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His Beeswax: Chamber CEO Cunneen says, I'm not smiling, I'm wincing.

Public Eye

Business Go Boom

Doing business in San Jose sucks. At least, this commonly repeated suggestion seems to be the impetus behind a recent, unprecedentedly unified effort by the business community to get the city's in-the-red ass in gear (and not reverse). "We're concerned that San Jose does have a reputation of not necessarily being the most welcoming to development," double-negatives Chamber cheerleader Jim Cunneen. "We're seeing an economic recovery in much of the country but not here in California, and especially [not] here in Silicon Valley." (Memo to Jim: Can ya talk to yer buddy Dubya?) He references a survey reported last year of about 300 top company executives that found (surprise, surprise) that corporate kind wouldn't choose to locate a business in pricey, regulated California, until after they picked 49 other states first. Plus, recalls Cunneen, California ranked fifth-highest of all states in imposing cost barriers to new businesses. "Our main assertion is this: It's from a sound economy that all else flows. The perception of California and Silicon Valley is that this is not a place to develop new businesses." Cunneen is thrilled by City Hall's response. Quick-acting Mayor Ron Gonzales zipped out a memo directing the City Manager to hold five study sessions to figure out how to get people back to work. "It is San Jose's goal to be the best place in America to do business," says the mayor's June 18 memo, which collected supporting signatures from Councilmembers Pat Dando, Nora Campos, Cindy Chavez and Chuck Reed. The memo reads as if Gonzo were a bad kid writing his lessons over and over on a chalkboard: "Economic recovery is driven by the private sector; economic recovery can be impacted positively or negatively by local government actions; local governments can facilitate economic growth." Downtown Association exec (and business coalition co-founder) Scott Knies, like Cunneen, looks forward to telling the city how to polish its business-reception skills in the upcoming workshops, slated to start on Aug. 21. "I just look at the business that we're in, putting on events," Knies says. "It's very expensive to do it here. Our short-term objective here is to assess the cost of doing business in the city and make some recommendations to level the playing field. It's too easy to lose businesses to other cities. I think it's going to work probably better with the carrot instead of the stick." Knies didn't actually say, "Duh!" But Eye feels confident that some local business community members think it.

Not Lunch

If you end up downtown during a weekday, you may become very irritated. No, not because of the Great Wall of Empty at the Pavilion, where owners of the Camera Cinemas still huff and puff in the hope that the Redevelopment Agency may someday let them in. ("Things are looking very good," baritones PR man Dan Orloff about his negotiation with the budget-challenged RDA.) ... The reason you're feeling angry and a little faint is that you're hungry. Eye recently learned that one of the most reliable lunch places downtown, the cafe at Camera 3, no longer opens its doors during prime midday munching hours. Instead, it starts hawking its leafy salads and sandwiches, vegan breakfast burritos and "eat-me" cheese-filled muffins just half an hour before the first movie screens. "It's a depressed downtown," understates one of the owners of the Cameras, Jim Zuur, who puts some blame for the downtown eating lull on the students' summer break. "We were unable to keep our lunches open. We're seriously considering bringing [lunch] back in September." But even a brief void disappoints, especially following on the hooves of the two-month-old news that RDA-backed grocer Zanotto's Family Markets was closing. And it gets worse. Zuur's Towne Theater looks like it's on its way out. "The sluggish economy, mixed with declining audiences at the three-screen Towne Theater (which we reopened in 1990), has made it difficult to keep it open," Zuur confessed in a canned statement to Eye. "Although an exact date has not been set, it is probable that we may not be operating the Towne in the near future. We are presently looking for an operator that will exhibit films there that would complement other venues in San Jose."

Young Blood

Juvy Hall is in a heap of trouble--most everyone knows that already. The rub though, Eye learned after speaking with concerned parents, is the turmoil of just to whom, exactly, the Hall of Abuse should answer. The feds, who launched the investigation? The county, which recently released its list of ways to reform the institution? County recommendations include plans to improve record-keeping techniques, communication with parents and public, and internal investigations, among others. Parents, though, aren't satisfied, and their group, Civil Rights for Children, has retained the Public Interest Law Firm to help them. What they would like to see most, one parent tells Eye, is more citizen involvement and more accountability toward the public. Internal investigations are OK, the parent says, but there's a danger in allowing Juvenile Hall to police itself. "What they are saying is, 'We got experts; we're going to take our experts' recommendations," points out Calixto Marriquez, who says his son was attacked by a guard. "Our response is, that's fine, but where is the parent involvement? The parents are the ones that knew about it all along. These same experts are the ones that said that Juvenile Hall is a model facility. When the reports came out, the 'experts'

When the reports came out, the experts were really caught with their pants down. The real experts in this are the parents and the kids." Henry Dominguez, an advisor for Barrios Unidos, a Santa Cruz neighborhood organization that boasts three commissioners who work the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall, will picket outside Santa Clara County's Hall on Aug. 13 to try to persuade the county to involve the parents. "In Santa Cruz, their model is a lot more effective," Dominguez says. "It's more community oriented. Barrios Unidos--they work with young people [in Santa Cruz]. They work in the community. They're involved in implementing more prevention and in trying to get parents involved. Here [in Santa Clara County], judges appoint commissioners who aren't like that." Marriquez, meanwhile, has one more request for the county. "Somebody needs to apologize to the kids for not reporting child abuse," he says.

Hear Her Roar

She may be the Assembly's most blatant women's action figure currently, what with her public push for female candidates to oppose firmly backed males in certain legislative races. But bringing Mom and Sis to a lock-down budget-finishing marathon is a little weird, even by Helen Reddy standards. Not one to fold under judgmental scrutiny, however, first-time Assemblywoman Sally Lieber invited the Lieber ladies to the legislative circus that began at noon on Monday, July 28, and wrapped up with high-fives at 6am the next morning. The Liebers live in a Detroit, Mich., suburb and had planned a visit a few weeks back. But when Sally's sister, Carol Lieber, corporate esquire, got tangled up in the scales of justice (one of her trials ran long), she and Lieber mom Phyllis postponed their trip to Cali until that inconvenient week. "It sort of felt like we were locked up," says Ma Phyllis, a retired paralegal, who ended up liking being stuck in a roomful of politicians. The next day, she made it to the cover of the Oakland Tribune in an above-fold story about the budget negotiation. "I was amazed that people, even though they were up most of the night, everybody seemed fine the next day," Phyllis concludes, noting that she's particularly proud of her daughter Sally, who, sadly, had to spend much of the night showing other legislators how to access the Internet from the computers in the legislative chambers. Perhaps Assemblywoman Lieber should spend her time backing computer-using candidates.

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From the August 7-13, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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