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Antics Semantics: A tale of two city halls?

Public Eye

City Hall Invasion

Omigosh, could anyone have seen this one coming? When city leaders snuck an innocuous little measure on the ballot in a low turnout election, they claimed they could save money by selling off the old City Hall and consolidating all of their far- flung offices into a single crib. Now, it looks like the $343 million building, complete with weird art and ground-floor dome, just might not be enough to satisfy the billion-dollar bureaucracy. Self-appointed pit bull Pete Campbell says the city is reneging on a key promise made to voters. Campbell got so ticked off by what he perceives as deception and inefficiency involved with the project that he started writing critiques about it in the Spanish-English paper La Oferta, where he asks, rhetorically, "Will San Jose have two City Halls?" His point is that when 61 percent of voters signed off in 1996, it was with the cost-saving condition that the city would sell or lease its old pad at 801 N. First St. to help defray expenses. The exact question Measure I posed for voters was: "Without imposing additional taxes or taking money from other city programs, shall Ordinance No. 14224.1 [Measure Q] be amended to permit the relocation and consolidation of civic center offices in the downtown so long as the costs are paid by using the proceeds from the sale or lease of the old civic complex and other land, savings from the elimination of leased office space, and consolidation of city facilities and services?" Voters said yes, but that's not exactly what's happening. The city is now talking about moving in various city agencies such as police, firefighters and code-enforcement workers regardless of the fact that they won't add anything to the city's bank account. But according to the city manager's outreach task master Tom Manheim, that's OK. "The assumption has always been that it could be used by other departments," Manheim tells Eye. "For example, the Police Department needs new space. They're tripping over themselves right now." Manheim argues that the project still "will consolidate a huge number of people." He lectures, "A police department is not something that would be in City Hall. We have fire stations all over the city ... libraries ... city service yards ... those kinds of things, logically, don't belong in a City Hall." But if city agencies continue to occupy the old building, doesn't that undermine Measure I's consolidation mission? "What Measure I said depends on the eye of the beholder," says the new city palace's No. 1 internal critic, Councilmember Chuck Reed. "We're not going to consolidate city offices into one building." Counselor Reed says that legally the city doesn't have to. Measure I just made it sound that way. "I think voters thought we were going to consolidate city services into one building [along with selling and leasing property] and [that] consolidating city services was a big argument for Measure I. We're not going to do that anymore, because we're too big to fit into one building. But that doesn't mean we're in violation of Measure I." Measure I does require that the city make money somehow to help pay for the new place on East Santa Clara. According to the city finance director's 2001 estimate, by getting rid of various leases the city holds and by selling some property, San Jose will save a net $189 million dollars--in 55 years. Concedes Reed, "I don't think it would make voters happy to know that even though we're saving money on rent, the new house we're buying is eating up all of our savings. I think that if voters knew that, they would have said no." ... Where's Al Ruffo now that we need him? Again.

Celebrity Wrestling

Just a day after leader in La-La Land Martin Sheen lent his Tinseltown Seal of Approval to presidential candidate Howard Dean, Willie Nelson, the balladeer of blue collar, endorsed candidate Dennis Kucinich. And earlier that week, David Letterman lent his implicit support to Dean with his "Top 10 Signs You're in Love With Howard Dean" routine (No. 10: "You've actually heard of him"). For underdog candidates such as Dean and Kucinich, one celebrity endorsement equals approximately 200 million hours of commercial air time, and Letterman's Top 10 list probably ensures that at least three drunk college boys will cast their votes for Dean--but do such attestations really have any influence on the election's outcome? Did some significant percentage vote for George W. Bush because Bo Derek and The Rock both showed up at his convention? Did anyone change their mind about Al Gore following Richard Gere's tepid public affirmation ("I'm so afraid of Bush becoming president that I'm a 100 percent supporter of Al Gore")? ... Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. Frank Sinatra stood behind JFK way back in 1960, and sex addict Wilt Chamberlain stumped for Nixon. Kevin Spacey got all chummy with Bill Clinton. Michael Jordan built up Bill Bradley. Robert Redford routinely dips into the political arena, and everyone knows about Charlton Heston's proclivities. Eye thinks that public endorsements probably say more about the celebrity than they do about the politician. Celebrities, after all, just want to be taken seriously, and who can blame spotlight seekers such as Alec Baldwin, Glenn Close, Barbra Streisand and Heather Locklear--all of whom have lent their star power to political figures--for desiring to tread on the noble robes of the statesman? Well, George W. Bush's advisers can. Unlike his competition, Bush keeps his distance from celebrities in an effort to appear unpretentious. Perhaps Bush also fears that Willie Nelson might just reprise one of his classic hits, "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," thereby condemning the very child-raising doctrine that's spawned a Bush family regime.

Get Out of the Street!

The county district attorney's office works for "the people of Santa Clara County," but a group of Bay Area residents say a recent batch of briefs indicates otherwise. As Exhibit A, they point out the DA's recent rush to the side local defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The Sunnyvale company cried foul after antiwar protesters targeted its campus April 22 to spotlight their displeasure with the company's symbiotic relationship with the war in Iraq. Los Altos resident Seth Donnelly, a high school teacher who attended the protest that day and was arrested, says the protesters worked with Sunnyvale Public Safety Department to let the police know their plan--civil disobedience without destruction or violence, all on noncorporate, public property. Activists anticipated arrests, but no one expected to pay Lockheed's overhead for the day. Lockheed, whose employees were held up in traffic as a result, says the rally cost them $41,521 in additional security and lawyers. Lockheed got the DA to bring charges against 51 people arrested that day, accusing them of breaking Penal Code Section 647 C (obstructing movement on a public roadway). "They could have gotten their point across using legal means," Deputy DA Sumerle Pfeffer huffs, adding that if peace marchers had stayed on the sidewalk and not the street, everything would have been fine. Protesters counter that the issue is really about free speech. "This is ratcheting up the level of punishment," says Donnelly. "It makes the right to assemble a very expensive one, indeed." Calling the DA's restitution venture "ridiculous," indignant critics rallied outside county Superior Court in Sunnyvale on July 17 during the pretrial conference, which generated a Sept. 10 court date. Attorney Pfeffer assures everyone that "there's nothing unusual about [pursuing] restitution" from protesters and adds, "I can safely say that it happens every day." But she couldn't identify for Eye an example of a similar case handled by her office. "There's not one person who prosecutes protester cases," she explains. "I don't know anybody else here you can talk to."

The Baby Sitter

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales has brought on buddy Jim Webb to fill in while chief of staff Rebecca Dishotsky takes her maternity leave. A senior transportation adviser to Gonzo since 1999 and a fellow Sunnyvale politics grad, Webb brings age ("It's a young office," says one observer) and a love of rapid transit to the position. "Jim Webb has been my 'go-to guy' to bring BART to Silicon Valley," Gonzales gushes in a July 7 press release. Dishotsky is expected to return in November. Meanwhile, there are no hard feelings among other high-ups in the office who Gonzo passed up to fill in. "It's just a title," snips a nonresentful deputy chief of staff Marie Westfried. "Jim's the best person for the job."


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From the July 24-30, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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