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[whitespace] Mario Ambra Scandal in the Wind?: Mario Ambra faces corruption charges that could end his tenure on the Mountain View City Council.

Public Eye

Mayor, May I?

Sitting between his wife and his attorney while waiting for the judge to appear, Mountain View Mayor MARIO AMBRA smiled a bit, looking unbothered--more like a guy watching reruns on the tube than someone who had been hauled into court to answer a Grand Jury's corruption charges. After a brief appearance in front of the judge in which Ambra pleaded not guilty, attorney KEN ROBINSON told a gaggle of reporters in front of the Hall of Justice that his client denies all the accusations. "These allegations are brought by the city attorney and the city manager, and they were unhappy with the way the mayor wants to run the city," Robinson said, suggesting the staffers made bogus charges out of spite and that everyone who knows Ambra knows that he's an honest guy. Ambra didn't speak to reporters. The second-term councilman, who is serving a yearlong stint as mayor, is accused of pressing city officials to make decisions that would have benefited Ambra by increasing the value of his property. The accusation says Ambra pushed code enforcement officials to badger a landowner with enforcement proceedings and leaned on City Attorney MICHAEL MARTELLO and City Manager KEVIN DUGGAN to deny permits for a towing yard and an office building adjacent to his own property. Martello and Duggan brought the matter to the district attorney's office this summer. Assistant District Attorney Bill Larsen investigated and brought his findings to the civil Grand Jury. Larsen says the accusation filed against Ambra is a little-used legal device similar to an indictment, except that it's a civil matter reserved for elected and appointed officials. It works like impeachment: If he's found guilty, Ambra could be stripped of his spot on the council, but won't face criminal charges. Robinson said Ambra isn't planning to step down. DALE KUERSTEN, president of the Mountain View firefighters union, showed up to support Ambra. "He's not popular at City Hall. They're looking for anything they can find. He's not popular because he won't go along with what city [staff] wants him to do," Kuersten said, without going into specifics. "It'll probably go away quietly." Ambra is due back in court Dec. 20.

Dennis Kennedy Dennis Kennedy

Endorse This

Morgan Hill Mayor DENNIS KENNEDY was a little miffed last week when SJ Mayor RON GONZALES told him he'd be endorsing incumbent Don Gage in the race for the District 1 supervisorial seat. "I'm disgusted with his total lack of loyalty," Kennedy fumed. "Just a year ago he was twisting arms to get support for Measure A, and I worked hard to get it passed. Gage opposed it ... so I guess we know about the Gonzales loyalty. This is how he treats those who help him on issues?" ... Okay, make that a lot miffed. The third-term mayor says the first-term mayor broke the news Friday when Gonzales called him about an unrelated issue. "I told him I considered it a slap in the face and that I've lost respect for him. He said, 'Yeah, I understand.'" ... Gage, who is endorsing Gonzales, says Mayor Ron told him about a month ago that he'd get the Gonzo stamp of approval. Gage lists a handful of law enforcement groups, the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce and the South Bay Labor Council as key endorsers, while Kennedy lists a gaggle of local democrats, including Rep. MIKE HONDA, state Sen. BYRON SHER and SJ Councilwoman CINDY CHAVEZ--who is also one of the chairs of the Gonzo campaign.

Cursed Swearing

Some Cupertino City Council members will be able to extend their iron-clad grasp on political power by an extra two weeks. City Clerk KIM SMITH was forced to cancel a planned swearing-in ceremony for newly elected council folks Nov. 15 because the certified election results weren't available in time. "We need to have the official results that are signed by the Registrar of Voters," Smith says, noting that, by law, the registrar has four weeks to certify. "Our chosen day was just a little bit too early." . . . With a 31 percent turnout--a not-too-dismal showing for an off year--voters on Nov. 6 returned Mayor SANDY JAMES to the council for a second term and picked Planning Commissioner PATRICK KWOK and Foothill-De Anza Trustee DOLLY SANDOVAL over Planning Commissioner GEOFF PATNOE, ex-Planning Commissioner ORRIN MAHONEY and local gadfly BOB LEVY. Sandoval ran for supervisor last year, but narrowly lost to Liz Kniss. The defeat was the second for Mahoney, who also made a failed bid in 1999. Outgoing Councilor DON BURNETT stays an extra couple weeks (the fifth seat has been empty for a few months). Cupe's new despots are scheduled to grasp the reins of power at the rescheduled ceremony Nov. 28 at 6pm in the council chambers.

Adios, Neighbor

Metro's next-door neighbor, the Community Value Center, is closing its doors after 10 years in its current location in downtown San Jose. Store supervisor LILY OWEN said the store would close at the end of the month. Apparently building owner GARY SCHAEZLEIN (who also owns the building space occupied by this venerable rag) and DOUG DEPEW of Depew Enterprises--the man who runs the store in conjunction with the L.A.-based Cancer Foundation--were unable to come to terms on rent. ... Owen says that the secondhand store has been losing money in the post dotcom economy, going from about $4,000 a day in business to about half of that, a situation which only worsened after Sept. 11."There are a lot of people with no jobs," says Owen, whose husband George is the general manager."They can't even afford to pay for secondhand. The customers are very, very sad." Recently dubbed "Best Thrift Store Run by Anal Retentives" in Metro's Best of Silicon Valley issue, CVC has been a fixture downtown, providing clothes, furniture, toys, books and knickknacks to its area residents. The building at 520 S. First St., however, may rise above its thrift store notoriety. The city's Historic Landmark Commission has already nominated it for historic status and has forwarded its recommendation to the City Council, which will discuss the matter Dec. 4. TONY COSTA and HARRY MILLER built the three-story structure in 1923, becoming its owners through the 1930s. Preservationists say the building, once the site of the San Jose Supply House, is worth preserving as a good example of a commercial building done in the Mission Revival style.

Reno on the Road

Former Attorney General JANET RENO swung through San Jose recently to speak to the 2000-plus crowd gathered for the annual YWCA Professional Women's Luncheon, held at the McEnery Convention Center. BRENDA RHODES, CEO of event sponsor Hall Kinion, revealed that one of her favorite memories of the first female U.S. attorney general was when she made a cameo appearance on Saturday Night Live, knocking down a stage wall to confront comedian/impersonator Will Ferrell on the set. Reno, it turns out, carries a tape of this show with her while she's on the road, as a reminder to maintain a sense of humor. Reno recalled that the experience on SNL was a favorite during her often-trying, eight-year tenure at the helm of the world's largest law office. And despite the challenges of the job there was nothing more terrifying, she noted to the mostly female crowd, than seeing WILL FERRELL "wearing your own blue dress." ... Though passing out political materials at the YWCA event wasn't allowed, Mountain View Councilwoman SALLY LIEBER was spotted doing just that with some campaign materials for her 22nd Assembly District race--even after she was asked to curb her promotional efforts. "We try to keep our events non-political and she was told not to, but she kept moving her location and passing them out," grumbles one YWCA exec. "She was asked to move several times, but she just went to a different location. People were calling us because they were a little taken back."

Out of Commission

SJ Councilwoman PAT DANDO suffered a mild stroke Nov. 13, putting her on the council's disabled list for a few weeks. "Pat's doing very well, and she's looking forward to being back at work in early December," says Dando aide Joshua Howard. "Her doctors are saying that her prognosis for making a full recovery is excellent." Dando's office put out a statement last week that said she's now recovering and undergoing therapy in a specialty clinic after a few days of hospitalization. Doctors said the condition may have been triggered by the strain of dealing with her mother's recent heart attack. Howard says Dando, 55, will spend Thanksgiving with her family and that council colleagues can expect Dando back behind the dais in early December.

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From the November 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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