Election Night. Dollar Tree. Leaf blowers. Sweet 16.

Each year, the Lamorinda Sun takes a look back at what made headlines in Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda during the previous 12 months. Here are our top 10 news stories for 2010:

1. Incumbents prevail, except in Orinda

Incumbents across the nation may have awakened disappointed on Nov. 3, but not in Lamorinda, where most officials cruised to re-election.

Voters in Lafayette returned Don Tatzin and Brandt Andersson to the City Council, and voters in Moraga did the same for Dave Trotter and Ken Chew.

The only exception was in Orinda, where incumbent Tom McCormick lost his re-election bid.

Incumbents Sue Severson and Amy Worth both won another term. Dean Orr, formerly of the Planning Commission, was elected to fill McCormick's seat.

Already a target of downtown redevelopment opponents, McCormick was also the subject of an ethics complaint filed by former Councilman Gregg Wheatland days before the election. State officials declined to investigate Wheatland's claims.

2. Downtown discussions continue

One city has approved its downtown plan, while two others continue to work through theirs.

After years of discussion and work, the Moraga Town Council in January approved the sweeping Moraga Center Specific Plan, which calls for clustering housing and retail around a new "main street" created by extending School Street to Moraga Road.

The town's next focus will be working with the area's property owners to make the plan a reality. Officials have also expressed an interest in beginning work on a specific plan for the Rheem Center.

In Orinda, strong opposition to some of the recommendations for the downtown led the city to call a timeout and allow for more public input.

The opposition centered mainly on the recommendation to raise the building height limit from 35 to 55 feet in parts of the downtown. The city held two workshops late in the year, and plans to continue the public outreach process in 2011.

Lafayette's Downtown Specific Plan spent most of 2010 with the Planning Commission, and members will continue their review in early 2011 before passing their recommendations along to the City Council.

3. One tax approved, while another never gets off the ground

The recession continued to send cities and school districts scrambling to find ways to cut costs and raise new revenue.

The Acalanes Union High School District received good news when voters approved the Measure A parcel tax, which will bring about $4 million in revenue to the district each year for five years. The parcel tax helped the district avoid laying off teachers.

In Lafayette, the City Council spent much of the summer discussing increasing the city's property transfer tax.

But to raise that tax, a city's voters must approve a charter, something many residents told the council they were wary of doing. Others said, given the economic climate, it simply was not the right time to ask voters for another tax.

The council chose not to pursue the charter and transfer tax, and their decision led the Orinda council, which was considering the same option, to drop its plans as well.

4. Another new town manager for Moraga

Moraga found itself looking for yet another town manager this year after Mike Segrest, hired in early 2009, announced his resignation in May.

After a search over several months, the town hired Jill Keimach, who was working for the city of Fremont as its community development director.

Keimach began work on Nov. 1.

Reports that Segrest was a finalist for another town manager job in Colorado surfaced in May. The job went to another candidate, but Segrest confirmed soon afterward that he would be stepping down.

He had begun looking elsewhere, and ultimately left, due to asthma-related respiratory difficulties his wife developed following their move to California.

Keimach is Moraga's fourth town manager in less than three years.

5. Dollar Tree OK'd for Rheem center

For many residents concerned about the vacancies at the Rheem shopping center, an application from the Dollar Tree to fill 10,000 empty square feet was not exactly an answer to their prayers.

But that was the store willing to fill the old Blockbuster site, and after a long and often-heated debate, the Town Council in November cleared the way for the discounter to open next year.

Although Dollar Tree did not need a permit and could be approved by town staff, the Planning Commission decided to review the application because of the potential for opposition.

That opposition materialized instantly. Dozens of residents argued the store would not only depress property values but also posed a health risk due to its numerous product recalls.

Planning commissioners, while sympathetic to the concerns, said there was little legal justification for denial, and approved the application.

Dollar Tree appealed the conditions attached to that approval, and opponents appealed the approval outright, sending the matter to the Town Council.

But council members said their hands were similarly tied and denied the opponents' appeal.

6. Leaf blower foes fail to get ban

In an upscale community of mostly large, heavily-landscaped homes, should leaf blowers be kicked to the curb?

One group of Orinda residents thought so, and spent 2010 in an ultimately unsuccessful fight to convince the City Council to ban the gardening devices, a battle that even found its way onto the pages of The New Yorker magazine.

After months of work, the anti-blower group Quiet Orinda brought its case to the council in November. Members and supporters argued the devices were unnecessary and noisy pollutants. Others said a ban represented the "nanny-state" at its worst.

Council members said they felt the city's current noise regulations were sufficient and did not feel a majority of Orinda residents supported a ban.

Despite the setback, Quiet Orinda members said they are not giving up on their ban efforts. An e-mail from Quiet Orinda founders Peter and Susan Kendall to supporters on Dec. 24 promised that "lots of plans are in store" for 2011.

7. Rheem Theatre gone, then back again

For Moraga's Rheem Theatre, 2010 began with fragile optimism. A surge in community support, as well as box office sales, kept the facility from closing the previous November.

But the Rheem was still on life support, and when the theater suffered a mechanical breakdown in April, its operators decided to close rather than pay the expensive repair bill.

The theater remained dark for two months as the community looked for a way to save its landmark.

Then, in June, the operators of the Orinda-based California Independent Film Festival announced they would reopen the Rheem. They gave the facility some new amenities as well as an updated name -- The New Rheem Theatre.

The Rheem became more than just a place to catch the latest blockbuster. The facility hosted sold-out teen dances, special film series and screenings of the World Cup and World Series.

In November, film festival organizers announced they were moving their event -- and its thousands of attendees -- to the Rheem, marking a stunning turnaround for a theater that a year ago seemed to be nearing its ending credits.

8. Gaels storm through March Madness

The bells of Saint Mary's began to peal shortly after the final buzzer. The college, and Moraga, was unknown no longer.

The Saint Mary's basketball team had upset second-seed Villanova in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, sending the Gaels to the Sweet 16, their deepest "March Madness" run since 1959.

Soon after, the national sports media descended upon Saint Mary's and Moraga and sports fans across the country began learning about the isolated San Francisco suburb and its team of transplanted Australians.

Banners supporting the team popped up around town, and a large crowd wished the players good luck as they boarded a bus en route to Houston.

Saint Mary's tournament run would end in Texas with a blowout to Baylor, but Moraga wasn't finished honoring the Gaels. Hundreds flocked to the Moraga Commons in May to celebrate the team's run.

The players expressed their gratitude by mingling with fans and playing basketball with some of Moraga's younger residents.

9. Lafayette, Orinda stick with sheriff

After considering setting up their own police departments, or possibly even contracting with Walnut Creek, officials in Lafayette and Orinda decided to stick with the county sheriff, for now.

A study commissioned by the two cities, along with Danville, said there could be cost savings in ending their sheriff's contracts and setting up a local department.

City leaders made it clear they were not unhappy with the quality of service they were receiving from the sheriff. When the cost of the contracts did not increase as much as expected, officials decided to stay put.

With pension questions still unanswered, city leaders know the police issue may be one they have to consider again soon.

But several officials credited the police services study with sending a message to the county that the three cities were serious about severing the relationship if it becomes too pricey.

10. Tragedy over downtown Orinda

A summer morning in downtown Orinda turned tragic when one window washer was killed and another seriously injured after their cherry picker came into contact with high-powered transmission lines.

Farmers market shoppers watched in horror as the men, both severely burned, were trapped 50 feet above the ground. It was more than 30 minutes before rescuers could pull Jose Herrera, 51, and Eduardo Guerra, 30, from the cherry picker. Herrera died of his injuries nearly three weeks later.

Several witnesses criticized the Moraga-Orinda Fire Department, saying it took too long to reach the men. Fire officials said the live power lines complicated the rescue.

State officials fined the workers' employer, Santa Clara-based Delta Window Cleaning, $17,550 as a result of the accident. Delta has appealed the fines.

Contact Jonathan Morales as 925-943-8048. Read the Lamorinda Sun blog at www.ibabuzz.com/lamorindasun.

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