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O for Three: Police Chief Larry Todd to dust off résumé.

Public Eye

Chief Concerns

Former Los Gatos Police Chief Larry Todd is in hot water over a missing person's case again--for the third time in his career--not far from the post he left a year ago. And this time, the embittered family of the victim is calling for his resignation. Eyewatchers may recall that Todd retired last July from Los Gatos amid criticism of shoddy police work and dismissive treatment toward family members in the unsolved case of Jeanine Harms, ("In Harm's Way," Mar. 20). Todd's latest trouble started in April when he accepted an interim chief's gig with the city of Hollister for $12,000 per month, and another missing person's case landed in his lap. On June 10, the family of 73-year-old Ralph Santos reported their "Pops" missing hours after he failed to pick up one of his grandkids. In an eerie déjà vu to the Harms case, family attorney Greg Laforge says Todd didn't take the Santos family seriously, assigned minimal personnel to the case (a beat cop who'd been a detective for only three days) and just generally "kept them out of the loop." More importantly, he adds, the Todd-led Hollister cops were so confident of their thesis that the old man was a runaway they didn't even put out a stolen-vehicle report on Santos' red 2002 Kia to alert other police agencies throughout the state. A full week after Santos' disappearance, police detective David Godoy was still telling the local paper, the Hollister Freelance, "This is a great misunderstanding," and that the old man had probably disappeared of his own free will. But on June 19, two days later, Santos was found murdered in a mustard field at the edge of town, his car nowhere in sight. Fueling charges of incompetence by the family--and attorney LaForge--is the fact that it still took the police more than a week after Santos was found dead to issue a stolen-vehicle report. When the agency finally did, the Kia was found and recovered within 24 hours--in Stockton, being driven by Eliseo Rojas, 24, who led police to Eusebio Ramos, 30. The pair, who are farmworkers, have been charged with murdering Santos, discarding his body and stealing his car and personal property. LaForge says city officials are "circling the wagons," in fear of a lawsuit from the Santos clan. "This has nothing to do with a lawsuit," he says. "These people have been mistreated since day one in this investigation. They want some answers." Todd, he adds, only met with the family after arrests were made. ... This latest missing person's imbroglio is the third strike for Todd. As recounted in Metro's cover story "In Harm's Way" (March 20), in addition to the Harms case, Todd's troubles date back to his tenure in West Covina, where he shared responsibility in a missing-person/botched-ransom case that resulted in a 10-year-old boy being killed and a $6 million settlement against the city. Todd's contract with Hollister was supposed to last until the end of September, but an insider tells Eye that the city may try to hire its permanent chief sooner rather than later, just to get the controversal Todd out the door.

Seeing Red

Joe Coto, the assembly candidate whose contest is chafing certain Silicon Valley hides ("Party Animals," June 26, and "Money for Something, July 10), now has cash-handling analysts on his ass. The Harvey M. Rose Accountancy Corporation, which makes its living insulting mathematically inept public agencies, came out with its analysis of the East Side Union High School District's $186 million budget for Fiscal Year 2003-2004. The diagnosis? A case of naughty. The Rose group highlighted 17 bullet points up front in the 68-page draft of the analysis it presented to the district board on June 26. Listed among those "number of areas where the budget and the budget process could be improved" are $20 million in mysterious transfers of cash from one place in the budget to another, "a missing non-General Fund indirect cost reimbursement of $664,350," generous administrative allowances ($16 million and about 8 percent of the budget) and disproportionately high student spending paired with a lack of corresponding educational outcomes, which is a nice way of saying, let's see the ROI. All this, plus the fact that the district's planned expenditures exceed anticipated revenues by $3.1 million, has at least one board member freaking out. "In my nearly six years on the board, the budget has been a suspect document," snips ticked-off Board Member Craig Mann. "In the last few years I grew to trust the veracity of it and the administration offering it less and less. ... As of 2003, I must confess that I lost confidence in the entire administration with the exception of a few honorable [members] lost in the abyss of fuzzy math and fuzzy ethics." But there's no warm, fuzzy here. Political junkies see an ulterior motive in Mann's reaction, that the council aide seeks to sabotage Coto's run for assembly because Mann wanted to run but dropped out when he discovered Coto had already lined up support from pols. Mann rejects that theory (although he doesn't deny having had designs on political office) and insists his motive is a desire to educate kids. Meanwhile, Coto, who retired as district superintendent on June 30 to focus on winning his bid for the 23rd Assembly seat now held by Manny Diaz, has more potential critiques and board feedback to look forward to in the coming months, giving him and voters a chance to review his money management repertoire. As always, stay dialed.

Not That Bazaar

In the sign-of-the-troubled-times department, event promoter Fil Maresca sent out a flurry of emails recently, temporarily postponing downtown San Jose's SoFA Bazaar with a scant one day's notice. Stubbornly optimistic Maresca waited until the last possible minute to make that decision, hoping vendor fees would grow to cover the costs of the festival, originally scheduled to kick off May 16. Not. On Monday, July 14, Maresca, who put on SoFA Bazaar in September, October and November 2002, working under the mantle of Populus Presents, conceded at least momentary defeat. "Let's not say canceled," he tells Eye. "Let's say postponed indefinitely." While the event's costs kept swelling, the list of vendors interested in holding court on South First Street between San Carlos and San Salvador for seven weeks of Friday nights didn't. Among the deal breaker costs: the $2 million insurance required to protect the city against beer- and wine-swilling degenerates, a requirement Maresca said doubled from last year. As a disappointed Paige Brodsky, manager of participating vendor Streetlight Records, tells Eye, "You know it actually tells me more about the insurance industry than it does about San Jose." But then there was the Porta-Potty issue. The city wanted Maresca, in addition to his handing out tokens to the city's luxury lavatory on South First Street, to pony up for one of those teal-colored plastic stalls. "It was a lot of little costs that just added up," Maresca says of the event, which drew sponsors including Metro, the city of San Jose, the Chamber of Commerce, the San Jose Downtown Association and Bacardi Silver. "Nobody was fighting against the SoFA Bazaar," he adds. "It's just because of certain policies in the city--it's just too difficult and expensive. ... It's well, OK, I guess we'll let you do it, but it's going to cost you this, this, this and this."

In the Can

The plucky Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is at it again. This time, it brought friends. The Toxics Coalition published a report two weeks ago condemning Texas-based Dell Computer's use of prison labor in the manufacturer's computer-recycling program. Now, the coalition has hooked up with a bevy of other groups, demandingly nicknamed the Computer TakeBack Campaign, to keep on breathing down Dell's jail-labor-lovin' neck. "We want the public to know how to handle E-waste," says Teresa Schilling, a spokesperson for the Computer TakeBack coalition. "Most people don't know what to do with E-waste, and the company [Dell] is not coming to the table with a solution. They're doing a lot of PR stuff to make it look like they are, but they're not really trying. We're trying to get Michael Dell to provide a commitment for the responsible managing of E-waste." The Toxics Coalition report, released on June 25 and titled (Dickens-like) "Corporate Strategies for Electronic Recycling: A Tale of Two Systems," highlighted Dell's reliance on Unicor, an industrial prison system within the Justice Department, and applauded Hewlett-Packard's recycling strategy of going commercial instead. Most computer waste, until last year, either headed directly to landfills or to Asian countries for recycling. (Environmental restrictions are far less stringent in apparently toxic-friendly Asia. In the United States' own California, on the other hand, computer-related waste is classified as hazardous and can't be transported over state lines.) The TakeBack chaps maintain that shipments to Asian countries and the growing reliance on prison labor were the two major obstacles blocking the establishment of an effective recycling infrastructure in the United States. The two-week-old report made a dent. It prompted an immediate flurry of media activity and, a week later, Dell's disassociation with Unicor (though Dell publicly maintains it made its decision to sever ties with Unicor for business reasons mysteriously not in the report). In a continuation of its campaign to raise awareness about computer waste, the Computer TakeBack Coalition is embarking on seven-city road tour to collect old Dell computers and deliver them to the company's corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas, in time for its July stakeholders' meeting. Members of the coalition want to see big-time player Dell take the lead in helping lawmakers come up with green-friendly recycling systems for computers. Right now, they say, the burden falls mostly on the public sector's municipalities and local landfills. The Computer TakeBack tour headed to San Francisco on Wednesday, July 16. Of course, the computers collected actually won't make it to Austin because of that state law trapping hazardous waste within state lines.

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From the July 17-23, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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