The most important stories of 2021
12.20.21 * Circulation 3,634 * 180 members
Hey there, San Francisco.
Well, I’ve chosen an impossible task.
How does one pick the most important stories over an entire year in San Francisco? How do we even define “important?”
For sanity sake, I chose five stories that (when I think back on the year) stick out. I guess you could say, these are the most memorable stories. At least for me.
Not included are some incredibly important stories (or themes) that shaped our city this year, like the NYE hit-and-run, the school renamings, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s passing, Alison Collins' tweets, Vicha Ratanapakdee’s passing, vaccine mandates, Lowell High’s admissions process, Walgreens closures, the Great Highway, the Ferris wheel, JFK Drive, parklets, 469 Stevenson Street, and most recently, the state of emergency Mayor Breed declared in the Tenderloin.
Again, in no way is my list comprehensive. But when I think back on the thousands of stories I’ve read about our city over the past year, these five come to mind:
Can New Trash Cans Clean up S.F. Streets? by the SF Weekly’s Jessica Silber
Though news of the city’s reimagined trash receptacles had been previously reported, as a fresh reporter on the “San Francisco beat,” I remember being fascinated by the SF Weekly’s story on the topic that ran in January.
“They’re not streetworthy, as it turns out,” Public Works spokesperson Beth Rubenstein told the Weekly, regarding the city’s 3,000 existing green trash cans. What a quote!
The names of the prototype bins were also quite memorable: Slim Silhouette, Soft Square, and Salt & Pepper.
The timeline for these trash can prototypes to roll out has also been a story itself. Public Works’ Rubenstein told the Weekly in January she hoped the testing would start in four to six months. On Monday, Rubenstein told me they’re planning on “late spring” 2022.
S.F. Supervisor Aaron Peskin says he’s entering alcohol treatment after complaints by the Chronicle’s Mallory Moench, Heather Knight, and Trisha Thadani
This story struck me for several reasons, mostly for the good reporting work.
First, there’s a line in the Chronicle’s story from Rec and Park Director Phil Ginsberg that said Supervisor’s Peskin’s “alleged bullying and problem with alcohol [had] been an open secret at City Hall since 2000.” If that was the case, what took so long for this to be reported?
Good on Moench, Knight, and Thadani for finally getting the story out there. Our city needs more critical reporting to keep our elected officials accountable.
It also has some pretty incredible quotes. “Many people in our society imbibe; many people use different substances, and I am one of those people, but I keep it together,” Peskin told the Chronicle. He later called his remarks “flippant” and “irresponsible.” But still, the Chronicle was able to get those quotes on the record.
To be sure, following the story, Peskin said he would enter alcohol treatment. And in October, the Chronicle’s Moench followed up with the Supervisor, who said he was sober.
🎁 Low on holiday gift ideas? Give the gift of local news to that special, SF-based someone! More details here.
S.F. pays $61,000 a year for one tent in a site to shelter the homeless. Why? by the Chronicle’s Trisha Thadani
If there’s one stat that sticks out from this past year, it’s that the cost of running San Francisco’s “safe sleeping villages” was $61,000 per tent. I might never forget that number.
It’s a good lesson for reporters—sometimes some simple math (in this case, the $16.1 million annual cost for the program divided by 262 tents) can really drive a point home.
A good comparison helps, too. And in this case, Thadani had the perfect one: “The annual cost of one spot in one site is 2½ times the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco,” she wrote.
Thadani’s reporting seemed to have some real impact, as well. In September, the city said it would replace tents with tiny cabins in two of its safe sleeping villages due, in part, to the cabins being cheaper than tents.
Web of corruption: Explore the cronyism, lies, and federal crimes at the heart of San Francisco’s government by Will Jarrett and Joe Eskenazi
San Francisco’s City Hall corruption scandal is incredibly hard to follow, but finally, in November, Mission Local’s data intern Will Jarrett and star reporter Joe Eskenazi put it all together.
The map (or, web) lets you quickly see how different city leaders are interconnected and why those connections are problematic. It even includes the John Deere tractor allegedly used to bribe former Public Works director Muhammad Nuru.
If the Mission Local team can keep it updated (which, they say they will), this will be an important tool for years to come.
‘Guy lay dead here and no one noticed’: What happened to supposedly compassionate San Francisco? By the Chronicle’s Heather Knight
Heather Knight had several memorable stories this year, like the one from April about the looming “fight” over JFK Drive and more recently, the one about a mother who moved to San Francisco to find her fentanyl-addicted daughter.
But it was Knight’s story from February that stuck in my mind about a homeless man named Dustin Walker that lay dead in a center divider without anyone noticing. And when someone did notice, it took four hours for medics to arrive.
“We’ve become so desensitized to all of this,” said the woman who eventually called for help. “You find a dead person on the side of the road, and it’s just another day here in the city.”
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading y’all and we’ll see you back here tomorrow when we’ll highlight some of the wildest stories of the year. Have a great night. - Nick B.