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October 4-10, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Big Changes At Montalvo?

Is the South Bay losing a musical treasure? That depends on who you talk to. A source close to the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga told Metro that the group will be cutting its popular concert series, which has enlivened music fans with jazz, classical, rock and R&B performances in Saratoga, Los Gatos, San Jose and Redwood City for the past 20 years. Our informant asked to remain anonymous because he offered a less-than-flattering perspective of the new direction the arts center is heading: "Montalvo will become an elitist playground," he said, "the very antithesis of its mission." But the actual fate of the center's performing arts remains fuzzy. Montalvo representative Shannon McDonnell said the concert series won't be cut, but will be "integrated into the rest of the artistic programming." We couldn't figure out what that meant, so we spoke with artistic director Gordon Knox, who has taken the reigns from the freshly axed director of performing arts, Bruce Labadie. Labadie ran the concert series for 12 years and confirmed that his position was recently cut, although he declined to say why (local promoters tell us that Labadie has one of the best reputations in the biz). Knox gave us a wordy explanation for the change: "Our primary objective is to find important and innovative ways to find ideas of arts and connect them with audiences in a way that is about the movement of ideas." Uh, OK, but what does this mean for the Bo Diddley and Burt Bacharach types that filled the Garden Theatre earlier this month? What does it mean for the standup comedians that entertained crowds at the Carriage House? Well, Knox envisions a step up from mere entertainment "because we are seriously an arts center and need to think about what arts centers do." He suggested that musicians include community outreach programs with their appearances and that comedians "reflect on what it is to be a comedian." He wants the concert series to be more about just selling tickets—and he may get his wish. Our anonymous critic sees Knox's move as a way to suck up to "high-brow, artsy-fartsy, high-roller donors" while phasing out the popular acts that thousands of "working stiffs" have supported for years. Montalvo's shows booked through March are still on, but after that, it remains to be seen what will become of the concert series.

SJ Chamber Issues Hit State Election

Federal judge James Ware wasn't swayed by the outrage of Cindy Chavez supporters about the Chamber of Commerce mailers sent to San Jose voters last spring (see Fly's July 19 replay of the drama). He recently overturned an elections commission decision that the mailers violated contribution limits. City officials were prepared to fine the Chamber's political arm COMPAC for each supposed infraction (labor leader Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins suggested a $1 million penalty), but the business organization didn't back down. It filed suit against the city for infringing on its constitutional right of free speech. Judge Ware agreed and called San Jose's elections ordinance too vague. Neither are Chavez's labor supporters backing down about their ethical issues with the fliers, which criticized the mayoral candidate's prior knowledge of the Grand Prix subsidy and her stance on the city's controversial attempt to take over the Tropicana shopping center. Metro called Chavez's campaign to hear what they thought of Judge's Ware's ruling, but spokesman Patrick Hannan declined to comment. This local battle could influence the tone of a larger struggle over political money. California's Proposition 89, set for the November ballot, advocates the public financing of state campaigns, including slapping limits on contributions given to independent committees like the Chamber's COMPAC. "We know this is a contentious issue, but we believe we are on firm footing," said Prop. 89 spokesman Charles Idelson. Prop. 89 opponents, however, say they surprised by the Chamber's victory. "That's what happens when you limit people's free speech," said No on Prop. 89 representative Robin Swanson.

I'll See You After School!

Can school board infighting get any worse than the back and forth that occurs at the East Side Union High School District? No, not really. And it's only underlined now that we learn that the district recently coughed up $6,000 to Hanson Bridgett, a San Francisco law firm, to launch an independent investigation of East Side trustee Patricia Martinez-Roach. The allegations that launched the investigations, spelled out in a letter from trustee George Shirakawa Jr. to board president Manuel Herrera, come straight out of a cafeteria squabble between grade schoolers. In the letter, Shirakawa complained to Herrera that he learned that Martinez-Roach made "inappropriate" remarks and "threatening gestures" to another trustee, Lan Nguyen, at a special board meeting that Shirakawa didn't even attend. Shirakawa added that he believed that Martinez-Roach had violated the board's bylaws and possibly the California Penal Code by her actions. In their investigation, the law firm conducted several interviews and found, among other matters, that Martinez-Roach had referred to Nguyen as a "boy" and that after the vote, Martinez-Roach approached Nguyen and told him, while shaking her finger at him, that he should be ashamed of himself, shoved him in the arm, and "stormed off," an act described by one of the witnesses (an aspiring school board trustee himself) as "a mother scolding a child." Not unexpectedly, the independent investigators found that Martinez-Roach had violated neither the board's bylaws, nor the California Penal Code. One not-so-shocking finding is that in admonishing Nguyen that he should be ashamed of himself, Martinez-Roach did not achieve the level of a "threat of unlawful injury." Uh, really? "It's mind-boggling to myself and everyone else," says Martinez-Roach of the investigation. "It's a political agenda, the whole thing is bizarre. Craig Mann [another East Side trustee] started it and Shirakawa recommended it. It's probably because I ask too many questions; I don't agree with a lot of things that they do." Neither Mann nor Shirakawa accepted the conclusions of the independent report. "It did not [clear her]," Mann insisted. "If you're her, she read it and believed that she was vindicated, but those of us who experienced [her actions], it verified that she was out of control; she's not fit for public service." Nguyen, meanwhile, still feels wronged by Martinez-Roach, but admits that the long history between her and some of the other board members may have contributed to him taking more of a back seat in this attack on Martinez-Roach. "I think there's a long history between Shirakawa and Martinez-Roach," says Nguyen. "Maybe this is another thing that added to it and got him to the point of exploding."

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