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August 2-8, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

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Faster speeds, more passing, great weather, on-time starts and a smoothed-out track made for a perfect day at the races. And no one was in a better position to enjoy it than our hard-working public servants, who had free use of a luxury suite worth at least $50 grand high above the bleachers overlooking the finish line. Among the lucky ones: newly elected county supervisor Ken Yeager, Councilwoman Nancy Pyle, Office of Economic Development head Paul Krutko, Redevelopment's Abi Maghamfar and the family of Cindy Chavez, who all hobnobbed with corporate executives and real estate developers. The gang ran up a big catering bill, too. The details: It started at 8am on Friday with a "bountiful basket of breakfast pastries" including an "assortment of freshly baked muffins and croissant with butter and preserves" followed by a cholesterol-laced lunch of quarter-pound hamburgers on "freshly baked buns." To wash it all down, VIPs guzzled drinks at an open bar from 11am to 5pm. Saturday's breakfast featured croissant sandwiches with "fluffy scrambled eggs, honey-smoked ham and aged cheddar cheeses." Lunch got fancier with heirloom tomato salad, sun-dried tomatoes on tortellini, grilled chicken breast and double fudge brownies. If that wasn't enough, a rich afternoon snack awaited them: "roasted eggplant and fresh herb peperonata with toasted lavosh." The caterers must have been saving the best for last: Sunday's breakfast spread included chocolate croissants, scrambled eggs, smoked bacon, honey ham, sausages and potato hash. At this point, who's counting calories anyway? The Grand Prix revelers dove into an lavish lunch of green salad with toasted almonds, summer watermelon salad with 15-year-old balsamic vinegar, beef hot dogs on "gourmet" rolls, "Angus top sirloin with wild mushrooms," herb potatoes, and to top it off, cheesecake and hand-made chocolate truffles. The VIPs still standing after this culinary marathon could then gorge on an afternoon snack of artichoke goat cheese dip with flat bread. Whew! At least they didn't have to pick up the tab: $230.95 per person for a total (with tax and service charges) of $15,000. Steven Brewster, a spokesman for the Department of Economic Development, said the city also wined and dined their high-profile guests at the California Theatre, bringing the grand total of taxpayer-funded hospitality to $40,000. If you want to find out more details about what your tax dollars paid for, see the catering bill itself (Friday's menu, Saturday's menu, Sunday's menu), and then go to

No Rest in Peace Center

Remember what happened the last time someone criticized San Jose Vice Mayor Cindy Chavez? Those Chamber of Commerce mailers whipped up a frenzied, media-driven backlash from her allies. So Fly wasn't surprised when it learned of the latest broadside from a Chavez supporter. Local activist Karen Maleski seems to have sparked some internal turmoil at the San Jose Peace Center when she launched a brief email to the peacenik community saying she was "appalled" that the vice mayor had spoken at a pro-Israel rally in downtown San Jose. In case you need a brush-up on the latest Middle East mayhem: Israel began bombarding Lebanon earlier this month after a terrorist group captured two Israeli soldiers. Arab groups and international critics have called Israel's aggressive reaction unfairly brutal. Jewish groups and some Democrats have hailed the country's strike as an act of self-defense. Meanwhile, peace activists everywhere are demanding a cease-fire. That brings us back to Maleski, who suggested in her email that Chavez be kicked off the Peace Center's Advisory Board (a group of 10 community leaders including former state Sen. John Vasconcellos) for appearing to support Israel's violence. She got a defensive response from Bill, who runs the Peace Center's office (he asked that we not use his last name). "I feel attacked by this public email," he wrote back, "It's not a good way to work together." Huh? Maleski couldn't figure out why Bill felt personally attacked. Neither could we. In a roundabout way he told us that Chavez didn't have anything to do with international politics, and the Peace Center shouldn't be focused on her in their activist efforts. Turns out Bill supports Chavez in her run for mayor and is a member of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee (which has endorsed Chavez). And the issue that Maleski raised hasn't been overlooked by one of the Peace Center leaders, Bill Cox. He says the organizing committee will discuss it at their next meeting, and they will consider asking Chavez to clarify where she stands on the Israel/Lebanon situation. We tried to run this by the vice mayor, but she failed to return our phone calls. What does all this amount to for the Peace Center. Well, Cox is frank about the Advisory Board's role: "We really haven't taken any advice from them," he says. "They basically appear on our newsletter for name recognition."

Back Up the Truck

Money does weird things to people—and to companies like Norcal who decide to stick around cities where they're facing criminal charges. Fly thought the garbage giant was saying "Sayonara" to San Jose when it refused to renew its contract with the city at the end of last year "for financial reasons." Seemed like an easy way of saying it wanted to escape the cloud of scandal hanging over City Hall. We were wrong. Instead of renewing its contract under the same terms, Norcal submitted a new bid in April along with four other companies. Why bother? Rebidding gives Norcal a chance to get more money out of San Jose taxpayers (as if $11 million extra in a secret deal with Mayor Ron Gonzales weren't enough). The lucrative South Bay market must have been too good to pass by on account of a silly little criminal indictment. San Jose Environmental Services director John Stufflebean couldn't say what the company's new proposal looks like because city officials are still reviewing it. They're due to finish their evaluation, along with a recommendation on which bid is the best deal, sometime this week. We tried to get an early scoop on Norcal's new bid from the company itself, but we were shuffled to its attorney Bill Goodman, who's fielding all media calls about anything related to San Jose. After leaving five messages at his San Francisco office over the course of a week, Goodman finally returned our calls to let us know that he doesn't know anything about the new San Jose bid. "You'll just have to do whatever you do without any information from us," he said. Huh, does that sound like a company we want picking up our trash for the next six years? Councilmember Chuck Reed has his doubts: "I'm pretty nervous about doing business with someone that's been indicted for cheating."

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