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February 15-21, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

A (Bounce) House Divided

As if San Jose needs another controversy, we may soon have 8-year-olds marching on the Dome. They're sure to be cranky over a potentially party-pooping ordinance that San Jose leaders are planning that would restrict the use of inflatable houses in local parks. It all started about a year ago when Willow Glen residents complained to their councilmember, Ken Yeager (who, by the way, is running for a spot on the county board of supervisors), about the annoying air jumpers taking over their parks. Vendors would arrive early in the morning to get a good spot and begin running noisy generators. On busy summer weekends, green lawns would turn into breeding grounds for the blimplike structures. A source close to the city told us that most of the complaints came from houses neighboring Bramhall Park, the largest in Willow Glen at 18 acres. Let's just say their moaning didn't go unnoticed. Today the Parks and Recreation Commission will vote on the ordinance for a second time after two commissioners rejected it earlier this month. It would require that air jumper renters pay $30 for a permit to set up at certain pre-approved parks. That list includes 33 parks (out of 165 in San Jose). Guess what? Only one in Willow Glen made the cut, the tiniest plot in all of District 6: Lincoln Glen, less than a quarter of an acre. What's more, East Side residents in Districts 5 and 7 will get to choose from only four existing parks (two haven't been built yet). "That's simply not enough," our inside source pointed out, estimating that on a busy summer day, there could easily be 100-150 air jumpers needing space. There are at least 30 vendors listed in the South Bay alone. Then there's the problem with enforcement. "What's the city going to do? Shut down a kid's birthday party?" one critic said. Yeager responds: "There are so many air jumpers, we have to have some way of regulating them." But the real blow-up in this inflatable house story is yet to come: once the Parks and Recreation Commission makes its final recommendation, it'll pass the ordinance on to City Council for public input.

Speech Impaired

Even the eighth time wasn't a charm for San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales when he gave his final State of the City address last week. Indeed, charming was the last thing that came to mind as Gonzales awkwardly recited the lines of his speech under the eerie blue lights of City Hall's luminescent dome. "Tonight, as I prepare to finish my eighth year as your mayor, I'm even more optimistic about our future and more excited about my job than ever before," he declared in an unconvincing monotone, mustering a half smile and biting his lower lip. Fly might have believed this seven years ago, when Gonzales' youthful ambition brightened his alienlike charisma. Of course, that was back when he made bold statements like, "We will connect San Jose to BART before I leave office." How? By bus or light rail? While the mayor tried last week to savor the sweeter highlights of his time in office (making neighborhoods safer and helping teachers buy houses), the bitterness of his recent censure ruined any pretense of celebration. One of his critics, mayoral candidate Michael Mulcahy, knew Gonzales' party was over. He sat in back (Fly thought he was just trying to be cool but he said he arrived late because he had to pick up his wife and daughter). "Running a city is a team effort," Mulcahy said, referring to how the mayor acknowledged the other councilmembers before he began his address. "If he had followed that, we could have avoided some of the problems we're facing now." Mayoral candidate J. Manuel Herrera (who, by the way, arrived early and sat in front) went a little easier on the lackluster leader, noting that the "most sustained applause" of the evening followed the lines "The people of San Jose need a dialogue that goes beyond the politics of blame. Criticism alone is not leadership." Herrera said this response came from a "deep community sentiment that our leaders should not bog themselves down in partisan attacks." Like it or not, though, Gonzales' pitfalls have turned the mayor's race into a feeding frenzy, with candidate and Councilmember Dave Cortese leading the pack. He refrained from applause during several of Gonzales' lofty proposals for his final year in office because he says he no longer trusts the mayor's leadership.

Party Hardly?

Imagine a social event with food spreads on decorated tables throughout two floors of an impressive downtown San Jose building. Picture 1,000 guests milling in, each receiving a "favor." Finally, add the most important ingredient: a live mariachi band. Would you call this a party? Santa Clara County spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell doesn't think so. "I take issue with calling it a party," she said about the "reception" the Board of Supervisors hosted in November at the Tech Museum of Innovation for the California State Association of Counties conference. Mitchell insists the event was a "standard function." Interesting, then, that the County Executive slotted a $10,000 budget adjustment last month to pay, according to the budget memo, for the museum rental, table decorations and "favors" for attendees. Favors? You mean party favors? Mitchell said the January budget memo must have been mistaken about the last two expenses; the money, she says, actually paid for AV equipment and mariachi singers in addition to the venue. "Just to put it in perspective," Mitchell added, "all of the people attending the conference contributed to the local economy." Supe Liz Kniss presided over the "function" as Santa Clara County's CSAC delegate, but she did not return Fly's phone calls.

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