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Photograph by Dave Lepori

Lobby, Lobby: Dear God, please privatize the Water District.

Public Eye

Poltergeist, With Pool

Alert readers would note two mostly true local generalizations. San Jose likes its unions. And the city is built on top of dead Native Americans. Neither factoid, however, threatens to stop developer Legacy Partners from plowing ahead on its non-union-made Fountain Plaza project. "Like an intimate Mediterranean village," notes the project's website, "Legacy Fountain Plaza provides an exclusive enclave of stylish urban lofts and dramatic and spacious apartment homes." The description fails to note the newly surfaced creepy knowledge that its exclusive enclave sits over the bodies of Muwekma Ohlone tribe members. This missing news nevertheless reached angry tribal members, who began camping out at the site in protest. But contract security chief Ken Brown has dealt with hostile people trying to sabotage this project before, and he knows how to handle them. For instance, whenever carpenter's union members exhibited "aggressive" behavior toward the scab-powered operation, Brown called the cops. Since an untold number of antique body parts (which, rumor has it, numbered 15 last week) and artifacts surfaced in the spot where Brown's workers were digging the ditch for a pool, Brown says he brought in two new security guards and fenced in the site. But these measures to create a fortress only piss off the Indians protesting the site. The Muwekma Ohlones want the builders to leave their ancestors in place minus the swimming-facility headstone. "It's slowed down the progress of the job, because we're having to dig with more caution," Brown later told Eye from his air-conditioned trailer. The protesters and Brown disagree about whether the developer did the right thing after the discovery. Brown says the company followed the law by calling the county coroner's office, which called the Native American Heritage Commission in Sacramento, which sent out its official Ohlone descendants to monitor the treatment of the findings. (Brown says Legacy also hired two archeologists to make sense out of the found bones.) Meanwhile, the camped-out Muwekma Ohlones, who say they have a stronger connection to these local bones, want access. "I try to teach my kids our language and culture," says Corrina Gould, one of the tribe's 485 members. "Then they build a pool over a cemetery that's [full of] Indian people."

Tropican'ta

Perspective is everything--witness three different people and their clashing takes on the very same occurrence in the almost-unanimous universe of San Jose politics. On Tuesday, June 24, the City Council voted to tweak its deal with developer Blake Hunt Ventures on the contentious Tropicana Shopping Center property. One Eye informant described it as the city taking a healthy step toward holding all the cards in the poker game of redevelopment. A second said opponents could benefit from the new deal if they'd just stop complaining. A third figuratively banged his head against the wall. Naturally, that last guy is Dennis Fong. The center operator, who continues to scrap with the city over whether or not it should seize his property for a shine-up in the first place, confesses that he's baffled by his elected reps' latest action. From Fong's perspective, the city is bending over way too far for a developer he believes doesn't have its act together. "Why is our city spending tens of millions of dollars [on] a developer who can't even deliver the anchor tenant and the financing on the schedule that he'd promised?" Fong rhetorically demands to know. A spokesman for the Redevelopment Agency begs to differ, claiming the city did a kind of Terminator 3 on Blake Hunt, appearing muscular and cut in the process. "It's a give and take," says the RDA's David Panagore. The council's vote, he outlines, means that Blake Hunt must find financing more quickly in exchange for gaining a six-month extension on the deadline (now Oct. 30, 2003) to pin down an anchor tenant. "We haven't just given them until Oct. 30; we've given them benchmarks," Panagore notes. A different perspective comes courtesy of council scout Chuck Reed, who cast an uncharacteristic vote along with the majority of his colleagues in favor of the new arrangement with Blake Hunt. His vote shocked Tropicana merchants, who are used to him resisting peer pressure (prompting Rich De La Rosa to write in and ask why).

Reed tells Eye his reasoning: "We now have the right to just go with Blake Hunt on the southeast side and carve out the Tropicana site. That means we theoretically could cut a deal with Dennis Fong." Ironically, says Reed, "the likelihood of that depends on how well Fong does in this [eminent domain] litigation. If the judge rules in favor of Dennis, and we have to take it on appeal, that would block the entire project until the end of the deal."

Sheriff Dogged

Eye's snoops say there could be triple trouble in paradise county for Sheriff Laurie Smith. Daily paper headlines as recently as June 26 call for Smith to check her department's investigative tracks leading to the lockup of innocent man Rick Walker, the subject of saturation news coverage this past month. Then it turns out the sheriff's office practically bribed 31 people with nonviolent misdemeanors and traffic warrants to turn themselves in last weekend by offering to wipe their slates clean. And on June 27, some of Smith's employees announced they were suing her. None of these issues alone stands out as a PR catastrophe. The lawsuit, for instance, appears to be about a puppy dog. But upon closer inspection, after paging through the complaint filed by the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, Sgt. Ted Atlas and Deputy Sheriff Julie Wilbanks, dog Scooby is merely at the center of a larger employee-treatment battle. A few weeks back, canine cop emeritus Scooby freaked out and bit another pup and, in the fray, partner Wilbanks. The sheriff's office responded by trying to sell Scooby to the U.S. Air Force. With support from dog expert Atlas, the canine-unit head at the time, Wilbanks successfully filed a restraining order to stop that sale. Wilbanks wants to keep Scooby as her pet. On June 17, the day Judge William Elfving forbade Smith's department from pawning Scooby off on the Air Force, the department "relieved" Atlas "from duty as the canine unit sergeant." The next day, it kicked Wilbanks off puppy patrol, too. But despite the fact that this story cries out to be described flippantly, employees suing the department color the atmosphere at the Sheriff's Department as somewhat sinister. For instance, Atlas claims in the lawsuit that he received a "series of thinly veiled threats" made by Smith's operatives, who were allegedly trying to compel him not to support Wilbanks. Insiders say the most explosive charge in the suit is the accusation that Smith intimidated the witnesses through retaliatory acts. That's a penal code violation punishable by up to a year in jail or prison and the district attorney could bust Smith for it. Smith is not yet prepared to respond to the complaint, according to her info officer Terrance Helm, who also took a moment to assure Eye that Smith's rep is just fine. "I believe she projects a positive image of our department," he says, arguing that no spin control is necessary, because the department does such great work.

Bawdy Politic

Ash Pirayou takes comfort in being a behind-the-scenes lobbyist consultant type. But on June 30, the San Jose Stage Company thrust him right smack into the spotlight during one of the evening's sharpest Monday Night Live political satires. "Liar, Liar," an unveiled takeoff on the Jim Carrey lawyer-bashing film, examined the clumsy multiyear council tango over whether to privatize the water district. In the sketch, Pirayou wished that for one day city environmental services head Carl Mosher would tell the truth. Eye checked in with Pirayou prior to the show and learned that he wasn't sure exactly what he was drinking but suspected it was "some sort of bourbon." But even the getting-hammered tactic wouldn't compare with the game plan of total avoidance. Mosher employed that tactic by not attending. That was probably a good idea, since he took the biggest jabs in the skit penned by Platinum Advisor Tom Saggau and clearly influenced by private-water-company fan Pirayou. Other highlights for this, the sold-out 10th annual fundraiser, included pokes at monolingual Mayor Ron Gonzales, who can't speak Spanish; Money Bunny Joe Guerra, who lacks people skills; and Councilwoman Nora Campos, who is hot! Also featured--this year's host, Chuck Reed, clad in the Stars and Stripes. In real life, his normal flag comes in tie form, but this time it was positioned farther south. "The costume they handed me," explains a bemused Reed the day after, "apparently included a codpiece." Same as last year, Reed and colleagues Dave Cortese and Cindy Chavez played the mayor wannabes. The mayor didn't make the scene for the first time in four years, because he is taking some personal mayor time, says vacation fill-in David Vossbrink. And much to what Eye supposes was everyone's surprise, Assembly-seat chaser Jim Beall could not keep a beat as Slim Jimmie the rapper, even though he didn't have to sing.


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From the July 3-9, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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