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[whitespace] Keith Honda Close Cousins: Keith Honda, chief of staff to lawmaker Mike Honda (his cousin), gets paid $104,900 a year, making him the 16th-highest-paid staffer in the Assembly.


A year and a half ago, Eye reported on the generous salary San Jose Assemblyman Mike Honda pays his younger cousin, Keith, who is also his chief of staff. At the time, Keith made a cool $88,800, which put him in the Top 25 of the state's best-paid Assembly staffers. This, of course, annoyed some of his peers who have worked in the Legislature longer. What irked them more was Honda's boast, "I'm worth it. I'd say I'm one of the Top 10 [legislative aides]." Jealous staffers circulated copies of the Eye column with the offending quote around the Capitol, which sparked grumbles about nepotism and other unkind things. There was even some speculation that Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa later cut Honda's annual discretionary office budget augmentation $100,000 from the previous year because of inflated staff salaries. (Honda's office, however, says that the Speaker made cutbacks all over and didn't single anyone out.) ... Eighteen months after Eye's first report, a couple of things have changed. First of all, Keith is now making $104,900, which, according to published figures from Feb. 1 of this year, makes him the 16th-highest-paid staffer in the Assembly. That means Keith makes $6,000 more than Mike's base salary, though at the end of the year the boss makes more because of the $121-a-day tax-free per diem he gets. The other thing that has changed is Hondita's earlier I-deserve-every-penny attitude. Witness his more bashful response this time around: "I know that there are plenty of people who work their asses off and don't get paid squat. I wasn't born with a silver chopstick in my mouth. I can only work hard, refuse to take things for granted and accept the criticism." ... Here's a quick gratuitous look at a few other pertinent public salaries: Devin Brown, chief consultant to Capitol Cowboy Pete Frusetta (R-Hollister), $58,560; Bob Hines, administrative assistant to Assemblyman Jim Cunneen (R-Campbell), $78,744; and Paul Smith, principal assistant to Assemblyman Ted Lempert (D-Palo Alto), $68,796. On the Senate side: Rand Martin, chief of staff to San Jose state Sen. John Vasconcellos, makes $74,328, while Kip Lipper, Palo Alto Sen. Byron Sher's loyal aide, pulls in $102,960.

Wage Warrior

Speaking of salaries, Eye once again returns to the subject of exiled Mercury News high-tech columnist Chris Nolan's wages. Two weeks ago, Eye incorrectly reported that Nolan's salary wouldn't be cut because of a clause in the Newspaper Guild's contract with the paper barring pay reductions. As it turns out, Merc management did cut her pay and Nolan and her reps at the Guild are challenging it, as well as her earlier one-week suspension without pay and her "punitive" transfer to the paper's Redwood City "office," which has been described as a glorified closet. ... Eye watchers may recall the Merc's favored business columnist was disciplined and demoted for violating the paper's ethics policy by investing in a friend's Internet company. She's now disputing a reference in the Washington Post last month--repeated in this space--about her having made a "six-figure salary." What she argues with is the word "salary," not the six-figureness of her total package at the Mercury News. "I am not salaried," she tells Eye. "I am paid by the hour like every other member of the San Jose Newspaper Guild." Why such hair-splitting? Nolan wants to set the record straight that her bigger paychecks came from working in excess of the basic contractual 37.5-hour workweek enjoyed by most Merc staffers. According to knowledgeable Mercury moles, Nolan's overtime package added 30 percent to her base wages and put her gross pay in the six-figure range. That kind of overtime arrangement, by the by, is not something generally offered to rank-and-file beat reporters, Merc sources say.

Defensive Attorneys

Last month, heavies for the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys Association, the union which represents nearly 300 prosecutors and public defenders, formed a new campaign committee. The stated mission of the new committee: "To support and oppose local ballot measures of interest to association members." This seemed odd, since the county Board of Supervisors has yet to put anything on the March 2000 ballot, or even publicly discuss putting a measure on the ballot. But Daniel Carr, the association president, says he and other union members have been told by the county's labor relations managers that there will almost certainly be a ballot measure in March repealing the association's much-loved "prevailing wage" section of the charter. "The committee was set up to prepare for what the county is doing," Carr explains, adding that the union has already earmarked $100,000 for the cause. ... In 1997 the Government Attorneys Association used the prevailing wage standard to jack up salaries by as much as 20 percent in a settlement. Since then, county supes have toyed with the idea of tinkering with prevailing wage, but a labor-stacked charter review committee repeatedly recommended leaving it alone last year. Nonetheless, the board directed county management to meet-and-confer with the various unions about the subject. County Counsel Ann Ravel acknowledges that prevailing wage is on the table, but demurred when asked if the county planned to ask voters to repeal the wage standard. "The board has not made a decision yet," she says. But Carr seems pretty sure the ballot battle is inevitable. "Nobody from the county has come to me and said, 'We're just kidding,'" he says.

Simon Says

Keegan's is gone. So is the California Pawn Shop. And some intrepid soul finally cleaned the windows. But the fate of the 102-year-old Metropole Hotel at the corner of Post and Market is still very much in doubt. The site of San Jose's first juzgado, or city hall (yes, even before the one in Cesar Chavez Park), the Metropole sits on one of the city's most historic sites. Two years ago, a consortium of investors were primed to convert the former flophouse into "swank" office space and incorporate the building into an office tower on the entire block of Market between Post and Santa Clara. But since then a series of deals have fallen through, sending the hotel's new owner, Richard Haury, crawling back to the Redevelopment Agency for help footing the estimated $6 million it will cost to restore and retrofit. Haury asked for a $3.5 million grant, and Redevelopment graciously offered $262,000. Furthermore, says Haury associate Barbara Mellon, "the Metropole is an impediment to selling the block." And some real estate wags speculate that since Gonzo promised to keep the Montgomery Hotel and the Jose Theater intact, the Metropole might be expendable. Unlikely, says Preservation Action Council board member Tom Simon. "I find inconceivable that the current administration would allow that building to be demolished." If Haury could land the Metropole on the National Register of Historic Places, Simon points out, he could take a tax write-off for 20 percent of the rehabilitation costs. "We all want to keep it," Mellon says. "It's just finding a way to do it." Richard, you taking notes?

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From the August 19-25, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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