Hunger Strike, Homelessness, Illicit Partying: Our Favorite Stories of 2016

The protesters amassed on the interior steps of city hall. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

For all the talk about journalism being in a death spiral, Mission Local staff has some highlights of what we think are our best stories of the year. Here’s what we liked:

Lydia Chávez, Executive Editor

Now more than ever –  thanks to the Trump election –  journalists are asking questions about impact. Does good reporting actually matter? How could Trump get elected with all that we knew/reported about him?   I’ve wondered about impact since my days in Central America for the NYT.  There, regardless of the number of human rights violations reporters uncovered, Congress inevitably approved funding for El Salvador’s government.  Still, one does not spend a lifetime being a reporter and discard its value easily.  At my darkest, I take refuge in reporting’s value as a record of our foibles; that someone in the future will flip through old news sites and piece together what happened on a certain day.

And on some days, local reporting can do very immediate good, which gets me to one of my favorite stories of the year – Laura Waxmann’s piece on a couple displaced by the fire at 29th and Mission.  Despite promises by city officials that everyone displaced in the fire would get a place to live, the couple remained homeless.  Waxmann’s like a really gentle bulldog. She keeps at stories and she wrote  in August about the couple – a story that could not help but alert city officials of how empty their promise appeared.  In October, she got to write about the same couple as housed. Without her persistence and Mission Local’s existence, I doubt that the couple would have been housed, so bravo to Waxmann for keeping at it and thank you to our subscribers for keeping us here.

The Frisco Five’s Hunger Strike. There were any number of stories the staff wrote covering the Frisco Five that remain among my favorites of the year. The package as a whole was important because at times Mission Local was the only news site covering the hunger strike and the coverage – everything from the short profiles of the strikers to more weighty pieces on police reforms and breaking news – was first rate. It held public officials accountable, but also gave readers a full sense of what was unfolding. So kudos to everyone on the staff for being on top of a breaking news story.

Joe Rivano Barros, Reporter

Shooting Claimed Life ofAmbassador of Shotwell Street’” by Laura Waxmann — Laura has a skill for obituaries, a morbid talent that served her well after the shooting death of 27-year-old Rigoberto Romero. The “Ambassador of Shotwell Street,” as friends described him, was killed at 24th and Shotwell streets in a crime that saddened those on the block — Romero was a long-time resident and knew many of the families who lived in the area. His death followed the shooting of a friend, Fidel “Happy” Amezcua, on the same intersection, who later succumbed to his injuries. For both deaths, Laura listened to friends and family and conveyed the details of those meetings to our readers, making their loss easily felt.

Illicit Nightclub with Booze, Drugs Operated at Mission Hacker Hostel” by Laura Wenus — It’s a great San Francisco tale: an undocumented immigrant and tech worker begins an illegal nightclub in the Mission and gets up to shenanigans: he’s pistol-whipped and robbed by his ex-military security guards, frequently evades police shut down, and fields complaints from neighbors concerned with the noise. “There’s a market for house parties,” the party’s operator told Laura, something Mission Local has learned from its other reporting on illegal gambling dens cum brothels. Eventually it’s the housing market, that dreaded city beast, that does him in: his parties just can’t get him the needed rent to stay in San Francisco.

Laura Wenus, Managing Editor

That 2016 has been turbulent goes without saying, but some particularly telling stories have emerged at the local level.

Joe’s story about the debate over the Affordable Housing Density Bonus Program in which someone describes the program as “ethnic cleansing” shows just how contentious this fight can be – even between people who generally share a goal of reducing displacement and housing people.

Laura’s story about opposition to a soup kitchen run by nuns planned for 16th and Mission streets is still ongoing – from the beginning, Laura has been trying to reflect the perspectives of everyone involved, and providing some transparency to the process, which I think readers will appreciate when the outcome finally becomes clear.

A lot of great reporting came out Bay Area wide during a concerted regional media effort to cover homelessness in June, but I think Laura’s story about property being disappeared by the city agencies tasked with storing it was a particularly worthwhile addition.

Finally, for a bit of a laugh, there’s Joe’s story about the city citing itself for blight. In what was essentially a public version of a sticky note on the city’s collective desk reading “To Do: Tidy 16th St. Lot,” various departments appear to have gotten a touch mixed up, resulting in the wonderful passage, “It’s unclear how the city would levy fines on itself.”

Laura Waxmann, Reporter

For a total of 43 weeks, Joe asked the tough questions of the candidates vying to replace Mission District supervisor David Campos come January. Joe’s smart and consistent coverage of the District 9 Supervisorial race gave our readers a more complete picture of these candidates, their goals and motivations, and will serve to ensure accountability on behalf of the Mission’s next supervisor. The series of weekly questions also set the stage for a debate among the final candidates, hosted by Mission Local in October as a public service. In light of the city’s recent push to address homelessness, particularly in the Mission, I found Joe’s probing into how the candidates view homelessness  in the city– and their approaches to addressing the issue – extremely insightful.

Also, props to Joe for uncovering – and following up on – the shady happenings at an illegal Mission District gambling den that moved into a storefront once occupied by a soda shop. We may not yet have heard the end of this story.

Laura’s coverage of wage theft, unpaid invoices and parking taxes on behalf of a company that operated Mission District restaurant was exemplary of in-depth, local reporting. The story was sparked by one former employee who spoke out about the injustices committed against him, and Laura’s persistent digging uncovered a laundry list of wage disputes, lawsuits and a lack of enforcement in local laws governing corporations that sometimes leave room for impunity.  

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