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09.19.07

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Better Sled Than Dead

Anyone paying attention to the marketing of the Grand Prix this year had to wonder why the buildup to the race was so suspiciously quiet this year. It had all the markings of an organization that was planning to cut its losses and make a fast break. Then there was the happy post-race announcement to assure everyone that the race was returning, which will have to go down as a textbook example of disinformation. Mayor Chuck Reed, who famously opposed the Grand Prix's multi-million dollar city subsidies, thinks the high tech artsfest Zero One should "fill in nicely." "It's a lot of fun," Reed said, "although not quite as exciting as a car race." Hey, at least the computers crash! But that didn't cheer up County Assessor and sports buff Larry Stone, who we caught mourning a Grand Prix that "died by its own political weight." Stone, like many smart valley residents, viewed the race from a free vantage point, rather than from the paid seats that supported the race. "San Jose is the 10th largest city in the country by population only," Stone lamented. "You wouldn't know it otherwise. Sports bring identity to a community." But perhaps it's telling how many locals aren't mourning the whining engines, tire smoke and barricaded streets. Mention it at the downtown farmer's market on San Pedro Street and you'll get an earful. Most vendors didn't even bother showing up the week of the event this summer, and some who braved the traffic frenzy said they didn't see any boost in business from the visiting motor-heads. "It was awful," said orchid grower Bill Weinheimer. "Nobody could find a place to park, plus with the noise you could barely talk to anyone. I'm really happy it's gone." Okay, but we've already been downgraded to one of the safest cities in the country, and now they're taking our big, loud toys away? What's going to fill the pool-sized hole in our municipal heart? Fly has to give it up for Councilmember Sam Liccardo's idea: a dog sled race like the Iditarod held in Alaska every year. OK, it was just a comparison, not a proposition, but he made his point. He sent us a photo of his favorite husky with an official statement: "The Grand Prix wasn't drawing many more people downtown than would the Iditarod. At least dog sleds are more environmentally friendly."

The Truth About Rubber Chickens

There's nothing wrong with a little clean fun, says San Jose Councilmember Pete Constant—and that's saying something coming from the ex–vice officer of the San Jose Police Department. But the conservative councilmember was just making his point that it's about time San Jose legalized gambling for a good cause. And his colleagues seem to be on board with that notion. The City Council recently agreed to a new law that allows nonprofit organizations to host controlled gaming events within the city limits as a way to raise money for their mission. Local nonprofits have been itching to put a little fun into fundraisers and who can blame them? "You get to point where it's like 'OK, the truth is how many rubber chickens can you eat?'" said Rich Crowley, president of the Almaden Business Association. And they should know. The association's Texas Hold 'Em fundraiser was canceled a few years ago after the state attorney general threatened to shut down the nonprofit if it hosted the illegal event that was meant to raise money for a local library. The canceled event got enough attention that state lawmakers were pressured into legalizing gaming events for nonprofits. But San Jose has been slow to jump on that bandwagon. Until now, it was illegal for nonprofits to hold gaming events anywhere in the city except two card rooms. "Nonprofits have been holding these events for quite a while and putting themselves in jeopardy," Constant said. "It's not right for the city to turn a blind eye because it's a nonprofit doing it."

Throwing Up the Issue for Debate

By at least one measure, the new $5 fee patrons have been forking out to park on weekend nights at various downtown San Jose garages is going to a good cause--hiring cleaning teams to sweep up the broken beer bottles and power wash the bodily fluids from the garage floors and walls. The fee has also generated enough money to deploy six police officers to roam the garages at night, where they have already produced 500 arrests and citations since July. Yes, the new fee has deterred some drivers from using the garages, but it's probably not keeping them from coming to downtown altogether. City officials think those ex–parking garage users--roughly 459 at the popular Market Street and Third Street garages--are opting to scour for free parking in nearby neighborhoods. The City Council will have more data later this year that will help it determine whether the fee to park at the garages is actually hurting business downtown. Businesses beg to differ; to them, it is already clear: making people pay $5 to park is giving them another reason to not patronize downtown. "It's hard to get people downtown as it is," said Margaret Handyside, owner of Britannia Arms, a local pub along Santa Clara Street. "I think all downtowns should be free parking."


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