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Plane English: Tony Ridder's wide-bodied jet is a plane of choice for many heads of state.

Public Eye

Let Them Eat Plane

AFTER KNIGHT RIDDER EXECS announced 15 layoffs and offered buyout options to employees at the Merc, the dedicated minions hunkered down for what CEO Tony Ridder called tight cost control initiatives--in other words, the boss man declared everyone needed to start turning off the bathroom lights. No doubt, the serfs hoped Ridder would do the same. ... Last week Eye peeked into the mailbag and pulled out a meticulously typed letter from an insider who complained T.R. was seen hopping around on a "recently purchased new jet." "Tony Ridder is spending company money to better his own life--especially his travel life--at the same time he is making life miserable for his employees," the disgruntled insider wrote. ... Brian Hazen, Director of Knight Ridder Aviation, located at San Jose International Airport, confirmed that T.R.'s ride was a Bombardier Challenger 604--which seats up to 15 comfortably. But, he says it was purchased more than a year ago. Hazen says T.R. maintains a "varying flight schedule" each month and gets in under curfew, unlike Oracle wing man Larry Ellison. Some Merc know-alls snickered that T.R. suffered from "Ellison Envy" and for good reason: by comparison, Ellison's Gulfstream is more than twice the size of T.R.'s jet. But don't worry about the size, or lack of it, T.R. According to Challenger's ad lit, "The Challenger 604 has the widest cabin of any true business jet available today--eight feet, two inches wide--and has comfortable stand-up room at six feet, one inch. Its widebody cabin provides corporate and government leaders with a quiet and comfortable ambiance in which to work and rest." And then there's the cost. According to pilots in the know, new Challengers start "somewhere in the mid 20s"--as in the mid-20-million-dollar range. Add in fuel, hangar fees and crew costs, and the cost jumps up another million per year--which could rack up a lot of frequent flier miles for, say, a regular executive. Eye called T.R. to see if he would consider ditching the pricey plane, as a symbolic gesture to his struggling peeps. But T.R. was out of town Monday. The gang at the airport said he'd be flying in later that night.

Old Friend John

In a few rare cases, even Eye must curse term limits when it means retiring one of our favorite politicos. Such is the case with lame duck San Jose City Councilman John Diquisto, the ex-firefighter who keeps a garden on the roof of City Hall, cleans out city park bathrooms to prove a point, and regularly weaves a tapestry of on-the-record profanity that could make Tony Soprano blush. In a city filled with blow-dried pod politicians, Diquisto has acted as a much-needed foulmouthed foil. Which is why it's so disappointing to hear that the Cambrian councilman is anointing his squeaky clean aide, Chris Hemingway, to succeed him. Whereas Diquisto spent most of his adult life in the real working world, Hemingway typifies the sheltered San Jose pol with all his years inside City Hall or as a campaign hack. But with Diquisto's backing, Hemingway is the early frontrunner. And he could be come next March. So far, no one else has tossed a hat in the ring. Erik Schoennauer, former chief of staff to Councilwoman Pat Dando, toyed with running for the District 9 seat, but has decided not to. And insiders are starting to wonder if Hemingway could even run unopposed, to which Eye can only say, Darn. ... Oh yes, there is one little logistical triviality Hemingway must address before he assumes Diquisto's throne. He'll have to move into the district.

Nights of Los Altos

While a lot of little cities can count on an easy slice of their annual revenue coming from the transient occupancy tax (that's a hotel tax to normal people), Los Altos isn't so lucky. At least for now. Their biggest stumbling block? They don't have any hotels. But that's about to change--along with the city's tax law. Now that the city's set to get two new hotels later this year (one will replace an old hotel, which was demolished last year), councilmembers are rushing to close a little-known loophole to make sure they can squeeze a little extra cash out of the two local lodges (two hotels are under construction, a Mariott Residence Inn and Marriott Courtyard, both on the El Camino, both with about 160 rooms each). Councilmembers OKed a change to the books May 8 saying hotel patrons can't stay for more than 30 days. That's convenient for the city because, under state law, cities can't collect the tax for longer than that. Los Altos Mayor King Lear says it doesn't mean lodgers can't stay--but they'll have to check out and check back in if they want to stick around. Councilmembers are also planning to hike the rate of the city's tax from 8 percent up to 10 or 12 percent, and they're planning to formally place that on the November ballot sometime in June. City Manager Phil Rose said the city gets so little transient occupancy tax money that they've budgeted it for $0 in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year, although he says city number crunchers expect that to account for about $500,000 of the city's total budget, which is about $24 million this year. Rose says the income might help pay for about five city positions that are empty right now because the city doesn't have the money to staff them. Eye-watchers will also recall that Los Altos is also in the process of choosing between two proposals that would bring either a hotel or movie theater/residential complex downtown. Lear, who says he's the only council type on record as backing the theater, says that the consideration that the hotel would bring in big bucks versus little bucks for the theater plan isn't part of the consideration.

McEnery Waffles

Just a couple of weeks after Tom McEnery told Metro publisher David Cohen, "I'm running for mayor," San Jose's top spotlight-seeker is backing off his earlier threat to become mayor again. In a recent interview with a local daily newspaper, McEnery said his remarks to Cohen weren't meant for publication--something the media-savvy former mayor suspiciously neglected to mention to our humble publisher. "Right now I'm interested in talking about issues," McEnery said, playing the rhetorical footsie he is known for. ... McEnery's chief complaint against incumbent Ron Gonzales has been that the native Sunnyvalean has not done enough to develop the downtown during the now-fading economic boom. Eye is confident that the Macster's interest in seeing a downtown boom has nothing to do with enhancing the value of the family landholdings in McEneryville, also known as San Pedro Square.

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From the May 24-30, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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