The 10 biggest Berkeley stories of 2016

The happiest photo of 2016? Lillia Bartlow is escorted to school on Tuesday Aug. 30 by the fire crew who attended to her when she was knocked over by a taxi and seriously injured five months earlier. Photo: Kelly Sullivan

It’s been a tumultuous year for many reasons, and when we delved into Berkeleyside’s page analytics to compile this list of biggest stories, it was apparent that our city has been touched by tragedy many times in 2016 — from murders, through accidents, and even terrorist attacks.

Of course, bad news always rises to the top, and there have been many happy moments to report on this year too, not least two remarkable stories of recovery: that of Meg Schwarzman, who survived a horrific bike crash to run a half marathon ten months later, and that of 9-year-old Lillia Bartlow, who bounced back from serious injuries sustained when she was hit by a taxi on a crosswalk, to be escorted to her first day back at school by the firefighter paramedics who had attended to her at the scene of the collision in March.

Since Jan. 1, 2016, Berkeleyside, with its tiny reporting staff and small roster of contributing writers, has produced just shy of 2,000 stories which drew a total 8.6 million page views from a total of 2.2 million users. And that’s not counting our hundreds of Facebook posts, many of which generate lively community conversation; and our thousands of tweets. We have 40,000 Twitter followers, and regularly receive tips and photos about what’s going on from many of them. Twitter is also where we often break news and bring you alerts about public safety incidents such as outages, traffic snarl-ups, and crime.

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Here, then, are the biggest stories of the year, measured mostly by page views.

1. Seeing smoke in Berkeley? Here’s why

Fire at the First Congregational Church on Sept. 30, 2016. Photo: Ted Friedman

In number one position is our story about a three-alarm fire that broke out on Friday Sept. 30.at the First Congregational Church on Channing Way. The conflagration brought down the roof and caused extensive damage to Pilgrim Hall, part of the church’s property used for offices and an assembly area, and spread to its sanctuary. The billowing smoke caused by the fire was spotted by people across the bay, and many turned to Berkeleyside to find out what was going on. They shared photographs with us, which we included in our coverage. This is the sort of story that illustrates what Berkeleyside is all about: a community news site that is considerably enhanced by the contribution and support of its community. We followed up our breaking news report with a story on the aftermath of the fire by Ariele Gordon-Rowe, a reporting intern who worked with us for two months in the fall.

2. UC Berkeley student among those killed in Bangladeshi attack

A vigil for UC Berkeley student Nicolas Leslie at Sproul Plaza on Monday, July 18, 2016. Leslie and UC Berkeley student Tarishi Jain were both killed in separate terrorist attacks abroad in 2016. Photo: David Yee

Tarishi Jain, an 18-year-old UC Berkeley economics student, was killed by ISIS gunmen who stormed a café in Bangladesh and hacked about 20 people to death in July. A vigil was held on the campus to remember her. She wasn’t the only Cal student who was killed in a terrorist attack this year. Twenty-year-old Nicolas Leslie was in Nice on a study -abroad program, and was among the 84 people killed in a Bastille Day attack in that city, just two weeks after the Bangladesh attack. Later in the year, more vigils would be held for the Cal-affiliated students who perished in Oakland’s terrible Ghost Ship fire in December.

3. Berkeley High grads killed in Oakland shootings

Terrence Mack. “to the moon and back kid, I love you! you mean the most to me see you in my dreams.” Photos: azh
A tribute to Craig Cooks-Fletcher: “rip to one of the sweetest souls. Your presence, your heart, & that LAUGH will be missed.” Photo: carena torrissa
Marnae Causey, center, was killed Aug. 9, in Oakland. She is shown with her daughter, and her cousin Tasha Strother. Photo: Tasha Strother

Three Berkeley High School graduates lost their lives in one week in August 2016. Two were shot on Aug. 14 at a birthday party held at an art gallery in Oakland. They were 22-year-old Terrence McCrary Jr., known to many as Terrence Mack, and Craig Fletcher-Cooks. Both graduated BHS in 2011. In the same week, 23-year-old Marne’e Causey, was shot and killed in East Oakland.

4. As death toll from Oakland fire rises to 33, 5 with ties to Berkeley reported missing

The Ghost Ship building in Oakland in which 36 people lost their lives in a fire on Dec. 2, 2016. Photo: ACSO

The devastating loss of life caused by a fire at a warehouse in Oakland during a concert on Dec. 2 put the East Bay into mourning and made national news. After we published this Dec. 4 story, the death toll rose to 36 and more victims with Berkeley connections were identified. Berkeleyside published several stories on the Ghost Ship tragedy and obituaries for those with Berkeley ties. See our full Ghost Ship coverage.


5. Ippudo NY to open ramen restaurant in Berkeley

Chesapeake Tonkotsu Ramen, a dish served at Ippudo in the East Village. The restaurant group is opening its first West Coast spot in downtown Berkeley in January 2017. Photo: Ippudo NY

Never underestimate our love of food. On Jan. 5 we brought you the news that Ippudo, which describes itself as a “Japanese ramen noodle brasserie” was to open its first West Coast restaurant in downtown Berkeley. Ippudo has restaurants across Asia and Australia, as well one in London and two in New York, and clearly generates a cult-like following. Lines around the block are not uncommon in Manhattan, apparently, and 8,700 people shared our Facebook post about the news. The restaurant is slated to open at 2011 Shattuck Ave. (at University) in the WeWork building next month. For more of our biggest food stories, see our 2016 round-up, which is topped by our exclusive, and comprehensive coverage of a major, sordid wine Ponzi scheme that happened right here in Berkeley.

6. Tune in here to Berkeleyside’s live election coverage

At a Measure E1 party at Ty Alper’s home in Berkeley on election night, a group of people express the mood of the night for many on their faces. Photo: Kelly Owen

On the night it was slowly sinking in that the “temperamentally-unfit-to-be-president” candidate was going to win the presidential election, the Berkeleyside crew was dutifully reporting from the frontline of the local election, dropping in on campaign HQs, interviewing candidates, and updating the latest vote counts in our live election blog. Berkeley had its own upset of sorts when Jesse Arreguín emerged victorious as mayor, and Berkeley progressives were on their way to hold a City Council majority for the first time in years.

7. Hope, gratitude after near-deadly collision in Berkeley

Meg Schwarzman, with husband Mike Wilson and their 11-month-old son, Oliver, before the crash that nearly killed her. Photo: Schwarzman family

Arguably the most uplifting story this year was our in-depth coverage of Megan Schwarzman, the Berkeley scientist and mother who was struck by a motorist and trapped beneath his car while cycling near campus on Feb. 2. Not only did Schwarzman, who wasn’t breathing when she paramedics first found her, survive, but the young mother went on make a remarkable recovery and run a half marathon just ten months after the crash. Emilie Raguso documented her story in a series of articles, that readers applauded for their insight and compassion. One even commented, on the last story of the coverage: “A beautiful story and so well written, deserves a Pulitzer.”

8. Berkeley mail delivery prompts tidal wave of complaints

At the Berkeley Post Office, in 2005. Berkeleyside heard from many readers this year that their mail service had seriously deteriorated. Photo: Kai Schreiber

Late-night and skipped mail deliveries, suspect delivery “attempts,” slow service and mis-delivered mail: Berkeleyside received scores of complaints about the U.S. Postal Service from readers this fall. We collated all of them, did some digging and published this story which then drew 173 comments and was recognized as being both timely and much needed.

9. 1,500 students walk out of Berkeley High School in protest of election

Berkeley High students at an election protest on Wednesday Nov. 9, 2016. Photo: Berkeleyside contributing photographer Pete Rosos

On Nov. 9, after the results of the presidential election were known, 1,500 students left class at Berkeley High School and marched peacefully to UC Berkeley to stage a protest about the victor, who they variously described as a racist, a xenophobe and a misogynist. “It’s shocking that America voted for this man,” said Gabby Klein, a 16-year-old junior. Berkeleyside stayed with the demonstration — in which students expressed solidarity with minority groups within their student body who felt threatened by President Trump — which ended with students returning to the BHS campus. We streamed the event using Facebook Live. It was only our second time using the tool — we switched it on first after an editorial story meeting, and subsequently at the swearing-in of Berkeley’s new City Councilmembers — and the recording was viewed 233,000 times and drew 1,400 comments.


10. Craigslist ad leads to discovery of world-class art collection

A watercolor by Sylvia Ludins. Photo: Peter Jacobson

When Justin Cronkite arrived at an Elmwood home to check out a dresser he had seen on Craigslist, he found more than a piece of furniture. In the garage, coated in decades’ worth of dust, was a stunning collection of paintings. Many of the hundreds of watercolors, oil paintings, sketches, and murals were by Sylvia Ludins, who died in 1965. The discovery not only made for an amazing story, it led to an exhibition of Ludins’ work at the Graduate Theological Union Library in Berkeley.

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