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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Memorial: Sanjiv Handa

Sanjiv Handa from his Emeryville days
We mourn the passing of Oakland city council antagonist and City Hall journalist muckraker Sanjiv Handa, who died unexpectedly last week after a short illness.
The bane of all elected officials, Mr Handa first cut his disparaging maligning teeth here in Emeryville, where he lived and where he learned to take on City Hall.  Mr Handa published a newspaper on the political doings in Emeryville called the 'Five Minute Report'.  He was a constant thorn in the side of council member Nora Davis and City Hall staff.
Emeryville old timers will remember the relief expressed publicly by Ms Davis when Mr Handa set off for Oakland in 1991.
We salute Mr Sanjiv Handa, a man who never accepted authority figures as having any true authority.  We need more like him to keep government honest.

Re-printed from the San Jose Mercury News:

Sanjiv Handa was an original

Tammerlin Drummond
Oakland Tribune Columnist
Updated: 12/28/2011 11:43:03 PM PST

In most cities, there is at least one citizen watchdog who makes it his 
mission to keep tabs on City Hall.
Yet one would be hard-pressed to find anyone as obsessive and 
relentless about holding public officials' feet to the fire as Sanjiv Handa, 
sole proprietor of the East Bay News Service.
For two decades, Handa has been an ever-present fixture on the Oakland 
political scene. The balding 55-year-old with a fondness for pullover 
sweaters has attended just about every City Council and committee 
meeting. His M.O. -- which drove many people who attended public 
meetings to distraction -- was to hold forth during the open forum for 
public comments. Without fail, Handa, who considered himself a 
journalist, would give his two cents on just about every item. He 
always used the maximum time allotment -- often not to address 
any particular agenda item but to launch into long diatribes against 
the City Council. Handa raged against public officials for everything
from illegally parking to engaging in pay-to-play politics to violating
the Brown Act, the state's open-meetings law.

At the Dec. 20 council meeting, Handa was not his usual combative 
self. He clearly was not well. Instead of sauntering up to the podium, 
he stayed seated. It would be his last council meeting.
On Tuesday, Handa was found dead in a house near Piedmont 
Police have not determined the cause of death and say that an 
autopsy is planned.
unexpected passing was a shock to those who follow Oakland

It is hard to imagine an Oakland City Council meeting without 
There is a tendency when people die to canonize them.
Within hours of reports of Handa's death, the accolades began 
pouring in. Former Oakland City Attorney John Russo hailed 
Handa as "transparency's champion in Oakland." One Twitter 
user proclaimed that "if anyone deserves to have City Hall 
Plaza named after them, it's Sanjiv."
Yet to others -- city officials and residents alike -- Handa was 
an annoying, grandstanding pest who wasted countless 
hours at public meetings with pointless speechifying.
So much so that the City Council passed rules restricting 
speaker time to stop Handa from droning on and on until 
anyone who was not paid to be there fled.
I appreciated Handa's encyclopedic knowledge of Oakland 
history and his dogged pursuit of public records. I also 
recognize that as my colleague, Tribune reporter Cecily Burt, 
says, "Sanjiv kept people on their toes."
With Handa around, at least officials knew someone was 
paying close attention to what was going on at City Hall. 
Yet Handa's great shortcoming was that he was incapable 
of separating the arcane from what was truly important.
When he started to speak, people's eyes would glaze over 
under the barrage of minutiae. Council members would walk 
off the podium. Many people resented his holding the 
chambers hostage, while an equal number appreciated his 
efforts to hold city officials accountable. His never-ending 
sniping at city officials took away from what he had to say -- 
which on occasion was of interest to the public.
"He was a brilliant, driven guy who had no sense of limits and 
no ability to pick battles and that eventually defeated him," 
said Handa's landlord, Chris Peeples, who had filed an 
injunction against Handa for not paying rent.
Handa may have been a "champion of transparency" but 
only when it suited him. When this newspaper filed a public 
records lawsuit against the Peralta Community College District, 
Handa -- a supporter of then-Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris -- 
did something journalistically indefensible: He emailed Peralta 
with legal arguments to aid the district's defense.
Handa would occasionally break some juicy news. But a lot of 
times, Handa's information was just plain wrong.
Handa's supporters and defenders would probably agree with 
the condolence statement released by Mayor Jean Quan:
"He spent most of his life at City Hall," Quan said. "There will 
never be another Sanjiv Handa."
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News 
Group. Contact her 
or follow her at


  1. This guy sounds like someone else in town,

  2. Sounds more like he pissed off the wrong people, or they finally got sick of them, and took care of him.

    I wouldn't expect to hear anything more about this guy from the press, there won't be a publishing of the autopsy report, he will just be forgotten.