San Ramon Valley Year in Review: Part I

Top headlines from local government, crimes, courts, drought, schools and more between January and June

2014 was another busy year in and around the San Ramon Valley. Here's a look back at the year's top headlines for Danville, San Ramon and the rest of the Valley.

Note: The list is organized by the dates on which the original stories ran.


Jan. 2: BART directors vote 8-1 to approve a tentative agreement that could end nearly a year of labor strife with the agency's employee unions.

Jan. 7: Danville resident Leslie Gee and two other real estate investors accept plea deals for conspiring to commit mail fraud and rig bids at public foreclosure auctions between January 2008 and January 2011 in order to turn around and hold closed, private auctions for the properties.

Jan. 13: U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) announces he plans to retire after his current term -- his 20th in Congress. He now represents the recently redrawn 11th District, which encompasses most of Contra Costa County, including Danville.

Jan. 13: Mike Nabil Ghoneim of San Ramon is ordered to stand trial for attempted murder and other charges for allegedly firing a shotgun through his front door during an eviction attempt in September 2013.

Jan. 14: The San Ramon Valley's state senator, Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), throws his hat in the ring for a bid to replace retiring U.S. Rep. George Miller.

Jan. 14: Members of BART's largest labor union vote to approve a contract agreement with management, ending nine months of labor strife that included two strikes.

Jan. 15: Demolition begins at the Danville Hotel site, marking the start of the downtown redevelopment project.

Jan. 15: The San Ramon Valley school board approves a site-transfer and site-preparation agreement with Dougherty Valley developer Shapell Industries, which offered to donate 7.9 acres for a new elementary school and park facilities in the area.

Jan. 17: Gov. Jerry Brown declares a drought state of emergency.

Jan. 19: About 50 people turn out at a forum to speak against a plan to bring Independence Day fireworks back to San Ramon.

Jan. 21: BART police Sgt. Thomas "Tommy" Smith, a San Ramon resident, is accidentally shot and killed by a fellow officer while conducting a probation search in Dublin.

Jan. 26: A jury convicts Alamo resident Michael Littman, 60, of voluntary manslaughter for the death of next-door neighbor Doris Penico, 59, with whom he had an ongoing feud. Prosecutors say Littman pushed Penico to her death down the steep shared driveway between their two homes in the 3000 block of Stonegate Drive on Aug. 27, 2012.

Jan. 26: The Museum of the San Ramon Valley recognizes the 50th anniversary of the fatal crash of Flight 773 in then-unincorporated San Ramon by hosting a presentation by the pilot's daughter, Julie Clark.

Jan. 27: BART police confirm that Det. Michael Maes, a 26-year law enforcement veteran, was the officer who fatally shot Sgt. Tommy Smith in an apparent accident during a probation search in Dublin the week before.

Jan. 28: Retired immigration law judge Tue Phan, a Danville resident, becomes the main Republican candidate for the congressional seat to be vacated by U.S. Rep. George Miller.


Feb. 2: Nearly 50 people attend a meeting about plans to convert parts of HOV lanes into toll roads during peak driving hours on Interstate 680 from San Ramon to Walnut Creek.

Feb. 4: Mary Nolan, a San Ramon family law attorney specializing in divorce cases, receives two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to one count of felony unlawful interception of communications and four counts of felony tax evasion in connection with the so-called "dirty DUI" case.

Feb. 4: The San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) recognizes its first-ever No Name-Calling Awareness Week.

Feb. 6: San Ramon pastor Hyo Bin Im, 33, (also known as "Pastor John") is arrested on charges involving two teenage girls, one of whom police allege he had a sexual relationship with.

Feb. 12: The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) Board of Directors formally asks all customers to voluntarily cut back their water usage by 10% amid the statewide drought.

Feb. 12: Grading and site work begin at the site of Dougherty Valley's new elementary school, expected to open in fall 2016.

Feb. 13: Plans to bring fireworks back to San Ramon for the Fourth of July are shot down by the city's Parks & Community Services Commission.

Feb. 19: Former Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputy Stephen Tanabe, of Alamo, is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison as part of the "dirty DUI" case.

Feb. 20: The Danville Town Council unanimously approves new parking restrictions on a portion of Glen Road, northwest of Del Amigo and San Ramon Valley high schools -- prohibiting parking there from 8:30-9:30 a.m. and 2-3 p.m. on school days between Van Gordon Place and Del Amigo Road.

Feb. 26: The San Ramon City Council nixes plans to bring back the Independence Day fireworks display, confirming the recommendation of the city Parks & Community Services Commission.

Feb. 27: Five San Francisco police officers, including one hailing from Danville, and a former officer are indicted on charges of civil rights violations related to alleged illegal searches and theft of property seized from arrestees.

Feb. 28: Kimberley Gilles, an English teacher at Danville's Monte Vista High, receives the National Education Association (NEA) Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence -- and a $25,000 check -- from the NEA Foundation.


March 4: Florida resident Benjamin Matthew Kairalla, who is accused of robbing the same San Ramon bank twice, claims drug dealers made him commit the holdups, according to police.

March 5: California High is crowned champion of the 33rd annual Contra Costa County High School Mock Trial competition, defeating rival Miramonte High in the final. Miramonte had beaten Cal High in the 2012 and 2013 finals.

March 6: Authorities identify Anthony Grosso of Danville as the teen killed when his car spun off Highway 24 in Lafayette. Witnesses say the 17-year-old's car was speeding and making unsafe lane changes before the crash.

March 9: In a move that could have far-reaching implications for the Tri-Valley, Pleasanton-based Safeway Inc. and Albertsons announce a merger agreement for the two grocery chains.

March 12: The San Ramon Valley school board approves a tentative agreement with the San Ramon Valley Education Association that calls for 4% raises for all union members, retroactive to Jan. 1.

March 13: School board honors the two SRVUSD Teachers of the Year: Karen Young and Kara Teach. Young teaches transitional kindergarten at San Ramon's Coyote Creek Elementary, and Teach is a special education teacher at Danville's Charlotte Wood Middle School.

March 17: Cal High seniors Peter Kravariotis, Garen Kissoyan and Kirill Yantikov save a 94-year-old woman and her partially blind 18-year-old Jack Russell Terrier from her burning house on Scarboro Place in San Ramon.

March 21: Alamo resident David Bremer, 24, is identified as the inmate who died after being found unresponsive in his cell at the Martinez Detention Facility.

March 21: Local police officers, firefighters, teachers and high school students give up their time, money and hair at Cal High as part of a "Shave for the Brave" fundraiser in recognition of J.J. Moisa, a 5-year-old from San Ramon who is a two-time survivor of brain cancer.

Moisa and his family rode to the campus in a San Ramon Valley Fire engine, and he donned a superhero cape donated by "Capes4Heroes." The event raised more than $4,000 for the nonprofit St. Baldrick's Foundation.

March 24: Nearly 300 San Ramon Valley high school students are recognized for having winning or honorable-mention entries in the school district's Student Recognition Project.

March 27: Alamo resident Dan Taylor, 72, is killed by a hit-and-run driver who struck Taylor's bicycle as he rode on a rural Solano County road east of Interstate 505 near the Yolo County border.

March 28: School board honors the SRVUSD's 38 Classified Employees of the Year. Sherry McCarthy, office manager at Country Club Elementary in San Ramon, takes home the evening's highest recognition, being named the district-wide Classified Employee of the Year.

March 31: The Monte Vista Mustangs boys basketball team brings home the school's first ever state championship crown, defeating the Centennial Huskies 66-55 in the CIF Division I state final in Sacramento.


April 1: San Ramon Valley High celebrates the ceremonial grand opening of the its revamped pool complex.

April 2: A Danville teacher's quest to take Will Ferrell to the prom comes to an end weeks after his video invitation to the actor went viral and drew national media attention. Chad Cochran -- a longtime video production, animation and technology teacher at San Ramon Valley High -- gets the news from Ferrell's publicist that the actor will be unavailable, in Europe, during the school's senior ball.

April 3: Leo Joshua Kennedy, 62, of Danville -- who formerly worked as an accountant at a South Bay trust management company -- pleads guilty in federal court to a fraud charge and admitted stealing millions of dollars from trust accounts.

April 4: State election officials certify the list of candidates who qualified for the June primary election in a variety of races in districts that cover the San Ramon Valley, including the U.S. House of Representatives, State Assembly and Contra Costa County posts.

April 6: Ronald Schwartz, 66, a Brentwood resident who worked in Danville as a real estate agent, is sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to six counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a 5-year-old girl.

April 6: The Danville council gives its support to a proposal by Pleasanton-based Ponderosa Homes that would bring 20 new residential lots to a small portion of a nearly 110-acre parcel at the end of Midland Way, off San Ramon Valley Boulevard in southwest Danville.

April 13: Monte Vista High students get a personal glimpse at the potentially traumatic effects of driving while intoxicated, taking part in the school's Every 15 Minutes educational event.

April 13: is launched -- a newly rebranded website that combines the previously separate Danville Express and San Ramon Express sites.

April 16: Coyote Creek Elementary teacher Karen Young is named one of four finalists for 2014-15 Contra Costa County Teacher of the Year.

April 20: The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District's 9-1-1 Communications Center is named an Emergency Medical Dispatch Center of Excellence by a globally recognized nonprofit accreditation organization -- the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

April 22: PG&E representatives and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors discuss the utility company's proposal to remove hundreds of trees from county property as part of a larger tree and vegetation removal plan to boost access to its gas pipeline network. The controversial Pipeline Pathway Project also received push-back from the Danville and San Ramon councils.

April 23: The EBMUD board votes to ask their customers to continue voluntarily cutting their water use by 10%. Amid ongoing drought conditions, board members also approve the purchase of 16,000 acre-feet of water.

April 25: San Ramon Valley High graduate Margaret "Maggie" Daly, 18, of Alamo is identified as the teen who died two days after the SUV she was riding in crashed on southbound Interstate 680 south of the Sycamore Valley Road exit earlier in the month.

April 25: Diablo Vista Middle School students to compete at the University of Tennessee in the Destination Imagination Global Finals -- one of the largest creative-thinking and problem-solving competitions in the world.

April 25: Students in the San Ramon Valley and other parts of the Bay Area are learning valuable lessons about physical and mental disabilities through a burgeoning awareness program.

By placing wheelchairs on local campuses and providing educational information to school leaders, the Wheelchair Foundation's From the Heart schools project aims to raise awareness about disabilities in the world, inform local students about issues faced by people with disabilities and generate funds for people in need of wheelchairs.

April 27: Washington state resident Robert Andrew Hickox, 21, is charged in connection with a pair of recent San Ramon home invasions, including one in which a female resident woke up and found a burglar in her bedroom doorway.

April 29: Federal judge knocks one year off prison sentence for Christopher Butler -- a former private investigator at the center of the "dirty DUI" scandal who later cooperated with prosecutors.

April 30: Gov. Jerry Brown appoints Alamo resident Shannon Swain as deputy superintendent of correctional education at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

April 30: Twelve elementary schools from San Ramon Valley are selected as a 2014 California Distinguished School.


May 1: 200+ volunteers participate in Danville's Lend-a-Hand project, an annual program in its 11th year that matches community volunteers with town seniors who need help with their yards.

May 4: U.S. News & World Report ranks Dougherty Valley High at No. 67 in its "Top 100 Best High Schools in California." DVHS is ranked at No. 334 nationally. In other rankings, San Ramon Valley High is No. 104 in California and No. 476 nationally, Cal High is No. 199 in the state and No. 947 nationally, and Monte Vista High is No. 236 in California and No. 1,087 nationally.

May 4: A golden eagle takes to the sky in San Ramon after eight months of rehabilitation for a severe mite infestation.

May 6: Alameda County auditor-controller candidate Kathleen Knox pleads not guilty to six felony counts for allegedly lying in campaign papers about where she lives. Authorities say she claimed to live in San Leandro while actually residing in Danville, which is in Contra Costa County.

May 7: Danville police increase their presence around town schools after graffiti found near Charlotte Wood Middle School and at John Baldwin Elementary threatened to harm people on May 8. No incidents would be reported at any Danville school that day.

May 8: San Ramon Planning Commission unanimously approves the Faria Preserve residential developmen -- amid push-back from several hundred residents -- in its eighth public hearing on the current project proposal since the previous November.

May 8: The East Bay Regional Park District partners with the Museum of San Ramon Valley in the opening of a new exhibit titled, "Connecting Parks to People, the 80th Anniversary of the East Bay Regional Park District."

May 12: The Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) board votes to implement water limitations, penalties for violations, a new rate structure and enhancements to agency rebate programs -- all part of an effort to reduce usage system-wide by 25%.

May 13: The Contra Costa County Board of Education appoints Christine Deane to fill a vacancy on the board representing Trustee Area 2, which includes parts of Alamo.

May 14: Michael Holden, 19, of Concord dies three days after crashing on Interstate 680 in Danville while he was allegedly leading police on a chase in a stolen car.

May 20: Kathleen Knox, a candidate for Alameda County auditor-controller in the June 3 primary, withdraws from race after facing criminal charges amid Danville residency controversy.

May 20: Danville resident Ayman Shahid, 38, (president of Concord-based Discovery Sales Inc.) is arrested on federal charges of engaging in a $154 million mortgage fraud scheme.

May 21: The proposed Faria Preserve residential development is headed to the San Ramon council after Councilman Harry Sachs asked for a review of the planning commission's approval of the project.

May 22: The town of Danville, in partnership with the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce and Discover Danville Association, launches a new local gift card network called the Danville Gift Pass, which can be redeemed at participating Danville merchants.

May 22: More than a dozen parents voice their frustrations to the San Ramon Valley school board about the initial attendance boundary proposal for the Dougherty Valley's new elementary school.

May 25: Danville resident Eric Clayton faces charges a year after a woman he allegedly gave alcohol to while underage killed a Pittsburg man by driving the wrong way on a Lafayette freeway.

May 27: Nick Pasichuke, a San Ramon Valley High grad from Alamo, is hospitalized after being struck and seriously injured in a violent rampage near the UC Santa Barbara campus that left six dead and more than a dozen injured. Pasichuke had just finished his freshman year at the University of the Pacific where he is a member of the men's water polo team.

May 27: The San Ramon Valley Kiwanis Foundation awards more than $37,500 in grants to 40 area nonprofit organizations this year.

May 30: Alameda County prosecutors decide no criminal charges should be filed in the fatal shooting of BART police Sgt. Tommy Smith at the hands of another officer during a search of a robbery suspect's apartment in Dublin.


June 3: Nearly 80 people attend a two-hour special school board meeting held in the Dougherty Valley High commons to discuss the latest SRVUSD proposal for changing Dougherty Valley elementary school boundaries. The current plan receives initial support from many parents and some school board members.

June 4: Final Election Night results tell the tale for the June primary, with some races settled and the stage set for November runoffs in other contests:

* 11th Congressional District: State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and retired immigration law judge Tue Phan (R-Danville) head for runoff after finishing first and second, respectively.

* 15th Congressional District: U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) and Livermore Republican Hugh Bussell to compete in November runoff.

* 16th Assembly District: Republican attorney Catharine Baker and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti earn spots on November ballot. Danville Councilman Newell Arnerich (Democrat) finishes fourth in primary.

* Measure E passes, authorizing the Contra Costa Community College District to issue and sell bonds up to $450 million to improve district facilities.

* County Superintendent of Schools: Deputy superintendent Karen Sakata defeates Orinda resident Linda Delehunt.

* County Auditor-Controller: Incumbent Robert Campbell beats challenger Ayore Riaunda.

June 4: A San Ramon woman tracks her stolen cellphone using a phone tracker app and helps lead officers to the suspected culprit.

June 10: Three local firefighters are hospitalized after sustaining heat-related injuries while responding to a house fire in Alamo. Outdoor temperatures reach triple digits along Las Quebradas Lane, where the unoccupied and under-construction home caught fire.

June 11: Officials unveil the new San Ramon City Center design. The current vision is to have two separate squares or "piazzas" that face each other in Bishop Ranch. One area would be the "social hub" containing retail, restaurants and a movie theater while the other side would consist of the residential, hotel and office space components.

June 11: School board sets new elementary school attendance areas for the Dougherty Valley.

June 12: Danville's Railroad Avenue improvement project begins, aiming to enhance the corridor between Prospect Avenue and School Street by undergrounding utilities as well as installing brick-banded sidewalks, landscaped bulb-outs and antique-style street lights.

June 13: More than 2,300 seniors graduate from San Ramon Valley public high schools.

June 25: It's standing room only as people crowd into the San Ramon council chambers to discuss the cemetery project proposed for the Tassajara Valley.

June 26: School board names the new Dougherty Valley campus as Bella Vista Elementary School.

June 27: Caltrans begins opening the new Interstate 680 auxiliary lanes between Danville and San Ramon (between Sycamore Valley and Crow Canyon roads).

June 30: Keith Allen Holster, 59, of Pittsburg is identified as the driver who died when his car veered off Interstate 680, down an embankment and into some trees near the Stone Valley Road exit.

June 30: EBMUD customers are set to see a 9.5% rate increase, as the last of back-to-back annual increases will take effect July 1.

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