The fallout of alleged sexual misconduct by a Moraga teacher in the 1990s, which wasn't fully exposed until a former student -- and victim -- spoke out about her personal experience, continues to make the news late into the year, and is the Sun's most important Lamorinda story of 2012.
There were certainly other significant Lamorinda stories this year, including disharmony about downtown development plans in Lafayette and Orinda; a Moraga Boy Scout who made national news after he was booted from the Scouts after publicly announcing he is gay; changes on local city councils and school boards, and so many others.
Sex abuse lawsuits
In December 2011, former Moraga teacher Julie Correa was sentenced to eight years in prison for her sexual abuse of Kristen Cunnane -- a student in one of her Joaquin Moraga Middle School P.E. classes. In May, Cunnane told her story to the Times, which also included her account of being touched inappropriately by science teacher Daniel Witters. Cunnane sued the Moraga school district in September, claiming the failures of Correa and other school officials to report Witters' action to the police may have enabled Correa to sexually abuse her. Taking action, she said, could have prevented Witters from abusing other students.
Witters committed suicide not long after a handful of students came forward to tell school officials about inappropriate behavior on Witters' part. And Cunnane and three other women this year have sued the school district and various former officials claiming they didn't do their job as legally "mandated reporters" of such behavior to the proper authorities.
In the wake of the lawsuits and related matters, Moraga school board President Dexter Louie resigned his post almost immediately after being re-elected to a new term. Louie may have had a conflict of interest concerning the Cunnane case: two of his relatives spoke on behalf of Correa at her sentencing hearing in December 2011.
The Moraga school district had to issue a public apology for suggesting in its response to the lawsuit that Cunnane may have been partly responsible for what happened to her, and the board has since crafted stronger guidelines on child abuse prevention and reporting.
Downtown development discussions
City councils in Lafayette and, to a lesser extent Orinda, battled in 2012 over approving downtown projects and establishing new rules for development in the downtown areas.
In Lafayette, a lot of the discussion was about tall buildings and what should be an allowable building height. Despite an ongoing outcry from residents who say a proposed 55-foot condominium complex is too tall and densely packed for their city, the Lafayette City Council voted in November to approve the Town Center project of 72 dwellings downtown near the BART station.
Opponents had railed against the project, which they argued would really be five stories tall (counting the parking garage) and would obstruct certain views of the city's ridgelines. Some also talked about the impacts of an influx of future students on crowded schools and how that might affect the quality of education.
Outgoing City Councilwoman Carol Federighi acknowledged people's concerns about Town Center's height, but said the location is the best for high-density housing. "This is the one area that can take it," she said.
In Orinda, the talk has been more wide-ranging. In March, residents told a joint gathering of the city council and the planning commission that they want a more vibrant downtown, with a more thorough mix of businesses, but also said they feared downtown becoming too metropolitan -- or too tall.
Plans moved forward for Eden Housing's "2 Erwin Way" 67-unit affordable housing project for seniors in the northern part of downtown.
Dog park disagreements
How to provide space for Moraga dogs to run free was an ongoing source of frustration -- and litigation -- not only for residents who didn't appreciate how city leaders were going about it, but for town leaders who were trying to do what the locals wanted them to do.
Lamorinda residents have taken their pets to Rancho Laguna park for years to romp off-leash during hours allowed under a town ordinance. The debate over dog freedom at the park started in late 2011, when town leaders voted to create a fenced area for dogs within the park. A resident filed a lawsuit in January, claiming the town had improperly claimed exemption from an environmental review of the park, which is home to sensitive habitats. The council rescinded its plans in March, but then voted in May to end off-leash hours at the park at all times except in a future fenced area. Those hours nearly ended June 9, when the new law was supposed to kick in. But a referendum petition containing more than 1,800 signatures from people asking that the ordinance be rescinded or placed before voters in November put the off-leash ban on hold. And in July, the town council indeed rescinded the law, ensuring off-leash access at Rancho Laguna until at least mid-2013.
Changes in local leadership
The dog park issue played a prominent role in one member of the Moraga Town Council losing her bid for re-election.
Karen Mendonca was the victim of a "Defeat Mendonca" campaign based largely on her stance on the Rancho Laguna issue. She had supported separate areas for off-leash dogs (and their owners) from other park users.
Mendonca was the only candidate in Moraga or Lafayette who lost a council re-election bid. Howard Harpham did not seek re-election to the Moraga council, but Mike Metcalf did, and won a new term. Joining the Moraga Town Council were Phillip Arth and Roger Wykle; incumbents Dave Trotter and Ken Chew were chosen as mayor and vice mayor, respectively.
In Lafayette, the departing Carol Federighi and Carl Anduri were replaced in November by new council members Traci Reilly and Mark Mitchell. (Re-elected councilman Mike Anderson was also sworn in as mayor).
Incumbent Matthew Paul Moran and challenger Sarah Butler won seats on the Orinda school board, while challenger Shari Simon won election to the Moraga board; Parker Colvin was appointed this month to replace Dexter Louie. Jean Follmer and Nancy Wallace were elected to the Lafayette school board.
Fire department trials
The Moraga Orinda Fire Department had its share of tribulations in 2012, starting with the aborted purchase of a new administration building (and the loss of a $25,000 deposit on the deal), and continuing with the resignation of board members Brook Mancinelli and Richard Olsen. The woes continued with a projected $800,000 shortfall in the 2012-13 general fund budget; delays in firefighter contract talks because of a pension reform legislation; the temporary (later to become permanent) closure of Station 16 of the neighboring Contra Costa fire district; and a report critical of the district by a self-appointed local watchdog group called the Orinda Emergency Services Task Force.
The district unveiled in November an ambitious plan to reduce $60.4 million in fire district pension debt that slashes capital spending, diverts residents' "fire flow" tax payments, and other austerity measures.
The district also found itself being criticized for its response time to a Nov. 25 fire that destroyed an Orinda home. The district has strongly defended its handling of the blaze, posting recordings of the 911 and dispatch calls detailing the response on its website to address the concerns.
On top of all that, three Moraga firefighters were injured on Dec. 3 when a car lost control on a rain-slickened Highway 24 just east of the Wilder Road exit, struck a fire engine and rolled into the firefighters.
A Scout denied his Eagle rank
Ryan Andresen of Moraga, a senior at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, was informed late in the year he would not be able to become an Eagle Scout, after openly acknowledging he is gay. That admission violated the Boy Scouts of America's "standard of sexual orientation;" not only did Andresen not get his Eagle rank, but was dismissed from the Scouts.
Andresen's mother started an online petition calling for the Boy Scouts to give her son the Eagle Scout rank he earned; more than 450,000 people had signed it by late December. His story went national, culminating in an Oct. 11 appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' syndicated talk show, where he was given (by DeGeneres) an oversized $20,000 college scholarship check from the photo-publishing website Shutterfly.
Former Scouts of all ages from around the country and beyond sent Andresen their Eagle medals in support of his stand.
Lafayette's crackdown on massage parlors
In February, Lafayette residents told the Lafayette City Council a spike in the number of massage parlors in town had fueled their suspicions there was more than massage going on in some of them. It turned out they were right, and Lafayette leaders moved to weed out the problem operators.
In June, the city approved a law requiring all massage therapists and practitioners conducting business in Lafayette be state certified with the California Massage Therapy Council. Sole practitioners and business owners or operators will need to register annually with the police department and those who are not state-certified will have to undergo extensive background checks and pay a fee, among other requirements.
Legitimate therapists complained at first the new requirements were onerous, and tweaks in the ordinance were made before final adoption. Police have made several arrests at Lafayette parlors since, including some only days after the ordinance was adopted.
Other police activity
There were a few notable crimes in Lamorinda in 2012. One of them was the June arrest of 62-year-old James Collin of Orinda, charged with murder for using a 2 1/2-foot-long machete to kill his girlfriend, 56-year-old Evangeline Cumbe Devera. Collin's preliminary hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25.
A stranger case is that of Tod Morton, a 51-year-old Walnut Creek contractor, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he held a day laborer captive and robbed him in a Lafayette house on Oct. 15.
Morton has been charged with felony charges of false imprisonment and second-degree robbery in connection with the Oct. 15 incident that police and prosecutors have described as "bizarre."
Prosecutors said Morton picked up the 42-year-old day laborer outside a Concord hardware store and brought him to a house on Lucas Court in Lafayette, where he serves as a caretaker. Morton had the laborer do some yard work before bringing him inside to a storage room, where he instructed him to dust off wine bottles and then left the room; Morton soon returned wearing a holstered gun and police badge and accused the Spanish-speaking man of being in the United States illegally. Morton allegedly handcuffed the man, searched him and stole his cell phone. The victim eventually escaped; Morton was chasing him when nearby neighbors saw was going on and called police.
Morton's preliminary hearing is scheduled for January.