His day in court: Mayor Ron Gonzales leaves his arraignment Monday, after his attorney delayed entering a plea.
Silicon Valley News Notes
Like We Said ...
Ron Gonzales looked infuriatingly smug as he waited to be arraigned Monday on felony charges from the indictment predicted in this column last month and handed down by the grand jury last week. He exchanged occasional whispers and chuckles with his wife, Guiselle Nunez—you couldn't be blamed for thinking the couple were gracing an awards banquet instead of a hearing at the criminal courthouse. They may be having fun, but Gonzo's defiance has made this whole debacle worse for everyone else. Resigning from office when six councilmembers demand it—along with 87 percent of San Jose residents, according to a recent Mercury News online poll—is just the right thing to do. But ironically, the mayor claims stepping down now would mean failing the people of San Jose. On Monday, his attorney Allen Ruby delayed entering a plea and asked for more time to file a motion challenging the indictment. Prosecutor Julius Finkelstein defended the indictment as he exited the courthouse. "We believe our interpretation of the law is correct," he told a flock of media people. ... At a press conference last Friday, Finkelstein explained the charges against Gonzales, his budget czar Joe Guerra and Norcal (which include bribery, conspiracy and misappropriation of public funds, all stemming from the mayor's secretly cut $11 million deal with the garbage company). But the hour-long conference left us with the same question that's eating away at everyone: Why? Why did Gonzales do this stupid deal in the first place? Finkelstein didn't have an answer for the hungry media crowd, but said, "Motive is not required to be proved." He noted that under California law, a public official does not have to personally gain from an illegal deal to be considered a bribee. "Public officials cannot use their public office to secure benefits, either for themselves or third parties or political supporters," he said. ... Although Finkelstein faces a challenge in convincing a jury of that, he won't have to twist Dave Cortese's arm. The councilmember apparently hasn't lost sight of the mayor's seat since he missed the runoff election earlier this month. He showed up at the press conference with a media name tag and tried to hover in the glow of Finkelstein's spotlight. "There's been no dialogue about this at City Hall," he said about the indictment, adding that councilmembers have been talking to each other through quotes in the media. It must have been his turn. With the growing cries for Gonzo to resign, Cortese seems like he's itching to grab onto the reigns.
Who's No. 2?
It's official. As of this week, Marc Buller is George Kennedy's new chief assistant district attorney. And he's not just a fill-in while Karyn Sinunu takes a leave of absence. Kennedy posted an office bulletin last week announcing Buller's promotion to "Chief Assistant" (notice he didn't say "acting"). Buller confirms that the job is "as permanent as it can be" and has no reason to believe he will have to step down if and when Sinunu decides to return to the office. That leaves Sinunu in a sticky situation that has Fly more than a little confused: Can Sinunu still call herself the chief assistant in her campaign for district attorney? County Counsel Ann Ravel says there is only one job code for the position, so if Buller gets it, then Sinunu will have to be demoted. But we got a whole new spin on things from Sinunu, who assured us that she and Marc were "splitting" the code for chief assistant. Huh? How does that work? If she doesn't win the election, Sinunu says she'll return as the chief assistant. "I don't know what that means for Marc," she added. Finally, minutes before this paper went to press, Deputy County Executive Luke Leung told us Buller's appointment to chief assistant is in an acting capacity. Buller is not ready to back down. "We are not calling it an acting position," Buller countered, "although they might say that for administrative purposes." Kennedy, the one person who might help us get to the bottom of things, yet again failed to return our phone calls. He's also not talking about the high-priced personnel investigation he hired an outside attorney for last month. The contract for the covert probe, funded by taxpayer dollars, names Kennedy as the client instead of the county, so even Ravel couldn't tell us more about what's going on. Meanwhile, former Assistant District Attorney Bill Larsen (who's supporting Dolores Carr, Sinunu's opponent in the November run-off) said Sinunu's leave of absence to spend more time on campaigning seems like a face-saving gesture to prevent her from being demoted publicly before the election. "How devastating would that be for her campaign?" he pointed out. Ravel (who, despite being county counsel, has endorsed Carr) explained that if Sinunu loses the chief assistant title, she would have to change her ballot statement, according to county rules. And that wouldn't be the only crippling blow to Sinunu's campaign: apparently, Kennedy has pulled his endorsement of her. He's no longer listed as a supporter on her website, although his flattering quote about her qualifications remains. Sinunu wouldn't answer our questions about this directly, but said she will be revamping the site in a couple of weeks to remove his quote because she will be running for the office on her own merits. Also, a clarification: Fly previously reported that Sinunu's leave is unpaid. While leaves for personal reasons such as campaigning generally are unpaid, according to Ravel, Sinunu says she is using accrued vacation time to keep the paychecks coming.
Can't Stop The Condos
Back to Mountain View, where the City Council is on the verge of approving yet another housing development, this time on Rengstorff Avenue, where developer Lyon Capital Ventures has plans to raze the 188-unit Northpark apartment complex to make room for 206 three-story row houses. For the city, it looks like another financial windfall—not only from the increase in property taxes they'll get when the 206 new homes suddenly sell for $700,000 a piece, but from the added consumer base the 18 extra families will provide without forcing the city to add new public services. "You're basically redeveloping an existing site with services already available," said Mountain View Planner Martin Alkire. "We just look at the incremental change, how many more people will be living there." The other side of the coin: like most redevelopment projects, Northpark has some of the cheapest rents in an otherwise ridiculously overpriced housing market. (A two-bedroom unit goes for around $1,500 a month.) "My big concern is that you're displacing poor people," Planning Commission member Jack Siegel said, "but in this case [the developer] does own other property [the Maplewood Apartments on California Street] and he is relocating people." So maybe everybody wins? Well, maybe not Maplewood's current tenants, who under that plan would have to relocate, too, since their entire complex is already full. The developer is promising to preserve Northpark's beautiful scenery, including the 99 heritage trees on the property. (According to Siegel, the developer has to put in more large trees than it takes out.) "I've been here two years and I think it's pretty unique," Northpark tenant Sean McKenna says. "They're not being total jerks about it, and they're trying to preserve the natural beauty of the site. ... I just think it's unfortunate. When you look at rentals, not a lot of them are really nicely done like this."