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Copping a Deal: Santa Clara City Councilman Jim Arno is trying to work out a deal with the DA to avoid going to trial for alleged campaign violations.

Felonious Monk

Legally challenged Santa Clara City Councilman Jim Arno may not have to go to trial after all. Assistant District Attorney Bill Larsen tells Eye he is negotiating a "settlement." "We're working on settling the case," Larsen reveals, "but we'll know better when we meet [in court] again on June 5. ... Hopefully, when we meet on the 5th we can have a meeting of the minds." Arno faces misdemeanor charges for not properly reporting more than $10,000 in campaign contributions in 1994 from Mission Trail Waste Systems, a city garbage collection firm owned at the time by the felonious duo of Nicholas Rinauro Sr. and his son. Last year Arno pleaded not guilty to the charges. Arno didn't return our phone call, but Councilwoman Lisa Gillmor says Arno told her he didn't have the money to go to trial. "I've heard they are trying to work out some sort of arrangement without going to trial ... so both sides come out unscathed," Gillmor reports. Arno is up for re-election in November and has apparently told people he plans to run again despite his difficulties with the justice system. Expect there to be plenty of challengers if Arno goes for it, though the only name to pop up so far is attorney Byron Fleck. There's also speculation that if Arno should step aside--you guessed it--ex-Mayor Eddie Souza will give electoral politics one more whirl. But Souza has repeatedly sworn to Eye that he is not going to run for City Council again. Meanwhile, one-time Arno campaign accomplice James Rowen is proposing that the City Council create an ethics commission to monitor the activities of elected and appointed officials. Eye-watchers may recall that Rowen caught some flack last year when he represented a business owner before the city while he was serving on the Civil Service Commission.

Watered Down

Local media consumers have no doubt seen or heard the Santa Clara Valley Water District's recent ad campaign. The district spent $80,000 to buy television and print ads. The stated reason for the month-long ad campaign is to celebrate the district's 30th anniversary. Clearly, however, the real reason behind the "People Behind Your Water" campaign is to give the district's image a face lift. Last year district bureaucrats bristled when Metro reported the findings of an internal report that the water agency tolerates racial taunting of its employees and wastes public funds. But the happy-happy advertising campaign has ticked off a few district employees who think the ads promote racial stereotypes in which Hispanics and blacks do all the grunt work. One ad lauds "senior vegetation technician" Dave Gonzales for his hard work. Another tips its construction hat to African American Sam Hill. A district spokesman brushed off the criticism as something he hadn't heard about. District flack-catchers had bigger things to worry about, like a "confidential" staff report detailing the agency's hiring and promotion practices with minorities. The district's new equal opportunity chief, Don Jeffries, assures Eye that the preliminary report "does not indicate that the district's hiring practices are harming any group of individuals." Nevertheless, board member Tony Estremera is openly contemplating how the district can be more progressive in its hiring and promotion practices in the future.

Legal Advocate

Town & Country attorney Stan Berliner isn't afraid to play hardball. When the San Jose Downtown Association commissioned a traffic study examining the impacts of the proposed T&C project, Berliner struck swiftly on behalf of his client, developer Federal Realty. He demanded a list of the nonprofit organization's members and a copy of its bylaws to see how the Downtown Association could justify paying for a traffic study of a place three miles away. "Why is the city funding a lobbying organization?" he asks rhetorically. Well, what goes around comes around. Downtown Association executive director Scott Knies observes that barrister Berliner is functioning as a lobbyist without heeding the city's law requiring that he register as one. Berliner protests that he is simply acting as Federal's lawyer. But Berliner acknowledges that he could very well meet the city's definition of a lobbyist because he has met with councilmembers privately to advocate for the project and he is making more than $2,000 a month for his services. "Honest to God, I haven't checked the [lobbying] law for 10 years," Berliner pleads.... "It might be splitting hairs, but he should register as a lobbyist with the city," Knies sniffs. "When you're meeting with the mayor and council, you're lobbying, not doing lawyer work."

Hush Your Mouth

Did David Pandori "badmouth" downtown City Council candidate Cindy Chavez a couple weeks ago to Chavez supporters? Pandori called last week to take exception to Eye's characterization of his recent verbal exchange with two Chavez precinct-walkers and fire off miscellaneous potshots at this journalistic enterprise. "I didn't say one negative thing about her," swears Pandori, who's backing federal prosecutor Tony West for the seat.... Chavez, who was not present during the conversation, had claimed that Pandori was out telling her supporters that she was, in so many words, a carpetbagger. Pandori denies ever raising the residency issue. (She moved into the district from a nearby neighborhood last June.) Chavez partisan Phil Stokes, however, disputes the councilman's version. "He verbally accosted us," recalls Stokes, a teacher at De Anza College. "He came over to us and said, 'Do you guys know who you're supporting? This person moved into the district to run in this race.' " According to Stokes, the always genial Pandori continued to politely call Chavez an unqualified candidate whom he has never seen at council meetings.

Buzz Off

Guv candidate Al Checchi got so annoyed by Merc political editor Phil Trounstine's critical articles that he and his consultant Darry Sragow stopped returning the reporter's calls. Trounstine recently won an award for his story trashing the airline tycoon's businessman mystique. That article didn't sit too well with the Checcster, and neither did a Trounstine piece questioning the accuracy of the zillionaire candidate's ads. Trounstine did author a piece last week in which the Merc editorial board and reporters interviewed Checchi, thereby avoiding the risk of leaving the two men alone. Checchi spokesgal Courtney Carlson tells Eye that the campaign is now talking to Trounstine. Trounstine explains that they have reached a truce.

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro.

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