Wired magazine cofounders Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe are a lot of things. Visionaries. Millionaires. And totally rude neighbors, if you believe some of the folks who live next to them.
Over the past seven years, neighbors say, the married magazine magnates have tormented them with a series of noisy and disruptive additions to their home, which is located in a quiet and extremely narrow and windy cul de sac in the tony Berkeley Hills. Since 1997, Rossetto and Metcalfe have incrementally tripled the size of their house to more than four thousand square feet. The guy next door, Leo Simon, calls the place a "neighborhood Hearst Castle," although he admits the revamped home is aesthetically exquisite. It's not the final product Simon and others dislike, but the process of getting there.
Each time the Wired couple embarks on a new addition, noisy dumptrucks disturb the secluded street's serenity and block the road, and neighbors gripe. Simon, a Cal professor of agricultural and resource economics, recalls with particular irritation how during one project the Porta-Potti serviceman would arrive at 6:11 a.m. every Thursday and wake him up. The prof says Rossetto and Metcalfe -- who reportedly pocketed $30 million when they sold Wired to Condé Nast in 1998 -- don't have to deal with such annoyances because they stay at their house in Europe when the Berkeley house is being worked on. Living next to his construction-crazy neighbors "is absolutely insufferable," he says.
Last year Rossetto clashed with neighbors just down the road over a proposed remodel at his 87-year-old mother's nearby house. The city wound up giving Rossetto and his mom the go-ahead, but the skirmish obviously irritated him. The Berkeley Daily Planet reported that the day after he got the permit, Rossetto said in an online interview that he was "exhilarated because we beat those motherfucking neighbors and my mother can build her bedroom."
Now, Simon and three other motherfucking neighbors are appealing the couple's plans to build a 977-square-foot, three-car garage all the way to the city council next month. In an e-mail, Metcalfe said she didn't see what the big deal was: "We are just trying to have what every other family but one in the neighborhood has, namely off-street parking." She added that she and her hubby have to park on the street now, and a garage would free up on-street parking on a road with few spaces. She said they are building the garage on a vacant, adjacent parcel they bought -- one on which any other buyer, she said, "would have built a four-bedroom home with at least a two-car garage."
Metcalfe insists the neighbors' concerns haven't fallen on deaf ears over the years, noting that she and Rossetto have always informed people of their plans and made their project team available for questions. Their place is hardly a neighborhood Hearst Castle, she adds. In fact, even with all the additions, it's smaller than Simon's.
Ultimately, she feels as if she and her hubby are unfairly being held to a higher standard by the city, not only having to pay for engineering reports but also to have those reports peer-reviewed. "Obviously it's a hassle to have workers moving up and down the street all day with building materials, dumptrucks, whatever, and the noise can be disruptive at times as well. ... But the temporary annoyance of construction doesn't strike me as a sufficient reason for denying a homeowner the right to build a garage."
The neighbors, meanwhile, feel the garage is as necessary as a heavy-metal band's umlaut. Simon argues that cutting into the hillside will make it more prone to slides. Moreover, cutting into the hillside means moving earth, which means big loud trucks. And, yes, maybe another goddamn Porta-Potti. Besides, he says, "This is not the kind of Blackhawk neighborhood where you have three-car garages."
Dellums vs. De La Fuente?
Making predictions is an occupational hazard when writing about politicians. A couple of months ago, Feeder opined that ex-Congressman Ron Dellums wouldn't run for mayor of Oakland since he makes a comfy living as a corporate lobbyist in Washington, DC. Since then, however, Dellums has acted as if he might actually do this thing. He's done interviews with reliably sycophantic reporters, spelling out his concerns about his hometown. And he has postponed an announcement of his intentions on multiple occasions, with his latest deadline supposedly October 1. As Van Parish, campaign consultant to mayoral candidate Donald White, puts it, Dellums "could have said 'no' by now" if he really planned to sit this one out.
If Dellums does indeed run, he'd be the instant frontrunner, an honor currently held by council generalissimo Ignacio De La Fuente. A head-to-head between the two men would showcase contrasting styles: Dellums, the distinguished elder statesman, and Nacho, the kneecapper who uses salty four-letter words not recognized by spell-check software. But the two do share something in common: the headaches of fatherhood. De La Fuente's son, Ignacio Jr., currently faces rape charges. Dellums' son, Michael, has spent the last 25 years in state prison for killing a man in 1979 over a $20 bag of weed. How the two dads have dealt with their troubled sons also shows their contrasting styles. De La Fuente, at least for now, has stuck by his son, even attending some court hearings. Dellums, who has publicly lamented the plight of young black men who end up in prison, has seemingly forgotten his own imprisoned son: In his memoir, Dellums acknowledged all his kids except for Michael.
Jobs for Jesus
More news on the Ignacio tip: Thanks to an unfavorable legal opinion, Mr. De La Fuente is having to rethink his plan to shift $575,000 in federal job-training dough to a couple of Oakland churches -- Allen Temple and Acts Full Gospel. The question still remains as to why Nacho was so insistent that the federal money be diverted from the Oakland Private Industry Council to the two black churches, which, by the by, never even formally asked for the cash.
There are legit financial reasons to steer the money to some other organization. You could make a persuasive case that the Private Industry Council is a comparatively inefficient, top-heavy, and expensive jobs program. During the 2003-04 program year, for instance, it expended $11,085 for each person placed in a job, while Assets, the city's second most expensive program, spent only $6,429 per placement. But, hey, this is politics, so such a simple reason as cost-savings can't explain Nacho's real motives, right?
The conventional wisdom among some of De La Fuente's critics is that he was trying to secure the endorsements of influential black clergy. "That's a complete no-brainer," sniffs Dan Siegel, attorney for the PIC and a mayoral wannabe himself. For his part, De La Fuente notes that Allen Temple's J. Alfred Smith and a local Baptist ministers' group endorsed his mayoral candidacy before he tried to buy their support, er, tried to shift the jobs money.
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