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Gary Plans

San Jose's head planner for the past 16 years plans to step down next spring, Eye has learned. Planning Director Gary Schoennauer says he will make like a banana and split his $129k-a-year job sometime around March, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of his employment with San Jose. (He started as a lowly entry-level planning technician in 1967 and fast-tracked his way to the top in 13 years, at the tender age of 34.) ... The Schoenster boasts that he is "the longest tenured big-city planning director in the country." Coincidentally, the three-decade mark is when city payrollees qualify for good behavior early releases and full pensions. ... Schoennauer says he intends to hang out his shingle as a consultant, and isn't worried about San Jose's revolving-door ordinance, which will prevent him from doing business for a year. That's because he figures he'll take it easy for a year anyway, traveling to Italy and taking on other equally challenging assignments. ... Before leaving, Schoennauer will work with the council to implement a "green line" urban growth boundary and will do battle with the city's Redevelopment Agency over its latest power grab. The RDA, in an apparent drive to obliterate just about anything it didn't build, wants to take away Planning's authority to review Historical Preservation permits to modify or demolish historically significant buildings in the downtown area. Having torn down Costa Hall and the Weir Building, RDA now wants to take a wrecking ball to the Montgomery Hotel and the Jose Theater, two sites preservationists contend are irreplaceable parts of the city's architectural heritage. ... In April, the Historic Landmarks Commission "strongly urged" the City Council to retain Planning's authority over the permitting process.


Larry Ridge

Eye readers lying awake nights can now add one more item to their worry lists: Is the White Dawn is coming to the Santa Cruz Mountains? Well, maybe, if you ask Larry Todd, ever-vigilant top gun for the town of the felines, who recently penned the following memo to staff: "Several recent events have led the Police Department to conduct a local threat analysis of potential militia activity in Santa Clara County and specifically in Los Gatos," Todd writes. "There are four known organized milita units in the greater Santa Clara County area which includes the mountain regions between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz." (Metroactive has the full memo.) ... After a lengthy discussion of militia activities around the nation, Todd advises cops to take threats seriously, watch out for funny-looking parcels, and try to identify anyone who calls himself a "freeman" or renounces the need for a drivers' license. ... Todd, who basks in the media glow every time his troops bust a head shop or a stoner ring at the local high school, declined to discuss the militia groups with Eye, citing "police intelligence." ... Legends are legion about the oddballs who roam those mountains but, as sources outside the LGPD told Eye, militias might be pushing it. "I just talked to one deputy working the [mountain beat] now, and another guy who worked it for three years," Lt. Bill Slack of the sheriff's department told us. "They know of no organized group. There may be sympathizers up there, but they've never responded to anything like a bunch of guys running around in the woods in camis, shooting things up." ... A far-right contact of Eye had a similar reaction when asked about the memo. "I have no idea what he's talking about," the source said. "I wish there were four militia units active. Did you know every county is supposed to have one?" ... All this vigilance comes at a price--Los Gatos taxpayers spend almost twice as much on cops per resident as do residents of Cupertino and nearly three times more than Saratogans. Both nearby cities lease their police services from the county sheriff. Moreover, Los Gatos, with fewer people than neighboring Campbell and about the same number of police officers, budgets $90,000 more per year for police overtime. Recently Los Gatos' high police costs came under scrutiny as town officials wrestled with a budget shortfall. Was the chief's May 1 militia memo timed to spin the budget debate? At least one Todd critic thinks so. "It is a desperate move by Larry Todd to avoid a cut in his budget," writes former LG mayor Egon Jensen. "This man must have rock in his head."


Break a Leg

It seemed like the perfect marriage: San Jose Children's Musical Theater and Old Hoover School. San Jose Unified Supe Linda Murray wanted it; Mayor Susan Hammer wanted it; CMT wanted it; even the insatiable Neighborhood Alliance to Save Old Hoover School--the watchdog group that stopped the sale of Old Hoover to developers--wanted it. But then something went terribly wrong. "[The district] seemed to have a real interest level, then all of a sudden, we couldn't even get a return phone call," puzzles Michael Mulcahy, CMT's executive director. Apparently, the district remembered, after more than a month of courting Mulcahy, a little thing called liability. "We can't use that school for housing children," confirms Rod Sprecher, general services director for San Jose Unified. We've been advised by our attorney not to." ... Turns out that Old Hoover was closed more than 20 years ago because it didn't live up to Field Act school safety legislation. Mulcahy had hoped that, because CMT is not a school, the Field Act would not apply, but Sprecher and the district's attorney said no kids allowed without a $5 million to $7 million retrofit. ... The district is now legally bound to form an advisory committee of community members before it can decide the fate of the historic site. Neighborhood watchdog Karen Vierra polled 4,500 residents and got this overwhelming message: turn it back into a school, stupid. If the district doesn't listen to the community, Vierra warns, her group will be hard-pressed to support the upcoming bond measure that the district is pushing to get on the ballot by March 1997.


Cloud Cover

On the political grandstand beat, there was nary a peep when the San Jose City Council recently voted to ban cardroom owners, operators and their spouses from contributing to city council campaigns. The move had all the trappings of righteous indignation: between 1990 and 1996, the local gaming industry provided some $27,000 in pocket change to winning councilmembers. Of course, campaign contributions are considered an act of free speech. In advising the council on this tricky matter, legal wonkette Joan Gallo rationalized that since that gambling industry is highly regulated, the city could enforce a prohibition of contributions from cardroom owners and operators, as long as their employees are excluded. ... Well, say observers in the legal field, not exactly. Sure, the gambling industry is heavily regulated, but so are taxi drivers, offered a baffled George Alexander, professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University. "I can't imagine anyone saying taxicab drivers can't contribute to city government." ... In Alexander's view, not only is the underlying logic behind the policy unclear, but it raises serious constitutional questions. "It's at least under a constitutional cloud," Alexander tells Eye. That's particularly disconserting, he notes, when the council could have assuaged public concerns about the influence of cardroom money by voluntarily refusing to accept it.


Better Late

After pulling the plug on his sputtering State Assembly race shortly before the March primary, former California Teachers Association president Ed Foglia is back in the race against Republican Assemblyman Jim Cunneen. Eye watchers may recall that, technically, Foglia was never out because he won the Demo primary in a no-contest race in March. And his decision to withdraw for "personal reasons" came too late to remove his name from the ballot. Despite the setback of losing the endorsement of his former union, the CTA, decidedly unrunning Foglia won nearly as many votes as Cunneen (31,525 to 33,297). ... "I didn't realize the depth and breath of the support I had," the reincarnated candidate says wishfully, explaining that he withdrew from the race after learning that his blood pressure had shot up. "My family felt the strain was too much," he tells Eye ... More throat-clearing than panic, meanwhile, over in the Cunneen camp. "Ed Foglia is in the race for now, but we understand he's been in and out of the race several times this year," snipes Cunneen's campaign consultant, Ron Smith, adding that "Foglia doesn't have a base any more." Officially, Santa Clara County's Democratic Party stands behind ex-teacher Foglia. Party chair Steve Preminger is happy to put the best gloss on the situation, while conceding that Foglia probably has some explaining to do to the voters. "Ed is our candidate," Preminger insists. "We're excited about him getting so prepared for the fall election."


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From the July 3-10, 1996 issue of Metro

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