It was 15 years ago today that I began my first day as a full-time newspaper reporter with the Independent Newspaper Group, covering the City of Belmont. It’s hard to believe. It seems like just yesterday I was starting out.
If you’re not familiar with ING, don’t worry – it’s been defunct nearly a decade. The paper was run by the Fang family, long-time owners of AsiaWeekly, a San Francisco paper catering to the city’s Asian demographic.
The Independent was originally the Fang family’s free, twice-weekly publication delivered to the entire population of San Francisco in the 80s. The family ended up buying out about a dozen community newspapers like the Belmont Enquirer and San Carlos Bulletin in the 90s and rebranding them under the Independent masthead. While we were instructed to identify ourselves as reporters from The Independent, names like ‘The Belmont-San Carlos Enquirer-Bulletin’ still adorned the front page under the main masthead.
I was there two years. Belmont is a sleepy bedroom community of about 40,000. Nothing happens there. Prior to my hiring, the Belmont City Council was known as one that could not, for the life of it, get along. The council members hated each other. There was infighting and so much indecision that major projects like a new library couldn’t get passed. It made for great copy.
However, that all ended months before I was brought on to cover the city, and by the time I attended my first city council meeting, the bickering politicians had been replaced by people who were actually friends. Things were hunky-dory, and the people rejoiced.
One of the most interesting stories I covered for the Independent was a car bombing. A man woke up one day and got in his Saab to go to work. He saw some kind of 2×4 with a clock attached to it lying on the floor in front of his passenger seat. As he reached for it, the device exploded. It blew the Saab in half and he lost his right arm, if I remember correctly.
A cul-de-sac was taped off, and Belmont Police, to my knowledge, never did figure out exactly who the culprit was, even though a hysterical woman showed up on scene the day of the bombing claiming it was her sister’s ex-boyfriend. The woman claimed her sister’s former beau had turned stalker in the wake of a separation and attempted to kill the new love interest in the hopes he’d be welcomed back with open arms. It didn’t work. A few months later, the ex was caught placing a GPS device on the woman’s car at her place of employment in Palo Alto.
One anecdote San Joaquin County residents might find interesting is that current county parks and recreation director Duncan Jones was Belmont’s public works director while I was with the Independent. I was surprised to find out he was working for the county when I moved out here, but I don’t think he remembers me.
From the Independent I moved on to the Milpitas Post, a small weekly running under the umbrella of Alameda Newspaper Group-turned-Bay Area News Group, which in turn is now under the umbrella of Media News Group.
There, I started out on the sports/education beat for a couple years before an assistant editor left for the California Teachers Association’s Santa Clara County branch press room. The Fremont city beat writer became assistant editor, covering Milpitas, and I moved into the Fremont beat for the sister paper, the Fremont Bulletin.
Some of the interesting stories I covered was the retrial of three men charged with the beating death of transgender teen Gwen Araujo, the closure of the New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. – or NUMMI – plant, the abrupt closure of Solyndra, and the Oakland Athletics’ plan to move build a new stadium in Fremont.
Another San Joaquin County –related anecdote (that would come up after my move to Lodi) to note is that Ryan Morales, the Lodi resident on trial for the death of five members the Morales family in 2014, made it into the Bulletin’s police blotter column I wrote. Morales apparently tried to flee Fremont police during an attempted traffic stop around 2010. He ended up bailing out of his car at a 7-11 in Fremont’s affluent Mission San Jose neighborhood – with a passenger in the car – and climbing up on the roof of the store.
Police ultimately brought him down and found he had been high on meth. When asked why he tried to hide on the roof, he allegedly told officers that he had watched a lot of “Cops” on TV and learned police will give up if you hide out on rooftops long enough.
I was with BANG for nine years, before I met my wife and was told prior to our marriage that I would be moving to San Joaquin County. I commuted for six hellish months over the Altamont Pass before my wife put her foot down and said that had to stop. I was getting up at 6 a.m. to leave at 7 a.m. so I could make it to Milpitas by 9 a.m. On an average day, I was leaving the office 6 p.m. and getting home at 7:30 p.m.
Soon, I came on board with the Lodi News-Sentinel, where I stayed for a year covering city hall, and in my last two months, the county. I think the most interesting things I covered in Lodi was the goose problem at the lake, a Hollywood actor looking to film a movie in town, and the Sacramento woman who was arrested after a pipe bomb was found in her vehicle during a shoplifting incident.
And now I’m here at the Record. When people ask me what it’s like to work at a somewhat major daily, I compare my professional journey to that of Steve McQueen.
He once said working on the TV show “Wanted: Dead or Alive” three ‘mother-grabbing’ years of hard work, but he learned his trade. I think that’s what 15 years of working at weeklies and the Sentinel was like for me.
Although, during those 15 years I was able to meet some pretty famous people, including Jerry Rice, Barry Bonds, Kristi Yamaguchi and her husband Bret Hedican, Sen. Barbara Boxer, Rep. Anna Eshoo, Sen. Jackie Speier, Gloria Allred, actor James Hong, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. Pete Stark, Gavin Newsome, John Garamendi, A’s owner Lew Wolff and his son Keith, and American Idol season 5 contestant Elliott Yamin.
I did get to see President Obama’s limo drive by in Fremont, see Dennis Eckersley dedicate a Fremont high school baseball field, and was really close to meeting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, if only his press team had given us a better heads up he’d be visiting a solar company.
And, I saw the Stanley Cup at the Great Mall in Milpitas. Whew. That’s a lot of name dropping. Sorry.
I have little to brag about for my first four months here at the Record, although it’s been a great time so far. I hope I stick around for a long time.