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Decomposition: Locals look to unseat councilmember.

Public Eye

Campos Bin

Judge Gregory Ward's October decision to block the city's putsch at the Tropicana Shopping Center has emboldened some Tropicansters to turn the tables on City Hall. Rather than change owners at the center, it might be city government that's headed for a leadership shakeup. Presently, fellow community members are egging on Vietnam vet and East Side activist Frank Chavez, 55, to run for City Council next year. And he's thinking about it. Chavez tells Eye he'd run in District 5, since that's where he lives. ... Only problem is that this is Nora Campos' district, and her term's not up until 2006. "They think that she was betraying us," Chavez says about one popular view of Campos, the councilmember who pushed mightily to take the Latino shopping mall property from its owners by eminent domain. Chavez, who moved to San Jose from Texas in 1967 and graduated with a business degree from San Jose State University, owns a jewelry-design business located at Tropicana. "My platform would be to have the people that are going to be affected by any changes be involved in the discussions," Chavez says. He rails against the city for handpicking the community members it has invited to the redevelopment table in the past. Residents of the heavily Latino East Side neighborhood have urged Chavez to run as part of a brewing plan to oust Campos by unnatural selection. Noise around the unofficial recall campaign has stayed at a muffled level so far. Chavez says people in the community are talking about it less than they were before Dennis Fong and other Tropicana landlords recently won their court battle against the city. But an anti-Campos campaign remains a possibility. Campos, probably too busy planning her wedding to union boss Neil Struthers, which, word has it, is scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, has told Eye she's unavailable to chat until the middle of December.

Let's Just Outlaw Teens

Mark Gaetano's mad, and he's not going to take it anymore. "The city of Campbell is trying to screw us royal," Gaetano fumed to Eye on Monday, after a week of what he characterized as willful noncommunication by Campbell's Planning Commission. Gaetano, who co-owns the beloved but beleaguered all-ages theater and rock venue the Gaslighter (which began business in 1969) with his wife, Susan, has just about reached his limit in the wake of a year and a half of petty squabbling with the city over such matters as unapproved fliers taped to light poles by bands who perform at the Gaslighter and how many licensed and bonded security guards (at a cost of nearly $100 per person per night for four hours) are required to supervise at the all-ages rock shows. ... At an Oct. 28 meeting, the Campbell Planning Commission voted 5-0 to require the Gaslighter to close down at 11:30pm--half an hour earlier than the club's current permit required. "That means complete vacating of the building," Mark Gaetano clarifies. "Cleanup crew, everybody. And this is after we just spent $1,800 on a conditional-use permit so that we could stay open after 11pm." ... Gaetano's theory is that Campbell wants the teenagers out; he says members of the planning commission have told him as much. "Kurt Heinrich said to me, 'I do not want tattoos and piercings in my downtown,'" Gaetano says. For their part, planning commissioners say they were forced to curtail the Gaslighter's hours after an Aug. 13 incident at which fishnet fencing that was supposed to delineate a rear "smoking" area was found to be "pulled down," allowing patrons to congregate out of bounds. Officers on a routine patrol of the area also discovered, upon questioning the Gaslighter's then-manager, Douglas Hall, that the required number of security guards were not in force at the club that night, and that in fact an 18-year-old without guard card or bonding was functioning as informal security. In an account of this incident send to the city of Campbell on Aug. 20, police Sgt. Art Markham sniffed that when confronted with these violations of its use permit, "Mr. Gaetano did not express any concern." ... This last assertion upsets Mark Gaetano more than anything. "Everything was true in that letter, but the way they wrote it made it sound like I didn't care," he says. "The city has absolutely no idea what goes on at the Gaslighter, because they have never been there during a rock show. ... The parents love us because we provide them with a safe place for their kids to go." (Parents, in fact, phoned Eye this week to say that they indeed think the Gaslighter is safe enough for their kids, much better than "hanging out in a parking lot somewhere.") "They're constantly saying what a great place we run," Gaetano continues. "The mayor of Los Gatos told us, 'Gee, I wish we had a Gaslighter in our city, because it keeps the kids off the streets and in a safe environment.' Campbell doesn't seem to understand this."

Pyle On

In what could be construed as more Tropicana fallout, Tropicana merchant and Redevelopment Agency foe Rich De La Rosa is wracking up the pro-business endorsements early in his bid for San Jose City Council's most conservative seat. Termed-out council Republican Pat Dando tells Eye she's already giving her nod to De La Rosa in his effort to follow her in next year's election. That's because, Dando says, she digs that he's a longtime, local, active business guy, whose family owns De La Rosa Latin American Imports and who supports youth programs. De La Rosa can add that back pat to the moderate Republicans' local Lincoln Club endorsement, plus one from county Supe Don Gage. Meanwhile, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber passed over right-wing institution Claude Fletcher, Valley Christian School's chancellor, to support De La Rosa. (Fletcher--who was trounced by Tom McEnery in a mayoral race 20 years ago--tells Eye he decided last Friday not to run after doing some soul-searching.) With a month to go before the filing deadline, only one person, Ronald Siporen, has officially pulled the papers to vie for Dando's seat. Eye's entrenched sources haven't heard of this guy. But they know De La Rosa, who, along with Evergreen College Trustee and previous council-race loser Nancy Pyle, and San Jose State poli-sci student Alexander Vassar, filed the required notice of intent to run with the city clerk. On Monday, Nov. 10, however, Vassar emailed De La Rosa to say he was dropping out of the running and giving his support to De La Rosa, even joining De La Rosa's campaign. Almaden Valley businessman Matt Kamkar, who also thought about throwing in his hat, has promised to work on De La Rosa's campaign instead. De La Rosa's campaign trigger (protecting the little guy against big government-subsidized developments) is cool right now, at least among the restless small-business factions. De La Rosa tells Eye that defending underdog property rights is not what his campaign is about. It's about public safety and neighborhoods and being Pat Dando Jr. He's happy to brag about his business backing though. He also won a nod from Dawn Wright, who is chief of staff to council Conserva-Dem Chuck Reed and, more juicy, is one of Pyle's colleagues on the Evergreen Community College District Board. Former council Firefighter John Diquisto and Bob Dhillon, a San Jose planning commissioner and failed council candidate who supported the Tropicana owners against the city, lend their backing as well. Still, Pyle, touting her experience as the only candidate to have been elected to an office, insists that she will take this competition and make it her bee-yotch.

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From the November 13-19, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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