7 Days 

Tragedy in Newark and Pleasant Hill, vindication in San Leandro and Sacramento, wee-wee in Walnut Creek, and caution in Fremont and Oakland.

Gwen Araujo, RIP: St. Edward's Catholic Church couldn't accommodate the crowds. Hundreds of mourners overflowed onto the lawn on a sunny October Friday as family and friends eulogized Eddie "Gwen" Araujo. The transgender teen was beaten and strangled to death October 3 at a party in Newark after some partygoers learned that she, chromosomally speaking, was a he. The teenager's body was found thirteen days later in a shallow grave in the Sierra foothills.

The October 25 funeral was a national spectacle: Seven TV vans sat in the parking lot, satellite dishes extended stories high. Police stood guard. And Rev. Fred Phelps, the unabashed media whore who picketed the funeral of Matthew Shepard, had threatened to picket this one. At Shepard's funeral, activists clad in angel costumes had blocked Phelps' view of the proceedings, an incident portrayed in the play The Laramie Project. At Araujo's funeral, though Phelps never showed, Newark High School actors who were putting on the play wore their own angel costumes, lining the sidewalk as Araujo's family filed past.

Those stuck outside quietly sang "Amazing Grace," holding hands in a circle that grew to include a hundred people. They sang it until the casket was carried from the church. In the driveway, Araujo's mother, a small, strong-looking woman named Sylvia Guerrero, handed out seventeen triangular envelopes. Family members opened the small packages, releasing monarch butterflies into the sky, one to mark each year of Araujo's short life. -- Melissa Hung

Operators are standing by: When we last checked in with California's newly formed Department of Managed Health Care, it was locked in a legal battle with Kaiser Permanente in a case that threatened to defang the watchdog agency. ("Critical Condition," January 16, 2002) The family of San Leandro resident Margaret Utterback claimed that after a day spent trying to navigate a phone system specifically designed to keep patients from receiving same-day care, Utterback died of an aneurysm that could have been treated if she'd been seen sooner. After the department levied a record-setting $1.1 million fine against the HMO, Kaiser challenged that the department was overstepping its authority.

The department's future was clarified first. In September the governor signed in AB 2179, which gave the department full authority to regulate quality of care. This November, after a change in executive leadership, Kaiser ultimately agreed to pay a $1 million fine. Technically, the two parties agreed upon a stipulation, not a settlement, and while Kaiser admitted that it had not dealt with grievances filed by Utterback's family in a timely manner, it did not agree that it had prevented an enrollee from gaining access to health-care services. Nevertheless, Director Daniel Zingale of the Department of Managed Care hails the agreement as a major victory. He reports that Kaiser has agreed to change the way it responds to patients with aortic abdominal aneurysms and significantly improved its call-answering system. Says the director, "Some things have happy endings." -- Kara Platoni

Casinos near Costco?: Richmond became the latest Bay Area city this year to entertain a proposal to open a Vegas-style casino. This time, the 160-member Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, along with local developer John Troughton and the Vegas-based Klein Companies, are eyeing a waterfront site to build an Indian gaming casino and hotel. They are sweetening the pot for city officials by offering $10 million for the land, $3 million in impact fees and $5 million a year over the next sixteen years. The thing is, even if the city council backs the proposal -- and there is support for the idea on the council -- the deal would require state and federal approval, and that's unlikely to occur. -- Will Harper

Dying for football: It happened here. One hot afternoon in August, nineteen-year-old James Williams was practicing on the football field at Diablo Valley College when he collided with a teammate, collapsed, and never got up. The teenager died that afternoon, leaving a community shocked, saddened, and left to ask some bitter questions. In the following weeks, coaches at the Pleasant Hill community college became the focus of a larger national debate: Were we finally pushing our student-athletes over the edge? After all, healthy teenagers aren't supposed to die on a football field.

Making Williams' death even more unsettling came the news from the Contra Costa County Corner that the cause of death was left "undetermined." At the funeral, hundreds of mourners from Williams' hometown of Oakland wept, frustrated by the unexplainable loss.

"It's very hard for us," his mother, Jerlean Williams, told reporters. "We did want to at least know what it was, but we can't keep speculating and making things up. We were hoping for at least the reason he died, and we didn't get it. The only thing we can do now is go on in our faith." -- Justin Berton

No pee found here: Last summer, Walnut Creek city council members voted unanimously to outlaw public urination. It had to be done. Ever since the city's downtown suddenly became a thriving weekend party spot, one too many pub-crawlers just couldn't make the transition to the next bar without wetting the sidewalks. Business owners complained. Media people were called in. Channel 2 reporter Julie Haener got the goods on tape for a "news" segment and, well, after that, the once quiet suburb took on the uncomely moniker, "Urinetown." Sure beats Pee Pee City. -- Justin Berton

They're pro-puppy, too: On September 3, after much debate and give and take, the Fremont city council passed a resolution recognizing the importance of civil rights for its residents. And, with this underwhelming gesture, it effectively ended Fremont's brief flirtation with the Berkeley practice of taking positions on national issues. The city's Human Relations Commission asked the city to condemn the secretive and broad powers granted the government by the USA PATRIOT Act, and to criticize the detainment of Muslim, Arab, and Indo-Americans. Local activists urged the city council to show sympathy with its large, and growing, immigrant community. Fremont, however, has a policy against meddling in national affairs, and city leaders would vote only for a watered-down version that simply resolved to uphold constitutional rights. One council member even voted nay on that one. -- Melissa Hung

Voters take back the silver platter: Is the honeymoon finally over for Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown? Sure, Brown won reelection last March with 63 percent of the vote, but that was then and this is now. November marked a definite change for the mayor's past domination of local elections. Most of Brown's favored November initiatives were defeated by just a few percentage points. Most notable perhaps was an effort to extend the "strong mayor" initiative that Oaklanders overwhelmingly endorsed in 1998, which transferred the city's executive power from the city manager to the mayor, and removed Brown from the city council. Putting this measure on the ballot this year was an attempt to lock in the strong mayor provision for Brown's second term. But it was not to be; voters had been promised a six-year trial period for the mayor's new powers, and weren't in the mood to give him a break.

Voters also turned down three tax initiatives that would have scraped together the $63 million needed to pay for the hundred new police officers that Brown sought from voters. The mayor has promised he'll return with a reworked initiative, perhaps as soon as March.

Some of the mayor's most vociferous critics won a hard-fought victory with the passage of an eviction-protection initiative. And on the housing front, it also became painfully obvious that the downtown is lacking both the 10,000 new residents that Brown hoped to attract to the area, as well as the upscale apartment complexes that he hoped would lure them there. The peg upon which the mayor hung many of his hopes, the 1,050-unit Forest City development, has developed a major case of subsidy bloat: the developer is now asking the city to kick down a $62.5 million city subsidy, which averages out to about sixty grand per unit. Without a major redevelopment success story to point to, and with the murder rate crawling upward as the economy continues to slide, next March could be another season of hard sells for the mayor. -- Kara Platoni

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