County school board investigates options on underwater condo

Many readers chafed at former Santa Clara County schools chief Charles Weis' plan to stick taxpayers with his underwater luxury condo. Some called Weis, who retired June 30, ungrateful. A few said unprintable things.

But they may want to aim some of their ire at the Santa Clara Board of Education for putting them in this position in the first place. On Wednesday, the board voted to ask its attorney what options it has in response to Weis' notice that he's quit-claiming, or relinquishing his interest in, the 18th-floor unit in downtown's Axis building. Is it possible the board, when it gave Weis a $915,000 low-rate loan at zero to 3-percent interest, wrote such a loose agreement that Weis could walk away after paying only $15,000 or $20,000 (he said he didn't remember how much) on the loan?

Weis said when he looked into selling or refinancing the Almaden Boulevard condo, he couldn't get nearly what he paid for it in 2008. He's required to pay off the loan by the end of next year, so now he wants to dump the condo on the County Board, which could lease or sell the unit. In that case, how bad taxpayers get soaked in the end depends on how fast the real estate market -- which at least is picking up -- recovers.

Anyone looking for a deal of a San Jose condo with a view? Paul Zeger, president and CEO of Axis' sales firm, Pacific Marketing Associates, said they've "seen this tremendous rise in interest driven primarily by a big shift in consumer confidence."

And what of Weis' former digs on the 18th floor?


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"It's probably one of our best units up there," Zeger said. And it may be available at a discount.

Water Co. motto: If we serve it, they will come

Having grazed at more than a few political food tables in our time, we can tell you that one of the very best is the annual San Jose Water Co. Leadership Barbeque. In the first place, it's in a magnificent setting, on waterfront property the company owns off Black Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Los Gatos. (Note: The water company is different from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, or Golden Spigot. San Jose Water is a retailer, while the Golden Spigot is a middleman.)

Second, the power quotient is high, even though IA, unaccountably, was not invited. Among the folks attending the 10th anniversary event on Sept. 13 were builder Barry Swenson, philanthropist Mike Fox Sr., San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Council members Nancy Pyle and Pierluigi Oliverio, former councilman Frank Fiscalini, Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone, ex-San Jose Leadership Council director Rick Holden and financial adviser and ex-San Jose Rep trustee Sandra Moll.

What really set the barbecue apart, however, was the spread, which we viewed on the Facebook site of the caterer, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme. We spotted shrimp cocktail, a "wild game grill'' with pork and duck sausage, crab claws, thin-crust pizza, potatoes, green beans and lamb chops. Not to mention elegant table settings and your choice of beverage -- among them, Grand Marnier, Bailey's Cream, J&B Scotch, Jameson Irish Whiskey and beers that included Stella Artois, Corona and Bud Light.

By our deadline, we couldn't get anyone at San Jose Water to tell us how much the event cost. But it is worth pointing out that the company has reason to cultivate friends. It has a request for a nearly 44 percent rate hike over three years now pending before the California Public Utilities Commission.

Public safety meeting had political undertone

We somehow doubt many believed it when union leaders representing San Jose cops and other city workers claimed their neighborhood public safety meeting was all about protecting residents. It was, after all, at the same time as a City Hall discussion on the same topic and in the district of the one council member facing re-election.

But Michelle Hatfield, an organizer with IFPTE Local 21, a union representing public-sector professional and technical workers, spelled out the Sept. 18 meeting's true purpose in an internal email to members that someone kindly shared with us.

"This is part of our San Jose City Council District 8 campaign," Hatfield wrote in the note, touting newspaper and television coverage of the meeting and urging volunteers to "help invite residents" to "at least two more" that are planned.

District 8 Councilwoman Rose Herrera is fighting for re-election against union-backed attorney Jimmy Nguyen, who opposed the June ballot measure she helped champion to trim generous pensions whose costs have more than tripled. Nguyen and the unions argue the measure has sent cops packing and crime rates soaring. Herrera suggests the unions are fanning fears to scare voters.

Reading between the lines on library director

It was a punishing week for San Jose City Manager Deb Figone. A day after Police Chief Chris Moore announced that he would retire next January, Figone sent word to the council that she would have to start anew in the search for a new library director to replace Jane Light, who retired last March. Figone said she had identified a strong candidate who withdrew "for personal reasons." The back story tells you something about the difficulties the city faces in hiring top-notch outsiders for key posts.

Several sources told IA that Figone's candidate was the respected Lisa Rosenblum, a San Jose resident who is now director of Sunnyvale's libraries. Rosenblum, 54, lives in Naglee Park, almost within walking distance of the main library.

"Personal reasons" can encompass anything. And we couldn't reach Rosenblum for comment. But our sources say one sticking point had to do with Rosenblum's pension package. In Sunnyvale, Rosenblum is in a reasonably generous CalPERS plan. In San Jose, under the city's effort to control pension costs, new employees as of Sept. 30 will earn pensions at a slower pace.

Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Sharon Noguchi, Scott Herhold, John Woolfolk and Paul Rogers. Send tips to internalaffairs@mercurynews.com, or call 408-975-9346.

Voters
California puts in place new system to finally allow people to register online to vote. No muss. No fuss. Deadline is Oct. 22. www.sos.ca.gov
Charles Weis
Former Santa Clara County schools superintendent, who was paid $332,000 a year, borrowed almost $1 million from the Office of Education to buy luxury downtown San Jose condo now worth much less, and now that he's left, wants taxpayers to bail him out.
Chris Moore
San Jose police chief won accolades for work with downtown businesses and minority communities. But when the budget going got tough, he quit, "retiring" at age 51 after two years on the job, and drawing a $155K lifetime pension.