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December 6-12, 2006

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District 4 chic!

Tie: District 4 chic!

Silicon Valley News Notes

The Tie That Binds

Kansen Chu didn't waste any time before bathing in Chuck Reed's spotlight. The 54-year-old political upstart has his eyes set on the mayor-elect's District 4 council seat since he ran for it (and lost) in 2000. Since then, he's been biding time as a staffer at termed-out state Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn's office and running a food franchise at San Jose International Airport. But that side business, Fly discovered, could jeopardize Chu's council ambitions. Government Code 1090 is a prickly legal spur that says elected officials cannot have a financial stake in contracts their council or board votes on—contracts like the one the city has with the airport concessions manager Host International, which subleases to Chu's Harbor Express in Terminal C. And it's not enough for Chu to recuse himself from votes related to the airport contract if he got elected. City Attorney Rick Doyle says Chu would have to step down or sell his business if the council had to renew, extend, modify or amend the contract. That's a sticky situation likely to come up since the city's deal with Host International terms out in 2008. The consequences are no joke: 10 years ago, state Superintendent Bill Honig had to step down after authorizing $337,509 of public money for a consulting firm owned by his wife and run out of their family home. He faced felony charges for the conflict, which were later reduced to misdemeanors. Chu and his wife, Daisy, own Harbor Express, a nice little restaurant at the airport. Would he be willing to sell it in order to keep a $75,000-a-year City Council job? "Sure," Chu said, "If it came down to that. I'm ready to move on." The District 4 hopeful seems eager to do anything for attention. Last week he turned heads at Reed's City Hall press conference by wearing an American flag tie. Critics scoffed at his trademark imitation, but Chu told Fly his fashion statement must have been a coincidence. He also said he just happened to be at City Hall during the press conference after filing his papers to run for District 4 with the city clerk. Then he recanted: "Well, maybe I was kidding myself a little bit, if that's what it takes to win the voters of District 4." Reed, who has endorsed Hon Lien to be his successor (and it's no wonder; Chu was a Cindy Chavez supporter), actually seemed pleased to have started a new trend. "I love American flags," he said. "I encourage everyone to wear them." Hey, maybe Chavez would have fared better in the election if she'd donned a few patriotic stars and stripes.

Out of Print

Hope for the South Bay's daily dimmed further this week as word of Black Monday at the Merc got around. And don't forget Black Tuesday, too, since employees losing their jobs were, as of presstime, set to be getting The Call Monday evening through Tuesday midmorning. Not that any of this was a surprise—on the contrary, the cuts have been planned for some time and are par for the course with the paper's new owner and cheapie conglomerate MediaNews. But that doesn't make them any easier to stomach. The unlucky ones will find their access to company computers terminated immediately, and they'll have one day to wrap things up with human resources and clean out their desks. But there was a last-minute ray of hope: initially, 101 positions were set to be cut, with 69 of those coming from within Newspaper Guild membership. However, Guild executive officer Luther Jackson confirmed that the number was negotiated down to 27.5 full-time positions (which likely means more than 27 people, since some members work part-time). That's a huge break, but the guarantee only lasts until June of next year. Employees, on the other hand, gave ground on health care issues, 401k and vacation time. "We were able to get some protections for people," says Jackson. "It's a very realistic agreement. But it's a very tough strategic environment." Right now, Jackson is wrapped up counseling the casualties, meaning he doesn't have time to Monday-evening-quarterback on the dire prognostications for the Merc under William Dean Singleton. "The stakes are too high for us to get morose," he says.

Hall For Nothing

It's no Antoni Gaudi, but to some, San Jose's old City Hall is an important historic resource. "It's hard for people to see its value," says Megan Bellue, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose. "They say, 'Oh, that's the old City Hall building. It's not pretty. It's not historic.' I think when we look back on San Jose's history, the '50s, '60s and '70s is arguably the most important period, historically, in San Jose's development, and these buildings are important landmarks to that time period." Its fate has yet to be decided—reuse or tear down?—but the proverbial chips seem to be stacked against it. The city commissioned a consultant to perform a land use and economic analysis of the old City Hall Complex and the E Parking Lot site. In its request for proposals, the city asks that consultants weigh in on a mind-numbingly thorough list of almost every conceivable permutation of reuse vs. demolition possibilities. While CBRE Consulting Inc. won't complete the report until March of 2007, estimates for restoration for reuse hover around the neighborhood of $50 million. It's not hard to see which way the wind is blowing. "It's a lot of money for not a lot of space," says Deputy City Manager Dan McFadden. "The highest and best use is probably housing somewhere in the 35-50 per acre range." Nevertheless, the city also commissioned Archives and Architecture Heritage Resource Partners to prepare a report evaluating the "potential historic significance of the Old City Hall Building." Such evaluations are based on a point system that considers things like architectural significance, historical significance, rarity of the type of resource, and association with important events. The points place each historic resource on a scale of "Historic Landmark" down to what amounts to "Just Old." Bellue suspects City Hall will score high; the report is due later this month. Meanwhile, the RFP for the land use study specifically mandates that the historic findings be integrated into the "highest and best use" evaluation process. As a historic preservationist Bellue is skeptical of the concept. "That whole 'highest and best use' concept is a little bit of a flawed assumption on the part of property owners," says Bellue. "There's always a balance between community good and what you can do with your own property. ... All of the local city plans talk about historic preservation as being important, but when push comes to shove, the city tends to make the decision that historic buildings are expendable, because we see the immediate dollar signs of bigger development."

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