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[whitespace] Ed Voss Animal House: If anything, Ed Voss is being overcharged for his campaign office.

Public Eye

Pet Peeve

Eye heard last week that a member of a rival camp was thinking about filing an FPPC complaint against ED VOSS for understating the value of his campaign office. According to campaign reports, the San Jose District 7 council hopeful has been renting an entire building for just $500 a month. The problem there, of course, is that declaring something for less than its value is a campaign finance violation. So Eye put in a call to Voss. "You want to come take a look at it?" he asked. "There's no heat and no bathroom, so we have to go across to McDonald's, plus we're on a 24-hour vacate clause." Eye couldn't resist. The HQ in question is an old bank-turned-pet shop in a sprawling shopping center at Capitol and McLaughlin. The building, which had been sitting vacant before Voss moved in, isn't exactly torn from the pages of Architectural Digest, but looks nice from the outside. Inside, however, it ain't pretty. With no heat to lose, the front doors were propped open, but even so, the first thing a casual visitor notices is the lingering stench of the pets that populated the place for more than a decade. "You couldn't breathe when we moved in," says Voss, the only occupant Sunday afternoon and a member of the team that cleaned the place after moving in a couple months ago. Water drips steadily from the highest peak of the ceiling and pools in the middle of the floor. "Oh, I forgot to tell you about the leaky roof," Voss offers. The only amenities are a computer, fax, fridge, Mr. Coffee, phones and a few folding tables and chairs. Voss says that's fine with him because he's always out walking precincts anyway. But he's not done with the tour. There's also the backroom, where rats, the only intrepid pets left in the place, have chewed through the plaster and insulation and one brand of poison cubes but not the other. And then there's the defunct lavatory, which is the only room in the place that Voss and his volunteers weren't brave enough to clean. And of course, out front sits a construction trailer--a sure sign, Voss says, that he's about to get the order to pack up in 24 hours. Which, his opponents should note, wouldn't be the worst thing that could happen.

Jeff Schwartz
Jeff Schwartz

Check Mate

It's one thing that the West Valley-Mission Community College District accidentally gave away $452,777. And it would be bad enough if things ended there, but in the political Twilight Zone of Saratoga politics, nothing's ever over. District staffers, wrestling with a new computer system, accidentally issued refund checks to students in November. But the recipients weren't owed refunds, so the district canceled the checks--though some, like those cashed at check cashing joints, got through the cracks. But when district trustees discussed how the mistake could lead to lawsuits at a closed session meeting in December, trustee JEFF SCHWARTZ couldn't take it anymore. Schwartz, frequently critical of his own board's openness with the public, went public at a Jan. 17 board meeting, handing out letters detailing the check snafu. Schwartz says the board should have had their trustees present in closed session and maintains legal action wasn't imminent. The next day, a neighbor filed suit against the district, asking for a restraining order to keep board members from discussing things like the check problem behind closed doors. The suit was filed by MICHAEL SCANDLING, a member of a Saratoga homeowners group that has been at odds with the district for years. The group's main beef--and Schwartz's as well--is the district's plan to expand the West Valley athletic field (See "Field of Screams" in last week's Metro) Thing is, Scandling's attorney is GREG SCHWARTZ, son of the board member with the same last name. In spite of the timing,

Jeff Schwartz denies orchestrating the suit, however, and says Scandling was already preparing to sue long before the Jan. 17 revelation. Schwartz says he knows this because his son had asked him to give a declaration in support of the suit long before it was filed. In the declaration, Schwartz used the closed-session check discussion as an example of the board's improper wheelings and dealings. The whole dispute is part of a larger drama: the district's $268 million bond measure on the March ballot. The homeowners association doesn't want the bond to pass because a small percentage of the money will finance the athletic field upgrade. So is the suit part of an effort to make the district look bad to voters? "You bet," says Trustee DON WOLFE. "Anything that would embarrass the district, they're up to it." Wolfe, an ex-Saratoga councilman and Schwartz's nemesis on the board, is also irked by the suit on another level. At his day job, Wolfe campaigns against frivolous lawsuits as head of the South Bay chapter of CALA, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "It's a misuse of the civil justice system," he reiterates.

Book Ban

Westmont High School teacher RICK FERRI is fuming after district officials banned his novel from use in the classroom. The English teacher had been teaching the book, Blossom River Drive, to juniors as a supplemental text alongside Orwell's Animal Farm and Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. The book, published in 2000 by Panhellenic Press in Los Altos, was approved by the district last spring. But in October, the parents of one of Ferri's students filed a complaint, citing scenes in which a preteen boy and girl experiment sexually. "To adolescent readers, who need to delay sexual involvement for many years yet, this confusing message is considered quite a dangerous one," wrote the couple, whom Eye shouldn't name. "Blossom River Drive could serve to encourage dangerous physical intimacy between our students." The book tells the story of two neglected kids growing up in Southern California in the early '50s. "The parents get involved with the McCarthy Era and the kids get into their own dangerous games," says Ferri, upon whom the irony of having the story banned is not lost. In one of the objectionable passages, the two characters touch one another's bodies while listening to a radio drama, but it seems pretty far from knocking on porn's door. "Any novel worth its salt is going to have a few shocking moments, I don't care if it's Huck Finn or The Great Gatsby, and kids can accept that," Ferri says. "It's not pornographic." In December, Campbell Union High School District brass gave the book to a committee of teachers and administrators. After the committee voted to give the text a thumbs-down, Superintendent RHONDA FARBER forwarded that recommendation to the school board, which voted Jan. 10 to take the book off the approved reading list. "I took that recommendation seriously, and the board acted on that," says Farber, who says she never cracked the book. Meanwhile, Ferri says he's filing a grievance against the district.

The Cheekiest Link

Since JOE SIMITIAN gave up his old job as a county supervisor for the new one in the Assembly, there probably haven't been many folks looking for his old website, www.supervisorsimitian.org. But when Eye stumbled on Simitian's old site last week, it didn't serve up info about the Palo Alto democrat. Instead, the outdated URL bounced visitors to an online peepshow where Tina, 19, likes to show off on her webcam. A little more web surfing revealed that after Santa Clara County dropped the domain last year, a company in Quebec snapped it up in November. Simitian assured Eye that he hadn't seen the site and that he wasn't moonlighting as a Canadian porn purveyor. "It's news to me," Simitian said Friday. "We'll check it out." The indecent link was gone by Monday.

Jew vs. Jew

Seems like everyone loves to hate the media, and sometimes that's especially true on politically charged college campuses. Case in point: The Spartan Daily, San Jose State University's student-run paper, is still getting an earful about a letter that appeared in its pages last fall. The livid barrage of calls and demands started after an Oct. 22 letter penned by student ROMEO BONET blamed Mossad (Israel's intelligence agency) and Zionists in general for the Sept. 11 attacks. "This is the type of thing that happens at State," groans ARLENE MILLER, executive director of Hillel of Silicon Valley. Miller and Jewish Student Union President DAVID GOODMAN make the surprising claim that U.S. media generally favor Arabs and Muslims over Israel. After the letter ran, Jewish groups, including Hillel and the Jewish Student Union, complained to school administrators, fired off letters to the editor, demanded a printed retraction and apology from the paper. To be sure they weren't ignored, they also cornered editors for two hours at a meeting called seemingly for scolding purposes. But the Daily refused to publicly apologize. "If it came up again, I would probably still print it," says last semester's Executive Editor Michelle Jew (No, she says, it's a Chinese name). Bonet's letter was not without its flaws. Among other things, there was the suggestion that Israel should be nuked, and the claim that Israel gets $8 trillion in U.S. foreign aid every year. (Kind of a stretch, given that this country's GDP isn't much higher--the actual number is closer to $3 billion. The Daily ran a correction addressing the letter's factual inaccuracies the next week.) In any case, campus Jewish groups still want to make their point about biased news coverage. Miller says they plan to bring an Israeli speaker to give SJSU students and faculty the real story on "media fairness to Israel" sometime in April.

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From the January 31-February 6, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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