The Grinch who stole 2016
Trump, K.J., pie, bad charities and all the other losers of SN&R’s annual awards for everything mean, awful and sad!
Wow, what a time for Whoville—what a tremendous year for Grinches.
Normally SN&R keeps its annual Grinches Awards list strictly local but, let's be frank, there was nothing normal about 2016. We had no trouble, in fact, coming up with the year's top bad hombres, nasty women and everything in between.
Behold SN&R's annual Grinches Awards where the winners are really yuge, bigly losers.
Was 2016 the year the Grinches won? Read on, decide for yourself and remember that 2017 is, thankfully, almost here.A mostly no-good, horrible, terrible year
Is it over yet?
Not to put too fine a point on it but the last 12 months have sucked. Philosophers, historians and media outlets, in fact, are already speculating that 2016 could go down in history as one of the worst years ever.
It started out barely a fortnight into the new year with David Bowie’s death on January 10, and from there it seemed as the last vestiges of goodness and common decency that were holding the universe together were blown to smithereens and then shattered into space. Since then it’s felt as though everything’s been spiraling out of control, and fast.
Shocking political upsets. Violence, unrest and devastating acts of nature. Untimely celebrity deaths.
Trump and Brexit; the Pulse nightclub shooting, senseless police shootings and the senseless shootings of police. The devastating Oakland warehouse fire. More K.J. scandals (pie!) and Nazi rallies at the state Capitol. Ever-worsening climate change, the war in Syria. Trump. So much Trump.
Good riddance, 2016—don’t let the new calendar hit you on the way out. (R.L.)Trump's chumps
There’s no excuse for this one. We all saw Donald Trump coming a mile away. The guy spent the past year loudly monologuing his evil plans like a comic book supervillain—complete with a radioactive Agent Orange skin tone—and still won! The morning after Election Day was like waking up in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and realizing that nearly half the voting populace had been taken over by something alien and insidious. Numerous think pieces have attempted to categorize the ways in which Russian hackers, fake news, voter suppression, blue-collar anxiety, unexcited Democrats, an archaic Electoral College system and a resurgent spike in overt racism and sexism catapulted a legit hatemonger to the White House. We’d add in an Instagram culture that has whittled the public’s attention span to that of a fruit fly watching gifs, making facts obsolete and the “feels” all that matter. While those are all worthwhile questions to examine, they also let adults off the hook. Not us.
Nearly half of you threw your lot in with a trust fund bully who thinks it’s OK to denigrate women and minorities, cozy up to white supremacists and wipe his bronzed backside with the Constitution. You can lie to yourself that he didn’t really mean those awful things he promised—and is in the early stages of carrying out—or that you yourself are not the sexist, racist xenophobe that our next commander in grief is. You can also try convincing ducks that they’re really kimono dragons. But while you Trump stumpers keep insisting on your patriot swagger, history will remember you for the good Germans you really are.
This was the year that your misguided self-interest won out over doing the right thing. Is this America? (RFH)Big scandal, big money
Kevin Johnson is no longer at City Hall. And for the entirety of 2016, he was a lame-duck mayor. Yet Johnson’s fundraising prowess went unscathed during his final stint in office: This year, for instance, he raised more than $1 million.
How does K.J. do this? After resurgent sexual-misconduct allegations last year led to a decision to not run for a third term, how did Johnson still find people to give him money? In a word: behests.
As SN&R wrote this past June, a behest is “when a group or person donates money to an elected official’s private organization or nonprofit.” These donations aren’t campaign contributions, and the money can be given in unlimited amounts. And, for his eight years in office, Johnson’s had a small network of private groups that have taken in millions—and it hasn’t been easy to keep track of how this money was spent.
Johnson raised more cash than any city politician in Sacramento history. He raked in $2.4 million to his private groups and nonprofits in 2015 alone, and more than $1.02 million this year—and this is just the money that we know about, according to city records. What’s really interesting is that K.J. took in more than $1.7 million in behests since last October, when the video of a teenaged girl accusing him of molestation re-emerged.
So, who still gave money K.J. in 2016? It’s a long list of usual suspects, many of them with business at City Hall: Golden 1 Credit Union, Republic FC owner Kevin Nagle, Angelo Tsakopoulos, Buzz Oates, Mark Friedman, the Walmart Foundation, Wells Fargo, Vanir Construction.
It’s important to note that behests aren’t necessarily a bad thing; nonprofits can use this money to do good in the community. But after eight years, it’s clear that the millions of dollars given to Johnson’s groups have done more to amplify one thing above all else: Kevin Johnson. (N.M.)A slice of the banal
Say what you will about infamous Kevin Johnson and Sean Thompson showdown, it’s clear the real Grinch here is the coconut cream pie. Did Thompson cross a line in the way he protested Johnson’s lack of attention to homeless issue? Absolutely. Did Johnson jump over an even wider line by punching Thompson repeatedly and so hard that the protestor needed stitches? Oh, definitely. But what about the pie’s culpability? Store-bought, messy and so comically cliché. C’mon, political pie, you can do better. (R.L.)Hip, professional snobbery
There’s nothing inherently wrong with placemaking from an urban planning standpoint. Revitalization is great. We should encourage people to utilize their public spaces. But 2016 brought out more people calling themselves placemakers—like, professionally. And with them came an intense, elitist and I-care-more-about-Sacramento-than-you attitude palpable at city events and in newspaper op-eds.
I apologize, placemakers, but no matter how much you promoted Bright Underbelly as a place-changer and regardless of how much the mainstream media gobbled it up, the skylike mural under the freeway didn’t suddenly push anyone to shop at the Sunday farmers market on a regular basis. People aren’t hanging out there on Tuesday afternoons. Don’t get me wrong: The mural is lovely, but the fanfare and language surrounding it implied that the market wasn’t already a worthy destination. We didn’t need to make the market great again.
And don’t even get me started on the placemakers at City Scout Magazine. (J.B.)Criminal against creatives
It’s easy to hate spineless thieves, especially when the victims are working artists, adding creative spark to the city and just getting by financially. In August, someone—or a group of people—kicked doors down and ransacked Panama Art Factory, where 30 locals worked on their craft and hosted exhibits, classes and performances. Art pieces weren’t stolen, rather, tools to make art: welders, cameras, saws, musical equipment and more. Reports vary, but the thieves made off with somewhere between $15,000 and $30,000 worth of stuff—enough to put a serious halt on the lives of artists who were left with nothing. (J.B.)Still too damn high
In 2016, Sacramento’s lack of a rent control policy became a central issue. The city has only mustered 255 new units to a 2.2 million resident market this year. In August, research by AppFolio reported that Sacramento led the nation in rent increases at a whopping 11 percent increase. Compare that to the situation in San Francisco, which was only at 4.1 percent, and it’s alarmingly obvious why this is a big deal. (B.G.)Thin blue slime
On the July morning that police gunned down a mentally ill homeless man on a North Sacramento sidewalk, the public saw a tale of two very different law enforcement philosophies.
In one corner, we had the first officers on scene, responding to calls of an armed man behaving erratically in the area. Showing commendable restraint and an ability to juggle competing responsibilities, these officers initiated contact with the 50-year-old Joseph Mann, debunked that rumor that he was armed with a gun and followed him from a safe distance—keeping the dialogue open and the chances for a peaceful resolution within reach.
In the other corner, we have veteran officers John C. Tennis and Randy R. Lozoya, who raced onto the scene and tried to run over Mann twice—scuttling the careful work of their colleagues and dangerously escalating a situation that could have jeopardized the very public they were sworn to protect. After wielding their patrol cruiser like a heat-seeking missile, Tennis and Lozoya exited their car with one promising, “We’ll get him.” Seconds later, both cops unloaded their service weapons into a visibly confused Mann, who was walking away from the threat they posed.
In the released audio, Mann could be heard moaning from the 14 bullets that tattered his body.
SN&R wasn’t the first media outlet to obtain video footage showing Tennis and Lozoya’s shocking actions. Facing mounting community pressure, the police department blitzed the media with three dash cam viewpoints and a silent surveillance video on the same day. But SN&R was the first to report that the two officers expressed a premeditated desire to do Mann harm upon approaching the scene. The national media quickly took notice, elevating Joseph Mann to a pantheon of troubling police killings, recognizable by the dead men’s names: Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Freddie Grey. Philando Castile. Alton Sterling. On and on, with more than 900 this year, according to the Washington Post’s police shootings database. Mann and Dazion Flenaugh are among Sacramento’s contributions to this year’s tally. Welcome to the club, gentlemen. (RFH)Dope-ioid
Whoever sold that slew of counterfeit pills masking lethal doses of fentanyl, prompting 13 lethal overdoses in Sacramento and Yolo counties earlier this year, congratulations. You’re both an incompetent drug dealer and a mass murderer. (RFH)Talk about a cop-out
The job of the police is, ostensibly, “to protect and serve.” But what that adage leaves out is who the police claim to protect and serve—and from whom. Certainly that was unclear this past June when a cadre of white nationalists and skinheads, including members of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a group in solidarity with Trump supporters, held a rally at the state Capitol’s grounds. The events that unfolded that day at the government building were disturbing, to say the least, and due to their location, seemed all the more unreal—forcing one to reckon with a disillusionment with authority and its priorities, namely brought upon by the lack of any significant police presence during the violent 20-minute exchange on the grounds of one of California’s most visible landmarks.
As the groups of white supremacists approached the Capitol building, they were met with a large assemblage of anti-racist protesters, some affiliated with groups, others not, but all hoping to put an end to the neo-Nazi congregation early; what occurred was a bloody melee that left 10 injured and seven wounded—mainly protesters, and leaving many questioning what the 100-plus police officers decked out in riot gear could have done to prevent the violence that ensued. (KRA)Ungodly behavior
In the early hours of June 12, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded many more at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. As the sun rose, pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church praised Mateen for cleansing this world of so-called “Sodomites.” Sacramentans immediately rallied against this hateful dirtbag, protesting outside his church before his landlord asked him to take his congregation elsewhere. The trick had worked, of course: His name and his odious words of loathing made their way into countless papers across the country, including this one. Jimenez got the attention he desired, and by singling him out as a Grinch, he’s getting one more moment to remind us all that untold human suffering remains celebrated by a certain class of scumsuckers. (A.S.)Not so restful
The Sacramento Police Department and City Manager’s office wasted no time screwing over poor people in 2016. Before midnight on New Year’s Day, more than four dozen cops prepared to raid and dismantle the “Right To Rest” protest encampment at City Hall. By 12:30, 52 officers—many donning “riot gear” equipment—detained seven protesters and ended up arresting four of them. The others were awoken on a freezing January night, rousted from their tents and sleeping bags. Legal observers say police used unnecessary force, such as throwing one vocal activist to the ground. After the incident, all eyes were on the Right to Rest protest at 915 I Street. And people were keeping watch on police, too. (N.M.)And even more sleepless nights
Speaking of which, Sacramento’s political class solidified its Grinchiness by also sticking to its guns on anti-camping policies this year. Despite the Obama administration’s justice and housing arms declaring these local laws inhumane—and indisputable evidence that arresting homeless residents who get caught sleeping outdoors only anchors them deeper in poverty—local leaders proved stubbornly unmoved by the plight of their most vulnerable. Instead, we got to hear demeaning, condescending comments from the dais from council members Steve Hansen and Larry Carr, and bullshit PR platitudes from a city web page explicitly designed to spread propaganda against the Right to Rest movement. Don’t believe the hype. City Hall has more in common with our coldhearted president-elect than it wants to admit. (RFH)Journalism's sputtering engine
Calling Comstock’s magazine a Grinch seems a poor fit, since at least the denizens of Whoville are aware of the Grinch’s existence. But Grinchy is as Grinchy does, and Comstock’s earned this distinction with two hot takes. The first was a hip-shot from the publisher, Winnie Comstock-Carlson, describing her first experience riding light rail with “unsavory” citizens on her way to her luxury suite at the Golden 1 Center to see Paul McCartney. Her fear of using public transit had her so shook that she called her mother beforehand for reassurance. That wasn’t the only time Comstock’s ran an opinion piece that every normal person cringed at. In May, Rich Ehisen wrote about how much “less interesting” Sacramento would be once Kevin Johnson left City Hall. Already bad on its face considering that “less interesting” could be a euphemism for “less grabby,” but it gets better-worse: He called Hizzoner “the political equivalent of a Ferrari” while describing his predecessor Heather Fargo as a used Honda. Sexist connotations aside, it’s hardly an apt comparison—after all, when was the last time you heard of a Ferrari being repeatedly accused of sexual assault? (A.S.)Market force politics
“Money talks and Uhler walks” is a refrain sometimes heard in Granite Bay, where the district’s 14-year supervisor Grinch continues to ignore a popular community plan to preserve the town’s remaining elements of rural life. When it comes to scrapping Granite Bay’s low-density zoning areas, Placer County District 4 Supervisor Kirk Uhler may face vocal opposition from his constituents, but he has major support from the development companies and real estate firms that regularly finance his reelection campaigns. And Uhler has been fairly open with reporters about believing “market forces” rather than residents should determine if Granite Bay’s last open spaces vanish.
During the 2016 election, Uhler also admitted to hiring controversial blogger Aaron F. Park to work on his campaign. Park then created web postings about Uhler’s opponent, Victor Bekhet, that many viewed as having racist undertones. Though Uhler said that’s not what he specifically hired Park to do, he also declined to strongly condemn the inflammatory posts. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Uhler staved off an effort to recall him from office in 2010, and defeated the virtually unknown Behket by a less than impressive margin this year. Residents have now formed a grassroots organization called Defend Granite Bay, mainly aimed at combating Uhler’s tendency to get projects done for the same special interest groups who are funding him.
Until they figure out how to do that, this Grinch keeps giving big developers a very happy Christmas. (STA)Still stuck on the Google, sorry
Some Grinches take a licking but keep on ticking—and collecting a massive paycheck. Such is the case with former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. In April, UC President Janet Napolitano suspended Katehi while an outside firm investigated allegations of, among other things, misspending student funds and nepotism—and trying to rewrite her professional history. The latter was discovered when intrepid reporters from The Sacramento Bee uncovered evidence that UCD had paid various firms upwards of $500,000 to whitewash Katehi “off the Google” following the university’s pepper-spraying of students in 2011. And then there was the news that Katehi had taken a paid board position with the for-profit DeVry University, and also received big bucks for serving on the board of textbook publisher John Wiley & Sons. She resigned from those positions and apologized—and yet remained in the university’s employ. When Katehi was finally pressured into stepping down from her chancellor post, she could rest easy knowing she still had her faculty professor gig. Must be nice to have such job security regardless of, you know, crappy Google results. (R.L.)Corporate beer takeover
Budweiser is coming to Midtown—in disguise. The beer behemoth is scheduled to parachute onto the corner of L and 19th streets sometime next year, in the form of a Golden Road Brewing brewpub. Why is this Grinchy? Because Budweiser, now owned by AB-InBev, is losing revenue to the craft-beer world. And, in response, it’s swooped up and purchased formerly independent breweries like Golden Road as part of its plan for world craft-beer domination. In Sacramento, Golden Road would become the largest and highest-profile beer destination on the grid. So, all the more reason to pour a pint of Track 7, Bike Dog or New Glory this holiday season. (N.M.)Seasonal elite
It finally happened in 2016: The local farm-to-fork movement sat on a knife.
First, the overlords of the annual weeklong celebration in September inked McDonald’s as a flagship sponsor—because nothing says locally grown like a Chicken McNugget. And, of course, the annual Farm-to-Fork Bridge Dinner sold out faster than you can say “rigged economy.” But there was also a new F2F-style bourgie dinner, in October, the Diner En Blanc: An elite dining experience at a super-secret location (which ended up being the new arena, natch), where guests paid big bucks to don all-white duds and nibble on high-priced picnic fare. It’s seasonal asparagus, people! (N.M.)Not a lion's fair share
Sacramento’s Flaming Grill gets a nod for occasionally selling African lion burgers. It’s important to note that they get their lion meat from legal game farms and not the Serengeti; and they only serve it once or twice a year. That said, the menu stunt puts Northern California in the same category as places like Illinois, Florida and Arizona, all of which now have culinary destinations normalizing the consumption of a threatened species. African lions are on the verge of extinction in the wild—a development that caused the United States to officially classify them as endangered in 2015. Even though restaurants like Flaming Grill don’t get their meat from the wild, if the broader trend of eating lions becomes dramatically more popular—nationally or internationally—it could also have unintended consequences in Africa’s black market. Overall, the Flaming Grill has a good reputation for food, service and business practices, and this Grinchy behavior can easily be addressed with some friendly customer feedback. (STA)Radio daze
After Kanye West’s Golden 1 Center meltdown, Hot 103.5 program director Justin “JayMarZZ” Marshall banned West from the station’s playlist. During an on-air stunt, he played part of the single “Fade” and declared that incomplete listen to be the final moment on his airwaves because during his Sacramento stage rant, West said, “fuck radio.” Repeatedly. Marshall didn’t care about West’s vulnerable moment of mental instability or eventual hospitalization for “exhaustion.” Marshall’s act was only about two things: grabbing headlines and “saving” radio.
“You’re going to go into Sacramento and say ’F radio,’ really bro? Really? You’re the same guy 15 years ago that was begging radio to play you. And they did and they gave you a shot,” Marshall said in his own rant. “Without radio you didn’t blow up to be the artist that you were. That you were, because you’re no longer that artist anymore.”
So, a guy suffers a public meltdown and all you can think about is payback? Talk about a heart several sizes too small. (B.G.)Playing a bad hand
The owners of the Casino Royale card room—James Kouretas and Will Blanas—have been longtime Sacramento serial Grinches, though recently their business slipped down a proverbial snowbank into a crevasse. In 2013, the card room owners spoiled the season for residents of the Woodlake community by using big political names to get their gambling operation moved from Auburn Boulevard into the Red Lion Hotel on Leisure Way—despite the protests of many neighbors living in the area. According to state investigators, in 2014 Kouretas got even Grinchier by setting up a business apparatus that failed to pay winners in the card room money that was owed to them. Casino Royale’s state and city gaming licenses were revoked. Blanas sued his partner for alleged fraud. He then proved in 2016 his own mean streak wasn’t over when he helped convince the Sacramento City Council to alter gaming ordinances in a way that would make it easier to move his troubled facility yet again, this time to a challenged part of South Sacramento. Several months ago, Casino Royale’s ongoing story of lawsuits, license suspensions and neighborhood outcries ended with Blanas and Kouretas finally selling their business interests altogether. (STA)Losing her religion
We’re well-accustomed to charlatans who gain trust and power by professing themselves to be on a mission from God. Does the fact that it’s unsurprising lessen the nausea induced when one of these people is found out? Not at all, if Jenny Williamson and revelations about her company Courage Worldwide are to be believed. Despite her efforts to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in the name of protecting underage victims of sex trafficking, her shelter Courage House shut down after multiple citations suggested that care was not the norm. Among the alleged violations: rubbing oil into the forehead of a girl who drew satanic images and reciting religious verses before telling her that she had to be Christian to continue receiving help; and displacing clients from the home in order to conduct company business and give donors tours. The list goes on, of course. And yet Williamson pushes on, claiming that the challenges to her work are little more than the state trying to force Satan upon her and the kids. If this is her interpretation of God’s love, maybe she could use a little Satan. (A.S.)Social media insecurity
Everyone’s a critic. But sometimes it’s easier (and safer) to leave the rabble-rousing to the professionals and seasoned boat-rocking vets. Enter Snarkramento, Sacramento’s foremost social media crank, with his Twitter takedowns on everything from K.J. to the bait bikes planted in South Sacramento. Shortly after sparring with a Sactown Royalty blogger on Twitter over the merits (or lack thereof) of political pie throwing, Snark found himself at the intersection of sarcasm and boneheaded vigilante justice when, one night in September, an anonymous fist came flying at the back of the head of the unsuspecting social media pseudo-celeb. The random act of violence highlights only one moment of many in an increased melding of our binary and physical worlds; one act which I’ll go ahead and title: “140 Characters of Kung Fu.”
The culprit jumped Snark, and did so when his back was turned—taking time to attribute the assault to attention the social media critic allegedly paid the attacker’s “girl.”
Attacking someone when they have their back turned is, obviously, cowardly. Moreover, emotions tend to run hot and high on social media; it’s an echo chamber for outrage and the nexus of our new curated narcissism. The guy who beat up Snarkramento just proved that social media and real life have at least this in common: They’re both places where adults can prove they are babies. (KRA)