Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who Shot JR?

In what could best be described as Santa Clara's own Theater of the Absurd, City Council Member Dominic Caserta proved that life can be stranger than fiction. Mr. Caserta placed on the agenda, Item 16C, "Request to authorize correction to Minutes of November 16, 2004 City Council meeting regarding abstention by Council Member Dominic Caserta from taking action on the Mills Act contract pertaining to his primary residence located at 936 Fremont Street, Santa Clara, CA". This was, one could surmise, Caserta's response to the FPPC investigation into whether or not Caserta recused himself when the Council voted to "...authorize the City Manager to execute a Historic Property Preservation Agreement (Mills Act)..." for Caserta's property at 936 Fremont Street. The Mills Act (Mills Act Property Tax Abatement Program) " a state law allowing cities to enter into contracts with the owners of historic structures. Such contracts require a reduction of property taxes in exchange for the continued preservation of the property. "

Economic Benefits
The Mills Act reduces the property taxes paid on a historic property a tax break with the hopes the owner will use the tax savings to preserve the property. The savings can be substantial. According to the Santa Clara County Tax Collector's Office, in 2004, a total of $6,410.52 was paid in property taxes. After the Mills Act was approved, Caserta's 2006 property taxes were
$1,859.29, for a savings of $4,551.23 per year. And they will remain low every year he owns his house.

The Curtain Rises
Having finished giving the briefest of introductions on the item, Caserta recused himself and even stated so, including something to the effect of "I'm leaving the dais as I always do with items I'm involved with." This left introducing the matter to City Manager, Jennifer Sparacino. With some comments by City Attorney Helene Leichter as guidance, the Council Members joined the production.

Council Member Jamie McLeod stated she had been attending City Council meetings before she took office and remembered the meetings in question and that Caserta did not recuse himself and walk away from the dais. This led to a rebuke by Council Member Kevin Moore who asked McLeod in an accusatory fashion why she didn't report it to the City Attorney. Before things got too far out of hand with accusations and recriminations, Mayor Patricia Mahan tried to bring some sense of order back to the proceedings.

At some point in time, City Clerk, Rod Diridon, added the Council wouldn't actually be able to change or correct the minutes as they're a historical record of the proceedings. Rather, if the Council approved this request, it would create an amendment to the minutes. Diridon also stated that he was at the meeting and couldn't remember one way or another what Caserta had done.

The Public Speaks
When it was the public's turn to speak, Kirk Vartan gave a reasoned list of why the Council should not approve Caserta's request.

Does He or Doesn't He
Next up, was Steven Hazel, who in his 7th or 8th time speaking before Council, suggested that perhaps a video tape of the meeting did exist. With a flourish no doubt rehearsed for hours and hours at home, he pulled a VHS tape out of an envelope. Hazel, no shrinking violet from the podium, or the spotlight, assumed his role in the spotlight.

When asked, repeatedly, if that was actually a taped copy of the City Council meeting(s) in question, Hazel just sat in his seat and refused to answer any questions. Even when asked outside the Council Chambers, he refused to say whether or not it was the tape. Council Member Moore suggested it wasn't a tape of the meetings, but was instead Gone with the Wind. After Hazel finished speaking, he sat near Vartan. Based on Vartan's response and waving Hazel away, it could be safe to say Hazel was enjoying his 15 seconds of fame.

Steven Hazel, when given a chance to speak, didn't! Did the earth stopped rotating on its axis? Did Susan Lucci really win an Emmy? Given the chance to allow Council to watch the tape, or even state what was on the tape, Hazel chose to enjoy his time in the spotlight. Too bad there wasn't a spotlight in the Council Chambers, as Hazel surely would have run to it. Fortunately for Santa Clara residents, the cameras in the Council Chambers don't show members of the audience, as Hazel sat there, chin held high, clutching the envelope to his chest.

The Vote
The Council finally voted and passed a modified request to have the City Clerk provide amended minutes for the 2004 meeting with Council Members McLeod and Will Kennedy voting "no". Council Member Caserta was not present for the vote as he had walked away from the dais.

Without having seen the news since yesterday afternoon, I wouldn't be surprised if a story comes out that either Hazel was attacked on his way home or that someone broke into his place and the mysterious tape was stolen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Disclaimer

As a disclaimer to my election rant, I think I should state for the record the owner of the Santa Clara Weekly paper is Miles Barber.

In response to the woman (wouldn't identify herself at the Final Word Forum) who stated, "You work for the paper and Miles gets money from the Gilmors so they tell you what to write" you couldn't be more wrong.

Miles has given me feedback on maybe 3 of my stories including my Tech Talk series on Comcast as an Internet Service Provider. He said the paper "isn't the I hate Comcast Weekly".

If you think my editor tells me what to write, you're wrong as well. My editor gives me feedback on the content of my articles. But never tells me what to write or what angle to take on a story.

An Election Who's Who

On the eve of the election, much has been learned about the candidates. But questions still remain. I've been avoiding doing this for far, far too long but finally felt compelled to do this on the eve of what could prove to be the biggest election Santa Clara has ever seen.

As a disclaimer, I'm sure there'll be lots of things in here various people in various groups won't like. Feel free to email or make comments. What I've got here (in a hopefully not too rambling style) is based on a candidates SmartVoter.Org statements, or from the candidate's forum. I've avoided using their websites since websites can change as the candidates gauge the public's sentiment about issues. I'm not looking for the chameleon candidate - that senses the group they're about to talk with is hot about a particular answer and then tailors their answer to suit that group. That, in my opinion is not the quality of a good or desirable candidate.

I also didn't call or ask the candidates any of the things I consider important here. I didn't really want to hear the answers they can make up on the spur of the moment for me. If it wasn't something they said on their page or said in public at a candidate forum, then it's not relevant.

In no particular order:

o City Council Seat No. 4

This race started off as a no-race with Kevin Moore running unopposed. Lots of rumors circulated about why no one was running against Moore but Carolyn Schuk delved pretty well into this -

Dispensing with that, here's the candidates as I see them:

Kevin Moore (incumbent):

Moore is one of those guys that I've found talking to people in Santa Clara (and being a reporter, people feel compelled to give me their opinion) that is either loved or not-so-loved. I voted for Moore in 2004, based entirely on how he presented himself at the Art & Wine Festival. I stopped and spoke with Gap Kim and asked "Why should I vote for you?". Kim had a table laden down with literature and gave me a flier that listed all the reasons. Right next to Kim's booth was Moore's. Moore sat there with his wife Julie on two folding chairs. No tables, no boxes of literature, nothing more than just the two of them sitting there. I asked the same question and Moore gave an impassioned speech on how he could give me a flier showing lots of endorsements but endorsements made him beholden to other people. Based on that speech, I voted for him.

When I started covering the City Council meetings in February 2005 and heard Moore speak, I thought, "Heaven help me, I voted for the village idiot." While Moore might not be the most eloquent speaker on the dias, talking to him one on one, shows his passion for all things Santa Clara. While I don't always agree with him on all issues, for the most part, he feels he's trying to "fight the good fight", although his detractors would argue the point.

Karen Hardy (Write-In Candidate):

Hardy says she decided to run when she saw no one was running against Moore. This is Hardy's 3rd shot at the Council. Hardy's claim to fame from is a past victory opposing a card room (Bay 101, I believe) from moving into Santa Clara. Hardy is hard to read. At times, she can be exasperating as neighbors of Martins Bar can attest. Also in her 2006 bid against Dominic Caserta, her "campaign consultant" published to many people some incorrect information about Caserta's development website. I contacted Hardy on this and our conversations seemed to go round and round. Maybe it was just her particular writing style at the time, as recent emails with Hardy have been straight and to the point. And I've actually found myself agreeing with her too.

Recommendation: Toss a coin

City Council Seat No. 6

Brian Lowery (Engineer/Business Owner):

Brian first came to City Council opposing a project at 1824 Market Street (at least that's when I recall him first appearing). When he ran for Council in 2006, I labeled him as a 1-issue candidate, as it was that one issue that spurred him to run. In talking with him since then, Lowery has grown and has learned how to see different sides of an issue. Lowery also earned the dubious distinction of being singled out by former Mayor Larry Fargher (in a "Concerned Citizens of Santa Clara" mailer) in 2006 as (paraphrasing) "not having enough experience to be an effective Council Member". Based on that one pompous statement, I thought Lowery was worth taking a look at as a possible Council Member. In talking with Lowery this year, he's learned quite a bit and had provided some interesting feedback about elections and Santa Clara in general.

Jamie Matthews (City Administrator/Father)

Matthews is a former Council Member who was termed out in 2006. At the time he was going to run for Mayor, but when Mayor Mahan decided to run for Mayor (after losing the Supervisors race to Ken Yeager), Matthews dropped out of the race. Matthews has maintained a low profile over the years - even when he was a Council Member. Matthews is one of those people that have his fans and detractors.

One thing that impressed me about Matthews is his turning down free press. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Matthews and several other Code Enforcement Officers went to New Orleans to help identify houses that were still habitable. Upon his return, I told him the paper could run a story on this, but to my surprise, he declined. He explained that he was just doing what he could to help the victims and didn't want to be in the spotlight. In starting his Council race this time, I offered to do a story on some website shenanigans committed by a former Council member and he declined. Both stories would have shown him to be an upstanding guy but he turned them down. Why tell the story now? I related these stories to a Santa Clara resident who said she felt they should be known.

Recommendation: Toss a coin

City Council Seat No. 3

Mario Bouza (Businessman)

This is Bouza's first attempt at Council (as far as I know). When he first filed, he didn't have a SmartVoter.Org statement so imagine my surprise when I realized he did. At the Candidate's Forum put on at City Hall, Bouza had troubles with the time limit. After being cut off at the 30 second mark (and other times), he appeared angry - one might even say pissed off based on his reaction. I can't imagine how the time limits weren't well known ahead of time and learning how to tailor your answer to the time limit is something that shouldn't be too difficult. Yeah, this might seem like nit-picking but it's not that hard to do, especially when there's a green, yellow and red light to let you know where about you stand with remaining time.

Bouza has a stated position of being against the 49ers stadium, limiting high density housing and economic development & job growth.

On high density housing:
At the candidate's forum, he indicated he was against all high density housing, which to me, seems a bit extreme, especially as he is in favor of economic development and job growth, which sort of implies a need for more housing.

He's also given some the impression he's "opposing the high density development that Santa Clara has become a proponent of in the last five years. He has pledged to speak out against these developments and to mitigate their impact on neighborhoods if they are built." -

- or - .

But he quite clearly states in his post, "I will work to ensure the development will not negatively impact our city services and the surrounding single family homes and townhomes. "

The vast difference in those bothers me. Could this be the workings of a chameleon candidate who changes his opinions to suit the group with which he's talking?

Mary Emerson (Business Operations Manager)

This is Emerson's first bid at Council. Emerson is pretty clear about her issues. Her appearance at the candidate's forum was well prepared. But she seems to be somewhat close-minded on the issues. When Will Kennedy (the incumbent for Seat 3) asked her if a stadium deal could be negotiated that would be beneficial to Santa Clara, Emerson had a golden opportunity to show she could be a centrist candidate, but she chose to dance around the issue.

Emerson also states that she wants to determine the needs of the North of Bayshore redevelopment area and to "work with the community and elicit proposals for projects that would meet those needs." That's highly desirable, but Emerson then states, "If there is no substantial need identified, then we should retire all debt and terminate the RDA early." -

That last statement shows a lack of understanding of how RDA funds work. I'm by no means an expert on that, but it might be impossible, for the City to just retire all debt. Payments for the RDA would come from, I believe, the General Fund. If the City doesn't have the money to pay this from the General Fund, then where would the money come from?

Will Kennedy (Santa Clara Councilmember/Attorney)

Will Kennedy is the incumbent in this race. On the dias, Kennedy can be someone easy to forget you saw. My first impressions of him when I first started to cover the City Council were that he was quiet in his approach, but quickly realized the quiet hides his intelligence and his perception. Unlike the boisterousness of some of the other candidates, Kennedy is the unassuming guy who grasps the meaning of what's going happening in a concise manner.

Kennedy is considered one of the two independent voices on the Council (along with Jamie McLeod). His independence has shown in votes when he hasn't gone along with the rest just because. Lawyer jokes don't quite apply to Kennedy as he represents people in cases involving the lemon law, inaccurate credit reports or fraud. Kennedy is also active in the non-profit community having started the local branch of Lawyers in the Library Program (providing free legal consultations at local libraries) and being active in Volunteers in Parole. (The program is made up of attorneys who mentor young offenders recently released from incarceration.) You can read about it at his page -

On the 49ers stadium, Kennedy states the he will "only support a stadium deal which provides a better return on investment than current projections show."

Kennedy doesn't try to be a chameleon candidate. He's stated his positions time and again in different forums. He's a candidate who will do the right thing.

Recommendation: Will Kennedy

City Council Seat No. 7

Chuck Blair (Santa Clara Businessperson)

This is Chuck Blair's 2nd bid at Council. Chuck's main appeal seems to be his folksy, guy next door that you might wander down the street to talk with when something notable happens. His folksy attitude has come through in various campaign events.

Unfortunately, Blair's website ( doesn't have much of his stated positions, other than:

o Economic Development
o Strengthen the best Core services in the State
o Open Government ( with fellow Santa Clarans)

Looking at his website (, yeah, I'm violating one of my tenets) raises some questions:

Under Economic Development, "Superior Public Education" is listed. Except Public Education is handled by the School District and funding comes from the state level (the last time I checked). Blair has been active in baseball for all ages of students in Santa Clara, so possibly this is what he's referring to?

Under Financial Strength, Blair has "Keep taxes low". That's reassuring to hear, but the last time I checked, the tax rate in Santa Clara was already relatively low, if non-existent, as Santa Clara doesn't have a tax residents pay for the pleasure of living here (as New York City does, for instance). Unless he's referring to fees charged for services, Sewer and water? Maybe electricity?

Reading each of his issues section of his website makes me wonder where the "A Chicken in Every Pot" is hiding.

His website, amazingly enough, doesn't even mention the 49ers stadium. At various forums, he's been in favor of the 49ers stadium.

Jamie McLeod (Councilwoman/Environmental Planner)

Jamie McLeod is the incumbent in this race. McLeod is also considered one of the two independent voices on the Council (along with Kennedy). McLeod has a speaking style that belies her confidence in her ability to do what she believes is the right thing. Even though she's been what seems to be on the opposite side from her colleagues on the dias, she's stuck to her positions and opinions.

McLeod has been interested to luke-warm on the stadium but still keeps an open mind about it. If a deal can be worked out that is beneficial to the general fund, Santa Clara and the South Bay in general, then it wouldn't be surprising to see her support behind it.

McLeod's SmartVoter.Org website ( is similar to Blair's in that it only lists her stated positions:

o Maintain core services - public safety, libraries, and community centers
o Open and accountable government
o Safeguard Santa Clara's natural and historic resources

Her website however (yep, I figure if I break a basic tenent for her opponent, I can do the same here) - - tells a lot. The only changes to it during the campaign have been in response to some less than nice mailings by "independent groups" that seem to have gotten their hysterical influence from some of the cable network news shows.

McLeod has maintained a tradition of meeting residents on the first Sunday of each month between 8:30 and 9:30am at Mission Coffee (2221 The Alameda). It's impressive that she does and continues to do this.

Ciaran O'Donnell (Software Engineer)

This is O'Donnell's first foray into government. My first encounter with O'Donnell was curious. At issue was a discussion over Santa Clara Square. O'Donnell asked what it was and I responded that he needed to do his research. The conversation left me thinking he was either incredibly smart or incredibly stupid. Smart if he was planning on being a chameleon candidate - find out what each group thinks and tailor your answer accordingly. Stupid because maybe he just didn't know about it but had already indicated he was running for Council. To this date, I'm still not sure of the answer to that question.

At a candidate forum hosted by the PepperTree Neighborhood Association, O'Donnell presented an idea of having inmates do work on roads. He also suggested neighborhood residents should volunteer to work on making their streets look better, including doing things like putting planters in the street - akin to what's been done on Saratoga Avenue (although that work was done by people that are paid to know what they're doing). I'd hate to imagine the contractor that did some work for a friend's fence doing work on a city street.

O'Donnell comes across as someone trying to please everyone. His political philosophy page on the website - states, "Our city staff is key to the success of our city. Every resident should respect staff and the city should promote their career as a public official including work training. Buckley, and Pope John Paul II."

I'm assuming the reference to Buckley and Pope John Paul II was a typo? This lack of attention to detail on something as important as is an issue for me.

On particular concerns,
o O'Donnell favors "high density housing".

o O'Donnell supports "fluoridization of the water supply, and flu shots as well as festivals downtown and in the Rivermark area to just have good clean fun."

From what I recall, Santa Clara doesn't have its own water supply so adding fluoride to the water (if it's not already being done) might not be in the City's control. Flu shots are provided at many institutions - Costco, Longs Drugs, and Kaiser Hospital. O'Donnell doesn't answer the question of where would the money for the (I'm assuming he means) free flu shots come from?"

o O'Donnell acknowledges the "significant loss of retail in Santa Clara, including the recent losses of Mervyns and K-mart as well as Albertsons. There has also been a significant loss of small business including bankruptcies. City staff should be more high tech savvy and have a more pro business attitude."

I don't quite get it. The connection between high tech savvy and a more pro business attitude and Albertsons/SaveMart deciding to close stores is beyond my comprehension. As for Mervyn's declaring bankruptcy, how would the city staff being "more high tech savvy" with a "more pro business attitude" have changed that?

o O'Donnell talks about energy: "Access to energy is critical both to get to work and for our businesses. Coal and oil will not last forever nor are renewable resources ideal. I support a natural gas fueling facility for delivery vehicles and promoting nuclear power through Silicon Valley Power."

While O'Donnell is the only candidate to talk about using nuclear power, I'm not sure if the implication is that Silicon Valley Power would own a nuclear power plant or use their position as a power company to promote the virtues of nuclear power.

O'Donnell might be a good candidate - in the future. For now, he needs to be less of a chameleon and learn to focus on the issues.


This groups was the hardest.

Blair's page and his own website don't really make a strong stand on any issue. Except publicly he's said he supports the stadium.


If you're a backer of the stadium and want it no matter what, you're already voting for Blair anyway.

If you think the stadium intrigues you but you want more information to make sure it is a good deal, then McLeod is your candidate.

O'Donnell? Skip him. Vote for one of the other two candidates.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mercury Dishes the Dirt But Doesn't Ask the Obvious Question

You could say that the South Bay election season doesn't officially begin until the San Jose Mercury News launches its first attack on its favorite local politics bogeyman, Santa Clara. By that criterion, 2008's election began Sunday with the Mercury's Internal Affairs gossip column stoking them old Santa Clara election conspiracy flames with a "he said, she said" story about Kevin Moore's seat.

Moore is running unchallenged for reelection this year, which strikes some as strange when there are eight candidates running for the other three seats.

The story being retailed by Internal Affairs is that Moore asked Mario Bouza not to run against him and to, instead, run for another seat.  A "friend of Bouza's" told IA that he was present when this phone call was received. Bouza also says that Chuck Blair -- currently making a second run against Jamie McLeod, after losing in 2004 -- called him and, I am not making this up, even former Santa Clara mayor Eddie Souza rang Bouza up to lay on the persuasion.

Excuse me, Eddie Souza? 

Souza hasn't been involved in Santa Clara politics for more than 15 years. In my experience, if you want to make sure you never get a return call from Eddie Souza, ask to talk with him about politics. It took me years to persuade him to talk with me, and when we did finally talk it was about the non-profit he helped found, Parents Helping Parents.

Athlete that he is, Moore wasted no time in returning the ball, claiming that Bouza in fact called him.  Chuck Blair seconded Moore, says IA.

Now, I heard part of this tale second hand at least a month ago. Having wasted way too much time in the past chasing mirages of political scandals that existed only in the minds of their beholders, I asked if anyone was willing to a) go on the record, and b) show me proof. No surprise, I never heard any more.

There's more than one thing about these stories that doesn't add up.

Moore beat Bouza by a big margin in 2004 and, if anything, he's even less likely to lose to him this time around. So I have difficulty imagining Moore making such a phone call.

But it's just as hard to imagine Bouza calling Moore. To say exactly…what? Hi, I'm thinking of running against you and was wondering if you would mind?

There's a similar story going back to 2004 about Moore phoning an opponent, Gap Kim, and suggesting that Kim run against someone else. But in that case Kim had the voicemail to prove it. In this case it's just Bouza's word against Moore's.

Or is it? There's one way to verify at least which way the calls went, if not the content of them, and I'm surprised IA didn't ask for it. (On second thought, I'm not, given the Mercury's conspiracy theory approach to Santa Clara politics.)

Let's see the call records. If Moore called Bouza, that call will show up as an incoming call on Bouza's number and an outgoing call on Moore's number. If Bouza called Moore, the calls will show up the other way 'round.

I say: Put up or shut up. Send them to me at and I'll publish them here. My guess? Let's put it this way. I'll be real surprised to see any call records.

(And for the betting folks among you, how long do you think it will be before the Woodward & Bernsteins at IA "discover" the long arm of Gary Gillmor somewhere in this?)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mike Honda Blogs On the Issues

Santa Clara's fighting fireplug of a Congressman, Mike Honda, has a  new blog,  Congressman Mike Honda on the Issues, where you can engage with him on the issues of the day. There are plenty of podcasts and audio briefings as well as reading.  Check it out. 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

22nd Assembly District Race: Plot Thickens with 11th Hour Slate Mailer

Like most Democrats in the 22nd Assembly district, my mailbox has been so crammed with campaign ads the past few weeks that I just toss them without even looking. Saturday was not different. 

I was about to send an Anna Song flier to join Caserta's and Fong's more elegant efforts -- sorry guys, putting it in an envelope still won't make me read it -- when something caught my eye on the cheesy slate mailer (one endorsing a 'slate' of candidates). It was not the portraits of Great Democratic Presidents that appeared to have been taken with the same camera that Brady used at Antietam. No, it was the following statement:

"Anna Song for State Assembly: Endorsed by Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan...."

Say what?

Last time I heard Pat Mahan had endorsed Dominc Caserta. I have calls in to both Mahan and Song to clarify this for me. In the meantime, I did some research.

The mailer came from an outfit in Burbank called Democratic Voters Choice, which, in 2005, drew the attention of reporters at the Daily Kos political blog for a deceptive mailer about ballot propositions. 

Turns out that Democratic Voters Choice is a slate mailer house apparently run by "campaign finance consultants" Durkee & Associates, which sells space on campaign mailers to anyone ready to pay --including special interest groups in sheep's clothing. What makes these pieces insidious is that they appear to be official party communications. 

Another thing about them is that candidates don't have to give permission for their names to used on them. So the one I got on Saturday listed all the Democratic candidates from Mike Honda down. But who paid for the piece is a different story -- and it ain't the Democratic party. 

The big money behind this piece is No on 98/Yes on 99 (the ballot measures on eminent domain -- 98 has the hidden rent control abolition provision) . You can learn more about this confab here. The other two candidates who paid to be on this piece are Lane Liroff (running for judge) and Anna Song.

Liroff spent about $6,700 to be on this mailer. However, I couldn't find any campaign finance filings for Anna Song in the CalAccess database -- no contributions, no expenditures. In fact Song's campaign doesn't appear to have filed anything.

So stay tuned as we try to find out if Pat Mahan's name is being taken in vain, and, how a campaign with no contributions and no expenditures on record buys a presence on space-for-hire political mailer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Giving Tech its Due

Am I the only person who sometimes feels like Santa Clara has multiple personality disorder?

I saw this headline this morning in FierceCIO:TechWatch: AMD scoffs at Nvidia’s 'huge, monolithic' approach.

(Hang on, I'm getting to the MPD;)

Here are two tech giants that will decide how we see the next generation of computer graphics -- that means games, online video -- who both are headquartered in Santa Clara. But how often does this reality about Santa Clara enter into our community conversation? I don't ever get asked when the Santa Clara Weekly is going to add a tech news column. But at least once a month someone asks me when the paper is going to bring back to society column.

Now I have nothing against society news. But I think our public conversation needs to be informed by the fact that world-changing technology makes its home here -- especially as the General Plan update is getting under way. It's not just enough to pay lip service to tech businesses. We need to start acting like what they do is at least as important as the price of real estate.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Santa Clara – A Livable Town

About four years ago, when I interviewed Gary Gillmor for the Weekly, the former mayor described Santa Clara's character this way:

"The personality of Santa Clara is a true middle class community. We cut our city up with the transportation -- Central expressway, Lawrence expressway… We created jobs, we created a tax base. [By contrast] the personality of Los Altos, Saratoga -- they don’t want any industry."

(Cue apoplectic blasts from those who see Gillmor as the evil genie who popped the lid on Pandora's box and let out a swarm of developers.)

Having grown up in one – Brooklyn, NY in the 1950s and 60s -- I'm a big fan of comfortable-for-ordinary-folks communities. And in 2008, what it takes to create or preserve one is different than what it took in 1958.

I've had many conversations on the middle-class-ness of Santa Clara. It comes up whenever you're talking about development – high density or otherwise -- "affordable" housing, or urban planning.

Lots of people pay lip service to this idea, but the pious jaw music is often just a lead in for objecting to whatever project or plan is at hand. I can't help but observe that many who are most hostile to policies and projects that might retain Santa Clara's middle-class quality, wouldn't be here in the first place if it hadn't been that kind of city.

Let me tell you how I came to Santa Clara 25 years ago. (I recognize that some will rest their case against development on this alone.)

It was the tech boom of the 1980s and my new employer, a now-defunct software company, had just moved from pricier real estate in Sunnyvale to brand new – and cheaper -- digs on Mission College Blvd. I rented an apartment 15 minutes away on San Tomas – even in rush hour – and a stone's throw from the Acapulco. My husband and I lived there for three pleasantly affordable years and only moved when we bought our townhouse.

The townhouse was in a new development and within our budget -- unlike the single family detached houses we had looked at. Now, we were hardly struggling at the lower rungs of the Valley economy. My husband was an HR manager for a national retailer and I was a software product manager.

I'm sure there were people then who didn’t want us moving in, as there are people who would prefer not to have my new neighbors moving in. But my new neighbors are the people who make Silicon Valley an exceptionally interesting place.

You know, the kind of place where you might have Dave Packard or the Steves Wozniak and Jobs tinkering in the garage next door, inventing new industries in the process. Way back when ordinary people could still afford to live in Palo Alto and Cupertino.

For example, right next door to me lives Lasandra Brill, author of the Marketing in a Web 2.0 World blog. Brill is not only an evangelist for these new generation ways of bringing things to market, she likely invented some of them, too.

Down the street a bit lives Ivaylo Lenkov, another "Web 2.0" pioneer. You haven't heard his name, but Lenkov is changing the equation for building and operating your website. Lenkov's start-up SiteKreator – also based in Santa Clara -- lets anybody create a professional-looking website by clicking-and-pointing, without any technical knowledge. The price is right, too – the entry level is free.

Another guy you might have found yourself sharing a lunch time walk to the roach coach with is serial entrepreneur Jon Fisher, whose third startup, Internet security company Bharosa, was right next door to the Santa Clara Weekly office. Last year Oracle bought Bharosa and Fisher has gone on to, among other things, teaching the secrets of his success to aspiring entrepreneurs.

They all chose Santa Clara for the same reasons I did – it was a comfortable, affordable town, plus it's easy to do business here.

When I'm having this conversation about livability, I often ask people, "Would you want Santa Clara to be like Los Altos or Woodside?" And sometimes they answer, "What's wrong with Los Altos and Woodside."

Now, I have friends living in both those towns and I don't hold it against them. They made their beds and now they have to lie in them, not to mention paying PG&E and driving 30, 45 minutes to work somewhere else. But by my middle-class barometer, there's plenty wrong with those towns.

First, your neighbors have so much free floating anxiety about the value of their real estate that they will torment you ceaselessly about the color you paint your window frames, the height of your fence or your magnolia tree, your nocturnal escapades in the hot tub, or your kid's friends.

One Los Altos couple I know practically had to put blackout shades on the front of their house to keep the neighbors across the street from spying on their social life to see if they were entertaining "undesirables" -- if you know what I mean and I think you do. My friends, you see, had moved there from San Jose, and you never know about those people.

The deed to their house still has archaic covenants specifying that blacks, Asians and Mexicans will only go to the back door. Santa Clara, on the other hand, was home to one of the county's first black community leaders, William James, and elected him sergeant-at-arms for the volunteer fire department.

Second, those towns are like living in a museum.

Sure your next-door neighbor could be some guy (and it will almost certainly be a guy, and often a shiny new trophy wife) who changed the semiconductor industry, developed the first commercially successful database software or wrote the first online shopping cart program. But these triumphs happened 10, 20, 30 years ago or longer. Learn about it at the Tech or Computer History Museum – it's cheaper.

Right here in Santa Clara I'm next door to people who are doing things today that are changing business and the world now. And that makes it an exceptionally interesting place to be. So my view is, let's make sure that future Brills, Fishers and Lenkovs will always be attracted to this comfortable-for-ordinary-people town.

And for those who disagree? Well there's always Woodside.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Calm Shattered in Santa Clara

Santa Clara, CA - This quiet community has joined the ever growing list of cities in, not just the nation, but the world, plagued by seemingly random acts of violence, known as drive-by's. Although all the facts aren't available, what is known is rival groups have attacked and counter-attacked each other with so far, one fatality.

Drive-By Webbings
Drive-by Webbings are the latest example of the potential violence of the internet. Post a blog and feel free to say anything about anyone you want with no practically little to no accountability. While most web postings can be downright funny - such as the T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. PROJECT (, others can incite nonsensical responses.

The First Shot
This series of Drive-By Webbings started when a group dedicated to keeping Dominic Caserta from winning in his bid for the Assembly posted a website, "". I'll skip repeating here what they've said - you can read it on your own at your leisure.

Taking even a brief gander at the site, it's obvious the folks behind it are pretty steamed about Caserta's record during the previous election cycle concerning the BAREC property (

The Response
The Caserta camp appears to have tried to distance themselves by not actually responding themselves, but instead leaving that to Caserta's Campaign Consultant, James Rowen. As of today, Rowen has received $1,850 for his services.

Their Money's Worth?
Rowen would never be described as a slouch. To date, Rowen has produced fourteen (14) posts on his blog, with "NotCaserta" (more or less as the subject). More or less because at least two (2) of the posts have Caserta's name spelled incorrectly - as "Casera" or "Casrrta".

Sleeping Dogs
Maybe it'd have been best to let a sleeping dog lie. It's difficult to say how much publicity the website was getting before - after all, I didn't know about it - but now, it's getting a lot more attention. Not because there are any fascinating, stellar, must-read arguments there, but because Mr. Rowen did his job as Campaign Consultant, perhaps a little too well. Already steamed with Caserta's history, the NotCaserta folks became even more rankled when the first website they ran, "" was shutdown through Mr. Rowen's actions.

Freedom of Speech Issue?
The camp claims their rights to Freedom of Speech were trampled directly by Rowen and indirectly by Caserta who hired him in the first place.

There's really two issues here. Freedom of Speech and Legal Intimidation.

First, the Freedom of Speech issue. I ran the facts past a few lawyers along with the questions, "Is it a violation of their 1st Amendment rights to have their website - that they're paying for - closed by threatening emails?" The lawyer's response, "Quick answer, no. The First Amendment restricts only governental actions ('Congress shall make no law . . . ') That's why private businesses like shopping malls can bar protests [and] rallies on their property."

So, the claim of having their First Amendment Rights violated doesn't seem to hold much water.

Second, the threats of legal action. Rowen has several posts on his blog - - along with what's available on - that show the arguments made. From, we have two (2) parts of emails from Rowen - "Dominic - It is a federal crime... I am advising the authorities in the USA." and "....Get a lawyer..... Who are the people that registered this website with you."

Both pretty impressive looking emails, but both pretty laughable. Unfortunately, the website was shutdown because the web hosting company was intimidated - at least that's what says.

Racheting It Up
Having had their first website shut down, the people behind the NotCaserta effort opened a new website hosted by a different company and was born. Not having seen the content of, I can only conjecture that the content was much the same, minus of course, the news about the first website being shutdown.

I can also assume similar threats have either been made or will be made, but presumably, the new hosting company either has not or will not be intimidated - unless I assume, they're accompanied by "I've got a Court Order" - something I doubt will happen.

Up next: Strange Bedfellows, Love/Hate Relationships and Endorsements.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

49ers Stadium Announcement - April 1, 2008

SF 49ers To Buy Santa Clara

Rumors have swirled for the last several weeks about the ongoing negotiations between the San Francisco 49ers and the City of Santa Clara. Initial rumors were too wild to publish but recent revelations have been substantiated by anonymous sources close to the negotiations who are not authorized to speak for either party. Given the significance of these rumors, it is imprudent to not report on these events.

It is expected the 49ers and the City of Santa Clara will hold a joint press conference in the coming weeks to announce the signing of an agreement that would have the 49ers purchase a portion of the North of Bayshore Area to help secure and ensure a stadium gets built. Initial rumors that circulated for several weeks, had the 49ers buying the entire City for an undisclosed amount, rumored to be nearly $1 billion, but those rumors proved to be false.

A source close to the negotiations has reported to the Santa Clara Weekly, the 49ers and the City are close to announcing an agreement rumored to be nearly $600 million. The area involved in the negotiations is bordered by Great America to Lafayette Street and Tasman Drive and Mission College/Agnew Road. Part of the agreement will have the City still paying $75 million for their portion of the stadium (rumored to have been negotiated down from the original $136 million) but that has been negotiated into the price which is rumored to be close to $700 million before the stadium subsidy is taken into account.

The Players in the Deal

The 49ers
The 49ers and City officials refused to comment on the rumors but a source close to the 49ers who is not authorized to speak indicated the 49ers “are excited at the prospect of getting even more involved in such a thriving community. The North of Bayshore Area is, of course, the area where we’re already in discussions with the City and this just seemed to be a good way to move the process along. ” The 49ers have already indicated to Cedar Fair their intention to fully support Cedar Fair and any businesses that wish to object to any changes Cedar Fair wants to do will face having their leases either revoked or rewritten at substantially higher rents.” The fact the City does not currently own the land is not seen as a stumbling block as the City is expected to use the process of eminent domain to obtain the rights to the land under the various industrial parks. While it is possible some companies might choose to move if faced with higher rents, we feel the existing lower rates, lower utility costs and discounted tickets will be enough of a perk to keep companies there.”

Cedar Fair
No one at Cedar Fair was willing to go on the record, but Cedar Fair would still operate the theme park with rental revenues now going to the 49ers instead of the City. A person close to the negotiations for Cedar Fair who is not authorized to speak for the organization reported “Cedar Fair is excited about working with the 49ers. We assume under their leadership we’ll be able to get our new rollercoaster height approved, something we have not been able to do under the City’s tutelage. We’re already planning lots of 49ers themed items – a 49ers Hall of Fame where we hope to have 49er greats past and present on hand when it’s officially announced; 49ers themed foods including a ‘Gold Rush’ series of health foods such as smoothies, tofurkey and low-cal garlic fries.”

The City
The City is also expected to announce a partnership between the City-owned utility, Silicon Valley Power, and the 49ers. While a name hasn’t been announced, rumors of the Silicon Valley Power Gold Rush persist in homage to the Power Company and the 49ers Gold Rush. “The Gold Rush Cheerleaders evoke so much energy among our fans that we think people will immediately see and appreciate the combined efforts. Gold Rush that are not busy with other duties are expected to work in the offices and on the customer service lines. “The Gold Rush are the face of the 49ers in the public and we expect people will be thrilled to be waited on by them when they contact the power company either on the phone or in person.”

This is a breaking news story – as news reveals itself, please return to this page for further updates.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I Got Them Old Convention Center Blues

This past week I spent some time in the San Jose Convention Center, giving me a refreshed appreciation of our hometown's facilities. The occasion was the VON -- voice on the 'Net -- conference.

Unlike the Santa Clara Convention Center, San Jose's operation has all the convivial charm of, well, the set of a low-budget slasher flick. It's big, barn-like, frigidly cold -- literally -- and eerily empty.

But the piece de resistance is that parking costs you $1 every 20 minutes. So if you spend an afternoon at a trade show, the tab is $20 or more. Adding insult to injury, half the time the clever little machines that take your money (don't expect to find a human being on the premises) spit out your credit card with a cheery message that your credit card is unreadable. Ditto for the $20 bill you try as an alternative.

By the end of the day -- and this may sound corny, I know -- I was homesick for Santa Clara's Convention Center with its bright, sunlit spaces and ample free parking. The irony is that the VON show started in Santa Clara but outgrew our exhibition space.

I can't wait for the expansion to be completed.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Practiced Deceits

First, link love to James Rowan at Mission City Lantern for a nice mention of my last post about the old Kaiser hospital site.

Practiced Deceits

Sometimes you go to the theater and simply enjoy the show. Other times the performance sucker punches you, lays you out flat and sends you home feeling transformed. The Greeks, who invented theater, called it catharsis.

It doesn't happen often -- at least not for me -- but when it does, I wallow in it. Like last Friday night at the opening of Santa Clara University's current show, Dangerous Liaisons, Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 novel.

Staged by San Francisco director Tracy Ward, this visually sumptuous production hit the ground running the minute the house lights dropped and didn't let up until they went up.

Liaisons tells the story of aristocratic French libertines, Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont. Members of a social class with no legitimate occupation – today's Hilton sisters -- society is their playing field and other people their chess pieces.

The pair devotes considerable talent, wit, dissembling skill, and all their waking hours to this game. (It's something with lots of resonance today, when most of us have forayed at some point into cyberspace's fluid identities, alternative realities or e-romances.)

As the story opens, we see the two betting whether Valmont can seduce the virtuous Madame de Tourvel. The Marquise, meanwhile, sets Valmont on young Cecile de Volanges, recently graduated from a convent school to marry one of Merteuil's former lovers.

When Cecile falls in love with her music teacher, Chevalier Danceny, Merteuil and Valmont step in, ostensibly to help -- setting up the young couple as pawns in their ongoing game.

As diabolical as it sounds, the story is more Moliere than Marquis de Sade.

Hilary Tarver (the Marquise) and Alexander Tavera (Valmont) glitter as the "virtuosos of deceit," delivering the rapier-sharp dialog with panache.

Tarver bewitches as the predatory Marquise. This young woman has something better than Bette Davis eyes -- she has Bette Davis stage presence. She is dead-on in her rendering of a woman who, brought up to be society's victim, becomes a master predator among the predatory. Tarver puts every movement, every gesture and every inflection to work, putting spectators as helplessly under her spell as her onstage victims.

As Valmont's valet and accomplice in seduction, Chad Eschman hit exactly the right balance of slapstick and satire. The company ably brought the play's comedy to life, with the sex jokes -- and there are plenty, like Valmont's "Latin lessons" for Cecile -- drawing plenty of belly laughs.

But while sex is the story's language, it's not the subject, and Ward's staging and direction deftly unravels the subtext prowling below.

The erotic power struggle between Merteuil and Valmont smolders continuously at the edges of the action. But because the first to yield loses the game, so neither can ever drop the mask. In the ensuing tragedy, the winner loses by winning and it turns out that the greatest lie isn't professing love you don't feel, but denying love you do.

Written on the French Revolution's brink, Liaisons is often probed for social commentary. I'll leave aside the very obvious one about women's education and social position.

What interested me more was the way Ward gave us another drama in the intervals between scenes -- which also keeps the action going during a multiplicity of scene changes. As the servants move the props between scenes, they show us their hidden lives. Ward's staging makes us "see" the people who exist for the privileged classes only insofar as they're needed for life's dirty work. Until, of course, they turn murderous.

While Hampton's script ends with a guillotine's shadow falling across the stage, Ward wisely declines this particular lily-gilding device. Instead she chooses a more ambiguous ending -- a more ambiguous one than Laclos' own, which always seemed to me like an afterthought. Instead, Ward leaves it open. Does the Marquise continue her villainous career? Repent and join a convent? Lose her lovely head in the Revolution? Or escape the mob and fetch up on the shores of the New World, ready to reinvent herself yet again?

Ward lets us consider all the possibilities.

Dangerous Liaisons is playing at SCU's Mayer Theatre, Wed. through Sat. at 8pm through March 8. Admission is $5-$16. Call (408) 554-4015 for tickets. This show isn't appropriate for children. For more information, visit

Sunday, February 24, 2008

On the Street Where I Live

Last week I had an interesting conversation with Kevin Park of Concerned Santa Clara about Fairfield's development proposal for the old Kaiser hospital site — 900 Kiely. One of the things that we talked about was the fact that the plan doesn't include any retail space — which we both agreed was a mistake.

One of the surest ways to get people out of their cars and onto their feet is to bring everyday services and shopping into their neighborhoods. From that perspective I have an enviable address.

In the 21 years that we have lived in our townhouse, a lot of people have come and gone. Young people buy here with the grand plan of moving to a free-standing house in a more "residential" area as soon as they can. But to me, this address is a destination.

First, I'm in the City of Santa Clara -- the little city that works.

Second, I'm right across the street from Lucky's, Long's, Starbucks, San Tomas Liquors, Carl's Jr., a pizzeria (not to be compared with Slice of NY, but still, it's right there), a drycleaner, and a sushi bar. Walk another block, and there's a 7-11, Vanna Nails (where I've been going for 15 years and which is one of the most expert nail salons around), 4-5-6 Chinese food, a laundromat, a shoe repair, three hair salons, the Pruneridge golf course, and, if you hustle pool, the Sportsman's.

We used to have one of Santa Clara's best restaurants, Brigitte's, until the building owner jacked up the lease beyond what the traffic could bear. That piece of real estate acumen sure paid off — the space has been vacant for 18 months.

Not only does neighborhood shopping make you feel virtuous about all the $4-a-gallon gasoline you're not burning, it also builds community. You see and talk to people. You get to know something about the people you share your neighborhood with. Sure I wish this was a more attractive, downtown-like spot. But I'll take the cash and let the credit go.

I like having people around me. I like casual conversation — the kind women used to have over the backyard clothesline and neighbors shared sitting on the front porch (we called it a stoop in Brooklyn) on hot summer evenings.

It makes me feel sorry for people living in Los Altos or Woodside. How dull to be cocooned in your one-acre lot and multi-million dollar house, having to fire up the Mercedes just to be able to while away a rainy afternoon with a book and a cappuchino, watching the world go by. Sitting by yourself in your private media room is not the same thing — not at all.

I'll be following the 900 Kiely proposal as it unfolds. And I suspect that, as usual, I won't make any side of the question entirely happy with my coverage. And I'm sure that the final development won't be perfect — like everything else in this less-than-perfect world.

But some shops and cafes would sure make it less imperfect.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Strange Bedfellows

Truly the end times have arrived. The lion is lying down with the lamb.

I am, of course referring to the January 15 City Council meeting where Chris Stampolis and Miles Barber came down on the same side of an issue; namely the 49ers stadium.

When did you last see that happen? It's certainly something to think about.