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What, Me Worry?: Opponents of a proposed Sikh temple are scouring Councilwoman Alice Woody's campaign reports for political ammunition.

Sikh the Truth

The crusade to derail a proposed Wal-Mart-sized Sikh temple in the Evergreen foothills is getting conspicuously political. Eye spotted a pile of Councilwoman Alice Woody's campaign reports waiting to be retrieved in the San Jose city clerk's office last week. The name on the pickup slip: Walter Neal. Neal, a land developer and Evergreen resident leading the charge to stop the holy landgrab, says he's examining Woody's campaign contribution list to find out why she seems unwilling to do his bidding and oppose the project. As it turns out, Sikhs in the area coughed up around $5,900 for Woody's March '96 primary campaign, the most prominent donors being the temple project's spokesman, Bhupindar "Bob" Dhillon (Does he have a son named Jakob?), and San Jose lawyer and county Planning Commissioner Mohinder Mann. Woody won't come right out and say she supports the project, but she does reveal that she'll go for anything that's legal. "They've moved it beyond a land-use issue," Woody declares. "I believe it has become very political." So political that some neighbors in Neal's recently formed opposition group, Evergreen Citizens Coalition, are apparently talking about recalling Woody for not doing enough to stop the temple from being built. That's just talk, though. (Evergreen voters did recall Kathy Cole in 1994 after she made politically incorrect remarks about Asians and gays.) Neal is soliciting $100 donations to raise $70,000 to $100,000 for various propaganda and legal expenses. If the Planning Commission ignores their appeal next month, Neal's attorney, Joe Dworak, says the plan is to take the city to court. ... A Woody sympathizer who supports the temple project suggests that Neal has an ulterior political motive: positioning himself to run for the Evergreen council seat. Neal, formerly a member of the airport commission, admits he loves politics, but says he hasn't thought about running for public office. In fairness, he's got other selfish reasons to stop the project: Neal lives only 300 feet away from where the 94,000-square-foot religious mecca would be built.

Top This

She showed up for the barbecue, but not her own roast. That's right, unofficial mayoral contestant Margie Fernandes ditched her hearing last week in front of the ethics board to go to Barnum & Bailey's bigtop, but showed up the next night for the Chamber of Commerce's annual barbecue and shmooze fest. Well, at least we know where her priorities are. Also in attendance were county supes Jim Beall, Joe Simitian, Don Gage, ex-Mayor Tom McEnery, Fernandes rival David Pandori, Assemblyman Jim Cunneen and state Sen. Byron Sher. Retired state Sen. Al Alquist turned up wearing a baseball cap and Lady Alquist on his arm. Hungry politicos munched on an assortment of culinary treats like chicken, sausage, asparagus and pasta. Those who turned out for the $150-a-head event got free mousepads featuring favorable caricatures of themselves with the words "Use this mouse to reach your political big cheese." The shmoozing went well for the most part, a couple of attendants recall, though they noticed that Fernandes seemed a bit uptight--as well she should be with all the bad press recently. "She better like the way she looks in a clown suit," one wag says, referring to Margie's circus excursion, "because there's a good chance she's going to appear in one in somebody's campaign brochure."

Strategic Communications

When political consultants Roger Lee and Greg Sellers left the employ of Robinson Communications and Rich Robinson in December 1995, in the middle of campaign season, it wasn't on the best of terms. Lee and Sellers' new company, Strategy Source, later worked out a deal with John Vasconcellos to run part of his state Senate campaign along with Robinson, who had the original deal with Vasco to run the show. Now, the feud between the hired guns has made its way into small-claims court, where Sellers is suing Robinson--whom the former lovingly refers to as Caesar--for $3,000. Sellers says his old boss is trying to stick him with an old vendor bill from his days at Robinson Communications. Robinson, who just graduated from law school, is countersuing Sellers for $5,000 for negligence. The way Sellers explains it, a collection agency mistakenly tried to collect money from Sellers that Robinson really owed to a film vendor. After some resistance, Robinson cut a deal with the vendor and settled, but Sellers got stuck with a bill for the collection agency's legal and administrative fees. So now he's suing Robinson to get his money back. "For me it was the last resort to go through all of this," Sellers explains. The would-be Roman emperor, meanwhile, contends that Sellers screwed up by not properly answering to the vendor's court complaint. "If I have to pay him," Robinson quips, "I'll pay him in pennies."

With Friends Like This

It was going to be a slam-dunk human interest story. Last summer Mercury News scribbler Jim Trotter wrote a column about an awards ceremony where 21 low-income students living in public housing received $600 scholarships to continue their education. One of the students mentioned in the story was Ebony Lubarsky, then a student at Foothill College. Because the story--"Can Hard Work and Welfare Pay? Oh Yeah!"--said that Lubarsky was on welfare, and because Trotter revealed a few other details of her life, Lubarsky sued the Mercury News and the Santa Clara County Housing Authority for $1 million. The suit alleged that the story "ruined" Lubarsky's life; that she was so upset and stigmatized she withdrew from college and refused to pick up the scholarship check. Housing authority head John Burns was named in the suit because agency officials gave Trotter information from Lubarsky's application file without her consent. Lubarsky's case against the Merc was thrown out, but her case against the county housing authority may go to trial. "Newspapers have certain First Amendment immunities," laments David Huskey, a lawyer defending the county. "We are investigating whether they apply to us as well." There is a statute protecting the privacy of public housing residents, but this, Huskey points out, was a scholarship. "I think her application was public record." In the meantime, Trotter can't believe the "bright" he wrote about the housing authority may end up costing it millions. "It was so weird. I was basically trying to do them a favor."

Monterey Counting

In case of a strike at the Monterey Herald, Knight-Ridder's latest acquisition, reporters over at the San Jose Mercury News might be asked to help put out a scab paper in lovely Monterey. "Whatever is required will occur to publish the paper," Knight-Ridder veep Polk Laffoon says ominously. Question is: Will unionized Merc reporters and staffers, also employed by Knight-Ridder, cross picket lines? Unlikely, says straight-shooting union man and reporter Frank Sweeney. But Laffoon coolly observes: "Union affiliation means different things to different people.Some people belong because they have to, some belong because they want to." For the uninformed, the kind-hearted capitalists at Knight-Ridder canned 20 Herald staffers on Sunday. Of those fired, K-R chieftain Tony Ridder was quoted by one of the Herald's remaining reporters as saying, "They were people who just didn't meet our standards." Ridder, as Eye readers know, has very high standards of journalistic honesty. He once introduced the trench-coated Laffoon as the Merc's new publisher in an attempt to plant false information in this column.

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From the August 28-September 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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