A lot of newsworthy events happened over the past year, but the biggest stories of 2007, according to the Chronicle’s year-end reader poll, were the subprime mortgage mess; the wayward freighter that slammed into the Bay Bridge and dumped thousands of gallons of oil in the bay; and the MacArthur Maze meltdown, caused when an exploding fuel truck destroyed an East Bay freeway overpass.
Runners-up were high murder rates in San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond; the squabble between California and the federal government over auto emissions; and the big Southern California fires.
The top 10 stories of the year were chosen by nearly 2,500 readers who responded to a Chronicle poll conducted between Christmas Eve and noon Friday. The poll’s list of questions was released to the public about 24 hours before a tiger escaped from the San Francisco Zoo, killed a young man and injured two others.
Readers who responded to the poll clearly thought the issue of subprime mortgage loans was the most important news story of the year. Of the 2,456 votes cast, 795 went to the mortgage issue. Essentially, these are loans that seemed at the outset too good to be true and, to the horror of people all over the country who eventually lost their homes or came close to it, indeed turned out to be too good to be true. The loans are made to people who don’t qualify for normal loans because of their problematic credit history, modest income or both.
Next on the list of big stories was the case of the Cosco Busan, the container ship that crashed into a tower support base of the Bay Bridge, ripping a gash in the freighter’s port side and dumping 58,000 gallons of fuel oil into San Francisco Bay. Some 30 miles of shoreline were soiled, and thousands of birds died.
The third big story was triggered in April when, a tanker truck traveling on a MacArthur Maze I-880 overpass in the middle of the night crashed, unleashing 8,600 gallons of gasoline that ignited and destroyed the overpass, disrupting Bay Area commuters for a month. The driver was burned, but eventually recovered; no one else was injured. The miracle of that disaster was that it took less than one month for Sacramento contractor C.C. Myers to repair the roadway and get traffic back to normal.
These were the other big stories in the Chronicle’s top 10 poll, in descending order of votes:
– The streets of San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond ran red with blood as the three Bay Area cities had high homicide rates. The efforts of civic leaders to stanch the flow did not seem to meet with any particular success.
– Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature keep pushing to curb greenhouse gases by forcing stricter anti-pollution standards on a recalcitrant auto industry, which is seeking protection from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Bush administration.
– The largest evacuation in California history - some 1 million people - was set in motion when Santa Ana winds roared through Southern California, turning fires into raging infernos that destroyed some 2,000 homes.
– Barry Bonds, long bruited about in the press for allegedly using steroids, had one of his more interesting years: He dethroned Hank Aaron as Major League Baseball’s all-time home run king in August when he hit homer No faxless cash advance. 756 and ended the season with a total of 762. Then he left the Giants. As if that were not enough, a federal grand jury then charged the baseball star with perjury and obstructing justice for allegedly lying under oath when he testified in 2003 that he had never knowingly taken steroids and human growth hormone.
– Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post, was fatally gunned down in Oakland while on his way to work. Bailey was working on stories about Your Black Muslim Bakery, an organization with a history of violence and troubled finances.
– San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew was suspended and received an education in the criminal and civil court systems. Seems he may have lied about where he legally lived, saying it was San Francisco when it actually may have been Burlingame. Jew found himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit and felony charges having to do with his residency.
– Gavin Newsom, the golden boy of San Francisco politics, got lots of news ink as mayor, but some of it may not have been completely to his liking. Devotees of the city’s byzantine politics were treated to such antics as Newsom’s affair with the 34-year-old wife of his campaign manager and his tendency to drink too much, something he copped to. As far as the voters were concerned, little of this mattered - he was re-elected in a landslide.
Also-rans in the 20 stories selected for the poll were, in order of popularity:
Rising fees for students at CSU and UC; the situation of San Francisco’s homeless; whales that swam up the delta and then returned to the ocean; the problems of Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu; the resignation of UC President Robert Dynes and the woeful state of California’s finances (a tie); big fires in the Lake Tahoe area, causing the destruction of 254 homes; the UC Berkeley Memorial Stadium tree-sitters; whither the San Francisco 49ers and where they will play football; and former Rep. Ron Dellums’ first year as Oakland’s mayor.