Across the United States and the world, 2022 made big headlines.
Russia invaded Ukraine. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. Queen Elizabeth II died. Inflation hamstrung the economy. Will Smith smacked Chris Rock across the face during the Oscars.
In the Bay Area, the year began with fears of a tsunami after an undersea volcano erupted in the South Pacific. Thankfully, disaster never arrived. But in the nearly 12 months since, waves of historic events and trends that impacted millions of people did crash across the nine-county region. Here are the Bay Area’s 10 biggest news stories of 2022:
1) The pandemic
As the third year of COVID came to a close, it became clear that the disease driving the worst pandemic in a century wasn’t going to be eradicated. But because of scientific advances — embraced by Bay Area residents who have among the highest vaccination rates in the nation — the region largely learned to adapt, and authorities lifted emergency rules.
Booster shots and drug treatments such as Paxlovid helped to dramatically reduce the death rate. In California, COVID deaths fell 83% from the peak in February to mid-December, and 94% from the previous February, according to the CDC. Schools were open for in-person learning. Indoor mask mandates were lifted. Life began to feel relatively “normal” again for many.
But as New Year’s Day approached, hospitals across the Bay Area were straining anew with patients experiencing COVID, flu and RSV. Doctors’ advice for the holidays and into 2023: Get the booster shot, stay home if you feel sick, wash your hands and remember that in crowded places, masks reduce your risk.
2) Pelosi attack
Shortly after 2 a.m. on Oct. 28, just 10 days before the midterm elections, an intruder broke into the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She was out of town. But her husband, Paul Pelosi, called 911. When police arrived, they encountered David DePape, a Richmond resident who has shifted in and out of homelessness, holding a hammer and threatening Pelosi, 82. When they ordered him to drop it, he swung, fracturing Pelosi’s skull, police say.
DePape, 42, later told police that he planned to kidnap the house speaker, who is second in line to the presidency. He listed other targets, including Hunter Biden, Tom Hanks and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Now charged with attempted murder, DePape has a history of drug abuse and mental health issues. He built a website of far-right conspiracy theories, including QAnon, Holocaust denial, extreme claims about vaccines and other fringe beliefs. The incident raised calls for more security for political leaders and highlighted concerns about the radicalization of unstable people on social media.
3) Homelessness worsens
It’s no secret that the Bay Area has the highest housing prices in the United States, propelled in part by the stubborn reluctance of many communities to build more. Add to that the fentanyl epidemic, economic disruption from COVID and a major shortage of public mental health treatment, and the Bay Area has one of the country’s worst homelessness problems.
Surprising few residents, every Bay Area county saw its homeless population increase from 2019 to 2022, with only San Francisco showing a slight decrease.
Gov. Gavin Newsom provided cities across California billions to buy motels and convert them to housing units, to clear huge ramshackle encampments and hire more social workers. He also signed a new law establishing a “Care Court” where family members, mental health workers and first responders will be able to force severely mentally ill homeless people into psychiatric treatment and housing. Some people living in cars and parks found solace in shelters. Others refused, turned off by restrictions against pets or other rules. But as the year ended, it was clear homelessness remains one of the Bay Area’s most entrenched challenges for 2023 and beyond.
4) Billionaire reckoning
This year saw a harsh fall for two of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile entrepreneurs. Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the former Palo Alto biotech company Theranos, was convicted of fraud and sentenced in November to 11 years in federal prison for misleading investors and lying about her company’s blood-testing technology. The charismatic 38-year-old, who CNBC host Jim Cramer once called “the next Steve Jobs,” came to symbolize the arrogance of the mega-rich, attacking journalists and others who questioned her claims. She is scheduled to begin her sentence April 27.
And in what could emerge as an even larger scandal, Palo Alto native Sam Bankman-Fried, whose net worth from cryptocurrency was estimated to be $16 billion only a few months ago, was arrested in the Bahamas on Dec. 12 and charged with wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering and campaign finance law violations. Bankman-Fried, 32, whose parents are Stanford professors, was the founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and cryptocurrency trading firm Alameda Research. Wiped out financially, he now is the poster child for the collapse of cryptocurrency, a digital form of money that critics say is little more than a Ponzi scheme. He faces 115 years in prison.
5) Warriors win it all
Everybody loves a parade. And the Golden State Warriors delivered another one in June, winning their fourth NBA championship and cementing a dynasty that Bay Area fans will look back on with awe decades from now.
Superstar Kevin Durant left for the Brooklyn Nets in 2019. But the Warriors core group of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green had plenty of firepower to roar through the 2022 playoffs, defeating the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks before triumphing 4 games to 2 over the Boston Celtics for the NBA title.
It was the Warriors’ first title since 2018 and their seventh championship overall. Their chances for a repeat got off to a rocky start, however, after Green punched teammate Jordan Poole in practice on Oct. 5, the Warriors suffered repeated losses on the road, and Curry injured his shoulder. But nobody is counting out the Dubs, who have made it to the NBA finals an astounding six times in the past eight years.
6) Elon Musk buys Twitter
Elon Musk spent years building a reputation as something of a modern day Henry Ford or Thomas Edison. But in 2022, the world’s richest man seriously tarnished his star.
The 51-year-old South African native came to Silicon Valley in 1994, made millions as an early leader at PayPal and parlayed that money and his curiosity into founding SpaceX, a private space exploration company. He become the major shareholder and CEO of Tesla, a small electric car company, and built it into one of the world’s leading automakers.
This year, Musk paid $44 billion to buy Twitter, promising to reform the influential San Francisco social media company and promote free speech. But the venture has proved chaotic. Musk abruptly fired much of the staff and content-moderation teams, allowed former President Donald Trump, who had been banned after inciting the attack on the U.S. Capitol, back on Twitter and reinstituted thousands of users who had been previously banned for violating Twitter’s rules. He shut down, then reinstated, several nationally known journalists, sold billions in Tesla stock, saw major advertisers flee Twitter and in mid-December posted an online poll asking if he should resign. The verdict: 57% of 17 million users said yes.
7) Remote work
Decades from now, the biggest lasting legacy from COVID may well be the development of a new generation of mRNA vaccines that saved millions of lives. But there’s another fundamental shift in society: Many of us might never return to work in an office.
Fueled by Zoom calls and fast internet connections, large numbers of Bay Area residents with white collar, information-related jobs worked from home during the pandemic. And many still are. A Bay Area News Group survey in September found 19% of the region’s residents are working entirely from home, and another 27% do so some of the time. That has led to an 18% office vacancy rate in the Bay Area — triple the pre-pandemic rate — and 25% in San Francisco.
Remote work has reduced traffic and improved the work-life balance for families. But it also has led to empty downtowns and fears that big transit agencies such as BART and the VTA, where ridership remains low, will face severe cutbacks once federal pandemic money runs out.
8) FBI investigates Antioch and Pittsburg police
In the Bay Area’s biggest police corruption probe in a decade, the FBI is investigating at least a dozen officers from Antioch and Pittsburg. The investigations began with allegations that cops were trying to fraudulently obtain college degrees to boost their salaries by having a woman take online courses and tests for them.
But after investigators obtained cells phones, they uncovered evidence that the East Bay officers were falsifying reports, using and distributing steroids, using cocaine and accepting bribes while on patrol.
Indictments are expected soon. But the issue is already sending shockwaves. So far, dozens of federal and state criminal cases that hinged on the testimony of the officers in question have been dismissed.
9) Record heat and drought
Bay Area residents finally got a respite this year from wildfires as an early-storm system in September helped shut down a relatively mild fire season. But the impacts of climate change were front and center nevertheless.
A record heat wave around Labor Day sent temperatures soaring. The mercury hit 118 degrees in Calistoga on Sept. 7, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the 9-county Bay Area. Death Valley-like temperatures of 117 at Travis Air Force Base, 116 in Livermore and 109 in San Jose the day before also set records. The heat stressed the state’s power grid as air conditioning use spiked electricity demand to all-time highs. But blackouts were narrowly averted.
Meanwhile, the Bay Area and California endured the third year in a row of severe drought in 2022 — with 8 of the last 11 years in drought — causing widespread water restrictions. Robust storms so far this winter have boosted the Sierra snowpack and brought hopes that the drought might end. But the region and the state need a lot more rain and snow this spring to fill depleted reservoirs.
10) Changing of the political guard
For the past eight years, the Bay Area’s largest and third-largest cities, San Jose and Oakland, were led by two familiar faces: Sam Liccardo and Libby Schaaf. Both are considered centrist Democrats. In January their terms are up, and they will be replaced.
In San Jose, Matt Mahan, a city councilman with a background in the tech industry whom Liccardo endorsed, defeated Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who had the backing of labor unions. In Oakland, labor won, with the narrow victory of city councilwoman Sheng Thao, the daughter of Laotian immigrants, over fellow city councilman Loren Taylor, a former biotech executive, due to ranked choice voting.
The new mayors, both Democrats, will deal with similar problems: Homelessness, rejuvenating business in struggling downtowns, government accountability and crime. For Liccardo and Schaaf, the natural next step would be a run for Congress. But Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who is 76, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, who is 74, each just won re-election and haven’t announced plans to retire anytime soon.