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Schooling Bush: Stanford 3L Shirin Sinnar says give peace a dang chance.

Public Eye

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While more local-level government bodies pen resolutions critical of a looming, pre-emptive Iraq attack, California law students put their money where their mouths are. "I've been very concerned about the general rollback on civil liberties since 9/11," says Stanford's Shirin Sinnar, 25, a third-year law student originally from Maryland. She joined more than 300 future attorneys from eight law schools, including Stanford, Berkeley, Hastings and Golden Gate, who (along with teachers, families and friends) put together their loose change to cover the cost--$18,000--of an ad in The New York Times criticizing the president's post-Sept. 11 policies. That may sound pricey, but it wasn't enough to make sure the ad would run when and where it was supposed to. Indeed, the students' ad was beaten out by an ad for Persian rugs. Instead of running on Thursday, Feb. 13, on page A13, the ad landed on page A27B on Valentine's Day. "It's disappointing that it is so far back in the A section, given that they bumped it a day," Berkeley's Abby Reyes, 29, tells Eye. Reyes, one of the ad campaign's leaders, wasn't too upset, though. She says the students simply wanted to get their message in the paper before Presidents' Day, Monday, Feb. 17. The full-page ad denounces the "boundless 'War on Terrorism'" and reads: "Each day at law school we study the principles underlying our constitutional, civil and human rights. Yet each day we also see our work for justice in the wider world undermined by Bush Administration policies that defy these principles." Reyes says students across the country are following California's lead. Likewise, Santa Cruz led the country by being the first city to officially say no to the Bush administration's threatened invasion of Iraq. More than 60 cities, including San Francisco and Palo Alto, have since passed similar resolutions. The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors (minus Don Gage, who, like Palo Alto Councilmember Vic Ojakian, says he wants to mind his own business) also voted, earlier this month, against pre-emptively attacking Iraq.

Brown Ambition

Just when the dust-up over possible Brown Act violations involving three Palo Alto City Councilmembers appears to have died down, newly elected Palo Alto Mayor Dena Mossar offhandedly informs Eye that she privately discussed her mayoral ambitions with two other council colleagues before the council's vote. For those who need a little priming on the arcane subject of state open-meeting laws, if those colleagues then talked to a total of two other councilmembers before the meeting about making Mossar the mayor (bringing the total to a quorum of five), they would be guilty of a crime. That's exactly the suggestion made by Palo Alto citizen activist Richard Placone in his recent email to members of the City Council, which he aimed squarely at freshly minted mayor Mossar. Placone points out in his Feb. 7 missive that, in keeping with city's usual practice, the "election ... comes across as a matter that was clearly fixed in advance, which must have involved a certain amount of lobbying and vote gathering. Since it takes a majority to elect the mayor, I am having a hard time discerning why this process was not a violation of the Brown Act." What's more, he writes, "Having the predicted winner's family in attendance the night of the 'election' seems highly improper and dishonest to me." When Eye queried Mossar about the appearance of illegal backroom deal making, she fired back, "I bet Al Gore had his acceptance speech ready and his family in attendance." Allowing that it would be illegal if the decision had been made in advance, Mossar explained, "I was vice mayor; I had seniority on the council; I had made it clear I was interested. ... To show up unprepared would be foolhardy." She added, "I didn't lobby, and I didn't vote-gather, which either says I was stupid or I was the obvious candidate." Elaborating to Eye, Placone says, "'Election' implies some sort of election process, which means you're uncertain of the outcome until the election is over. ... [Mossar] would have had to be certain of at least four other votes. How would she do that without asking questions?" Also, the vice mayor is not always magically tabbed as mayor, he notes, as was the case with former Vice Mayor Mickey Schneider, who was passed over for the top slot. No word yet on whether the election matter will be pursued by Palo Alto Weekly publisher Bill Johnson and the San Jose Mercury News, both of which recently settled their lawsuits against the city of Palo Alto over possible violations of the Brown Act and public-record laws (the city agreed to release a handful of councilmembers' private emails and records of votes taken at a closed-session meeting). With the city on notice that emails about the people's business are fair game, Eye asked Mayor Mossar whether she'd agree to release all emails related to her election as mayor. Her ready-made response: "I would do so, but there are none. I wouldn't communicate with my colleagues by email on this topic."

Hotel Huggers

The always powerful and often mysterious workings of the Sierra Club's local Loma Prieta chapter's political endorsement process may come in for some retooling in the next couple of months. If so, it won't be a moment too soon, say county residents who feel they've been given the shaft by the environmental group, whose endorsements are usually controlled by a handful of active members. "The Sierra Club has been hijacked by a renegade group that is out of touch with its members and the needs of the city," Lane Liroff, Santa Clara County deputy district attorney and neighbor of the planned development, recently wrote in a letter to the Palo Alto Daily News. The way political decisions are reached by the green group has been a hot-button issue in a number of local elections, most recently the six-year fight between south Palo Alto residents and the Hyatt Corp. (one of the largest privately owned corporations in the world), which is seeking City Council approval for a massive redevelopment project at the site of one its Hyatt Rickeys hotels. The company wants to tear down the existing 1950s hotel on El Camino Real (at the intersection of Charleston and Arastradero) and replace it with a brand-new 320-unit hotel and a 302-unit apartment complex, directly across the street from a quiet residential neighborhood of single-family homes. Hyatt paid-consultant Lee Wieder of Palo Alto has been busy soliciting and lining up key support for the project from influential environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Greenbelt Alliance. "[The Sierra Club] told us the effect on the community in terms of quality of life is not their concern," an irate Liroff tells Eye, adding that Hyatt is running ads in local newspapers highlighting the tree huggers' seal of approval for the developer's plan. Chapter chair Rafael Reyes says pushing for more building on the hotel's grounds is good use of "in-filling" and will help stop urban sprawl on the peninsula (which he says contributes to more cars on the road and more pollution). Still, the club admits in its newsletter that its endorsement is "controversial" and that "undoubtedly" some members will be "unhappy." "We know this is a very tough issue for the community," Reyes confides to Eye. "There were flaws in how we handled the process. We haven't done a great job in terms of communicating with constituents and all the stakeholders involved, but this was not a decision taken in an ad hoc manner." Deborah Ju, president of the Charleston Meadows Neighborhood Association, says bluntly, "[The Sierra Club's] been totally stonewalling" by not providing neighbors with minutes of relevant meetings and reneging on their agreement to solicit input on the redevelopment plan from their members. "The Sierra Club is ignoring local impacts in favor of regional impacts," Ju contends. Another sticking point: the project's final environmental impact report is due out Feb. 21. "For the Sierra Club to make an endorsement before the EIR report is finished is fundamentally ludicrous," says Liroff. Meanwhile, the Sierra Club's local chapter has put out the call for members to get more active in its political endorsement process with a training session on April 5 that will feature state Senator Byron Sher and former state Assemblymember Ted Lempert. It's possible, however, that the club could wind up on the receiving end of the political training if enough new members with an anti-development bent show up. (Sierra Club memberships can now be had for as little as $25.) The Palo Alto City Council is slated to make its decision on the contested hotel redevelopment in June.

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From the February 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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