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Silicon Valley News Notes

Building Consensus

Home builders are notorious for fighting building mandates, but in the case of San Jose's green building proposal, which is going before the council soon, they're apparently onboard. Hmm, maybe that's because what San Jose is proposing really isn't that strict? Compare San Jose's proposed ordinance to what Palo Alto has already implemented for green building, and it's clear that Palo Alto has taken the lead. Besides having stricter requirements for commercial and industrial buildings, the city also has stricter thresholds for green building on the residential side. Not to mention the ordinance covers green building for home remodels, unlike San Jose's. But Jeff Janssen, senior policy adviser for Mayor Chuck Reed's office, says you can't really compare San Jose to the smaller cities, where development is not as heavy. Because of that, he says, San Jose has to carefully balance green-building goals with the builders' needs, which is why they are phasing in the green building standards so they become increasingly more strict over the years. "They don't like mandates," Janssen says of the builders. "But we are lucky the home builders here didn't want to fight with us." As far as other big cities in the Bay Area, Janssen says, San Jose is on par with places like San Francisco, as far as green building standards go. "I think we are pretty compatible with what everyone else is doing," Janssen said. "We are phasing things in a little slower than San Francisco."

Empty Nest Syndrome

As if the housing crisis weren't bad enough, the latest side effect is an uptick in neighborhood blight around the South Bay. City code enforcement officials are reporting an increase in the number of homes left vacant and neglected, in large part because of foreclosures. Since last summer, more than 300 such homes have been identified, according to the city, and that means windows boarded up, broken glass and overgrown landscaping. Of those, about 41 percent are bank-owned homes and most of them are clustered around the East Side of San Jose. San Jose has yet to see the problem escalate to the level it has in some big cities, but code enforcers still have to scramble to keep tabs on these neglected homes, which can become breeding grounds for vandalism and crime, potentially driving down property values in the entire neighborhood. The surge of foreclosures has made it tough to track down the offenders, said Wayne Chen, policy development officer in the housing department. "There are bank-owned properties that some folks are taking off and leaving the properties as is," Chen said. "Because the city is so large, there's potential for a lot of home sit; it's hard to proactively monitor them."

Sammy Cohen, Metro columnist and Jazz Society founder

Two giants of San Jose's jazz world died in late August within a week of each other.

One was tall and always immaculately dressed, a Bellarmine-educated pianist raised in the Santa Clara Valley and married into one of its wealthiest and most prominent families. His parents were Italian immigrants who worked in local tomato canneries.

The other was round and simply dressed, a working drummer who kept time for musicians like Cab Calloway and Mike Bloomfield in the hardscrabble clubs of New York and New Orleans. His dad, a Jewish-American precinct pol from Chicago, dressed during his later years in colorful mismatched plaids, printed up business cards that read "Mr. Los Gatos" and spoke up regularly at Town Council meetings.

Both were passionate about music. Henry Schiro was the well-dressed impresario who booked performers; Sammy Cohen fought to compensate them fairly as head of the local musician's union.

As Metro prepared to publish its first issue, Cohen walked into the storefront office and pitched a column. Called "Jazz Notes," it recognized for the first time that the South Bay was a hotbed for jazz and blues performers, and the column helped coalesce a scene. He became one of the newspaper's most recognized writers in its early years, interviewing John Lee Hooker and other musical legends along the way.

Cohen's next idea was to organize a jazz society, and Metro agreed to pay for a phone line, which played a recorded message of upcoming events. He pulled together a San Jose Jazz Society band, which performed at Schiro's jazz venue at the Garden City card club in San Jose.

One thing led to another, and the result was the San Jose Jazz Festival, now one of the biggest events of its kind. What Cohen started, Schiro built into greatness.

The humble drummer and the polished pianist transformed the cultural life of a city.Services for Schiro were held Aug. 29 at St. Joseph's Cathedral.

Cohen will be remembered on Saturday, Sept. 13 at a 4pm memorial in the De Anza Hotel's Hedley Club Lounge. It will be followed by a musical tribute that is sure to be memorable.

—Dan Pulcrano

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