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Spirit of Giving: The RDA's Susan Shick gets set to dine some of her foes.

Public Eye

Table Talk

The new year in politics will get under way with a fascinating dinner date that's just been scheduled for Jan. 25. The evening was a prize auctioned off by the Preservation Action Council of San Jose (PAC-SJ) in mid-November. For $1,500, local Naglee Park resident Beth Shafran-Mukai won a dinner to be cooked by gourmet chef Susan Shick of Redevelopment Agency fame. Eye can barely stand the irony of this auction prize. First of all, the auction was meant in part as an "opportunity to join San Jose's preservation community to celebrate the past year's preservation victories." But Shick leads an agency that's more about making new buildings than keeping old ones. Then there's Shafran-Mukai, the other guests she's invited and their working relationships with Shick. One guest, Dennis Fong, is suing the RDA basically for trying (from his perspective) to run him off his property at the Tropicana Shopping Center, a target for suburban renewal. Another Tropicana merchant, Rich de la Rosa, filed a complaint in July against the city for violating the open-meeting law in order to chew over Tropicana redevelopment plans. He's coming to dinner, too. So is Loraine Wallace, a fourth local who's critical of the RDA. So how will this potential explosive dining experience play out? "We're all here to help San Jose grow up," says Patt Curia, PAC-SJ's president. "And I hope everyone enters into this dinner with that spirit." Shafran-Mukai approaches the dinner in the following fashion: "I'm there to say what I have to say. And I'm going to be perfectly civil and pleasant. I think the questions we are going to ask her are difficult questions." She intends to touch on things like land-use philosophy. "It's just wrong to take away someone's property and give it away to already very rich entities," she says, referring, for instance, to the RDA's plans to institute regime change at Tropicana and use public funds to turn a shopping mall into, well, a shopping mall. While she expects that whatever Shick cooks up will be fine, she notes that friends have warned her about what might be on the menu. "I've had literally 10 people tell me to bring a taster with me." Unfortunately, Eye has yet to hear back from Shick on her menu planning. May Eye suggest comfort foods?

Stone-Cold Dis

Santa Clara County's mouthy assessor, Larry Stone, feels beaten by the bad-press stick. He's not getting what he deems is his proper allowance--which should be more than the amount paid to Alameda County's assessor, who has a smaller job to do. And if you ask him, it's not because money is tight. It's because the Mercury News got snarky in an editorial about paying county execs. "Raises for top county managers now?" the Merc rained on Dec. 11. Eyewatchers will note that was one day after, in a preliminary vote, the County Board of Supes unanimously backed raises of up to 15 percent for other top county folk (not including Stone). A week later, on Dec. 17, Supes Jim Beall and Pete McHugh voted no on those pay raises, in what Stone interprets as a symbolic reaction, and the Supes also voted down the package County Exec Richard Wittenberg requested for Stone, Sheriff Laurie Smith and District Attorney George Kennedy. "The only thing that had changed in the whole week was the media coverage," Stone surmises to Eye. "People ought not to be driven by the media." ... Meanwhile, Supe Beall says he had concerns all along about giving pay raises in poor times and didn't change his vote to coincide with anyone. "Well, we're always influenced by whatever input we get," he concedes. "But my response is, at both hearings I had a great concern about the fact that the county's budget was being reduced." When all's done, in January, Alameda's assessor will make $156,211 for a workload of 462,000 roll units. Chief Stone will only make $150,605 for a whopping 504,000 roll units. "All of the sudden, the marketplace started to move by me," he says. "It's not a big deal. It's mostly a pride thing. You just want to be treated fairly." Eye is torn. On the one hand, Stone's pay logic is an intriguing philosophy that Eye hopes to adopt. On the other hand, Stone is clearly mistaken about his position that people shouldn't do what the media says.

Holey Budget!

Eye has put together some facts about the spanking new budget shortfall figure, which Gov. Gray Davis announced on Dec. 18. One: We owe $34.8 billion. What the ... ? Two: Amazingly, the governor has nothing at all to do with the $34.8 billion debt despite the fact that he's in charge. "California's economic challenge is largely a result of a dramatic decline in revenues," states Davis' press release. It explains that the faltering economy caused half the problem, 13 percent of the crisis was due to "increases in spending to address caseload growth and the loss of anticipated federal funds" and the rest of the hole was made by disappearing "one-time solutions." Three: Firing every state employee would only save $11.3 billion, still leaving a $23.5 billion debt.

You Light Up My Wallet

Christmas cheer hijacked Eye's heart last weekend, when Eye was fortunate enough to come across the 2002 Fantasy of Lights exhibit at Vasona Lake County Park. The exhibit, which runs through Dec. 31, consists of 32 separate Christmas light displays scattered along a winding route that traces half of Vasona Lake. Many of the displays are animated. There is a cannon that fires a salvo across the road, cute bears dancing next to an igloo, a ship firing a cannonball into the lake and Santa himself shooting hoops. The Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department partnered with the Silicon Valley Parks Foundation to bring Fantasy of Lights, on display for the fourth year running, to Eye and other sentimental souls searching for that elusive Christmas spirit that a little bit of money ($9 per car on weeknights; $13 on weekends) can buy. "It's a great thing," beamed Bruce Kosanovic, of county parks, "especially for families. You see a lot of families; you see a lot of kids. They love the displays, especially the ones that move. It's pretty cool." On closer display inspection, however, Eye's sentimental Christmas spirit began to deflate as the much mightier Christmas Consumer Spirit took over. Santa shooting hoops, for instance, was an advertisement for Action 36/Cable 6. The San Jose Mercury News had bought the Eight-Car Fantasy Train. Western States Oil was proud to sponsor the jack-in-the-box with Elf Oiler display.

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From the December 26, 2002-January 1, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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