Friday, December 18, 2009

900 Kiely Developer Fairfield Residential Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Real Estate Market Turmoil Comes Home to Santa Clara

In what the Wall Street Journal called "the latest casualty of the turmoil engulfing the U.S. real-estate market," Fairfield Residential, developer of the Gallery on Central Park project at 900 Kiely (the former Kaiser hospital site), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on Dec. 13, 2009.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy lets businesses continue to operate negotiate a plan with creditors to restructure the business or reduce debt. During this time, creditors can't collect payments and debts owed prior to the Chapter 11 filing. When the plan's conditions are met, businesses are said to be “reorganized” and no longer under bankruptcy court protection.

The bankruptcy was precipitated by the privately-held company's inability to refinance its existing debt or sell properties to recoup investments -- declining real estate value declines left the company owing more, in some cases, than the real estate was worth. This, in turn, created snowballing liabilities that could reach $1.5 billion or more, according to Fairfield's December 13 press release. Local Fairfield contacts declined to discuss the news, and calls to Fairfield's designated spokesman were not returned as of this writing.

The affects of Fairfield's financial collapse will be far-reaching. The company and its 14 affiliates reportedly have $958 million in assets and $835 million in liabilities. In 2008 Fairfield reported net losses of $108 million on revenue of $953 million. As of September 30, Fairfield had lost $49 million on revenue of $507 million in 2009.

Fairfield's top creditors are Wells Fargo/Wachovia ($130 million), Bank of America ($84 million), and Capmark Financial Group ($80 million). Capmark itself is in Chapter 11million), and in the process of selling its mortgage banking and servicing business to Berkadia Commercial Mortgage (owned by Berkshire Hathaway and Leucadia National Corporation). Other creditors include Compass Bank ($64 million), Regions Bank ($52 million), Principal Global Investors Bank ($47 million), Freddie Mac ($46 million), Cigna ($41 million), Nationwide Life Insurance ($37 million), JP Morgan Chase Bank ($29 million), Massachusetts Mutual Life ($28), and Fannie Mae ($26 million).

Fairfield filed Chapter 11 with a pre-negotiated agreement, which will enable a "quick exit" from bankruptcy, according to the company's website, "not a closing or liquidation of the business.

"The filing enables Fairfield to continue to operate our business effectively with minimal disruption and loss of productivity. Employees will continue to receive their regular wages and benefits. Company facilities will stay open. Property management and construction will continue. Goods and services purchased by the company after the filing date will be paid for in the ordinary course of business."

The company's assets will be managed in a trust whose goal is "to maximize value for the beneficiaries [creditors]." Decisions to sell or retain assets will be made based on whether a sale "would produce maximum value for the beneficiaries." In addition to its real estate and ongoing income, Fairfield's assets include the company's low income housing tax credit portfolio.

With 2,000 employees, San Diego-based Fairfield has interests in roughly 200 multifamily projects, including undeveloped land, projects under construction and recently completed developments. The company has investments in metro areas across the U.S. including Boston, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle; and has built about 64,000 apartments, condominiums and off-campus student-housing units in the U.S.

While the impact of Fairfield's bankruptcy on Santa Clara has yet to unfold, there's no question that its impact on California will be significant. The California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) will lose $64 million, according to a recent report in the Sacramento Bee. "It's been written off at this point," CalSTRS spokesman Ricardo Duran told the Bee's Dale Kasler.

The case is Fairfield Residential LLC, 09-14378, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Wilmington, Delaware District. You can find court documents at

Monday, December 14, 2009

A New Opera Premieres in Santa Clara and a New Star is Born

Michael Taylor's new opera, "Truce of Carols," delights audiences.

At the world premiere of Gian-Carlo Menotti's Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors nearly 60 years ago, New York Times music critic Olin Downes wrote, "It was an exquisite piece… a work that few indeed could have seen and heard last night save through blurred eyes, and with emotions that were not easy to conceal."

Downes' tribute can equally be paid to Michael Taylor's new Christmas opera, Truce of Carols, making its world premiere on December 5, 2009 in a production by Santa Clara's Mission City Opera (MCO). The first-ever opera premiere in Santa Clara's two-century history, the appealing show drew standing ovations at both its performances, bidding fair to join Menotti's opera as an enduring holiday classic.

Like Menotti's Amahl, True of Carols presents a famous story through the lens of ordinary lives (war's greatest, if not first, casualty). Truce tells the story of the spontaneous 1914 Christmas ceasefire on the western front that began with a German soldier crossing no-man's-land with a Christmas tree for the British.

Taylor's mastery as a singer, actor, director and conductor shows in Truce's unity and dramatic economy across the libretto, action and music. The music is both contemporary and enjoyable: richly melodic, spot-on in dramatic effect and above all, memorable. "This is extraordinary music," says MCO Founder and Executive Director Sharon Kaye.

Taylor's musical style is lyrical and easy-to-enjoy, showing influences as diverse as Romantic Italian romantic opera, as well as the 20th century composers Leonard Bernstein, Gustav Holst, Giancarlo Menotti, Ralph Vaughn Williams, and French impressionist Eric Satie, who was contemporary with WWI. "I wanted the music to be accessible and engaging, to reflect the moment and the characters," Taylor says. "My ears are filled with Puccini, Verdi. I draw on every source."

Truce of Carols opens with an expressive orchestral exposition of two stage sets: an English garden where a young man proposes to his sweetheart, and a German country house where a family sits down to dinner. The overture that follows bypasses the musical cliché of military marches, instead evoking war's gathering clouds with unsettling harmonies and a moody, anxious melodic line. Then, like sunshine after a storm, dissonance yields to the 17th century German carol, I Know a Rose Tree Springing at first quiet and tentative, then gloriously full.

The scene opens to trench war's stalemate. It's Christmas Eve, and the German and English armies are facing off across No Man's Land. The English keep fear and boredom at bay by playing cards, while salt-of-the-earth Sergeant Mac (Robert Snedgar) dispenses unvarnished lessons in survival – "Keep your head down and your yap shut."

A flying boot from the Germans, mistaken for a grenade, disturbs the card-playing. The boot contains tobacco and sweets from the Germans, and the erstwhile enemies start wisecracking and singing Christmas carols across the trenches.

On the German side, chaplain Gunther (Norm DeVol) decides to venture across No Man's Land with the storied Christmas tree. In a moving scene, former adversaries join together to bury their fallen comrades as Gunther intones the Latin Requiem mass. Here again, Taylor demonstrates that less is more; in this case with traditional, unaccompanied Gregorian Chant.

Truce of Carols' most interesting character is the brooding Prussian sniper Markus, a man unconvinced by Christmas pieties and holiday gemutlichkeit. Perceptively played – 'inhabited' may be a better description – by baritone Sascha Joggerst, Markus is no mere cynic. He's a soul looking into the 20th century's heart of darkness, and instead of progress and peace, intuits poet William Butler Yeats' dark vision of the bloody and destructive century about to unfold:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned.**

"Peace is a time of delusion between wars," Markus tells his comrades. "Thousands will fall and be forgotten, rows and rows of white headstones. Nothing more. Nichts mehr."

However, Truce of Carols is most emphatically not the relentless pessimism of modernist works like Wozzeck. Taylor, is at heart an optimist about the human condition, leavening tragedy with both humor and hope. "That's the human spirit," he says. "This hope lets the characters control their own destiny, even if it's just for 24, 48 hours." Indeed, as the two adversaries sit down to a Christmas dinner together, the German Lt. Gottlieb (Cliff Romig) offers a toast to "The day the trench rats defied the lion's roar, the call To War! To hell with their war!"

Fine achievement that Truce of Carols is, it would be nothing without the performers and supporting crew who undertook the formidable challenges of bringing a new work to the stage.

"The hardest thing about performing a new work for me was not having a point of reference," says baritone Jeffrey Taylor who made his debut on the opera stage as Jonathan Prescott. With leading-man good looks and a rich, expressive voice to match, the 17 year-old electrified Sunday's audience with his performance of Truce's signature aria, Lavender and Peonies.

Mezzo Carolyne Anne Jordan and Soprano Erin Lahm shone in their respective roles as Lt. Gottlieb's wife Inge and Jonathan Prescott's fiancé Constance. Their shimmering and perfectly balanced – something of a challenge because they were on opposite sides of the theater – duet, Writing Home, recalled the famous Flower Duet From Leo Delibes's opera Lakme.

Baritone Robert Snedegar exemplifies the all-round dedication of the MCO company. Truly a jack-of-all-trades, Snedgear brought verve to roles in both Truce of Carols and Amahl and the Night Visitors, in addition to designing and constructing the stage sets. Tenor Norm DeVol showed his acting and vocal versatility, first with a moving performance of Gunther's Aria, in which the chaplain insists on the humanity of even their adversaries, and later as the somnolent and deaf Wise Man, Kaspar, in Amahl.

And it goes without saying that six year-old William Voelker, a theatrical veteran who made his stage debut at 14 months, was a show-stealer as the Gottliebs' young son Kristian.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, it was a very moving production," says John Peterson of Santa Clara. "I hope," added his companion, Robin Burdick, voicing the feelings of everyone in that opening night audience, "they'll be doing this again next year."

Santa Clara's Mission City Opera's next production will be Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, Feb. 19, 21, 26 and 28, 2010. MCO's productions are made possible by the generous support of City of Santa Clara, grants from the Mission City Community Fund and the Applied Materials Excellence in the Arts program of Arts Council Silicon Valley, private donors, and ticket sales. For information visit, call (408) 749-7607, or email Listen to Truce of Carols music.

*It's interesting to note that universal dramatic shorthand for the sacred remains the so-called archaic 1,500 year-old Latin chant of western Christianity. It appears that Dancing with the Angels has yet to displace Requiem Aeternam.

** The Second Coming, W.B. Yeats, 1921

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mission City Opera's Christmas Show Preview Offers Taste of Michael Taylor's New Opera

If you had been among the audience in the Santa Clara Central Library's Redwood Room on November 17, you would have been among the luck few to hear first-ever performances of music from Truce of Carols, a new opera by Mission City Opera Associate Conductor Michael Taylor. "We're getting to see the birth of this new work," is how one member of the audience put it.

The one-act Truce of Carols tells the touching story of the spontaneous 1914 WWI Christmas ceasefire that began with a German soldier crossing no-man's-land with a lighted Christmas tree for the British. In addition to a recording of Truce of Carols' soaring, melodic overture, Soprano Erin Lamb, who sings the role of Constance, performed two appealing arias from the opera, Writing Home and the work's signature piece, I'll bring you Lavender and Peonies.

In his libretto, Taylor drew on Stanley Weintraub's 2001 book, Silent Night – The Story of the Christmas Truce to create a rich tableau that spans the poignant – the Germans and English together burying their fallen comrades – to the light-hearted – the soldiers' Scots vs. Saxons soccer game – to the [profound] – singing a traditional carol, first in German, then English, then together. "The humanity of Christmas brought them together," Mission City Opera founder Sharon Kaye told the audience.

Kaye also shared the story of how the opera came to be written. "Michael Taylor came to me last February with this idea. First he wrote the beautiful aria, I'll bring you Lavender and Peonies. The whole opera evolved out of it. All the roles were written specifically for each singer. And Mission City Opera was the company that brought this to life."

Santa Clara is unusual for a city of its size in having a profession opera company, and founder Kaye gives the City kudos for its support. "Santa Clara provides us with our beautiful facilities for rehearsals and performances – for free," Kaye told the audience. "That's what makes it possible for us to be in business. Tickets pay for only a third of the cost of putting on an opera."

Performances of Truce of Carols and Amahl and the Night Visitors are Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday Dec. 6, 2009 at 3:00 p.m., at Mission City Center for Performing Arts, 3250 Monroe St. (at Calabazas, next to Wilcox High School) in Santa Clara. Tickets are $16 for children under 12, and $26 to $46 for adults. For tickets or information, visit, call (408) 749.7607, or email, or

Supernumeraries are needed for the Christmas show. If you're interested, call (408) 749-7607 or email Like to sing? Mission City Opera's all-volunteer chorus welcomes new members for its February 2010 production of Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. Contact the company for more information.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The family that watches City Council meetings together...

At our house we have a standing date every other Tuesday night. It's not for a romantic dinner and a movie. It's to watch the City Council on TV, by far the most entertaining reality show on Bay Area TV. It's Santa Clara's contribution to the venerable 600 year-old Commedia dell'arte theatrical tradition, featuring a rich assortment of pagliacci (clowns) and our very own Il Capitano Spavento della Valle Inferno (Captain Fright from Hell).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

School District Boundaries Update

Update on last night's back-to-back special Santa Clara Unified School District board meeting and County Office of Education, Committee on School District Organization public hearing:

The skinny: By a unanimous vote, SCUSD board of trustees gave a qualified nod to Santa Clara south-of-Pruneridge residents' request to move the neighborhood from the Campbell Union school districts to Santa Clara Unified. The question now is in the hands of the county Committee on School District Organization, which then heard from neighborhood residents.

SCUSD's qualifier is that, because Santa Clara schools are already over capacity, the district needs time to find additional space for roughly 150 new students – almost all of them currently in elementary and middle school. However, new residential development in city – both planned and currently under construction – means that the district will need additional capacity in any case.

The county Committee on School District Organization was primarily there to listen – which they did very generously, allowing speakers to make their points even when they ran over the two-minute limit.

The Campbell districts' case is that they will be hard hit financially without the tax revenue from that neighborhood. In K-8 grades (Campbell Union school district), Santa Clara residents represent 2 percent of the students and 4 percent of the revenue. In 9-12 grades (Campbell Union high school district) Santa Clara residents, 15 to 20 students, represent $600,000 in district revenue.

Campbell's status as "basic aid" funded district hangs by a thread at 0.1 percent over the cutoff. The proposed change would return the district to "revenue limit" status. (Basic aid districts are less vulnerable to state funding cuts and benefit more in a rising real estate market. However, they are more vulnerable to declines in local tax revenue).

Despite these favorable imbalances in cost and revenue – a "goldmine" is how county School District Organization Committee member Phil Nelsen characterized it – the Campbell districts closed all three schools near Santa Clara, sending students to Lynhaven elementary, Monroe middle and Del Mar high schools. Residents also pointed out that inter-district transfers – suggested as an alternative by district administrators – are approved about as often as the Bay Area has a blizzard.

The unedited "feed:"

SCUSD special board meeting:

Facilities are the critical factor. Schools overcrowded already, some are already over-capacity. "We're portable-ed to death," was how Trustee Pat Flot put it.

"Regardless of financing, it's a foregone conclusion that we're going to have to open new schools so we might have to do this sooner," said Trustee Albert Gonzalez. "As I see it the financials are positive." The change would increase SCUSD's per-student funding by about $170.

"The numbers indicate that it would be favorable to us," said Trustee Andy Ratermann. "The [construction bond] debt we have out there is new, mostly amortized, so I don't see an issue there. I think if we get enough time we can do this, but if we don't it's going to be a great strain. All of that about [Campbell districts' assertion that petitioners' objective is] improving property values, I don't find at all compelling."

After voting against the staff recommendation to deny the request, Trustee Andy Ratermann put forward a motion that the SCUSD board was "favorable" to the change, "but concerned about timing and ability to provide adequate facilities." That passed unanimously.

SCC Committee on School District Organization hearing:

"I've lived there [Santa Clara] 44 years," said resident Richard Harrison. "We thought we were in SCUSD [when they bought their house]. But didn't matter because [CUSD's] Parkway elementary school was there [on the corner of Saratoga and San Tomas]. Then they closed that and moved everything to Lynhaven. Then they closed Cypress middle school [Cypress and Stevens Creek] and moved everyone to Monroe. Then they closed Blackford high school [Moorpark and Boynton] and moved everyone to Del Mar.

"We have been disenfranchised as far as academic facilities," he concluded. "This school [Santa Clara HS] is closer than for kids than Prospect."

Santa Clara native Ann Leno pointed out that a growing number of young Santa Clarans "have made a conscious decision to stay in Santa Clara."

In today's world where two incomes are necessity, not a choice, having a school within walking or public transit distance versus a school that you have to ride a school bus to, spells "huge differences in students' ability to participate meaningfully in after-school programs. Most of us work in the opposite direction," she said. "We take our kids to school and then have to head the opposite direction to 101, Central Expressway."

CUSD Superintendent Joanna VanderMolen and Deputy Superintendent Jim Crawford took a different view in representing CUSD board's vote against the transfer.

VanderMolen laid out the financials. This year Campbell became a "basic aid" funded district, topping the cutoff point by 0.1 percent. "The district receives 4 percent funding and gets 2 percent of students [from Santa Clara] so the neighborhood is providing a 2 percent subsidy from these students. Plus our district has charter schools. So this would mean $1.5 million in cuts. It would just wipe the district out at this point."

The funding advantages of a basic aid district enable a better education for students, VanderMolen said. "I'm here really being the advocate for the 7300 kids who want that better education If we lose these properties we will step back out of basic aid just as we stepped in. the impact of losing these children at this point in time and going back to revenue limit would cause further cuts."

Campbell Union High School district would take a "$600,000 hit for this transfer of property out," said Pat Gaffney, deputy Superintendent CSUHSD. "Proximity is a big issue here. I went to Google and took the distance between Mike O'Halloran's [lead petitioner on the request to the county OOE] house and Del Mar. The distance is shorter to Del Mar than to this high school.

"There's so much technology these days we can take the opportunity to use communications technology to [reduce the impact of distance]," Gaffney continued. "I wasn't able to find anything on SCUSD's site on any of these programs [referred to by residents]. We can certainly make folks aware of the opportunities in Santa Clara."

"Forty minutes ago SCUSD board voted not to deny this request," said SCUSD Superintendent Steve Stavis. "The question of facilities currently remains an issue. [The change would represent] $170 per student more than we're currently getting. The biggest impact would be on facilities and reopening a school to the cost of about $11 million."

"As educators we have to put children's best interest at the highest priority," said former Montague teacher Joann [name]. "As my sister said, "adults need to get out of the way and do what's best for kids."

"Why do we – 131 students – have to bear the brunt of this school budget crisis?" said Megan [name].

Several speakers spoke about requesting inter-district transfers and being told that no transfers were given.

"When I ask how do our kids get to school and they looked at me and said "I don't know" and they weren't going to help me find a safe way to get to school," said Santa Clara resident Barbara Drummer.

"I'm really concerned with the sense of community and being part of a community," said Santa Clara resident Joseph Goschy. "It's really about the kids and what's right for the kids, what's right for the community and our future. There's a lot of spreadsheets and discussion. If we had one kid with a safety issue, I think we'd be rethinking all this. We understand that it's not an overnight change. We're open to some long-term cooperation to work together to resolve this."

"I'm a 45 year resident of Santa Clara," said Kay Harrison. "I'd like to see the little kids growing up in our neighborhood be part of Santa Clara schools."

"I sympathize with the petition," said county School District Organization committee member Nick Gervase. "There's no question there's more identity with Santa Clara. However, we have to speak to some reality. We are faced with a requirement on how and what to vote on. There are nine criteria you have to meet. We have to vote on all those criteria."

Of those nine criteria, three are potential showstoppers, Gervase said:

  • No significant disruption of educational programs: Campbell is going to say that their educational program is going to be affected
  • No significant additional costs for housing students
  • No substantial negative effect on fiscal status of district

Committee representative Phil Nielsen concluded the meeting with this observation. "This area is paying a lot on a per-student basis – more than their fair share. You're [Campbell] basic aid by 0.1%. It seems to me you've lost it already. You get 4 percent of funding for 2 percent of students – it's a goldmine. In high school you're getting $600,000 for 15 students – another goldmine."

"For Campbell it's all about the money," one person leaving the meeting was heard to remark. "I've been in budgeting and layoff meetings in corporate American that were more humane."

For more information about the School District Organization committee, visit the committee's website or contact Suzanne Carrig in the Center for Educational Planning at (408) 453-6869 or

Friday, September 18, 2009

SCUSD Staff Opposes Proposed Boundary Change to Include City Residents South of Pruneridge

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I live in the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood. I have no school-age children.

On Sept. 22, the Santa Clara Unified School District Board is holding a special meeting to take up a request by Santa Clara residents in the south of Pruneridge neighborhood to move from the CUSD and CUHSD districts to SCUSD. The question was tabled at the Sept. 10 meeting based on the fact that although SCUSD staff opposed the change on financial grounds, they couldn't provide any analysis to support this.

In August, a petition signed by 276 voters -- out of 593 tax parcels -- in the neighborhood was submitted to the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which ultimately decides on the request. The proposed change would potentially add about 150 students to SCUSD.

Campbell Union School District has gone on record opposing the change, claiming that proponents of the change were motivated by residents' desire to increase their property values. (Someone in the audience observed that if this were the case, the neighborhood would be trying to join Cupertino school district.)

Santa Clara Unified staff opposes the change on the grounds that it would hurt SCUSD financially and, because there are no schools in the parcel, would over-tax the district's facilities. "We're in trouble facilities-wise in the near future," said SCUSD Business Administrator Roger Barnes. "It would be a significant impact on facilities. The amount per student we'd get from this area is less than we're getting from other property."

But despite this assertion SCUSD did not, in fact, have information about the area's property values to back this up. "You're really not sure what that would bring us in terms of educating students," observed Board Trustee Ina Bendis. "So it could be that, as we're sitting here now, we could be passing up a windfall. We don't know."

If the parcel joined the SCUSD, property owners would be accountable for general obligation bonds and the proposed parcel tax. "What would the average debt per parcel that this section of town would assume if they come onboard?" asked trustee Andy Ratermann. "Who knows? They may end up paying for the majority of it."

Further, Bendis said, "The proponents of this [change] point out 140 students. Fairfield [Gallery on Central Park], the impact was 130 to 180 students and we didn't kvetch about it. I would like to know why we're kvetching about this – we don't even know if that's going to hurt us."

"We have negotiated with the developer [Fairfield] for $6,000 in developer fees per student," replied Barnes.

"So it sounds like everything would be equalized if they were willing to pay us $6,000 per unit," Bendis shot back. "The problem is the developer fees for those units went to someone else and we can't get it. So we're not talking apples to apples."

Noting that he'd never heard from this neighborhood before, trustee Don Bordenave observed that, "Those houses are 40 years old. The facilities issue is a big issue and the reason we should turn it down."

Other unknowns come into play as well. "If we did end up with that parcel, would it affect relations [with the teachers union]?" asked Trustee Pat Flot. "Basically we have to make this decision without information."

Other board members saw the question as going beyond dollars and cents.

"This is not a territorial issue," said trustee Andy Ratermann. "I don't see it that way. I don't see it as an issue about money. I don't buy the argument that it's going to be a big loss to Campbell and it's going to be a big cost to us. It's a small area with a high amount of retail on Stevens Creek and the property values are fairly high.

"[The issue is,] What is the effect on the kids?" he continued. [Students in the CUSD] go a long way to school, it's somewhat disenfranchising for those kids, they feel like they're not part of Santa Clara. What I don't want to see us doing is making a very short-term decision. What is the right thing long term for the kids? And if it turns out that the right thing to have them in our district, then that's what we should do and figure out the details."

Trustee Albert Gonzalez reminded the Board that the students in questions were Santa Clara residents. "A month ago we were talking about Adult Ed," which serves people outside the City of Santa Clara. "These people are in Santa Clara. They want to be part of Santa Clara. I can't see how we could vote against allowing them in the district."

Because the Board's vote on the question isn't binding on the county Office of Education, trustee Jim Canova suggested avoiding needless contention. Suppose, he said, the county approves the change. Being on record opposing it "is an awkward way to go forward. It seems like the neutral option is something worthy of consideration."

While hours of deliberation are needed to consider whether Santa Clara's residential neighborhoods should be part of the SCUSD, it takes no time, it seems, to decide whether areas without residents should be annexed. The next item on the September 20 agenda was an agreement with San Jose to transfer a parcel of North 1st Street in Alviso into the SCUSD.

"There are no residences here and absolutely no chance of residences here. [But] we would get the property tax from those buildings," explained Business Administrator Barnes. The Board voted unanimously to approve the change.

The SCUSD Board is holding a special meeting on this question, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. at the Santa Clara High School Theater, 3000 Benton St. For more information visit or call (408) 423-2000.

California School District Boundaries – Legacies of a Land Grab Era

Today's Santa Clara County school district maps are byproducts of the Bay Area's post-WWII municipal land grab era – a time when population was growing quickly and cities were swallowing up smaller towns and unincorporated areas. As San Jose annexed property, those rural districts didn't want to be part of San Jose Unified.

Leaving annexed property in the original school districts sweetened the deal and reduced potential opposition according to former City Council Member Frank Barcells, because districts retained their tax base.

"State law was changed to say that school districts didn't have to be contiguous," says County Supervisor Ken Yeager. "There was no connection where the cities grew and where the school districts were."

While the much of the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood is within a short walk of Westwood elementary school, there are no CUSD or CUHSD schools within walking distance or on a safe biking route. Students must travel across Kiely, Stevens Creek and Highway 280 – and, for some high school students, Winchester, Bascom and Highway 880 as well.

In addition, Santa Clara students in Campbell schools won't benefit from tax revenues generated by the proposed 49ers stadium.

Carolyn Schuk can be reached at

Friday, July 17, 2009

Conspiracy Con9 - The Live Blog: Decent Into the Maelstrom

Dateline: Santa Clara, CA
June 6, 2009 7:53:39 P.M

"It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow." – Edgar Allen Poe, "Descent Into the Maelstrom."

The last speaker on the Conspiracy Con 9 agenda is Anthony Hilder, cinematic auteur of conspiracism whose oeuvre includes the shock-u-mentaries "Reichstag '95: An American Holocaust," "IllumiNazi 911," and "Alien 51: Amerika's SSecret" (you have to imagine the Nazi SS runes here), a comprehensive survey of "Alien Implants, Human Cloning, Missing Children, Anti-Gravity Spacecraft, Reverse Engineering, Operation Paperclip, Biological Weapons, Extraterrestrials, IllumiNazi Agenda, New World Order."

Despite my two-day immersion in all things conspiranoid, nothing prepares me for Hilder. In an interesting example of how sensitive we homo sapiens are to the power of suggestion and "groupthink," I observe that: First, Hilder's initials are 'A.H.' Second, by switching the position of the 'd' in Hilder's name, and replacing 'd' with 't,' you come up with:


My thought processes now match those of everyone else in the room. And without an RF transmitter planted in my brain. Given Hilder's affection for Nazi imagery, it's not a big leap to entertain the idea of Anthony Hilder as a reincarnation of Adolph Hitler. The only differences are that Hitler liked military uniforms and did not, as far as I know, believe in extraterrestrial Lizard People – he probably would have, had he thought of it.

Hitler's -- excuse me, Hilder's -- Free World Film Works website tells visitors that, "Anthony J. Hilder's ever-present goal is to insight a Revelation to avoid a Revolution & form an Alliance of Independent Tribal, Linguistic, Religious, Political, Ethnic and Racial Nation States in opposition to the United Nations. Hilder is fully cognizant that the world must have an option to the U.N. and the chaos & killing that is being deliberately directed by this Brotherhood of Death to bring about our control."

In the next hour Hilder elaborates on his idée fixe: reptiles……the reptilian attack that's going on Mars. The god of Christianity is the God of the evil Reptilians. This is just a lead-in, however, to Hilder's second leitmotif, the big lizard himself, the Templars' apocryphal idol Baphomet, a.k.a. Lucifer. 

There are tens of thousands of Luciferian sacrifices going on in the world today…. Uncle Sam is the satanic goat of bathema. When you fold a $20 bill you'll see the north tower on one side and the south tower on the second side. And on the bottom you'll see s-t-n. Satan… I realized communism, from its inception, has been financed in the U.S. Marx was a Satanist.

And who are these "luciferian" reptiles' terrestrial agents? "Bankers" of course.

These banking bastards are bloodsuckers. Who the hell wants to save General Motors. Let them crash. We must reach out with a giant stake and stick it in their heart, and show no mercy. Hilder emphasizes those last three words.

Franken-Fed – the monster among us. In this picture we see pictures of the Georgia Guidestone, America's Stonehenge. And their suggestion is the reduction of the world's population to one and a half billion. What happens to the other five and a half billion of us? Hilder pauses for effect here, before continuing: That's why they have plastic coffins in Georgia.

If you haven't guessed already, Hilder is on course for that irresistible geography of the dangerous and deranged: Anti-Semitism:

Zionism runs the U.S. congress…One family, the Rothschilds, that owns all the money and calls all the shots, and that family has Reptilian roots. Israel is just a Rothschild front organization.

Hilder turns up the volume, stoking his own adrenalin-fueled rage.

We can end the problem. There is no problem except for those who believe a problem exists. There is no problem. The eye. Is this thing a Luciferian conspiracy? And Uncle Sam is bringing over the mother of Pat Tillman. Whose eyes had just opened…and somebody said, Kill that guy.

I don't want to see public education. I want to see public education destroyed. Why would you give your money to them for the second plank of the Communist Manifesto? Margaret Sanger, she was a close advisor of Adolph Hitler. They created a genetically created disease. AIDS. That's why babies are starving in the first place, because they modified the weather. I've lived in Africa and I've seen what liberation theology has brought….men castrated and their wives forced to eat their testicles...

Take a look at your church. The National Council of Churches. When you put your money into their plates and they take and buy guns for the terrorists. I'm talking about the guys who go into the towns and kill the children and rape the women…"

Instead of testicle-eating, however, I'm thinking of Richard Hofstadter's observation about the sexual preoccupations of conspiracists: "…the sexual freedom often attributed to the enemy, his lack of moral inhibition, his possession of especially effective techniques for fulfilling his desires, give exponents of the paranoid style an opportunity to project and express un-acknowledgeable aspects of their own psychological concerns…Very often the fantasies of true believers reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments."

Hilder winds up to the climax of his rhetorical masturbation with a call for action:

We are united. And I say yes, get your guns, and yes, get your food, and I say get out of…the dollar…The birth certificates your children have say on the bottom: Department of Commerce. That's because they own them.

But don't rush to get out of Dodge just yet. Before we put on our traveling shoes, Hilder wants to help us get out of the dollar, so to speak, by unloading that worthless fiat money on him: We've got to get "$10 a Barrel" finished. Maybe some of you will help us help you. 

Indeed. As the faithful take out their checkbooks, I bolt. Outside, as my head clears in the chilly evening, I think of the closing exchange of "Alice in Wonderland:"

"'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

"'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice..."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The night of the whining

Before the last election, I posted "An Election Who's Who" where I gave opinions about the candidates for City Council. Now that we're 8 months down the road, let's revisit some of those recommendations and see how people are acting. This is based entirely on public appearances. I didn't interview anyone for this.

At the last two City Council meetings, several people have spoken - including Council Members. But what's interesting is hearing the people that spoke that were once candidates. It's amazing how when people aren't on the campaign trail, their true colors come out.

Let's take a look:

Karen Hardy: Either Karen's been incredibly quiet, or I don't watch the Council Meetings at the right time.

Brian Lowery: Brian has spoken at Council meetings and in other venues and is always willing to talk. Brian is staying true to the issues on which he ran his campaign and seems to always deliver a consistent message.

Mario Bouza: Mario is similar to Hardy - he's either been incredibly quiet or appears at Council meetings at the right time.

Mary Emerson: Mary's been at several City Council meetings and has consistently spoken out against the stadium.

Chuck Blair: Like Hardy and Bouza, Chuck seems to have disappeared from the radar.

Ciaran O'Donnell: In that pre-election post, I labeled O'Donnell as a chameleon candidate - someone willing to say what he needs to say to please all the voters. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, O'Donnell showed his true colors. During the public presentation, O'Donnell spoke and insulted the Mayor and her family. The insult doesn't bother me, although it definitely rankled the Mayor. What bothered me was how O'Donnell would stoop to such a puerile level.

Whether or not you like the Mayor isn't the point. The point is how O'Donnell acted. As a former and possibly future City Council candidate, I'd sort of expect a bit better (okay, a lot better) than what he gave. If he had won and the rest of the Council voted took a position opposite his, one wonders how he'd respond - spitballs at 20-yards?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Iran solidarity vigil 6/26/09

Vigil in solidarity with the suffering people of Iran, remembering Neda and the countless others who have sacrificed for a better future for their children, their nation, and the world.

FRIDAY, June 26, 2009 7:30 PM
Stevens Creek and Winchester (Santana Row)

This is a peaceful vigil and memorial. Organizers have requested no flags. More here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So little time, so many lunatics

We're talking about 900 Kiely, the latest development tempest in the Santa Clara teapot. Every time we have a development project, it's the same. The usual suspects, headlined by our very own Village Lunatic Extraodinaire, ringing changes on the I got mine, the hell with you chorus.

Here's Bela Lugosi returned from the dead. "Raaaadeeee00000h-ahhhktiff waste." 

"I've been a homeowner in the City of Santa Clara for..." you fill in the blank -- 40, 79, 2 -- years -- and the "first house on the right parks on the diagonal" or the "lady down the street has 9 cars." WTF? 

And here's Morticia Addams, pointing out that, in addition to attracting the criminally inclined, high density housing lowers property values. The horror, the horror. Can you imagine, having to live next to the kind of people who would live there? As an earlier speaker described it, squatter encampments on the roof. 

A Stepford child, clearly on an exchange program from Village of the Damned, recites: people = cars = pollution = poisoned environment....Somebody call Child Protective Services.

"It takes me five minutes to cross Kiely." OMG!!! Can you imagine the inconvenience!!! What planet has she been living on? 

"I make a trip to Post Office every day." And the problem is...? The people who live at 900 Kiely might go to the post office and then the trip might take 14 minutes instead of 9???? Believe me, they won't be going to the Post Office -- they have to work for a living, something that interferes with daily excursions to enjoy the ambience of the Post Office. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

California's Governator Turns Ballot Initiatives to Bullet Initatives

I can only wish!

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Conspiracy Con 9 - The Live Blog: Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound

Dateline: Santa Clara, CA
June 6, 2009 7:53:39 2 P.M.

By the time I check back with Conspiracy Central on Sunday it's 3:30 -- half an hour is spent locating my badge because I figure that saying that I lost my badge will finger me as a New World Order plant or worse. I start in the exhibit where I buy a fascinatingly configurable magnetic jewelry "rope" from Denise Wells of Santa Clara and a 1950s Betty Boop alarm clock from Prudence, who sells antiques and amber jewelry and is clearly a fish out of water here.

The folks from Evergreen Spirulina press on me a sample of "Coffee King – the most nutritious coffee in the world, enriched with "spirulina and ganoderma." The taste is of instant coffee, sugar, Cremora and…rotten garbage. My spontaneous review is clearly unwelcome.

While I'm trying to get a "local color" photo, a tall woman with long white hair who will only give her name as "C," confronts me.

"You're taking pictures," she says, leaning in. Explaining that I just want a photo for the local weekly paper, she quizzes me. "But will your boss and your bosses' owners and their owners' owners allow this story to be published?" I explain that my "boss" owns the newspaper and publishes whatever he damn well pleases.

"An independent newspaper?" She advances cautiously. This seems promising. "So you're going to put this in a good light?" she asks. I explain that I call it "reporting" and as such it's not cast in any "light."

What she's really asking is if I'm going to lampoon it. I attempt to explain that the Weekly simply wants a local color story and that there's no percentage for us in ridiculing people who are bringing thousands of dollars – devalued, worthless Federal Reserve notes though they are – into our town. Although I don't tell her, I'm having my own doubts there's any way to honestly report on the conference that wouldn't shine an unflattering light.

She starts in with a phrase that's become familiar in the last 24 hours: "Do you know about –." I answer no, and further, that that's not really my interest. Her face wrinkles up in disgust. "You need to talk to this man," she says, leading me to Dr. Stan Montieth.

Montieth is a retired orthopedic surgeon who operates Radio Liberty. I ask him why, nearly 50 years ago, he came to the conclusion that "there are very powerful forces," the "Brotherhood of Darkness," that control the U.S. government.

"A friend suggested to me that," he begins, but is interrupted by a question. He picks up the story again in a different place. "A man named Benbella was taking over Algiers. I found the same article would be in the Sacramento paper [as] 'Benbella marched into Algiers to cheers of the throng.' Another story would say, 'Benbella marched into Algiers at the head of his communist-equipped troops.'

"Two words change the meaning of the article," he continues. "Of course somebody covered up the communist influence…I suddenly realized that everything I thought I knew, everything I learned about history was wrong and I'd been lied to. I went back and read the Declaration and the Constitution."

Mentally, I cover another square on my metaphorical Bingo card of the conspiracy experience: the friend who asks you to read a book, review some "material," watch a video, meet someone, or talk to someone. Now, if someone was pestering me to "read some materials" or "meet a very special man I know," I'd assume it was either Amway or Scientology and put their phone number on the "block" list. But conspiracy hunters aren't cynics, and a cigar is never just a cigar.

It's the ages old pattern of conversion: Saul at the Damascus gate. First comes the baptism – the hour of first belief. The meeting, conversation, reading – whatever – is the Call of Irresistible Grace in the form of a revealed connection between seemingly unrelated information:

A newswire story is edited differently in two different papers. A child is kidnapped and murdered on the West Coast and a Washington D.C. highflier is arrested for running a prostitution ring. John Kennedy Jr. dies in plane crash at the age of 39, 36 years after his father's assassination, and 3+9+3+6 = 21, as in UN Agenda 21, the New World Order's plan for depopulating the world.
The revelation, this stepping through the doors of perception, is the charism by which believers become certain of divine election and experience release from the prison of ignorance. Then comes initiation and full participation in the community's sacraments. Which is what this weekend is all about: communal worship.
Just as you don't go to a revival meeting to learn about 12th century Christian Eucharistic doctrines, you don't go to Conspiracy Con to examine evidence of Humanoid-Reptiloid war that's raging on Mars as we speak. (Why doesn't the Mars Rover see it? Simple. The Mars Rover is actually tooling around a secret Hollywood set and everyone involved in setting it up has been killed). The talks are the revival meeting and the speakers are visiting evangelists and prophets.
Where there is light, there must also be darkness. And the next chapter of my journey takes me upriver to the mind-bending depravities of the Luciferian Masters of Darkness: Descent into the Maelstrom

Monday, June 8, 2009

Conspiracy Con 9 - The Live Blog: The Worshipful Master

Dateline: Santa Clara, CA
June 6, 2009 5:30:22 P.M.
I woke up this morning under a heavy cloud of FFA (free floating anxiety). I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that I'm at home, not Conspiracy Con. Clearly I'm too close to this story.
I rolled into last night's dinner at about nine o'clock, which seems to me a civilized hour, But most people are already working on the desert buffet. Perhaps they have an early curfew on the spaceship. 

My first order of business was a drink – my third for the day – followed by a scan for an interesting place to sit. I see the guest of honor, George Noory, at a table with the conference producer, Brian Hall. I take a shot, "Is that seat open?" I ask. Bingo.

A young man named Christopher, whose day job is shredding documents for the State of Califonia, pulls out my chair for me and is a delightful dinner companion; a perfect gentleman of the sort that I thought was long extinct. In the raffle I win a copy of "The Broken Code," by Frank LoVe, a book that should be Exhibit A in any discussion of why editors are important: "This book is a bold and bazaar story....No Pope, No Saint, So Science, No Senitor, No Clery, No Ayatollah is spaired the all seeing eye of God."

I don't get an opening to talk to Noory. His eyes scan the crowd like he's looking for someone. He fidgets, glances at his watch, and speaks quietly to the man next to him, his producer. His body language says he'd rather be somewhere else. He talks to the audio-visual crew about the lighting. "Lower," "Light enough to see," he says, "but intimate."

Finally it's time for the Noory, the pro who deftly walks the crazy line without actually seeming actually crazy himself.

He begins where all conversion narratives do, the moment of insight. 

"When John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated, I was 13 years old," he begins. "It was a few more years before I started to understand there's something going on here. Then I realized that this was going on long before JFK." 

Now it's my "aha" moment. Everyone I've talked to at Conspiracy Con starts their stories at exactly the same point:"When Kennedy was assassinated…"

A picture comes into focus: Baby Boomers and their world.

Children in the time of the McCarthy witch hunts and nuclear attack drills.  P.S. 107, the elementary school I had the misfortune to attend, stressed the immanent perils of communists lurking in Little League dugouts and atomic bombs screaming through the stratosphere directly on target for 13th St. and 8th Ave. in Brooklyn. Teenagers during the Viet Nam war, learned that the CIA had overthrown governments and engineered coup d'etats, and that the federal government did indeed lie – about the Gulf of Tonkin and plenty of other things. Young adults in the time of Watergate, we wrote term papers while watching the unwinding  -- under Sen. Sam Ervin's beetle eyebrows -- of criminal conspiracies at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

I tune back in to Noory. "Where there's smoke, there's fire," he says, dropping his voice on 'fire." Immediately, he makes an about face, dropping that ball of yarn and finishing on an up note. "We're all in this together. We need to keep hope in us. I hope Obama is successful. When you get negative, then they have you. This is our country and our planet. And nobody is going to take it away from us."
No indeed, I think, and head for the exit. Next: Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Conspiracy Con 9 - The Live Blog: Initial Probe

Dateline: Santa Clara, California 
Saturday June 6, 2009 4:28:05 p.m. PDT

After a tour through the exhbit, where Don from St. Paul, Minn. pressed two handfuls of pamphlets on me with titles such as Orthodox Medicine is Public Enemy #1 and Why Silver is the Answer, I check in with Don VonKliest, "The Value Of Minstrels, Jesters and Entertainers In The Future." An idea that I, as a writer, can't argue with.

VonKliest – a professional TV and radio announcer talk show host – contrasts with the prevailing dreariness. He may be paranoid but at least he's entertaining. He grabs the audience right off.
"What a time it was, to be in the 60s," he says, and starts playing air guitar. She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeaaaah. He's talking my – baby boomer – language. (So many Birkenstocks. So many gray pony-tails.)

We're all in good spirits and I'm thinking this maybe isn't all brain-boiling paranoia, when it becomes clear that Don Von's topic isn't the importance of jesters, thespians, and bards. It's the Navy's swastika-shaped building in San Diego. And other than the clip of his interview with Fox News, the next 45 minutes are unmediated stream-of-VonKliest-consciousness.

Swastika building…George Bush Sr… new world order…Spike Jones and the City Slickers…1942 propaganda song, "Heil Hitler's New World Order"….Prescott Bush…2012…666…the computer in Brussels called "the beast"….the end of the age…can you imagine what the world would be like with no money…it's the dawning of the age of Aquarius.

Time for another drink. Next: At the Foot of the Worshipful Master

Conspiracy Con 9 - The Live Blog: First Contact

Dateline: Santa Clara, California
Saturday June 6, 2009 1:57:14 p.m. PDT

After wresting my car from my 18 year-old, I hit the road for the Marriott, which for the next two days is ground zero of world conspiracy theory. This is the ninth -- and we know that 9 is inverted 6 and three of them are the number of the beast---

Where was I?

This is the ninth time this potpourri of High Weirdness has been held in our fair city, and that alone is worthy of note. That George Noory, host of Coast to Coast a.m. -- the nighttime radio talk show focused on all things conspiratorial, paranormal and extraterrestrial -- was the keynote speaker at Saturday's banquet sealed the deal.

When I asked the event's producer, Brian Hall, why he chose the Santa Clara venue, the answer wasn't that Santa Clara was home to a vortex of cosmic power, or the Trilateral Commission's home away from from home. The reason was pretty much the same as why the 49ers are interested in building a new stadium here: Prices are better than San Francisco, it's easy to get to -- close to the airport, easy freeway access -- and it's easy to park.

I was vaguely disappointed. I'd expected something more...conspiratorial.

When I pulled in to the Marriott, for a minute I wondered if I was in the wrong place because the parking lot was so empty. Then I saw an "Income Tax is Illegal" bumper sticker and I knew I wasn't. At the conference registration desk my announcement that I was press got a chilly reception. "Are you pre-registered?" When I replied that I was, and further that I had spoken to Brian personally, the temperature rose a few degrees. Taking out a credit card to pay for the dinner (not included in the press pass), I was told, "We don't take credit cards. Cash or check only."

I should have guessed. "People don't want to use plastic at an event like this," the woman at the desk explained, emphasizing the this. I felt like a conspirator already.

As a I forked over three portraits of Andrew Jackson, an old man wearing a Greek fisherman's cap and holding an open Bible in which every syllable was annotated with runes, leaned over and asked me if I believed in God Almighty. "I do, but I don't have time to talk now." I was on a mission, and taking a deep dive into the Annunaki messages coded in Deuteronomy -- or whatever -- would occupy the day. He graciously didn't pursue it further.

Saving the delights of the exhibit hall for later, I stopped by Webster Tarpley's talk, "How To Defeat The Wall Street Oligarchs, Shred The Derivatives, And Get Out Of The Depression." What lefty progressive can resist that? However, the front screen read:

Trilateral Commission
Coup d'etat

No oligarchs. No derivatives. Just my old pals, the Trilateral Commission. I decided that before I ventured further I needed to lay in some foundational work with lunch and a drink. At the Marriott Sports bar, I asked the bartender if the Conspiracy Con folks were good tippers. "They don't come in here much," he answered.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The vote on the 49ers stadium

The Santa Clara City Council meeting is slowly grinding through the issue of the 49ers stadium. As of now, the meeting's been going on for nearly 2 hours.

I've got a flu bug and don't have the patience to sit through the end of the meeting. Besides, news is more fun when you can read about it before it happens, so let's cut to the end of the meeting and take a glimpse at the final results of tonight's meeting - published before the meeting even finishes.

The meeting will go past midnight - let's say until about 12:45am.

The speakers will have been limited to 2 minutes each given the sheer number of those wanting to speak. Several familiar faces will have spoken - both for and against. The common argument against the stadium will be "why give money to billionaires?" and probably there'll be at least one appearance of the "The City could have given money to a solar startup".

Each Council Member will take their turn to speak. Some will ask questions that sound thoughtful as if they're still trying to decide on the issue and some nuance could sway their vote one way or another.

In the end, the Council will vote to approve. Council Member McLeod and possibly Council Member Kennedy could be the only voices on the Council who might vote against it, but expect to see every other council member back it. I'm not saying Council Member McLeod or Kennedy are good or bad or the other council members are good or bad based on their vote - that's for you to decide.

I'll post an update after the meeting (possibly on Wednesday afternoon) to see how accurate I was....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why I didn't Vote on May 19, 2009

Last Tuesday, for the first time since I was old enough to vote -- 1972 -- I didn't. Why? Because I'm sick and tired. Of a lot of things. Of doing the state legislature's work for them, for one. 

I'm sick of having to become a legislative analyst every six months and of trying to anticipate the blow-back lurking in the current ill-conceived proposal. State ballot initiatives almost invariably (except when they endorse discrimination against People Who Are Not Like Us) address transient problems with cast-in-concrete budget micromanagement -- for example, the hallowed Proposition 13 that keeps business real estate taxes at 1979 amounts in 2009. 

But the fundamental target of my disgust is California's tyranny-of-the-minority budgeting, its designed-to-run-amok  ballot initiative system, and its elected officials' knee-jerk refusal to raise taxes progressively, by increasing income tax, instead of regressively, through fees and sales taxes. 

Electing a new governor next year won't solve anything -- that's just another exercise in Titanic deck chair arrangement. As Jerry Brown observed recently, being governor of California is a "career terminator." 

It's time to grow up, California. We need to stop indulging our fairy tale of direct democracy and start living in the reality-based world, like responsible adults.  It's time to amend the state constitution to rein in ballot initiatives, let the state pass a budget and levy taxes with a simple majority, and -- dare I say it? -- repeal Proposition 13. That's one ballot initiative I'd vote for.