OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Longtime Oakland City Hall reporter and gadfly Sanjiv Handa has been found dead at a home near Piedmont Avenue at the age of 55, according to police and City Council President Larry Reid.

Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement, “We are sad to hear of Sanjiv Handa’s passing. He spent most of his life at City Hall. There will never be another Sanjiv Handa.”

Reid said Handa, who had covered virtually every council meeting, including committee hearings, since 1991, was found dead by a female friend when she returned to her home in the 3400 block of Richmond Boulevard Tuesday afternoon.

Reid said Handa, the sole proprietor of the East Bay News Service, an email newsletter, normally lived at a nearby apartment on Howe Street but had been staying with the friend for several days because they were working together on a project.

Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson confirmed that the woman called police to report that she found Handa dead when she returned to her home at about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

His cause of death will be determined by an autopsy that will be conducted later this week, Watson said.

Quan, Reid and fellow council member Ignacio De La Fuente all said Handa looked ill at the council’s meeting the night of Dec. 20.

Quan said, “I was concerned about his health at the last council meeting.”

Reid said, “He looked so bad that I offered to take him to the hospital but he said he was taking Theraflu (a cough medicine).”

He said Handa had lost weight and it looked like he had pneumonia but Handa insisted that he would be OK.

De La Fuente said Handa “looked ill” and didn’t get up from the press table when he addressed the council, something he did at most council meetings, crossing the line between reporting and advocacy.

Instead, Handa was handed a microphone and remained seated while he spoke to the council.

Reid said he often disagreed with Handa “but we were still friends and could still talk afterward.”

He said Handa “would drive us all crazy” but he respected Handa because he was a zealous advocate for open government.

AC Transit Director Christian Peeples, who has known Handa for more than 20 years, said Handa was one of the Bay Area’s greatest advocates for open government, along with San Francisco Bay Guardian editor and publisher Bruce Brugmann and Terry Francke, the executive director of the First Amendment Project.

“He was somewhat obsessed with bureaucracy and governance and knew more stuff than almost anybody,” Peeples said.

He said he first heard about Handa in the late 1980s when he covered Emeryville and had a newsletter, which was faxed weekly, called “The Five-Minute Report.”

After a few years Handa moved on to Oakland and launched, “The Six-Minute Report,” which covered Oakland, Peeples said.

He said he considered Handa to be a friend even though he was the landlord for Handa’s two-bedroom apartment on Howe Street and Handa stopped paying rent for a long time.

Peeples said he filed a legal action against Handa but didn’t aggressively pursue the matter, partly because Handa was a friend and partly because he thought Handa “could be very troublesome” since he knew so much about city government and city laws.

“Our relationship was strained but I still had huge admiration for him,” Peeples said.

De La Fuente said, “We disagreed a lot but he served a purpose” in fighting for open government.

However, De La Fuente said, “I never considered him a traditional reporter but instead more of an advocate,” both for open government and for candidates he favored.

Reid agreed that Handa blurred the line between being a reporter and being an advocate by speaking on numerous agenda items at council meetings and then writing about the meetings afterward.

“Sanjiv was difficult, but he was a good person,” Reid said.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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