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07.02.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Square Pegs

Back when he was mayor, spearheading the renovation of a then-decrepit downtown, Tom McEnery had to fend off charges that his vision of a thriving retail-and-entertainment district was rooted in a desire to enrich himself and his family, which owns a significant chunk of downtown real estate. Twenty years later, those charges have re-emerged, following a 9-1 City Council decision last week to consider a request for $6 million in redevelopment money for the San Pedro Square neighborhood where the McEnerys do business. A Merc story about the deal was pointed in its focus on "questions about McEnery's influence at City Hall." The piece made reference to unnamed sources who, the article said, "are openly wondering whether McEnery has influenced Mayor Chuck Reed, whose transition committee he chaired last year." Reed denied the charges, saying he barely recalled talking to his old colleague about the deal. McEnery declined to comment for the Merc piece, but told Fly this week that the story was "a big nothing-burger." "My family has invested tens of millions of dollars in that neighborhood over four generations," he said. "And we're about to invest $10 million more." He pointed out that the city spent $19 million on a similar plan for Fountain Alley, and spends $3 million "on street-sweepers." "This proposal benefits the city more than it benefits my family," he said. ... Meanwhile, a nightclub owner who rents space from one of McEnery's business partners has filed a lawsuit against the city charging that the San Jose Police Department, responding to political pressure from McEnery, is trying to drive him out of business. Attorney Anthony Pagis represents Ray Shafazand, who ran the Italian restaurant and dance club Cuccini for four years. A few months ago, Shafazand hired two local promoters, who had run the popular Taste Ultra Lounge across the street from Cuccini, to reinvent his club. The two promoters were available because they had been evicted from the building that housed their business. The eviction came after Tom McEnery bought the building. Attorney Pagis says Shafazand's landlord, Frank Cucuzza, now wants his client out. Cucuzza is partnered with McEnery for the new San Pedro Square venture. Pagis says the SJPD has refused to renew the club's entertainment license, usually a formality following a simple name-change. Part of the problem may be Cuccini's new name—"Sabor"—Spanish for "Taste." Isaac Barrera, one of the former owners of Taste, now working for Shafazand, believes McEnery is behind his boss's new problems with the SJPD. "It's all about McEnery not wanting the young, single Hispanic crowd" around San Pedro Square, Barrera says. "They don't want our demographic downtown," he says. "They want to go older and whiter." Karl Hoffower, a retired chiropractor who sits on the board of the Silicon Valley NAACP, says he believes Barrera's charge has merit. "What people are starting to say, 'If you're black or brown, don't go downtown,'" Hoffower reports, "it's a catchy phrase, but unfortunately, it resonates." McEnery, disgusted, declined to even respond to the charges that any of this has anything to do with race. But in a previous conversation with Fly he made no bones about what he sees as somewhat of a scourge downtown: "One thing we did in this proposal—and the city should be grateful—we eliminated the nightclubs."


Sketchy Politics

The thought of Internet filter champion Pete Constant with a ball-gag in his mouth, being whipped by a dominatrix, might be a fantasy for free speech advocates. Fantasy turned to reality Monday night as actress Krista Kelly strapped on bondage gear and flagellated the conservative councilman in front of San Jose's political elite at San Jose Stage's Monday Night Live production. Kelly, a District 6 resident, seemed to enjoy whipping Pete a little too much. "Even Sally Leiber can't save you now," she screamed. "They took a fire engine away from us," she explained afterward. "He voted against us." The annual production, now 15 years running, has gotten bawdier and racier over the years (straight arrow Mayor Chuck Reed didn't last the whole show) but seemed to get tamer in terms of skewering the pols on sacred cow issues (Stage Co. is hoping the council will build a fancy new theater for them someday). Surprisingly, not one word was uttered about Little Saigon at Monday's event. Even Councilwoman Madison Nguyen came to the event well prepared to take some hits on that issue. Other highlights: Obama-lookalike software engineer CJ Blankenship one-handed pushups on a spread-legged Hillary impersonator, DoloreS Carr's dance moves and rising star 19-year-old Manuel Romero's show-closing musical number.


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