[Metroactive News&Issues]

[ Metro | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Big Valley Days

[whitespace] valley

A year in the life of Silicon Valley, as told in the pages of Metro

As the Year of the Fire Ox, 1997 was supposed to be a double-breasted-suit year. Chinese astrologers predicted 12 pious months of conservatism characterized by perseverance, diligence, even chivalry and a return to traditional values.

Yeah, right.

In many ways, it looked more like the Year of the Weasel. The days of 1997 saw swindlers of all stripes breaking rules, skimming profits, squirming through loopholes and dodging responsibility with rare agility. However humble their station in life, be they two-bit Casanovas leaving behind a trail of brokenhearted, bankrupted women, or erstwhile politicos wooing friends in office in order to secure sweetheart real estate deals, the Weasels of '97 stayed true to their breed. They stole without compunction, lied with ease and recanted only when necessary. They also got rid of people who were in the way, usually by unceremonious dismissal.

It also seemed at times to be the Year of the Unlikely Hero. In fact, this year saw a number of courageous and generous people stamping their imprint on this corner of the world, from the Spitfires--San Jose's first professional women's baseball team--to Linus Torvalds, the Wunderkind behind the Linux operating system who is strangely immune to greed.

We also witnessed a number of stories without heroes or villains, just victims of circumstances far beyond anyone's immediate control.

In the 52 issues of Metro that preceded the one you are now holding, our writers documented the scandals, discrimination and incompetence that readers love to hate--along with the heroism and stories of faith they love to read. Looking back over the year, we see a disparate collection of stories that don't so much fall into a pattern as create a mosaic of life in the Valley, where the communities and people struggle to keep pace in a fast lane approaching velocities never before imagined, both on board and off.

Here follow 25 of our favorite stories from the year, summarized and updated. Taken individually, they're tales of injustice, compassion, dirty dealing and generosity. Taken altogether, they're a snapshot of a year in one of the most remarkable places to be at the close of the 20th century.


Plane Cents: Metro found out that SJ International was getting what it paid for with its low-wage pre-boarding screeners.

Minimum Security

San Jose Airport hadn't seen so much excitement since United began serving Starbucks on domestic flights. In January, a Metro investigation revealed that the uniformed guards responsible for keeping guns and bombs off airplanes are paid less than the average burger flipper and, hence, bring limited skills to the job. As if to prove our point, two months later, the pre-boarding screeners at SJ International spotted a gun on an X-ray screen, sounded the silent alarm and then forgot to stop the passenger. This gaffe forced a plane to be emptied and an entire terminal searched before the offending toy gun was found, delaying thousands of travelers. In the second incident, a real gun got past the checkpoint and was never found.

The firm responsible for security at the two gates was replaced in April. Airport administration officials admit the new contracts "do not provide any improvement in wage rates or benefits for employees over the previous contract."

To compensate, the number of San Jose police officers assigned to the airport has been doubled, and the airport promises a "closer working relationship" between the well-paid cops and the underpaid screeners.

Murky Waters

In January, Metro uncovered allegations of racism, cronyism and waste at the third-largest public agency in the county: the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The 600-employee, $1 billion agency responsible for the valley's water supply and flood control had suffered two lawsuits, one filed by its own equal opportunity officer, Tanya Young (who was fired after an internal survey on racial attitudes was completed), and one by budget analyst Ilse Eng, who alleges she was forced out when she tried to bring accountability to the agency's budget process.

The district has settled Young's case for a reported six figures. Ilse Eng's case is still pending. In March, the district held a forum for the board of directors to listen to employees concerns, a forum where some employees' wept recounting their experiences of discrimination. District director Stan Williams said he hoped that airing out the dirty laundry would help the district turn over a new leaf. Instead, it gave members of a grand jury, who were present in the audience, a veritable rolodex of malcontents to interview.

At present, district union representative Rebecca Cuffman says, "The grand jury is digging very deeply." Its first report is expected in early 1998.


Fleecing of the Lambs

When the 150 members of East San Jose's Templo Juan joined the Assemblies of God in 1960, they wanted to be part of the big Christian picture. They didn't count on losing their autonomy--or their $1 million property--to the mighty organization that launched Jim and Tammy Bakker.

But today, the tiny Eastside church finds itself on the brink of a legal battle with a suspiciously acquisitive ecclesiastical empire that incorporates 158,000 congregations and 27 million members around the world.

The investigation and dismissal of Templo Juan's founder by the Assemblies' hierarchy sparked a series of minor explosions that eventually led to a schism within the congregation, attempts by the Assemblies to freeze Templo Juan's assets, and a lawsuit against the Spanish-speaking church for its property, which members purchased with money from countless fundraisers more than 20 years ago.

In early February, Metro reported that a hearing was slated for February 24, but 10 months and a half-dozen delays later, the hearing still hasn't happened, and isn't expected to until March 1998.

If the Assemblies of God's national leaders are fighting a war of attrition, it just might work--Templo Juan isn't rich. Many members of Templo Juan remain dismayed. Even Goliath had the courage to face David on the battlefield.

Double Talk

At the beginning of the year, a national debate raged over using Black English to teach African American students in the Oakland public schools, with Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Jesse Jackson and the Secretary of Education all wading into the fracas. In February, Metro reported that the San Jose educational and African American communities were at odds over the issue. And even though several local African American leaders thought that the use of Black English as a teaching tool was a good tactic, none of them were willing to advocate its use in Santa Clara County.

San Jose school officials were happy to just leave the controversy alone. One year later, an issue that had seemed almost life-and-death last winter has faded into nothing. However, a new word has entered the American popular vocabulary, probably to stay: ebonics.


No Room at the Inn

Every few months, Ramon Johnson's neurological chemicals whirl him up to starry heights of creativity and optimism, songwriting and effervescence. And each time, the same fizzy soup of amino acids and glucose--altered slightly--then hurls him back into profound depression. Like many manic-depressives, Johnson self-medicates with alcohol, coke and whatever other drugs he can find. Following the pattern of an overwhelming number of mentally ill addicts, he's also homeless.

For several years, Inn Vision's Julian Street Inn, the only homeless shelter in the county devoted to serving the mentally ill, has been a grounding point for Johnson. It is there that he has checked in with his service team, taken his meds and reinstated his SSI eligibility.

The fact that the 70-bed Julian Street Inn is the only one of its kind in a county where up to 4,000 homeless mentally ill wander the streets in a single year helps explain why so many clients like Johnson fall between the cracks. Despite Santa Clara County's progressive social programs, support for the homeless mentally ill is just too scant to provide maintenance programs for people like Johnson.

In March, Johnson told Metro that his goal was to enroll in De Anza College and get a job and an apartment. In early autumn he contacted us again with the good news that school was going well and he liked his new apartment. When we tried to contact him recently for an update, though, we reached only a message saying his number was no longer in service. A message left at Julian Street Inn produced no response.

As far as we can tell, Ramon Johnson has disappeared into the streets again. Maybe he'll make it out a little further next time, and a little further the time after that. But it's hard to have faith in a system that only provides for 70 people in need, knowing that 4,000 exist.

Go, Gary!

OK, it seemed plausible at the time: Big city planning director retires so he can pursue a political career in the near future, possibly even run for mayor of San Jose. Gary Schoennauer just wouldn't rule out the possibility and admitted he daydreamed about sitting on the elected side of the dais. Since retiring in March, Schoennauer has started his own land-use consulting business, advising both public and private clients, including developers whom he had to deal with while he was planning director for San Jose. Among his private clients is the city of Milpitas, where Schoennauer is being reunited with City Manager Greg Larson, previously an aide to San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery.

From his new San Jose office, Schoennauer now says he doesn't have any plans to go political. He does, however, have some thoughts as to what will be the big land-use issues facing San Jose's next mayor--such as the threat of improperly executed residential development in Coyote Valley and the city's industrial areas.


Gravy Train

Politicians make decisions all the time involving millions of tax dollars. As Metro reported in April, San Jose's politicians also quietly make choices behind the scenes every day that involve pocket change, but still say a lot about what they consider a legitimate use of taxpayers' money.

When dining at taxpayers' expense, will they choose the $9 pasta plate or the $19 halibut dish? Will they pass up a cheap meal at Juicy Burger in favor of a pricey entrée at trendy Eight Forty North First Street or Bella Mia? Or, while traveling on the public dime, will they park that city-paid rental car themselves, or get a valet to do it for them at twice the cost?

Some of San Jose's politicians--like David Pandori, John Diquisto, Frank Fiscalini and Pat Dando--eschewed dining or traveling at taxpayer expense. Others, like Mayor Susan Hammer, Trixie Johnson, Alice Woody, Charlotte Powers and Margie Fernandes, felt justified in feeding at the public trough, so to speak.

Metro also uncovered another interesting tidbit: Unlike the city's rank-and-file employees, who are tightly regulated, San Jose's elected leaders have no written policy govering their dining habits. It's up to them to individually decide what is a legitimate expense. All too often, they're writing off fancy meals as "working lunches."


Guns and Posers

In 1997, the urban arms race escalated on the home turf, with the San Jose Police Department spending $100,000 to arm patrol officers with 150 assault rifles. The purchase came at a time when police departments and city governments nationwide were spooked over the televised shooting spree in North Hollywood, where two gunman with body armor and AK-47s held outgunned police officers at bay after a failed robbery attempt at a Bank of America.

"As long as I am mayor, I will do everything in my power to prevent that chilling scene from ever happening in San Jose," pledged Mayor Susan Hammer. But as Metro reported, assaults against police officers have been steadily declining in San Jose. And while local some experts noted that criminals have access to greater firepower than before, others questioned the wisdom of allowing a freak incident in L.A. to influence policy in San Jose.

Since the gun purchase, FBI crime statistics released in November revealed an interesting trend in San Jose. The FBI reported a decrease of 11 percent in San Jose of "index crimes"--murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft. Nationally, crime fell 4 percent, despite the skewed reality portrayed on television.

Linus Torvalds
Inside Linux: Metro went behind the scenes with Finnish wunderkind Linus Torvalds to see how he was adjusting to life in Silicon Valley.

Linus in Wonderland

In a year when Bill Gates' personal wealth surpassed the $40 billion mark and Larry Ellison lost $2 billion in one day, a different kind of software genius made Silicon Valley his home. Finnish wunderkind Linus Torvalds, the young creator of Linux--a free version of UNIX--took up residence in a modest two-bedroom home in Santa Clara.

Torvalds soared to fame in the early '90s when, as a graduate student at the University of Helsinki, he wrote a "kernel"--the heart of an operating system--and posted it on the Internet. Soon, shade-tree programmers all over the world were running Linux and submitting "patches" or improvements to Torvalds, who became the leader of a worldwide group of programmers working to improve the code. By the mid-'90s Linux was a fully functional UNIX clone, humming away on millions of computers.

Aside from a few speaking junkets, Torvalds has never made a penny from his invention, choosing instead to remain leader of the international Linux effort. He did, however, take a day job at the Santa Clara-based Transmeta, a startup that will produce "alternative VLSI engines." Now, as then, Transmeta is very secretive about what they will do.

"You know I'd love to tell you," says publicist Steve Goldstein.

Transmeta is in Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's investment portfolio, but then again, so are the Portland Trailblazers.

Citizen Cane

When Charlie Scurlock first came to Metro's attention in May, he was looking for someone with a generous heart and $500,000 to spare to fund the first manufacturing run for a newly designed forearm crutch. After years of planning--he says he first conceived of the idea in 1983--the retired Rand Corporation physicist was watching his brainchild take its first wobbly steps as a prototype, and he was ecstatic.

Several months ago Scurlock called, thanking Metro for our coverage of his new product. Because of "Citizen Cane," he said, two wealthy men from Saratoga had agreed to fund a small first run of 20 crutches to work the bugs out and get ready for real production.

The handful of designers and executives who make up the nonprofit Sandpiper Labs isn't after the money a new crutch will make them if it takes off. But when the crutch, which is ergonomically aligned, padded and esthetically appealing, hits the market, chances are good that a lot of people will want to replace the clunky metal variety with the sleek new version.



What do the city auditor, the grand jury and Metro have in common? All three have repeatedly raised serious questions about the San Jose Redevelopment Agency's lack of accountability, openness and oversight. And all have been told essentially the same thing: Mind your own damn business.

In June we unearthed yet another boondoggle the agency tried to cover up. What began as a $250,000 toxic cleanup project in the downtown--on the northern end of the block bordered by Third and Fourth streets, San Carlos and San Fernando--exploded into a $4.3 million money pit. For the most part, agency staff kept elected officials informed about the cleanup's rising cost to the taxpayer. But there were disturbing exceptions, such as the time when the agency's executive director, Frank Taylor, used his emergency powers to ram through a $325,000 contract hike while the City Council was on winter break. He never bothered to inform the council, or the public, of his private fiscal maneuvering.

When a whistle-blower in the agency inquired about these irregularities, the project manager reportedly told him to butt out. He later lost his job during a major staff cutback.

Since June, construction of a brand-new upscale condo project, Paseo Arcade, has gotten under way on the once-toxic site. It's expected to be finished before the end of 1998. The agency's project chief, Bob Ryan--a key figure in the story--abruptly resigned in July, one month after the story appeared.


Snappy Campers: Metro found out that some people squeezed out of the local housing market, especially dog owners, were beating the shelter system by camping out at county parks.

Mobile Homeless

The egregious housing situation in Santa Clara County is legendary. With a vacancy rate that fluctuates between 1 and 3 percent and a seemingly endless stream of people looking for housing here, rent prices have skyrocketed in the past two years.

How does a down-and-out family keep out of a squalid shelter? How do newcomers save the thousands of dollars it costs to move into an apartment? One solution people have discovered is camping out.

In Santa Clara County's beautiful mountain campgrounds, "homelessness" feels no more shameful than an extended vacation, and the kids don't ask hard questions.

Since Metro ran its story in July, one of our sources complains that the park staff is harder on itinerant squatters, watching their two-week limits more closely and treating them less warmly.

County Parks and Recreation denies that they've implemented any policy change regarding homeless campers. Besides, says spokeswoman Tamara Clark-Shear, the numbers of homeless campers have dwindled from several dozen in the summer to only about six throughout the county, presumably due to the cold weather.

The folks who were profiled for the story have, perhaps, moved on to warmer, drier climates. Hopefully, though, they're back in houses or apartments and happy to forget their days as the mobile homeless.

Brave New Mundo

While a few national chains solidify their control over the majority of the nation's daily newspapers, the local Hispanic community was introduced to the grow-big-or-be-eaten world of newspaper publishing.

And it hasn't been fun.

Knight-Ridder, the Miami-based owner of the San Jose Mercury News, in May 1996 launched Nuevo Mundo, a Spanish-language weekly tabloid--a good-faith effort, it was purported, to reach the local Hispanic community.

But by July 1997, local Latino publishers said they were shut out of events in their own community while they watched their ad revenues dwindle. With its considerable resources, Knight-Ridder introduced the free paper as a stand-alone publication available in its own boxes and launched it with twice the circulation of any one of its locally owned competitors. They also enlisted some of the Latino community's biggest names to serve on Nuevo Mundo's advisory board and used that leverage to gain exclusive sponsorship of several annual cultural events.

The local Hispanic press, El Observador, Alianza Metropolitan News and La Oferta Review, found themselves on the outside of events that historically they had helped promote.

Since Metro's story ran, Gil Hernandez was publicly thrown off the Mexican Heritage Corporation board when he questioned several other members who also sit on Nuevo Mundo's board. Mary Andrade, editor of La Oferta Review, says she expects the fireworks to start again in February when the National Hispanic Publishers Association meets in San Jose.

Liquid Lunge

Metro broke a story in July that revealed how malt liquor brewers were targeting their product at the local Latino community. As some of the most potent alcoholic beverages available in the United States (a 40-ounce bottle serves up the equivalent of five whiskey shots), such "high octane" products as King Cobra and Olde English 800 promise only to worsen already high alcoholism rates present in the Latino community.

It also turned out that malt liquor dealers were saturating the Latino media and stores with some of the most violent, misogynist, and sexually graphic advertisements around, using African American rap singers signed up as industry spokespersons to cross over into the Latino youth market. South Bay Latino youth talked about the devastating effect alcoholism was having in their community.

Since the story was published in July, the Prevention and Research Center of Berkeley has been funded to do a 15-month study of alcohol outlets in the city of San Jose.

Twenty San Jose State University students are presently being trained to observe selected liquor stores and bars within the city to document such things as public drunkenness, related crime, loitering around the businesses and the availability of liquor to minors. The study is being coordinated with the San Jose Police Department.


King Richard

He sued members of his own union who accused him of sexual harassment and used union money to do it. He and other union executives treated themselves to $65,000 in meal and travel expenses in one year alone. When the rank-and-file demanded a chance to vote on a hastily approved $400 political assessment, he pressured objectors to withdraw their signatures from a petition by telling them they could be laid off if they didn't do what union leaders wanted. He authorized his treasurer to take a questionable three-day, union-paid vacation in Mexico, saying it was time that the union owed him.

Our exposé on Correctional Peace Officers' Association president Richard Abbate may have left him bruised and embarrassed, but he definitely wasn't beaten. He still controls CPOA, and there doesn't appear to be anyone challenging his iron-fisted authority.

Since August, a Superior Court judge once again rejected Abbate's slander lawsuit against three jail guards who accused him of sexual harassment--allegations previously upheld by the county.

The CPOA's $300,000 political campaign to regain peace officer status for jail guards hasn't produced any tangible results yet. Television ads produced by the union campaign were widely criticized as misleading for falsely suggesting that the county was in danger of losing 800 cops.

San Jose Spitfires
League of Their Grown: After finishing their first season 24-6, the San Jose Spitfires had four players chosen for the all stars, including envy-of-the-league pitcher P.J. Brun.

Spit and Shine

The San Jose Spitfires, profiled in a cover story in August, began the inaugural season of Ladies League Baseball struggling, losing their first four games. They ended it sweeping the Los Angeles Legends in three games in the league's first World Series.

Metro spent a few weeks at Municipal Stadium--where five bucks still buys a beer and a hot dog--watching the Spits take on the infant league's three other teams, L.A., the Phoenix Peppers and the Long Beach Aces. Our women dominated with consistent pitching and killer multiple-run innings.

After the season, Spitfire pitcher and center fielder P.J. Brun, of San Francisco, was named co-MVP after pitching a five-hit first game against L.A. in the World Series. Brun and four other Spitfires, Alex Sickinger of Pacifica, Victoria Ruelas of San Jose, Nancy Bronson of San Francisco, and Rhonda Palmer of Oakland, were named to the all-star team. (Ruelas had been the first girl to play in the Little League World Series in 1989.) The Spitfires finished 24-6 and in November were congratulated during a session of the San Jose City Council. Next year, the Spits will try to avoid the Lasers' sophomore-season malaise while the league expands in Michigan, upstate New York, Illinois and Florida.


Mr. Wrong

In September Metro reported the story of John Michael Gentes, a.k.a. "Gio," a tall, dark and handsome coffeehouse maven and barfly who has left a trail of jilted women, broken promises and at least one out-of-wedlock child. As the story unfolded, more and more women came forward with the strange stories "Gio" told them. Some had been wowed by his big house in Saratoga, his close, personal friendship with Colin Powell and his degree from West Point. He told others that he was a CIA agent and an Olympic downhill skier.

He told Metro he was 45 years old (he was 28) and that he was suing the Social Security Administration for $83 million dollars. SSA says they're investigating him.

One woman now says she is still trying to get him to pay her some child support for their 2-year-old daughter. Soon after Gio's visage was splashed across the valley in these pages, he was spotted around his old haunts sporting wraparound shades and a new beard. And Metro's coffeeshop sources report seeing him with a new woman, for whom one former lover has some advice: "Quick, run the other way!"

High-tech Heretics

The Church of Scientology has long intimidated its critics by threatening and filing costly lawsuits. When the church decided to sue Grady Ward and Keith Henson for copyright infringement, the two quirky Internet buffs chose to save themselves a few thousand bucks and not hire lawyers. The result was a courtroom scene that Court TV producers can only dream about.

When the two amateur Perry Masons supoenaed Scientology leader David Miscavige for a court-related hearing, they honored the occasion's gravity by making faces at their witness.

The Religious Technology Center, an arm of the church of Scientology, was suing the duo for allegedly posting copyrighted church secrets to the Internet without permission. Their cases were two among about 10 court battles Scientology has initiated since 1995 involving the Internet.

Though U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte granted an injunction barring Ward and Henson from posting any church secrets, the two still managed to find ways to annoy Scientology followers.

Henson picketed the San Jose branch, holding a home-made sign reading, "Scientology--Heaven's Gate--Both UFO Cults." Ward, meanwhile, took great glee in posting fictional accounts of Scientology leaders and their lawyers sodomizing each other.

The two high-tech heretics have had their trials rescheduled for mid-January (Ward) and late February Henson).

Santa Clara County's Greatest Hits: Metro chronicled how in the the current economic boom the valley's few remaining historical structures were facing the wrecking ball, with little support from developer-friendly elected officials.

Demolition Fever

All over Silicon Valley, history has been trampled, much of it in the days when "old" was synonymous with "in the way." Two buildings that embody the valley's character in many ways, San Jose's Montgomery Hotel and Jose Theater were listed as "endangered" in Metro's July preservation issue, despite the fact that historians and preservationists have rallied to their defense.

Today, thanks to the City Council turning a deaf ear, both are on death row.

The Montgomery was built in 1911 by T.S. Montgomery, who shaped downtown San Jose as much as anyone before Redevelopment's Frank Taylor. It was San Jose's finest when it was built, but served most of its years as a modest hotel for business travelers and families. The Jose is San Jose's oldest theater, a place where kids could watch vaudeville and a western on a summer afternoon.

In October the San Jose City Council took away another chance for the Montgomery to appeal by denying it landmark status. The council's reasoning is that they did not want to make it a landmark and then vote to tear it down a few months later to make way for a second Fairmont tower. The following week, the council approved a deal that will tear out most of the Jose for 25 parking spaces in a 116-apartment complex. Andre Luthard of San Jose's Preservation Action Council filed suit in December, alleging the city violated the law by not considering alternatives to razing the landmark. The guardians of the past say the battle's not over yet.


Civic Centeredness

Since Metro reported the story of San Jose's new City Hall in October, a little origami rendition of the proposed edifice has appeared on the Redevelopment Agency's model of downtown San Jose.

The plan to bump City Hall from the Civic Center at North First and Mission and move it to East Santa Clara Street is moving at a furious clip, with properties between Fourth and Sixth streets being assembled. Driven by RDA money, the project is opposed by no one in the city government but District 8 Councilwoman Alice Woody.

But Al Ruffo, an 89-year-old attorney who was on the City Council in 1956 when the decision was made to build the current Civic Center, is showing the city he's got a few more good fights left in him. He gave his argument against the move in front of the City Council.

Aside from the practical advantages he cites for keeping City Hall where it is, it turns out that using RDA funds to pay for the move may be illegal. A 1993 law intended to keep city governments from using redevelopment funds to build monuments to themselves prohibits using the funds for "construction" of new city halls.

The question is, do all the "pre-development" costs that RDA is covering count as "construction"? Ruffo and RDA's Bill Hughes have exchanged letters over the issue, and Ruffo is leaving the door wide open for a lawsuit.

Poodle Tale

Though news reports of his murder at the Pink Poodle strip club abounded, little had been written about the murdered man, 38-year-old Kevin Sullivan. All that the public had heard was that he was a "hard-working carpenter" who may have had a drug problem.

In October, Metro delved further into Sullivan's background in hopes of understanding why someone could have wanted him dead. Using court records, we sketched a portrait of a troubled man convicted several times for drug possession, drunk driving and beating up his girlfriend.

Those charged in connection with Sullivan's murder are two Pink Poodle bouncers named Gary Costanza and Steve Tausan (a member of the Hell's Angels), and David Kuzinich, the son of the strip club's owner.

Authorities allege that Kuzinich lured Sullivan into the club after the transient reportedly had made unwanted advances toward a stripper taking a break at a nearby bar. After Sullivan entered the Pink Poodle, Tausan, also known as "Mr. 187," allegedly beat him to death.

The simultaneous arrest of James Elrite, president of the local chapter of the Hell's Angels, added further intrigue to the Sullivan case. Elrite is accused of manufacturing methamphetamine. Prosecutors apparently plan to argue that the Hell's Angels used the local strip joint to launder drug profits.

Costanza, Kuzinich, Tausan and Elrite are still being held in county jail. Their trials are still several months away.

Identity Crisis

Last summer, local tax preparer Jon Stanton received some chilling news: someone had discovered his Social Security number, posed as his wife, taken out credit cards under his credit and run up thousands of dollars in debt for which he was liable.

Stanton was a victim of identity theft, a crime that has risen dramatically in the '90s. Metro reported in October that Stanton's troubles began when he learned that he suddenly had an $8,500 bill with Wells Fargo Bank and another $2,000 or so with other companies.

Two months later, Stanton says the results of his complaints have been mixed. He's received calls from State Representative Ted Lempert and U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell indicating that they were introducing bills in their respective legislatures making it harder to obtain credit in someone else's name. Stanton has also been told that the woman who allegedly posed as his wife is now in prison, though she has not yet been charged in his case. As for as his own credit problems, Stanton is still cleaning up the residue. Earlier this fall, he found out that his Discover card was being canceled because of a bad credit report. He's still trying to track that one down.


Karma Payment

In November, the city of San Jose and Santa Clara County agreed to fork over several million dollars to a South San Jose couple who had become quadriplegic after flipping their new Miata sports car off Metcalf Road in June 1994. Ken and Cheryl Beck had been out for dinner and a late-night cruise when their new car went off the road on a curve and left the couple hanging upside down in their vehicle for nearly 14 hours. Cheryl, the driver when the accident occurred, admitted to having had two margaritas over dinner, and Ken Beck admitted his wife was unused to the car because she rarely drove before they bought it. The Becks' case hinged on an environmental impact report completed nearly 20 years ago that recommended that Metcalf Road be improved to accommodate additional traffic that Motorcycle County Park was expected to generate. The road was never improved, but the facts of the case were never heard by a jury because city and county lawyers believed the risk of facing two quadriplegics in court was simply too high. County attorney Ann Ravel speculated that the Becks would ask for as much as $60 million if the case went to trial. In settling, the city and county agreed to pay about $7 million--enough money, points out a City Council aide, to pay for a new branch library.


Tom's Bomb

For more than a year, viewers of the local political scene tuned in religiously to "The Days of Tom McEnery," in which our hero, the former San Jose mayor, couldn't make up his mind about whether or not to re-emerge as San Jose's top dawg.

"Maybe, maybe not," McEnery would say coyly, forever recycling a worn plot line--almost into the New Year.

Well, McEnery put a halt to his exercise in ambivalence when he finally announced in December that he wouldn't run again and would instead support Pat Dando, his former apparatchik, a story first reported by Metro. His choice was one of the most important events of the year for San Jose. Had he run, he'd be a sure favorite to recapture the mayoral crown and direct the city's course into the coming century.

McEnery claimed he always leaned against running. "I have gone back to City Hall on only two occasions since leaving as mayor: once to see my daughter sworn in as a youth commissioner, and once to testify on ethical changes at City Hall."

The ex-mayor, though, always seemed to have a blind spot concerning the relationship between his political influence and his personal property interests. When stories broke in November about his $1.1-million deal with the Redevelopment Agency to rehabilitate a downtown apartment building he owns with his brother, McEnery had a conniption. "Why do you guys [reporters] keep bringing this up?" he snarled. "I haven't been mayor for seven years." Never mind that Tom's friend and alter ego Frank Taylor controls Redevelopment's purse strings. And never mind that the McEnery apartment house isn't actually located in a designated redevelopment zone. Ah, well, perhaps it pays not be mayor.

Tangled Webb

Last month Gary Webb, the reporter responsible for the "Dark Alliance" series, finally resigned from the San Jose Mercury News.

Webb's troubles with the local daily began after the splashy publication of his 1996 series alleging that drug dealers hanging with the Nicaraguan Contras, having the blessing of the CIA, funneled crack into L.A. in the '80s. Almost a year after the original series was published, Merc editor Jerry Ceppos retracted parts of the series in a column. In June, editors ordered Webb to stop working on the story, removed him from the national desk in Sacramento and banished him to Cupertino.

Webb then went on a byline strike, filing stories but refusing to put his name on them, and then filed a grievance with the San Jose Newspaper Guild (which the Merc settled for an undisclosed sum). Webb says the Merc refused to publish follow-up stories identifying the top spooks who knew of the arms-for-crack sales.

Recently, the CIA cleared itself of wrongdoing after a yearlong investigation inspired by the series. (No Republican calls for an independent counsel here.)

Reached at his Sacramento home, Webb reports he has landed a new job as investigator for the Joint Legislative Task Force on Government Oversight, which investigates the performance of state agencies. The whole story, he says, will come out when his book, Dark Alliance, is published in April.

Staff writers Traci Hukill, Michael Learmonth, Will Harper and J. Douglas Allen-Taylor contributed to this report.

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the December 31, 1997-January 7, 1998 issue of Metro.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.