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Wine and Paulitics

The city of Saratoga, cheered on by the Mercury News, is bidding to purchase the Mountain Winery, once home to the world-famous Paul Masson music series. The city's secret negotiations to buy the 579-acre site were outed last week by the Metro-owned Saratoga News, but city officials are still trying to keep the offer terms under wraps. ... That hasn't stopped Eye from smoking out a few details. The scheme was first hatched by banker-turned-citizen volunteer Phil Boyce, who approached winery owner Ravi Kumra and the city with a plan to purchase the land, preserve the mountaintop as open space, maintain the midsection for public facilities, and use the developable property below for rich people's homes. Boyce acted in his capacity as a trustee of the Montalvo Association, which holds concerts behind its historic Saratoga mansion and wants to operate the mountain concert venue. The ex-banker proposed paying Kumra about a million less than the reported $6.5 million he paid for the site, selling off the home lots and floating city bonds to buy the land, then extinguishing the debt with concert revenues. Kumra, who our sources say made his money in Southern California by winning the rights to cellular telephone frequencies in a government lottery, didn't like the price. But rather than hang tough with Montalvo, the city bypassed the nonprofit and opened direct talks with Kumra. ... Saratoga Mayor Paul Jacobs is now trying to drum up public support for his rejiggered version of the Boyce plan, and must explain to his taxpayers how the city--which is so strapped that officials want to increase utility taxes--can afford to buy the mountain. More than likely, Saratoga will attempt to make the deal pencil out by putting the operations contract out to bid and letting Kumra build his dream house on the mountaintop. ... Jacobs says the city did not try to cut Montalvo out of the deal--that it just picked up the ball when the negotiations flew South. Kumra's camp, meanwhile, seems relieved to be negotiating with the eager political contingent, rather than a hard-nosed, financially savvy banker.

Devil's Brigade

Like the Church Lady of SNL fame, some hardline Republican stalwarts for years have claimed that the Democratic Party, with its support for things like gay rights, sex education and choice, was little more than a front for Lucifer. But now, at last, solid proof. The flier that was circulated to announce the opening of the United Democratic Campaign headquarters in Sunnyvale's Town and Country Village made a hellish impression when it showed up last week. Printed on green paper adorned with a border of stars, the flier invited friends and supporters of the Clinton-Gore ticket to an evening bash featuring Elaine White Alquist, identified as the "Demoncratic Nominee for Assembly District 22." Bring your own pitchfork?

Green Elephants?

Speaking of things green, was that San Jose mayoral contender Pat Dando Eye spotted the other day, wearing an "Elizabeth Dole green" outfit? The color green has been popping up in record proportions these days. Green, Eye notes, can be associated with many pressing political concerns of the day: money, the environment, Martians. Not to be overlooked is the concept of green with envy. Eye watchers may recall the days of Reagan red, when Nancy Reagan confessed a fondness for the choice of the redcoats, and wonders if green could be similarly compelling in terms of the national mood this time around.

Historic Swamp

A few weeks ago, Metro reported that San Jose was refusing to buy a piece of property that 90 small-time investors were losing their shirts over, because of the city's plans to develop Guadalupe River Park. The city claimed the investors were acting purely out of self-interest. But would they say the same thing about the Preservation Action Council of San Jose? ... Turns out the preservationists have their eye on the property, too. It's part of the "oldest original neighborhood within the original city limits," in the words of board member April Halberstadt. ... The PAC has convinced the city to purchase, move and restore nine historic houses that would have been destroyed by the river flood control project to a parcel adjacent to the so-called Vellequette property, which sits two square blocks next to the Henry's Hi-Life restaurant. Now Halberstadt says that acquiring the Vellequette property and restoring the houses on it is key to preserving the neighborhood's old-time feel. She says it would give the area enough historical value to qualify for the National Historical Register, bringing in the tourist dollars and federal tax credits necessary for a proper restoration. ... Because Vellequette has shown no interest in restoring the buildings and state acquisition funds are scarce, either a cash-rich nonprofit would have to fall out of the sky or the city would have to finally acquiesce to buying the property. ... Halberstadt isn't holding her breath. "Frank Taylor [chief of the Redevelopment Agency] wants his park to be open space. The historic district is a thorn in his side." ... Halberstadt says RDA officials told her there's budget money reserved for the purchase. But City Attorney Joan Gallo told us last month, "You don't see anything in any budget ... for purchasing that property. There's no plan to purchase it." Murlin Vellequette and the city go into a settlement conference in November.

Deep South

Former Palo Alto Mayor Joe Simitian, a candidate for the north county seat on the Board of Supervisors, has left town. Literally. After winning more than 70 percent of the Palo Alto vote in the March primary election, Simitian has shuttered his Palo Alto campaign headquarters and opened up shop down south, in neighboring Mountain View, where he and his rival, former Cupertino City Council member Barbara Koppel, ended up in a virtual dead heat last time around. "I figured that if I did that well in Palo Alto with hit pieces coming at me, it made sense to move to where I'm not as well known," says Simitian, who tells Eye he remains optimistic about his chances in November. Meanwhile, the supe wannabe namedrops that he was "enormously relieved" when his old friend, presidential press secretary Mike McCurry, actually did show up for several Simitian fundraising events last week. "We were in a real jam," Simitian brags to Eye, recalling his fear that after publicizing the events McCurry might be called away on unexpected presidential duty. "The White House kept telling me it all had to be kept tentative, so we weren't sure how to promote it." Simitian says he knows that many more people would probably have been invited if he knew for sure the event would come off. "We didn't even send out invitations," Simitian adds about the only local supervisorial campaign event on record featuring senior White House personnel.

Breast Man

Oh, and by the way, did you catch San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown on CNN last weekend debating GOP congressman David Drier? Brown was doing okay, scoring points at will, right until he started mouthing off about "silicone valley," perhaps confusing us with his own North Beach neighborhood. Now repeat after Eye, silicon, silicon, silicon ...

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From the August 29-September 4, 1996 issue of Metro

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