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[whitespace] Burning Building Photograph by Dan Pulcrano

Hot off the Press: Building catches fire, media freak out.

Public Eye

The Hot Story

There's probably no better way to publicize a new shopping center than an eight-alarm fire 30 days before its grand opening. If Santana Row wasn't a household word around the Bay Area, it sure is now. ... In their excitement to cover San Jose's Fire of the Century on Monday, however, the Bay Area media may have given the impression that the entire 42-acre urban village had completely incinerated itself. Confused news commentators broadcasting live feeds of the flaming Building 7 from helicopters above Winchester Avenue misidentified the vantage point as Stevens Creek Boulevard and suggested that the entire development was aflame as aghast viewers watched three stories pancake in real time, Twin Towers-style. The next day's headlines (Merc: Fire devastates S.J.'s Santana Row; Chron: Inferno destroys upscale San Jose development) continued the disinformation, though the less sensational fine print gave a more accurate assessment of the damage. ... In actuality, the fire leveled more than half of the project's 500 residential units and reduced about 20 percent of its half-million square feet of retail space to a charred shotcrete shell. Oddly, the scaffolding held up better than the framing itself, standing like an unclothed skeleton facing from the Winchester Mystery House and Flames Restaurant as plumes of water doused hot spots during a smoky sunset. ... At ground zero, Mayor Ron Gonzales waxed Giulianic about the success of the city's police and firefighters in containing and controlling the fire in a couple of hours, with no human injuries. "Do we have any word on the unaccounted-for person?" Fire Capt. Greg Spence asked. "We found him in a local watering hole," confirmed Santana GM Tom Miles. Gonzales also repeated the story that "they found a guy by calling him on his cell phone--he was having a drink," but there was no independent way to confirm whether this was the kind of urban legend that often circulates during disasters, like the myth of the firefighters buried alive in an SUV amid the WTC rubble. ... While expressing appropriate concern for the 100 people whose homes on the other side of Highway 280 were ignited by windborne burning embers, Santana officials declared their intention to cut ribbons as near to the Sept. 19 scheduled opening as possible. They ticked off statistics about the grand plan to recreate Barcelona on auto row, with an attention to detail and aesthetics that left Eye's delegation fully impressed during a tour exactly a month before the blaze. ... Designers had made extraordinary efforts in No. 7 to differentiate the façades on the city block, as if they were individually constructed buildings that had risen over the years. The complex burned like a single building though, and flames presumably raced down the long hallways and wood-framing like a lit firecracker fuse. SJFD officials point out that the sprinklers weren't in yet, and an unfinished building burns faster than one with all its amenities in place. "I'm sure the fire department will do a full investigation," the mayor assured Eye.

Ron Gonzales
Photograph by Dan Pulcrano

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales

Tom Miles
Photograph by Dan Pulcrano

Santana Row's Tom Miles

Firefighter
Photograph by Dan Pulcrano

6:16pm A firefighter returns to his engine after successfully containing the fire.


Additional photographs online at sanjose.com/santanarow

Hetero Geniuses

Pious lobbying group the Campaign for California Families was knee-deep in its tactical offensive against Assembly Bill 2651 last week. California Families tasks itself with defending the heterosexual family unit, which is "the foundation of civilization," the group's mission statement asserts. The bill makes sensitivity training an option for foster parents, encourages the recruitment of gay-friendly foster parents and outlaws discrimination against homosexual foster kids (preventing foster parents from exchanging their gay foster kids for new, straight ones). The legislation, sponsored by Assemblymember JUDY CHU (D-San Gabriel Valley), in the eyes of California Families, makes people gay. "The bill, AB 2651, would essentially promote transsexual, bisexual and homosexual behavior among foster kids, according to RANDY THOMASSON, executive director of the Campaign for California Families," as quoted on the group's June 7 press release. On Aug. 14, the group hit the office of San Jose's Assemblymember SIMON SALINAS (D-28th District) to press the moderates to vote no on this gay-making bill. As Eye mentioned, California Families was a busy bee during its lobbying campaign last week. So much so, that it couldn't respond to every single media call, PR rep CINDY AVAKIAN told Eye. But even with its nose to the grindstone, ultimately, California Families failed to sway its targets, and the Assembly passed Chu's bill 41-28 in a final vote on Aug. 19. Word has it the Campaign for California Families scheme was so ineffective that it convinced at least one dedicated Christian assemblymember to side with the bill.

Ring of Controversy

Eye had to widen earlier this month when it saw the latest ad campaigns for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which plays in San Jose this week. On local animal lovers' most-wanted list, the circus, as Eye watchers may recall, was cited and sued (unsuccessfully) by the DA's office last year after a trainer struck an elephant and drew blood. But now, Ringling Bros. insists it's running a kinder, gentler circus. "In or outside the ring, it's a one-of-a-kind relationship built on trust, respect and love," reads one ad. Could it be that they learned their lesson? Not according to local activist PAT CUVIELLO of Citizens for Cruelty-Free Circuses and friends, who will be picketing all Ringling Bros. shows throughout the Bay Area. Allow Eye to paraphrase what the critics are saying: endangered Asian elephants, Bengal tigers, leopards, zebras, yaks and camels are chained in small cages and carted about the country on trains 11 months of every year. And here's the worst of it--it's true. Eye checked. Baby elephants are forcibly separated from their mothers as young as 18 months (normal separation time for males is 13 years, and female elephants never leave their mothers in the wild). The United States Department of Agriculture demanded in 1999 that the circus stop such traumatic practices when it discovered that two young elephants had rope burns and lesions on their legs from the restraints used to wean them. (Now handlers wait for "cues" when the elephants are "ready to move on from their mother," says a spokesperson for Feld Entertainment, which owns the 132-year-old circus.) One 3-year-old elephant died after being forced to perform while ill; another terrified baby elephant drowned while allegedly trying to get away from a handler's sharply pointed bull hook, which the circus still uses to sweet-talk elephants into performing. And despite its lofty title, the company's Florida-based $5 million Center for Elephant Conservation is merely a front for an in-house program to breed the rare Asian elephant so the circus can survive and turn a profit. So says circus owner KENNETH FELD to Seattle-based author ERIC SCIGLIANO in his book, Love, War, and Circuses. Although it has been investigated 16 times by the Department of Agriculture, Ringling Bros. has only one charge on its record and has never been found in violation of the Animal Welfare Act, says JIM ROGERS of the department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Why? Because, he says, the company just pays the fines, and the federal laws are too weak. "You look at something sometimes and say that's crazy, but it could very well be within the law," Rogers told Eye. ... Ringling Bros. has its own side to the story. "Ringling Bros.' animals are cared for with the highest of standards, with the utmost of care and because we love them," circus rep CATHERINE ORT-MABRY firmly told EYE. "We expose people to the majesty and wonder of the Asian elephant." But Dr. JOEL PARROTT, head of the Oakland Zoo (which banned bull hooks in 1992), said he's never seen wild elephants don funny costumes and ride tricycles, sit on balls or line up like dominoes with their front legs on the other's rump. "This is so far removed from the way an elephant really is," he says. "Do we really need to be putting animals through that? You have to ask, what kind of education are you providing?" Not respect for wildlife, says Cuviello. "What Ringling Bros. really does is teach us about ourselves. What is it about us that needs to dominate other species?" Speaking of domination, you probably won't be reading much about rope burns on baby elephants in the San Jose Mercury--they're sponsoring the circus' Animal Open House here. And Eye is trying not to roll.


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From the August 22-28, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 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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