youngstrom, 37, was shot on the morning of Sept. 4 along Interstate 680 in Alamo. The Cordelia-area resident died in a hospital the next day after being taken off life support.
Youngstrom, who was survived by his wife Karen and four children, was a seven-year veteran of the CHP who also served in the Army Reserve for six years from 1994 to 2000. On the evening after he was taken off of life support, hundreds of people from his home neighborhood near Ridgeview Park in Fairfield gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor his service and memory.
It began as a routine traffic stop. Youngstrom saw the license plate of a Jeep was obstructed so he decided to make a routine traffic stop.
Video from a CHP dashboard camera showed Youngstrom briefly speaking with Christopher B. Lacy when Lacy, 36, pulled out a gun and opened fire. Lacy was then shot and killed by Youngstrom’s patrol partner, Tyler Carlton. In Lacy’s Jeep, police found a loaded semi-automatic handgun, two loaded ammunition magazines and a knife.
Several people and fellow CHP officers who knew Youngstrom believe Lacy was on his way to kill somebody and that Youngstrom may have saved lives by making the traffic stop.
“Life on Mars” led to life in the spotlight this year for 1990 Fairfield High School graduate Tracy Smith.
Smith, who lives in Brooklyn, won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her third book, a collection of poems.
“It’s really surreal,” Smith told the Daily Republic in a phone interview a day after the honor was announced. “I’m so happy and I’m also so very stunned.”
The Pulitzer committee called the work by Smith, who is a creative writing professor at Princeton University, “a collection of bold, skillful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.”
The Kroc Center opened in Suisun City in late May and has welcomed more than 75,000 people through its doors since.
The former NorthBay YMCA closed in 2008 and sat nearly four years before the Salvation Army reopened it as a community center and gymnasium. In July, the auditorium opened and serves as home for Sunday worship. The Solano Community Symphony has scheduled some of its shows at the facility.
In early fall, a youth group, Rebellion, began.
Center director Jason Perkins also embarked on his second quest to set the red kettle bell ringing record. He, and two other Salvation Army bell ringers from across the nation, reached an agreement to end after 80 hours out of respect for the 20 children and six adults who died Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn.
Garnering more than 80 percent of the vote, Measure L passed easily in June to continue to fund libraries in Solano County – foreshadowing several tax-increase measures that passed in November.
The 0.125 percent tax needed 66 percent of the vote, which proved not to be an issue. Voters originally approved Measure L in 1998. Supporters claimed that all promises were kept from the first time around, which proved to voters the same would be done this time around.
The tax extension will begin in 2014 when the current one expires, and end in 2030. It will be used to maintain the programs and processes put into place with the original tax.
Judge Peter B. Foor shocked a crowded courtroom in February when he granted probation to a Fairfield mother whose 2-year-old daughter and three other young children died in a 2010 apartment fire.
The mother, Shetarra James,was previously found guilty of felony child abuse causing death and involuntary manslaughter charges.
Minutes before Foor announced his sentencing decision, a prosecutor urged the judge to sentence James to 24 years in prison.
Foor placed James on 10 years of formal probation and suspended a 15-year, four-month prison stint pending her not violating any laws while on probation.
The last time James, 26, saw her children, Robert Charles Jr., 4, Nevaeh Nunn, 2, and Keviana Morgan, 1, and her sister’s daughter, 2-year-old Natalie Rogers, was the night of April 28, 2010. She left them unattended in the candlelit living room of their small Delaware Street apartment, where the four children and the two sisters lived. While James and her sister were hanging out in a nearby parking lot for as long as a half hour, a fire erupted in the apartment, killing the children.
Rockville Trails Estates in 2012 died as a proposed, controversial housing project and was reborn as a 1,500-acre park-to-be.
The Solano Land Trust in September bought 1,170 acres in the hills above Green and Suisun valleys, adding the final phase to 330 acres it bought in 2011. The nonprofit group successfully completed the largest fundraising drive in its 26-year existence to reach the grand total of $13.5 million.
“It means a beautiful natural park,” Land Trust Executive Director Nicole Byrd said. “It’s very close to the city and very accessible from Interstate 80. It’s also the viewshed for Suisun Valley.”
The Land Trust plans to make the park available for docent-led hikes in spring 2013, with the ultimate goal of opening it so people can hike there without docents.
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