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School Beall: County supe says homework pays.

Public Eye

Happy New Fear!

A look back through the pages of Eye for the past year shows a startling pattern. Eye watchers may recall that county officials were wringing their hands at the start of last year over a projected $43 million shortfall. But Supe Superhero Jim Beall launched a pre-emptive strike to help out potentially vulnerable social service groups by lobbying/advocating on their behalf for state subsidies. Yup, Beall thought the county had big problems then. Who knew that a few short months later, the deficit would nearly double, to $85 million? "For the past five years, Santa Clara County has enjoyed the benefits of an expanding economy and healthy revenue growth. Now it is facing a period of economic contraction that calls for strategies to address [it]," County Exec Richard Wittenberg lamented in a June press release. When the Board of Supervisors approved its $3.4 billion fiscal year 2003 budget in June, complete with its updated debt figure, the county's PR machine and its officials nevertheless talked up their money-management talents. "The board was wise in setting aside reserves that enabled the county to make these adjustments with only minimal impacts in service," Board chair Don Gage said. As it turns out, Gage was right, and the county's vacant positions, not its existing programs, were the hardest hit by the county's cash juggling. But as Gage also noted midyear, "We all recognize that this is only the beginning; as the state decides how to distribute its shortfall, more difficult decisions will have to be made." That brings us to the new year. "People have already made the cuts that they could manage," Santa Clara County budget manager Leslie Crowell told Eye during the last week of 2002. "After you do it over and over, you do end up cutting programs." The county predicts another deficit of $70 million in 2003. Crowell says the county's budget handlers will confront the Board of Supervisors with some tips for coping with this new injection of poverty on Jan. 14, two days before the state releases its budget. While Crowell says the county's budget and services lie in significant part at the mercy of the currently unknown amount of state and federal funds, one thing is clear: "We haven't had an economic situation of this difficulty since 1993." Beal also sounds depressed. "Well, it's deeper now," he says about the county money pit. "We know there are going to be some cuts." He says his efforts last year helped stave off cuts to important programs and this time around he's turned his attention to schools. "Education is the way you get out of poverty," he says optimistically.

Year of Living Unethically

Eye reported on Jan. 31 last year the rumor that someone in then District 7 City Council candidate Ed Voss' opposing camp was thinking about filing a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint against Voss. The complaint--that he undervalued his campaign office in the picky legal paperwork--seemed dumb, given that it was a stinky little hole in east San Jose's wall. But it was also telling, as complaining ultimately set the tone in the race between Voss and his rival, the victorious Terry Gregory. Gregory, Voss, evidently well-to-do Voss supporter Robert Emami, Voss cheerleader the Chamber of Commerce and Gregory's biggest fan the South Bay Labor Council all tangoed with the business end of the ethics-complaint stick during the council race. A year after the office-price concern, the ethics complaints fallout continues to settle. In October, San Jose's Ethics Board ruled that Voss campers Ed McGovern and Dave Garretson Jr. screwed up by getting involved with an independent expenditure. Another complaint, against Voss opponent the South Bay Labor Council, didn't go anywhere and was dropped. In late December, the Chamber of Commerce was awaiting a resolution to a complaint over its pro-Gregory campaign activities, which insiders expected would also be dropped. Eye wonders if 2003 will continue to see ethics complaints dropping like flies, or if instead, San Jose's political insiders will move on to other concerns central to maintaining a republic, such as fashion, morality--or bollards: Why do they look like trash cans when they're not?

Picture Motion?

Same as last year, Eye again wonders, what's happening with the empty United Artists movieplex at the Pavilion in downtown San Jose? Readers will remember those sneaky tenants who escaped under cover of night from the middle of downtown (and an arrangement with the lovelorn Redevelopment Agency, which owns the land beneath the UA building). The property has sat mostly empty since January 2000, when UA fled. Lately, there appears to be exciting activity. Swinerton Inc. construction company's been installing refrigerators! It also posted a sign out front promising 36 live/work lofts, which are scheduled for completion around May, one construction worker told Eye in the last week of December. But CineLux Theatres has yet to announce its still tentative plans to move into the prominent movie house lair. Said plans--to open an eight-screen theater that shows Hollywood blockbusters and, in turn, draws crowds that pay money in exchange for downtown services--were delayed from an initial November opening date. As of September, the lease had yet to be penned. That's what the building's Cleveland-based owner Forest City Enterprises' regional leasing director Lisa Chatham said at the time, before going into some sort of power-save mode that has evidently prevented her from providing any new information until 2003, after presstime.

Don't Ask

Last January, Eye posed the thoughtful dollars-and-sense question: "Should San Jose abandon its controversial and costly plan to build a new downtown City Hall and move into an empty office tower instead?" At the time, local developer John Sobrato had suggested that the city move into his nearly built digs. But the City Council's answer to Eye's question and Sobrato's invite turned out to be "No." And off San Jose went on its controversial and costly adventure to centrally relocate City Hall. That was that, over and out. "More than a building, the new San Jose Civic Center represents our commitment to efficiency, service and pride," the city's website explains in a love letter to itself. The civic center is slated for between Fourth and Sixth streets on East Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. The finished product will include a 288-foot tower and span 530,000 square feet in order to house close to 2,000 workers and 400 on-site parking spaces. It'll all cost $343 million. But wait. "It's not too late to do the right thing," insists Pete Campbell, a local who's severely annoyed by the City Hall project. "Cancel the project. Sell the land to developers. Build a more modest structure at the present site." He wrote this desperate plea in a letter to Eye just last month. "It's the most amazing thing," he declared in the letter. "I can't get anyone from the local press to report the fact that the true cost of the downtown City Hall being built at Fourth and Santa Clara is nearly $1 billion." Campbell went on to explain that the city's finance department estimate "shows a total debt service of $960,495,821.74." Invigorated by Campbell's zest, Eye's question this year about reconsidering the project is this: How 'bout now? New answer: Pile driving has begun.

Friends of Cohn

Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga) has moved on from cozying up to fellow Assembly guy and powerful Rules Committee chair DENNIS CARDOZA (D-Merced), for whom she threw a fundraiser last January. As Eye reported in March, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson Jr. previously failed to hand Cohn the Health Committee chief hat she coveted. Instead, he custom-designed a committee for her to steer--the one on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media. Now the Sacramentoid has achieved chairship of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Cohn was appointed to this awesomely in-the-loop investigative committee by pal Wesson in December. She thus begins this year moving ever closer to a 2004 Senate seat.


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From the January 1-8, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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