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November 23-29, 2005

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Another Land Battle Brewing

Community battles with developers are a common story in the Silicon Valley—and predicting which side local politicians will take seems to be getting easier. County resident Vicki Alexander recognized a pattern last month when she read Metro's "Secret Gardens" cover story (Oct. 19) on the controversial BAREC development in Santa Clara. She realized that in her own backyard, an area near Samaritan Drive that borders San Jose and an unincorporated pocket of the county, the same ingredients were brewing: a high-end housing project proposed by SummerHill Homes (the Palo Alto-based development company owned by George Marcus), a community in uproar over the intrusion, a grassroots effort to stop it, City Council members giving the go-ahead anyway. Drizzled on top of all that is the butter that seems to grease the skids: multiple campaign contributions by Marcus to top decision-makers. Last spring, Richard Popejoy pulled together a community group of 100 Samaritan neighbors who were concerned about the traffic and parking problems 202 new single-family homes would bring to their peaceful suburb. They've had numerous meetings with SummerHill Homes and San Jose City Council member Judy Chirco in the past six months, but they've only come away feeling frustrated. Chirco certainly listened to their complaints, Popejoy says, but none of them seemed to change her mind. Alexander wonders if this is because many of the residents live on unincorporated county land and don't vote for San Jose leaders. Chirco says she felt an undercurrent of that tension at the community forums she held, and that's why she invited county Supe Jim Beall to attend. "We're all neighbors," she says. Her major compromise was asking the developer to include a 1.3-acre park next to the 12.4-acre lot of new houses. In an October memo to the council, she also requested additional traffic studies to be paid for by the developer. But the Samaritan neighbors group is unhappy with the traffic studies conducted so far, and has requested, through its attorney, an extensive Environmental Impact Report. The city won't be going that far, planner Jenny Nusbaum says, because the impact of the proposed project isn't thought to be significant enough. So far, SummerHill has passed the initial stages of approval and it may be early 2006 before it gets the final go-ahead. Meanwhile, the Samaritan neighbors group will be taking advantage of the remaining public comment opportunities, especially now that they know Marcus has made campaign contributions to every San Jose City Council member except the environmentalist Linda Le Zotte.

Re-Dress of Grievances

What do you do when you get so bored with your school uniform—the same bleary gray, white and green every day for three years—that you start coloring your shoelaces with neon highlighters? Well, 11-year-old Devin Ridgway wasn't going to let things get that far. The sixth-grader at Castillero Middle School is the only kid on campus that doesn't follow the uniform policy, thanks to a rebellion launched by his mother, Kelly Harrison. When the school year started in August and her son wasn't comfortable in his starchy gray slacks, Harrison had an epiphany. Devin did not have to wear this uniform because the California Education Code says so. Public school officials who require standard clothing to control the presence of gang colors must let parents "opt out." That's how state lawmakers have balanced the needs of the community and the individual, explains ACLU attorney Julia Harumi Mass. "What a person wears can be an important expression of their identity," she says, "and the legislature has recognized that right." But Castillero Middle and Simonds Elementary (where Harrison's younger daughter goes) haven't made this option clear to parents, despite the fact that the Education Code requires them to. In August, Devin's mother noticed that school newsletters and handbooks describing the uniform policy, along with consequences for noncompliance, left out an important detail—"This doesn't apply to you if your parents give you permission!" So she wrote letters to the principals and the district. Michael Carr, director of student services for San Jose Unified, says he responded by telling all elementary principals to update their school newsletters, which Simonds did last month. But Carr didn't pass the message on to middle schools, which might be why kids and teachers are still questioning Devin about his street clothes. When Fly brought this to Carr's attention, he said he could "easily send that out." The ACLU's Mass responds to this oversight: "It doesn't sound like they're trying very hard to comply with the law."

Name That Club Owner

Local nightclub owners are angry not only about the new nightclub ordinance giving the police full power to shut down a club whenever they feel like it, but also about the cavalier and near-secret method in which the controversial ordinance was railroaded through. So it's no surprise that representatives from nearly every establishment downtown showed up to a meeting last week with the police at City Hall. The vote by the S.J. City Council two days before this powwow was a response to recent shootings near the Ambassador's Lounge downtown, and allowed police to close down a nightclub for 30 days if imminent threats to public health, safety or welfare can be traced to the club itself. This could be on the premises of the club or anywhere 100 feet from the club—basically, they're going to hold the club responsible for whatever happens in a parking lot down the street. However, the ordinance is an experimental 90-day attempt to forge a solution to the problem, and Chief Rob Davis stressed at the meeting that the ordinance was not an attempt to "bring the hammer down." That was a highlight, but one not-so-high-light included a police sergeant mistakenly addressing former Studio 47 owner Harry Evans as Jacek Rosicki, owner of Agenda. Amid the laughter, one club owner said, "I wonder who was more embarrassed by that, Jacek or Harry."

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