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Out on a Limb: San Jose Councilman John Diquisto recently quarreled with city sidewalk inspectors over a prune tree and surrounding shrubs in front of his home.

Public Eye

Grates of Wrath

SAN JOSE CITY COUNCIL GUY John Diquisto is well known for his penchant to take municipal matters into his own hands. In that vein, Cambrian area residents might have recently seen Diquisto, a retired firefighter, fiddling with a sewer grate in front of his home. Diquisto was fixing a bent grate-bar, he says, because the city streets & traffic department was taking too long to repair it. "I told them [in December] that if they didn't take care of it by the end of the year," Diquisto recalls, "that I was going to fix it myself." After New Year's, Diquisto went to Home Depot and bought a piece of steel and epoxy for $2.98. The repair job took less than five minutes, he boasts. However, city sewer experts say Johnny D's handiwork isn't sufficient and they will be back to fix the grate themselves. ... The sewer-grate episode comes on the heels of another Diquisto run-in with city officials over a 7-foot prune tree and surrounding shrubs on the sidewalk in front of his home. A few months ago, a neighbor complained to the city about overgrown vegetation blocking the sidewalk at the property next to Diquisto's. When a city inspector came to check out the neighbor's sidewalk, Diquisto says, the inspector found the time to write up the council member for his landscaping--the prune tree and shrubs--"interfering with the public right of way." The written notice warned that unless the property owner (the inspector didn't know he was writing up a council member) trimmed the tree and shrubs, the city would do so at a rate of $300 per hour plus a $90 admin fee. This perturbed Diquisto, who showed Eye pictures of his relatively well-kept "landscaping," which encroached onto the sidewalk perhaps six inches. But when the councilguy called the phone number on the notice to find out exactly what he was supposed to do, all he got was an answering machine. After three days, Diquisto got impatient and complained to streets & traffic director Wayne Tanda, who sent two inspectors out to Diquisto's home to clear up the matter. Diquisto thought all was fine until the next month when he received a second written warning from the city demanding that he fix the infraction--or else. After another Diquisto tirade, a city inspector sent the council member a letter apologizing for the "erroneous" second notice which had been sent "due to a computer system error."

Greatest Hits

In his two-and-a-half years as city manager of Sunnyvale, Bob LaSala has earned a rep for being one of the model city's most accident-prone drivers. ... Just last Friday he got into his third accident of his Sunnyvale tenure when he hit another car at the Town & Country Shopping Center, sending his city-owned vehicle back to the city's fleet repair shop for a little front-end work. Though the details of the mishap are hazy (the Sunnyvale Public Safety Department refuses to release the accident report), Assistant City Manager Dan Rich assures Eye that no one was hurt. Rich also says he does not know the extent of the damage to the other car. This past November LaSala got into another fender bender, though Rich says that there were no injuries and no damage to either car in that instance. Back in 1997, LaSala raised a few eyebrows when he arrived on the job from Florida and requested the Pontiac Bonneville. At $26,400, it was the city's most expensive non-police car. The luxury sedan was only months old when he rear-ended a flight attendant's vehicle at a stop light. "I misread the light and ran into her. It was kind of embarrassing," he told the Sunnyvale Sun at the time. While his critics may have thought LaSala was bit lavish in requesting the car, his true motive may now be clear--the Bonneville has a five-star crash-test rating.

Backside Pedaling

An online customer from Japan recently got a notice back from Amazon.com, the worldwide, online book-and-everything-else distributor, that her shipment had been denied because Japan does not allow the import of pornographic materials. Puzzled, the customer wrote back that she did not understand, because the book she had ordered--"Nudist on the Late Shift and Other True Tales of Silicon Valley," by Po Bronson --was definitely not porno, though it did include some riffs on the valley's obscene wealth. "I am sorry," an Amazon.com representative replied, "but DHL Express (the shipping company we use for international shipments going by express delivery) has informed us that the material that was included in the shipment ... could not be delivered due to customs limitations." The offending item: a picture on the cover of a man sitting on a stool with his back to the camera, naked, with a significant portion of his plumber's crack showing. But according to the media person at the Japanese consulate, a little crack in the back is not enough to offend the Japanese people. "There's no problem with importing material to Japan that shows the chest area or the back, or anything like that," the media person explained. "But not anything that shows a penis." So then who at Redwood City-based DHL decided that the material in question was offensive to the Japanese? "That's up to each individual station service manager to decide, from wherever the item was shipped," says a DHL customer service rep. "It all depends upon the customs of the country we're shipping to. We can't ship copies of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to Israel, for example. They won't accept pictures of half-nude women."

Don't Fence Me In

Good fences make good neighbors, but bad fences are so much more interesting. Milpitas resident James Arthur is peeved at his neighbor, who happens to be Milpitas Councilman Jose Esteves, for failing to repair a dilapidated fence separating their properties. Arthur complains that Esteves was more than happy to discuss mending fences in October 1998 (that would be before the City Council election), but has blithely blown him off ever since he became a big man about town. Arthur has even sent Esteves a certified letter and came to a council meeting to air his complaints. Arthur grouses that as a public official, Esteves is bound by honor to comply with the Neighborhood Beautification Ordinance, which outlaws ugly things like old sagging fences, and furthermore he notes that Esteves seems to be completely ignoring him. "I think he won't do anything unless he's forced to do so," sniffs Arthur, who counts moral probity on his side. "I think it's a safety issue, plus as a City Council member I think he's being irresponsible." Esteves, for his part, notes that he is not the sole owner of the property (which is a rental), that he dislikes dealing with "pushy people," and that if his neighbor had a better attitude, they might be able to start talking. "I am fighting for my principles," he told the Milpitas Post.

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From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 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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