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[whitespace] Metro To Be
Metro Burning: Don't get any ideas, but this fabulous photo from the book 'Guardians of Garden City' shows Metro's offices in flames in a 1942 fire. Today the building lacks its curvaceous crown, the second story on the right half, and its neighbor to the south, now used as a parking lot for rental cars.

Public Eye

Taking the Heat

San Jose officials called a press conference last week to inform the world that they had done, in every respect, a marvelous job on the worst fire in the city's history. Firefighters kept the Santana Row blaze from consuming nearby structures, and no deaths or injuries occured, they announced. The 200 men and women who doused the flames "performed magnificently," declared SJFD Chief Manny Alarcon, adding that police dispatchers and fire captains directing logistics handled their tasks with cool professionalism. And building officials made sure that the building exceeded all state safety standards. ... Even with everyone doing their job perfectly or better, this was one case where the operation was successful but the patient, well, wasn't. The press conference and release of 911 tapes was of course a defensive strategy to head off all that irresponsible talk that fire crews were more interested in rescuing an East Coast developer's investment than the homes of regular ol' San Jose residents. Now, we all know it's positively un-American to second-guess the heroes who risk their lives to save ours, so we'll leave the boys in suspenders and raincoats alone. It is politically fashionable, however, to pick on the propellerheads who check blueprints for a living, as well as the pols who lean on them from time to time, so we asked planning director Stephen Haase for his thoughts. He explained that the Santana Row structure "exceeds minimum building code state standards" and noted that "what we asked for was more restrictive than current building code." For example, he pointed out that the code allows 50-foot high wood frame structures, and this one was only 48 feet and 8 inches. So it's a foot better than code--if you measure from the top of the concrete first floor rather than from the ground, which the planning department approved in "Alternate Materials and Methods of Construction" application 01-001 in 2001. Santana Row filed 19 such rule-change requests in 2001. ... Many of the requested waivers were fire safety items like omitting third-floor escape exits from residential units, which the builders frequently offered to mitigate by adding additional sprinklers and smoke detectors. Haase notes that "structures have a certain level of vulnerability while in the construction phase" and points out that only the first-floor sprinklers were charged and activated. One of Haase's predecessors, Gary Schoennauer, echoes the view that wood frame construction for massive projects is safe. "When the sprinklers and firewalls and sheet rock are in place, they are very safe," he says. "You're going to drown before you burn."... Meanwhile, Eye's historical sources support the city's claim that this was the mother of all local fires. Even the 1906 earthquake--centered around here and not in San Francisco -- spared San Jose the kind of out-of-control burning that devastated our friends in the foggy city to the north. Historian Leonard McKay says this is because the temblor cracked the city's water mains, leaving them with no H20 for fire fighting. San Jose, he says, had no water mains in those days, enabling the SJFD to refill its pumpers at cisterns as they ran around the city dousing blazes. In other words, San Jose was saved by a fault-tolerant distributed infrastructure. Prevention strategies that rely on public water systems or sprinklers have a single point of failure. ... The heated history of the SJFD is captured in a reissue of a 1972 commemorative book called Guardians of the Garden City that's been updated with a section about SJFD members who flew to ground zero to assist the New York cleanup. McKay and his printer son Dave reissued the book as a labor of love to support the department's Muster Team and Burn Foundation. Copies of the hot-selling limited edition can be obtained by calling 408.998.6184.

Citizen Simitian

Loyal Eye fans may recall that Democratic Santa Clara Assemblyman JOE SIMITIAN's There Oughta Be a Law campaign got some citizens to cough up actual legislation that's deep in the bill-passing process--AB2474 (embittering the currently sweet taste of antifreeze, as a mercy move for thirsty dogs and gullible tots), AB2473 (still-operating bankrupt companies must honor gift certificates) and, leader of the pack, AB2472. As of Aug. 26, this last bill became a bona fide, governor-approved law, requiring state agencies to use the least-toxic pesticides and herbicides on state land. (It's amazing and kind of sad what has to be legislated.) Anyway, Simitian's potluck law-BQ also produced some ideas that didn't make it anywhere near the books. But Eye thinks they're worth presenting in this public forum as paraphrased by a Simitian staffer. Read 'em and weep: Outlaw those annoying tear-out sheets that block the Sunday comics; clarify the rights of a pedestrian to reserve a parking spot for a car; raise the driving age to 18 and give every high school freshman a bike; limit the number of bills a pol can propose each year; and allow voting by reprogrammed ATM machines. Eye's favorite nonbill by far, however, was: outlaw lying in public by elected officials, which would have virtually ruined Eye's job. Clearly, Simitian has touched upon his district's hidden talent.

Live It or Leave It

In the campaign intrigue department, Milpitas has got it going on! Last week, Eye noted the financially braggy City Council candidate ALTHEA POLANSKI's ironic 1997 bankruptcy. But that's not all the town has to offer during this campaign season. One flying rumor is that mayoral candidate, and Milpitas Citizen of the Year, JOSE "JOE" ESTEVES, is two-timing the city he hopes to serve. The man says he lives in Milpitas, and he's appropriately registered to vote at a Canada Drive address there. But indications that he resides elsewhere have recently emerged. Clue No. 1: Two people with the last name SIBAL (rather than Esteves) also registered to vote at Esteves' Canada Drive address within the last two years. Clue 2: Esteves' daughter Irene just graduated from St. Francis High School in Los Altos, says one anonymous tipster. Clue 3: The man owns another house, on Chapin Road in Palo Alto, for which he failed to list any rental income on his Form 700, a bit of public info that's required from candidates. Meanwhile, he listed his income from 10 other rental properties. ... So where does the elusive Esteves really live? Eye headed up to Milpitas for a look-see. From casing the house (and ringing the doorbell), it appeared that no one was home. An envelope that should have been returned by Saturday sat gathering dust on the porch, while enough apples for several pies lay helpless and unattended beside their tree in the front yard. These signs of minor neglect aside, neighbors from two nearby houses vouched for our candidate. "He lives there," they confirmed. Unfortunately, Eye was unable to pin Esteves down by phone or email to get to the bottom of this address confusion. Eye is starting to think the campaigning mayoral hopeful's phone number and email address, if not his home, amount to a shifty web of half-truths.

Eye's Mixed Emotions

It turns out that Eye was only sort of paying attention to the local Chamber of Commerce spokesfella KENNETH HEIMAN when he said in last week's issue that he was disappointed by the Chamber political action committee's Aug. 22 COMPAC barbecue turnout. Heiman called Eye to clarify that he was disappointed by the lack of media, not the lack of people. Eye is humbled by the lonely-making reminder that not everyone is a media person, but elated to note that Heiman's emotional world revolves around us.

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From the September 5-11, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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