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The Fly

Goodbye to Letcher's?

In the 1920s, a mechanic named Clarence Letcher owned one of the first auto repair shops west of the Mississippi. It was located on the north side of St. James Park in the building where the Oasis Ministry is now housed. A fidelity-challenged man, Letcher was shot twice in the head by a jealous wife who'd caught him cheating one too many times. The building went through many changes over the years—a nightclub in the 1980s, for example—but somehow survived earthquakes and age to become part of a historic neighborhood. Until now. Letcher's owner, Barry Swenson, has floated the idea he'd like to tear down the old garage to make way for a 14-story condominium. Two problems: 14 stories are well beyond the 72-foot limit suggested by guidelines the San Jose City Council has established. And before bulldozing Letcher's, Swenson will have to circumvent the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires developers to take mitigating action before tearing down historic buildings. The act doesn't mean Letcher's is safe from destruction. The city often turns a blind eye to the law, which is the main reason the Preservation Action Council of San Jose has two pending lawsuits against the city—one to save IBM Building 25, which was designed by famed architect John Savage Bolles, as well as the Mission Revival-style Fox-Markovitz building on Fourth Street, which the city hopes to bulldoze to build a parking garage. The preservation council doesn't expect to have to sue on behalf of Letcher's. "But just because we don't litigate, doesn't mean it ain't a serious matter," says executive director Alex Marthews. The fear is that Swenson, who also plans to build a 22-story condo in the same vicinity as Letcher's, will gain momentum for his building schemes before concerned citizens have a chance to give input. "Once it enters the public process, things get kind of set," Marthews says. "That's what [Swenson] kind of has going for him. There's a certain resistance to changing anything at that point."

Spin Job of The Week

This week's top spinmeister award goes to David Vossbrink, the mayor's main voice box. The issue: At the Oct. 26 City Council meeting, Mayor Ron Gonzales and Councilmember Cindy Chavez recognized Bay Area Asphalt & Cement Works Inc. and its president, Scott Kolander, for "the benefits they provide to the San Jose economy through jobs and revenues that help keep San Jose's economy strong." Bay Area Asphalt has grown from $120,000 in contracts in 1990 to more than $8 million today, making it one of the region's fastest-growing companies, according to the Silicon Valley Business Record. The question: What does it say about the state of Silicon Valley's post-dotcom economy when an asphalt and cement works is one of the fastest-growing companies? In other words, how far we have fallen from visions of an Internet utopia? Vossbrink's answer: "Actually, it's a positive indicator. Even in a 'virtual' world, people have to eat, move, have shelter. It's good that small local companies can grow and make a world that is more concrete than abstract. The real success stories surviving the dotcom bubble are those companies that had concrete plans to pave their ways to long-term profitability. Bay Area Asphalt is a business-to-business company--they are busy when their customers are busy and growing. That's a good thing."

Aftershocks

Looks like the city's major league soccer team will be staying after all, at least for one more season. After a chaotic year of agonizing rumors, the Quakes announced Tuesday that the team will remain in San Jose and play the 2005 season at Spartan Stadium while they continue to look for a new owner and stadium. Last week, Tony Amanpour decided he couldn't ante up $2.5 million required as a down payment on the team. "It was an interesting year for the Earthquakes," said president and GM Alexi Lalas. "I know it's been very difficult for people to be fans of the Quakes because of the speculation, and such, with relocation, new ownership and all this different stuff." With MLS adding two franchises next year, the league's expansion draft is soon approaching. On Monday, the Quakes must submit a list of which 12 players they will protect. Additionally, Lalas said he expects a decision "hopefully in the next few weeks" on whether Landon Donovan leaves to play in Germany. "[He's] making a decision that will affect him for a long time," Lalas said.

Halfway Free

At about 4pm last Wednesday, Heather Cordes finally had her mother, Patricia Law, at her side. Law, as loyal readers will remember, is the Scottish-born immigrant who spent the last 20 months in jailhouse detention awaiting possible deportation ("Menace to Society?" Sept. 1). Her crime? Being Scottish? Nobody really knows. Law, who is indigent and harmless, and who had been locked up as if she was a national security risk, was unceremoniously dumped in San Francisco last week and told to find her way home (she took the train to Sunnyvale, where Heather picked her up). "She's on home arrest," Cordes says. "She has to report to San Francisco three times a week. Can you believe that?" Indeed, says Law's attorney, Jagdip Singh Sekhon, Law has been selected to be one 250 Bay Area detainees to be part of an experimental U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program called the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). ISAP, unveiled last summer, required that released detainees wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets and meet with immigration officials in San Francisco three times a week even though many don't live anywhere close to San Francisco. Law tells Fly she must also be at home from 2pm to 6am seven days a week under the rules of the program. "It's much better than being locked up," says Law. "I get to eat better food, enjoy the sunshine and see my family and everybody else."


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From the November 10-16, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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