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.

No comments:

Post a Comment