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High-Carb Financing: Redevelopment's Susan Shick recommended a $480K subsidy to bring a new bakery to downtown.

Public Eye

Let Them Eat Cake

To the naked Eye, the 2-year-old addition to the Fairmont Hotel seems nice enough and, uh, not very blighted. But the experts over at San Jose's Redevelopment Agency, which forked over $12 million for the expansion, see their piece of the building differently. (Perhaps they're prone to exaggeration because they haven't found anyone to rent it yet.) On Tuesday, April 8, RDA chief Susan Shick asked her masters on the City Council to approve an anti-blight plan, and pick and subsidize the hell out of the perfect tenant to fill empty space in the South Market Street location. That tenant, she said, is the fancy Bijan Bakery, which her memo to the council advises is "a first-class bakery as it produces gourmet premium quality baked goods and gourmet pastries." The bakery, she gushes, will help advance the city toward its goal of filling empty storefronts with high-caliber tenants ... and pies. To stress her point, she attached photos of delectable-looking items sold at the existing Bijan Bakery on Saratoga Avenue. But the numbers--not the wares--are what seem to have people drooling, or in some cases, foaming at the mouth. To abate the scourge of ENB (empty, new and blighted), Shick recommended that the RDA lease about 3,500 square feet of the space (and also a big patio) to Bijan. For a small fee. A really small fee. The bakery would pay the RDA $510,000 in rent over the duration of the initial 10-year lease (that's less than a buck and a quarter a foot), after the RDA pays about $480,000 for sprinklers and restrooms and other stuff, to sweeten the deal. In a decade, if the rent keeps coming, the RDA would make $30,000, a paltry sum considering last we heard the agency was out of dough and couldn't afford to keep existing tenants like the Camera Cinemas from turning off their projectors. ... "I wish they were my landlord," sniffs San Jose property owner and Coalition for Redevelopment Reform chair Loraine Wallace Rowe. "There's a lot of support for Bijan," counters RDA spokesperson Peggy Flynn. "The community asked for a bakery in the downtown." Flynn also advances the philosophical notion that money isn't everything. "Our retail mix," she says, "that's a larger investment. That's the larger picture." Tuesday afternoon the council voted 9-1 in support of city-sponsored pastries. Lone dissenting Councilman Chuck Reed, who was still undecided before the meeting, said he'd voted no because the city shouldn't be subsidizing new projects when so many other things remain on hold.

Bye-Bye Bobby

That sucking sound you heard last week was the wind being taken out of the sails of San Jose State University now that its president, Robert Caret, has given notice of his intent to depart for safer, quieter shores. Although he formally withdrew his candidacy in December for the top slot at Maryland's Towson University, where he had worked for two decades--including as executive veep--Caret pulled an about-face when his former employer apparently made him an offer he couldn't refuse. (Said offer reportedly includes a salary of $278,000, a car, moving expenses and a home provided by the university. Suh-weet!) Caret, who came to SJSU in 1995, has been a flight risk for at least two years now, grumble some academic insiders, who tell Eye they've observed his distinct lack of interest in academic and campus affairs during that time. "When he came here, he was a real live wire and did some good things, but in the last couple of years he's been absent," says Jeff Baldwin, president-elect of the staff union at SJSU. "I don't think he's been taking care of the shop; he's been trying to find jobs, trying to get out of Dodge." Caret's been a first-rate fundraiser and community-relations builder--the primary function of a university president these days--says SJSU political science professor Terry Christensen. (Christensen, a member of the search committee that hired Caret, admits he was "shocked" when he learned that Caret was packing his bags.) But he laments, "Whoever replaces him has to start from scratch. It'll take two to three years to get up to speed, to build relationships and trust and, hopefully, get to the point Caret is at now." This could mean trouble on two fronts: The college has to find someone good who's willing to take on the money-hunting job while wallets keep slamming shut. And once hired, the lucky winner will have to pry those wallets open. "It's not a nice time to be president of a state university in California; there's a lot of pressure to raise money fast." Speaking of the bottom line, why not save a few hundred thousand dollars and hire a new president who's already on the SJSU payroll--who knows the community, the school and where the restrooms are located? "It's a real weakness in the [state university system] that there isn't more grooming and encouragement [of internal candidates]," he says. "Not every school has a dean or a provost that's ready to jump to that level ... and most of us that come up from within the system have little or no experience fundraising." It seems that Caret's SJSU inaugural speech, titled "Dream No Small Dream," says it all.

Shocker: Pols Opt for Raises

Recently elected Milpitas Councilmember Armando Gomez unleashed a volcanic response from his colleagues with one wee suggestion at the March 18 council meeting. His idea? Hold off on giving the council raises during this budget freakout. Ah, first-year pols--so cute. As the minutes captured it, the two-page discussion went like this: "Gomez ... stated he had some serious concerns with the council accepting a 10 percent increase. ... While it wasn't a lot of money, he worried about the message it would send to the community." Councilmember Robert Livengood was confused. He thought this matter was already settled, he said. Councilmember Althea Polanski--who, Eye submits, may have a few leftover bitter feelings toward Gomez for beating out her buddy Paul Hay by only 13 votes in the last election--bravely defended upping the council's pay. Toting a spreadsheet she'd whipped up charting the hours she's spent on the job and the out-of-pocket expenses she's coughed up to serve the community, Polanski argued that the citizens of Milpitas were "getting a bargain" for their tax money. "Councilmember Polanski said for the amount of work and the energy and what some people put into the job, she thought it was well worth it, and any member of the council who didn't want it didn't have to accept a pay increase." Vice Mayor Patricia Dixon also chimed in to pat members of the council on the back for putting in 110 percent. Mayor Jose Esteves offered the unique perspective that cutting out the raises "would look political" because it's such a drop in the bucket. According to Milpitas' Human Resources department, councilmembers, who work part-time in Milpitas, rake in about $10,000 and the mayor gets roughly $13,000 a year. But every penny counts, according to Gomez, who earns a cold $70,000 and change from his other job as an aide to San Jose Councilmember Chuck Reed.

Making Faces

The words "getting a facial" may have a whole new meaning in Palo Alto now that the City Council is considering rules of conduct requiring politically correct physical movements of councilmembers. "Do not use body language or other forms of non-verbal methods of expressing disagreement or disgust," including "personal, abusive, disparaging or angry comments, name-calling or labeling," reads one proposed protocol. "Treat others as you would like to be treated, " reads another. The new rules have fueled criticism that the peninsula burg is quickly devolving into a civic version of Jackass, the Movie following a series of petty, yet all-too-nasty conflicts. There was the furious email penned by City Manager Ariel Calonne over a supposed public slighting by Councilmember Nancy Lytle; and then Councilmember Jack Morton accusing three colleagues--Lytle, Yoriko Kishimoto and Hillary Freeman--of serious criminal wrongdoing; then two separate lawsuits charging the council with violating open meeting laws and demanding that hitherto private emails be shared. And there are probably more skirmishes ahead. "The irony of the [code of conduct] we have before us is that it deals with nonverbal communication but it does not prohibit the council from making personal charges or verbal attacks on the character or motives of other members of the council," points out Councilmember Lytle, who should know. She's proposed a code of ethics preamble to include: "City Council, staff and the public should maintain respectful silence and decorum--paying attention and showing signs of attention--while colleagues, staff and public have the floor." San Jose attorney and Palo Alto resident (and political rabble-rouser) Richard Alexander says that the council should allow healthy disagreement, as long as it doesn't include "McCarthy-like" political slander. "Clearly Palo Alto's patent leather shoes, white gloves and cucumber sandwich crew have never observed the democratic tradition honored by the [Bristish] House of Commons," he opines. "Open, robust and unbridled debate is the hallmark of a vibrant democracy." Adds Alexander, "The weakness of Palo Alto government is the attempt to always forge an unachievable consensus, and that's why they talk everything to death, for years."

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From the April 10-16, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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