While stories on COVID-19 and other health news continued to be popular with Palo Alto Online readers in 2022, they also gravitated toward articles that elicited strong reactions, for better or worse. Here's a look back at the most-viewed stories over the past 12 months.
Highway toll lanes became official in February on the Peninsula. Lanes on a segment of U.S. Highway 101 between state Route 237 in Mountain View and Whipple Avenue in Redwood City made their debut on Feb. 11 after years of construction. The dizzying array of signs and lane markings were a major change for drivers, who previously used high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes that were only in effect during commute hours. In a Q&A, we broke down what to know about the new express lanes, from hours of operation (5 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays) to cost (it depends on how far you're going).
Elections can get ugly, and that idea rang true in the contest to become the county's next top law enforcement official. All eyes were on former Palo Alto police Chief Robert "Bob" Jonsen and retired county sheriff's Capt. Kevin Jensen as they exchanged verbal jabs in the lead-up to Nov. 8.
Jensen argued that Jonsen was secretly backed by the former sheriff, Laurie Smith, who was convicted of civil corruption and willful misconduct this fall. Jonsen alleged Jensen of offering former candidate Christine Nagaye positions in the Sheriff's Office if she endorsed him. Keeping track of their claims was already hard enough given their nearly identical last names. Ultimately, Jonsen was voted into office.
A possible illegal bonfire evolved into an hours-long blaze in south Palo Alto on Aug. 7, charring a pallet of Tesla batteries, a McLaren business office and a Ford pickup truck on El Camino Real. "It was hard to say which of these started it," Fire Battalion Chief Ryan Stoddard said at the time.
On Palo Alto Online's discussion forum, Town Square, a resident who lives near the auto dealership recounted waking up to an explosion and seeing the bright fire outside their window.
The early morning blaze started around 5:30 a.m. and was knocked down by 8 a.m., but smoke was still visible afterwards. Fire investigators initially identified arson as a possible cause, then later dropped it as they continued looking into the case.
The year started off on an unsettling note due to the contagious omicron variant, which resulted in record high COVID-19 case numbers after the 2021 holiday season. The outbreak left school districts in a bind, including Palo Alto Unified, which stopped sending close contact notifications due to the volume of cases. Seven days into 2022, Superintendent Don Austin estimated the district had roughly 300 cases. Administrators were also struggling with maintaining adequate staffing levels.
The high demand for tests led Palo Alto Unified to open a testing site at Cubberley Community Center, which was available to staff and students. The district also adopted a shorter five-day quarantine guidance for teachers and staff who tested positive, in alignment with a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An afternoon shopping trip turned ugly for one Nordstrom customer who lost $2,500 in purchases to two women on April 26. The afternoon robbery started as the customer left the cash register and was verbally accosted by one of the robbers, with whom she was acquainted. The other woman took the shopper's bags and fled in a Toyota Camry. Thankfully, no weapons were involved during the theft. The customer didn't report any injuries, aside from abdominal pain from chasing the women, and declined medical attention.
The aftermath of the 2019 college-admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues, continued to play out this year with the sentencing of Gregory and Amy Colburn. The Palo Alto couple were each ordered to two months in prison, a year of supervised release, a $12,500 fine and 100 hours of community service. It capped off their more than two-year federal case, which was part of a nationwide scheme led by William "Rick" Singer. The Colburns had paid Singer $25,000 through donations to his fake charity in exchange for correcting answers on their son's SAT exam. The couple had originally pleaded not guilty, then switched their pleas weeks before they were set to stand trial.
Avian aficionados from all over the country flocked to Palo Alto in early February for a chance to see the rare Oriental turtle-dove, also known as the rufus turtle-dove, which was first spotted by wildlife biologist Andrew Bradshaw. The lone bird was sighted in the city's Midtown neighborhood in various locations, including a tall, thin redwood that can be viewed from the Matadero Creek overpass on Creek Road and a high tree on Colorado Avenue at Higgins Place.
"It's a little like a Tiffany lamp," said birder Ed Hillard, who lives in the neighborhood. The sighting marks the third time the species has been seen in California.
A brazen daytime robbery at the downtown Apple store made its rounds on the internet thanks to a video that captured the crime in progress during a busy Black Friday sales event. The footage shows two men in their teens or early 20s snatching iPhones and laptops from display tables, ripping them from their security cords. Police estimate the duo took an estimated $35,000 in merchandise.
The video also shows store employees blocking customers from the thieves. A worker heard one of the two suspects make a threat of physical violence toward anyone who stopped them, which escalated the crime from a burglary shoplift to a robbery, according to police. No weapons were seen, and no injuries were reported.
Silicon Valley has a history of cracking the code when it comes to technology, but carrying over its infamous "think outside the box" mentality to housing raised eyebrows in the case of "sleeping pods."
The new housing concept from Brownstone Shared Housing aims to ease housing affordability in the Bay Area by charging $800 a month. The fee comes with a pod, which is slightly wider than a twin bed but tall enough to stand in, and access to the kitchen and other shared living areas. Brownstone rolled out the idea in fall 2021 at a midcentury home in Midtown. The idea wasn't so popular with the city of Palo Alto, which found the residence violated several building codes.
In addition to COVID-19, another fast-spreading disease was a cause for global concern this year: mpox. Also known as monkeypox, the virus leads to a fever, headache, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes, among other symptoms. It spreads through close contact, and in particular by sexual activity. Data from Stanford University's Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network, which tracks whether numerous viruses in wastewater, detected monkeypox over the summer in 10 of 11 sewersheds in the Bay Area and surrounding area, including Palo Alto. On July 23, the World Health Organization declared mpox a global health emergency.
Palo Alto Online is taking one last look at 2022 all this week. If you missed any parts of our series, view the stories below.
From beavers to brazen crimes to long-awaited resolutions, 2022 was a year when we could finally think about something other than COVID-19.
Bigger and better than ever, our year-end news quiz is returning for a third time, giving Palo Alto Weekly readers a chance to look back on the past 12 months in local headlines.
In 2022, Palo Alto saw a strong resurgence from a period of austerity, uncertainty and, for many, isolation.
We've compiled 14 moments captured behind the camera lens that tell distinct stories from this year.
Our staff and contributors reflected on the past 12 months and compiled our favorite drinks and dishes of 2022.
There's still a bounty of great films to discover from a year of cinema at theaters and home.
The city's most and least expensive home sales this year surpassed that of 2021.