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January 4-10, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Another Whiff Of Norcal

San Jose's Norcal scandal is one thing—we're all familiar with the lingering stink of the garbage giant sucking $11 million from city residents in a secret deal with Mayor Ron Gonzales. But why hasn't anyone linked that heap of trouble to another Norcal-related incident that left Mountain View residents holding their noses? This story of Foothill Disposal, a Norcal subsidiary that serves the northern part of the county, went down in early 2004 and is the tale of three men named Michael. First there was Mountain View City Attorney Michael Martello, who admitted to having an affair with Foothill's general manager Pamela Read. Then there was Michael Read, the distraught husband who made a scene at City Hall and accused the lovers of mixing business with pleasure. Finally there was Michael Jenkins, a Southern California attorney who jumped on board to investigate Mr. Read's allegations. Was it a conflict of interest that the city attorney was sleeping with the garbage company's general manager? Was there any connection to the fact that Foothill received a 9 percent increase at about the same time the affair went public in 2004? The $735,000 contract boost was the largest in five years and raised resident rates by 3 percent. The answer, Mr. Jenkins found, was no. His $8,480 investigation (funded by taxpayer dollars) produced a glowing report of Martello, who apparently had nothing to do with decisions involving the garbage company. Foothill spokesman Sam Singer told Fly Mrs. Read has done an excellent job and he couldn't remember why the company had considered reassigning her in 2004. Despite all these reassurances, Ann Schneider, a Mountain View resident and former solid waste expert for San Jose, isn't convinced. "Just the appearance of conflict is enough," she said. "There's always going to be the perception that something's wrong." Garbage companies in particular, Schneider explained, have to be careful of stink because there's so much money involved in our trash. Nationally, the industry pulls in an estimated $50 billion, and waste management contracts are among the largest a city will pay for. Foothill received another 7 percent increase in 2005 and will be up for a rate adjustment again this spring. Mountain View finance director Robert Locke says annual raises are to insure the company gets a minimum 6 percent profit. Did we mention that Martello and Read (now divorced from her husband) are now listed at the same address?

Tree Reprieve

In a surprise twist, San Jose Water Company has withdrawn its plan to log 1,000 acres on the Los Gatos Creek watershed. The move comes after Metro's recent story on the logging plan ("Chopping Mad," MetroNews, Dec. 7) exposed potential risks the timber harvest could pose to fire safety, water quality and the lifestyle of over 4,000 people living near the logging zone. This is a huge victory for residents opposed to the proposal, who formed NAIL (Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging) and then went on to put one in the coffin of the company's plan, at least for the time being. In the past four months, NAIL members have collected over 2,000 petition signatures, presented their concerns to county supervisors and held community meetings with hundreds attending. "The plan to harvest the watershed was deeply flawed and poorly executed from the very beginning," NAIL members wrote in their response to San Jose Water's press release. San Jose Water said it will resubmit the logging proposal in the spring of 2006 after it completes a fire protection study and provides further information to the California Department of Forestry. Jodi Frediani, the consultant hired by NAIL to analyze the 450-page document, said CDF should have never accepted it for filing in the first place. The state agency needed clarification on 100 items after the first review—evidence, Frediani believes, of the proposal's shortcomings. CDF official Leslie Markham told Metro it's not unusual to have so many questions about logging plans of this size. Meanwhile, NAIL is taking this opportunity to plug for an alternative, urging San Jose Water to seek a conservation easement on its property.

Northside Showdown

The City of San Jose has suddenly taken control of the JTS Northside Community Center, and supporters of the activists from whom it was yanked say they're being bounced around like a "political football." City officials, however, say they've simply had it with the shenanigans that have gone on there. Who's right? Well, here are the facts: In December, the San Jose City Council voted to take control of the center's new downtown building, which had formerly been run by the nonprofit Filipino American Community Development Corporation (FILAmCDC). Supporters of the Filipino organization say the intervention is premature because in June the council gave FILAmCDC 18 months to clean up its act, after a city audit revealed the serious financial issues plaguing the center's management. FILAmCDC did run a smaller community center for 30 years, and Mohinder Mann, a San Jose attorney and co-founder of Friends of JTS Northside Community Center, says the nonprofit had shown its commitment to cleaning up its act by raising $86,000 from private donors in the past six months. But for councilman and mayoral candidate Chuck Reed, who spearheaded the recent effort to take control of the center, it was simply too little, too late. Reed says the organization showed "zero progress," and points out that the money raised isn't nearly enough to deal with the current problems at Northside. Among the biggest of these is a debt to the city of over $200,000, part of which was misused by FILAm executive director Ben Menor to pay for his parents' health care. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer supported Reed's initiative in a letter about FILAmCDC: "It is not prudent to let the existing Board of Directors continue in its current state. Our experience is that troubled boards are not capable of fixing their internal problems without outside help." Mann questions the motives behind Reed's hardliner approach. "He just wants to show that he's Mr. Integrity because he's running for mayor," the activist says. But Reed responds: "I am Mr. Integrity. I don't have to pretend to look like it."

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