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Diablo’s Week in Review: January 25-31

From Sully-mania in Danville, to local Yardbirds and West Berkeley’s Scharffen Berger chocolate factory closing, to Rossmoor woodpeckers being put on a hit list, here are the top news stories in Diabloland this past week.

"Hero of the Hudson" US Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger of Danville

Safety Reliability Methods, Inc.

Sully-mania comes home to Danville: As we reported in D-blog on Saturday, US Airways pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger, the “Hero of the Hudson,” returned to his hometown, received a key to the city, and was named an honorary member of the Danville Police Department as thousands of his friends and neighbors cheered on. And, this just in, but if you're still caught up in Sully-mania, Sullenberger and the entire crew of US Airways Flight 1549 will be honored just before the start of Superbowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida.

Mall wars brewing between Walnut Creek and San Ramon: Contra Costa Times Political Editor Lisa Vorderbrueggen reports on behind-the-scenes legal and political maneuvering going on between developers, city leaders, and so-called concerned citizens in Walnut Creek and San Ramon. What’s at stake? The proposal to build a new Neiman Marcus in Walnut Creek’s Broadway Plaza and San Ramon’s long-awaited City Center project. 

Construction of new apartments, shops, and a hotel at the new Pleasanton/West Pleasanton BART station put on hold: The Contra Costa Times reports that the BART station will still open as scheduled later this year, but tight credit woes have forced developers to halt projects, including a 309-unit apartment complex in Dublin and 14,000-square-feet of retail space on the Pleasanton side, just north of Stoneridge Mall.

Charges pending in Danville teen shooting case: As of Friday, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office was still considering what if any charges to file against a 15-year-old boy arrested in the January 20 death of Rylan Fuchs, 17. The San Ramon Valley senior was shot in front of his Danville home during what police say could have been a drug-related dispute. The San Francisco Chronicle says the suspect is being held at Juvenile Hall on unrelated charges. The suspect also attended San Ramon Valley High, then transferred to Monte Vista in September but left the school the following month for undisclosed reasons. Services for Fuchs are set for Saturday; for details see the Danville Weekly.

Sad news for Yardbirds customers in Alamo and Concord: Home Depot will close its five Bay Area Yardbirds, including the ones in Alamo and Concord, and its 34 Expo Design Centers nationally, including ones in Concord and Dublin, according to reports in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Pleasanton Weekly. These store closures mean that 600 in the Bay Area will lose jobs. One bright spot for DIYers: Home Depot stores will remain open.

Economic news we’ve been expecting: An economist speaking at an Association of Bay Area Governments conference this week confirmed that the local economy will get worse before it gets better. Expect a rebound starting in 2010, said the economist, as quoted by the Contra Costa Times. And there’s an upside to lowering home prices: More people will be able to afford homes—as long as they keep their jobs.

Tri-Valley schools try to deal with budget cuts in various ways: To make $8.7 million in budget cuts, the Pleasanton Unified School District is looking at eliminating class-size reduction and to introduce a parcel tax measure, the Pleasanton Weekly says. Similarly, in the San Ramon Valley Unified district, trustees have approved placing a property parcel tax on the spring ballot, increasing the current tax, which expires this spring, to $144, says the Danville Weekly. In Dublin, the district looking at relaxing more rigorous graduation requirements it had planned to impose on students, starting with the class of 2012, says the Tri-Valley Herald.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker will close its West Berkeley factory later this year:  As we reported in D-blog, Scharffen Berger, known for gourmet chocolates and pioneering the now mainstream dark chocolote fad, will be closing their local West Berkeley factory later this year. Hershey Co., which bought the East Bay company in 2005, will continue to make the popular artisan chocolate but at their Robinson, Illinois, plant, where much of the chocolate was already made.

Drought worries: Start conserving water, because our unusually dry winter means we may be facing the worst drought in modern history. So says a state water resources official, quoted by Contra Costa Times. Others, including officials at East Bay Municipal Utilities District and Wente Vineyards owner Phil Wente, are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. "We could have the wettest March on record yet,” Wente says. “We don't know that yet."

Vietnam-era militant William Ayers turns the Saint Mary's College campus into protest central: Dozens of protesters, led by former KSFO radio host Melanie Morgan, decried the Catholic university’s invitation to Ayers, a University Illinois professor, to come speak on campus about social justice in education. Read more in Diablo's D-blog report.

News of an ornithological nature coming from Rossmoor: Contra Costa Times columnist Gary Bogue and other wildlife experts say that plans to shoot 50 woodpeckers that have been drilling holes into the sides of the Walnut Creek retirement community’s condos homes won’t work. That’s because woodpeckers are prolific maters, and a new crop will soon take the place of the deceased.

Saint Mary's basketball "Dream Team" run in question: The Gaels' leading scorer, Patty Mills, sat out the second half of the Gaels' game against Gonzaga Thursday night. This setback resulted in a 69-62 loss for the Gaels against Gonzaga and ended the local team's nation-leading 15-game winning streak. The Contra Costa Times says it's unknown how long Mills, who averages 18.7 points per game, will be out.  

Bail set for former officer in BART shooting, says he meant to Taser the victim in New Year's Day slaying: As protesters gathered outside the Alameda County courthouse in downtown Oakland, a judge agreed to set bail for former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle—to the tune of $3 million. The judge agreed to the bail, but expressed skeptism at the claim by Mehserle's attorney that the shooting was accidental, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Michael Rains, Mehserle's Pleasant Hill attorney says in court filings that his client meant to stun Oscar Grant with a Taser gun, instead of shooting him with a pistol, while he and other officers broke up a reported disturbance at the Fruitvale BART station.