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[whitespace] Character Actors

By Mary Spicuzza

LIKE AT THE REAL DISNEYLAND, the theme park characters are forbidden from getting out of their costumes above ground--even if they are only taking off their heads to avoid heatstroke. At CoyoteLand, the rules are the same. San Jose residents really can't know for sure about the political hobnobbing that goes on in the high-powered valley, but all of the characters in this theme park have done a lot of talking after hours.


Cisco, The Good Corporate Coyote

THE HERO OF CoyoteLand promises to be none other than Cisco, the good corporate citizen. And who in Silicon Valley couldn't love this adorable star? If he's not handing out computers to low-income kids, cuddly Cisco is busy inspiring warm fuzzies by donating $1 million of his billions of dollars to the Housing Trust Fund. Cisco promises to charge right to the front of the Calpine Pie-Toss line, winning praise from community leaders from Santa Teresa, Los Paseos, Tulare Hills and Almaden Valley. With coupons for higher property values tucked firmly in his casual Silicon Valley khaki shorts, Cisco needn't wonder why the fans just can't stay away.

And with massive monuments like the one planned in Coyote Valley, a symptom of what the local Audubon Society calls Cisco's "Edifice Complex," people have plenty of places to pay homage to the company's heart of gold.

In August, Cisco even promised to add philanthropy counselors to its long list of on-the-job perks. Cisco, a $450 billion company valued as the second wealthiest in the nation, wants to show the world that it will pay millionaire employees to learn all about sharing their riches.

But according to the Utne Reader (Sept. 2000), Cisco could use some lessons of its own. The top five corporate citizens in 1999 included IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Intel, but Cisco didn't even receive an honorable mention.

When asked to kick down a few thousand bucks to help protect burrowing owl habitat in Alviso, the wily coyote refused to spend the extra money on a parking garage--opting instead for sprawling pavement to coat the owls' nesting grounds. Perhaps Cisco plans to use the cash to build an owl memorial in South County's CoyoteLand, just to keep that good corporate citizen image squeaky-clean.


Ronnie Rabbit

MAYOR RON GONZALES is just hopping with excitement over the prospect of San Jose's marriage to a massive, multi-billion-dollar Cisco headquarters. And with public revenues to the City of San Jose projected at about $6 million each year, no wonder Ronnie's rubbing his whiskers at the prospect of sinking his teeth into a long-term relationship with a billionaire. Ronnie even hosted a press conference at North Coyote Valley's Encinal School earlier this summer to call for a Greenline Initiative on the November ballot. Even industry leaders, including the Homebuilders Association of the South Bay, were in attendance, showing support for where Gonzales has drawn those greenline boundaries. The Metcalf power plant would also fit within the existing greenline boundary, but Ronnie is no silly rabbit. He knows that joining Silicon Valley's own anti-Calpine Biotic Baking Brigade is a sure-fire way to get Cisco and citizens to swoon over his power-plant-free politics.


Divvy and Gibby, The Dynamic Developing Duo

THEY MAY NOT draw the crowds like cuddly Cisco or Ronnie, but while the rest of us sleep, these critters are busy burrowing holes into Coyote Valley's open space. DivcoWest Properties and Gibson Speno are eager partners in the Coyote Valley Research Park Project, ready to crack ground and roll in the cash as Cisco opens the floodgates to developers who plan to profit from carving up South County's open space. Despite their wide-eyed, innocent public relations, Divvy and Gibby weren't born yesterday. They've built quite a reputation in Silicon Valley as the developers that never say die and don't take no for an answer. In the mid-'90s, they were even accused of winning high-powered fans by contributing to causes championed by politicians and their spouses--specifically San Jose's fine arts foundations.

"In a city that proclaims a commitment to stop the sprawl of housing, one team of developers stands out for its uncanny knack of persuading San Jose's elected officials to abandon their own rules," reads a front-page San Jose Mercury News article profiling Drew Gibson and Steve Speno (July 23, 1995). The article details numerous politically astute community contributions, but concludes, "No one says the only reason the developers give to the arts is to see their projects approved."

Divvy and Gibby may hire consultants who launch massive public relations snow-screen campaigns, a nice way of burrowing tunnels to bury concerned environmentalists underground, but they would never hurt a flea. After all, it's not the billions of bucks in profit inspiring the dynamite developing duo. They just want what's best for the South County community.


Techie, The Towering Turkey Vulture

WIDE-EYED INNOCENTS may believe that CoyoteLand will stand as a lone monument to the charming company. But just as Disneyland continues to inspire sprawl around its theme park proper, the fields surrounding CoyoteLand are already swarming with real estate vultures ready to pick apart the remnants of the valley's open-space corpse. Sobrato Development Company owns a large strip of land, just across the road from the proposed Cisco campus, already dotted with corporate rental signs. The chip-making masterminds of Xilinx Inc. just bought nearly 100 acres of nearby farmland from the Brandenburg family, chirping with excitement at the opportunity to rub elbows with Cisco.

In Alameda County, Cisco recently purchased a 35-acre site for satellite offices in Dublin, just off Interstate 580. Sybase and Commerce One are already planning to be Cisco's neighbors.

The Coyote campus, sure to set triggers in motion for further development of the Coyote and Almaden valleys' urban reserves, means that more real estate powerhouses are fluffing their feathers, building their appetites, and waiting to swoop down for a long-awaited development feast.


Skittish Scarecrow

THE DAYS WHEN working farmers actually positioned their own scarecrows in Santa Clara Valley fields have slipped into quaint memories of yesteryear. Now farmers seem eager to applaud any and all actions of cash-wielding Cisco and the City of San Jose. After decades of backbreaking work in the hot Silicon Valley sun, farmers stand ready to reap the joys of the area's high-tech harvest. Kenneth Saso, a longtime local farmer, says he's tired of broken promises of development and wants to finally unload his land and retire. Saso likens local environmentalists' efforts to fight the development as the equivalent of stripping him of his 401K and social security plans.

"It's paid its dues, and it's time for Coyote," Saso says. "People talk about wanting to save open space and agricultural land. But if the people want to save it, they should buy it."

Until environmentalists offer cash, Saso sees industrial development as his only way out. Unfortunately, preservation proponents like 17-year-old Nick Perry, founder of the Save Coyote Valley website, and 17-year-old farmworker Monica Avila, both concerned about environmental preservation, are too young even to vote. Without anyone in power fighting for farmland preservation, token scarecrows dotting CoyoteLand will be stuffed with money, but they won't have an open field to stand in.

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From the September 7-13, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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