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Split Decision: DA George Kennedy wanted to subdivide his Los Gatos property. The Planning Commission wouldn't let him.

Subdivide and Conquer

Sometimes, even the county's most powerful lawman doesn't have the law on his side. To wit: Last week the Los Gatos Planning Commission voted 4-0 to deny District Attorney George Kennedy's application to subdivide his property into three parcels and make way for a new house (and presumably jack up his property values). An observer recalls serious George sitting throughout the hearing stern-faced and silent, apparently forgoing his fondness for words not recognized by most spell-check software. ... Kennedy says he wants to split up his land so if he sells it later on, a new buyer doesn't come in and knock down the 1922 home on the second parcel "and put in a behemoth [house]." His altruistic intentions, however, were thwarted primarily by an arcane town zoning regulation on "frontage," which may be thought of loosely as a front yard. The kitty-city zoning law requires each parcel in Kennedy's neighborhood to have at least a 60-foot road frontage--the DA could only squeeze in 50-foot frontages in his first proposal. So Kennedy and architect John Lien then tried gerrymandering the property lines, moving the "front" of two of the parcels to the back of the lots so they would meet the 60-foot minimum. ... But town planners didn't like the idea of the new frontages facing a steep, narrow side street. They also objected that the plan would effectively create a prohibited "double frontage" lot (something Kennedy disputes). Planning Commission chair Laura Nachison reasons that the commission's hands were tied by existing regulations. "The Planning Commission is not a policy-making body," she argues. "That's not to say rules can't be changed or relaxed by the Town Council." Kennedy still has a couple of days left to appeal the unfavorable ruling to the Town Council, but hasn't decided what he's going to do. There are other things to consider, he says, like whether he wants to deal with Eye accusing him of muscling the Town Council to get his way.

Turf Guys

Not everyone in the valley is salivating over Cisco Systems' planned billion-dollar project in Coyote Valley and the 20,000 jobs it could bring. This week Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy appeared at a press conference sponsored by controlled-growth advocates demanding that San Jose not subsidize infrastructure improvements to benefit the corporate behemoth's expansion. ... Kennedy and Morgan Hill City Councilman Greg Sellers have held separate meetings with Ron Gonzales and budget/policy man Joe Guerra in hopes of getting a regional task force to oversee the project. Gonzales--a former Sunnyvalien who loves to tout his regional credentials--rejected the idea, essentially saying it was none of their business. "It was basically 'We're gonna do what we're gonna do,'" Sellers recalls, still aghast at the encounter. Guerra counters that if the tables were turned, the neighboring Morgan Hillbillies would go haywire if San Jose wanted decision-making power over a hillside-protection ordinance in their fair city. "We are very interested in their input," Guerra says primly, "but we are not going to give up any land-use authority."

Nothing Personal

Since becoming chair of the board this year, Supervisor Pete "Primo" McHugh has enacted a couple of subtle changes. First, McHugh rearranged the seating at the meetings, moving himself to the right of his four elected colleagues so he now sits closer to the center of the dais and therefore the center of attention. ... Primo's latest proposed change calls for allowing county paper-pushers to use the words "chair" and "vice chair" instead of "chairperson" and "chairperson pro tem" on official documents. Way back in 1980, then new Supervisor Susanne Wilson objected to the indiscriminate use of "chairman." But times have changed since those early halcyon days of political correctness. "It's just a personal preference [to use 'chair']," explains Mike McInerney, McHugh's staff chieftain. "Pete understands the need to be gender neutral, but he doesn't like 'chairperson.' " ... A quick postscript to the deal struck between McHugh and Supe Jim Beall to make Beall an ex-officio member of the Valley Transportation Authority board. Because three of the five supervisors will now be present at the monthly VTA gatherings--McHugh, Beall and Blanca Alvarado--the county now must notice them as special meetings of the Board of Supes, as required by the Brown Act when a quorum of any government body convenes.

Tree Buggers

Environmentalists were caught by surprise last week when Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist seemed to take sides with the timber industry during a Natural Resources Committee hearing. At issue were two bills proposed by Santa Cruz tree-hugger Fred Keeley that would get rid of a $10 million industry tax break and make tree-cutters harvest in a more sensitive fashion. Sacto sources say that Alquist was not as worried about the loggers as she was about offending the carpenters and machinists unions, who were also opposed to the bills. "She couldn't grow a spine in time," one hearing observer smirks. Realizing he didn't have the votes, Keeley asked to table a decision until this week. In the intervening days, enviros sent out an alert urging people to contact Alquist and get her to change her mind. "In your communications with [Alquist], please be respectful but firm," the advisory suggested. "Sources in the Capitol say that disrespectful communications to Alquist may backfire and cause her to vote against the bill." Meanwhile, others in the Capitol tried to prevail upon Lady Alquist, saying that the bills were infinitely more important to environmentalists than to labor. Apparently, their efforts worked: Alquist voted to pass the bills out of committee on Monday.

Due Credit

Thus far, unofficial District 6 council candidates Ken Yeager and Kris Cunningham have attracted the most attention from political handicappers as they jockey for the inside position. But neither Yeager, a San Jose State poli-sci teacher, nor Cunningham, president of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, can boast their own website. But dark-horse candidate Mike Borquez can (www.borquezforcouncil.com). Borquez, an arts commissioner, announced his candidacy last week via email, sending a slew of cc's to City Hall dwellers. The Republican mortgage broker brags on his website that he has handled both multimillion-dollar purchases and "credit line transactions to the credit challenged." ... When contacted by Eye, Borquez refused to identify his supporters and advisers despite his repeated references to "we." One glib source says that Borquez has support from inside the GI Forum, the Latino veterans group. That would make sense, since one of Borquez's major claims to fame is leading the charge to build a vets memorial downtown.

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From the April 22-28, 1999 issue of Metro.

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