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Crew Destroys Road For Fake Schwarzenegger Staged Event

San Francisco Chronicle | June 1 2005

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled to a quiet San Jose neighborhood Thursday, and -- dogged by protesters -- filled a pothole dug by city crews just a few hours before, as part of an attempt to dramatize his efforts to increase money for transportation projects.

The choreographed press opportunity -- at least the governor's fourth recent event involving transportation issues -- seemed aimed as much at thwarting the demonstrators who have followed Schwarzenegger for weeks as grabbing new attention for his proposal.

Schwarzenegger strode toward television cameras on Laguna Seca Way to the sounds of the Doobie Brothers' "Taking it to the Streets,'' while flanked by 10 San Jose city road workers wearing Day-Glo vests and work gear. After speeches by the governor and city officials, a dump truck backed up and unloaded a mound of black asphalt and, as television cameras recorded the moment, Schwarzenegger joined the work crew, taking up a broom and filling the 10-by-15-foot hole, later smoothed over by a massive roller truck.

"I'm here today to let everyone know that we're going to improve transportation all across our state,'' said Schwarzenegger, highlighting his proposal to fully fund Proposition 42 and restore $1.3 billion in transportation money to the current state budget.

The governor's brief San Jose appearance, announced at the last minute, left some residents scratching their heads.

"For paving the streets, it's a lot of lighting,'' said resident Nick Porrovecchio, 48, motioning to a team of workmen setting up Hollywood-style floodlights on the street to bathe the gubernatorial podium in a soft glow.

Porrovecchio and his business partner, Joe Greco, said that at about 7 a.m. they became fascinated watching "10 city workers standing around for a few hours putting on new vests,'' all in preparation for the big moment with Schwarzenegger.

But their street, he noted, didn't even have a hole to pave over until Thursday morning.

"They just dug it out,'' Porrovecchio said, shrugging. "There was a crack. But they dug out the whole road this morning.''

"It's a lot of money spent on a staged event,'' said Matt Vujevich, 74, a retiree whose home faced the crew-made trench that straddled nearly the whole street. "We still have the same problems. Everything's a press conference.''

On a day following protests by 10,000 in the state capital and Los Angeles, the governor's appearance in traffic-clogged San Jose pointed toward the increasing challenge he faces in taking his message to the people -- while trying to sidestep teachers, nurses and members of public employee unions who protest his every event. The groups oppose a variety of the governor's plans, including his support for ballot initiatives that would change teacher tenure requirements.

Media advisories for the morning San Jose event were not issued until two hours before it started, and -- in an unusual move -- reporters were not provided with a location, but told to assemble in a parking lot where directions were distributed.

Indeed, the traffic event was such a well-kept secret that a row of spectator seats was mostly unfilled. City officials, road workers and media outnumbered neighbors, many of whom said they learned the governor was around only because of heavy police presence.

Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director, said there was no attempt at secrecy and that the logistics were set up so the event would have minimal impact on the neighborhood.

But the governor's staff was similarly closed-mouthed about his scheduled fund-raiser later Thursday. While Schwarzenegger's chief fund-raiser Marty Wilson acknowledged that the governor would dine with about "40-50 business leaders'' at a private location in the East Bay, he wouldn't reveal the site, saying only that it was "south of Walnut Creek and north of Pleasanton.''

Still, demonstrators from a coalition group called STOP -- Standing Together to Protect Our Families -- who protested the governor's appearance in San Jose -- said they had foiled the attempt to keep him under wraps.

"He's sneaking around. ... He tried to keep it undercover as much as possible,'' said Philip Bump, who led protesters in chants throughout the governor's event. "His poll numbers today are lower than they've ever been ... because the message is getting out there that what Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to do is not what Californians want.''

The governor, asked Thursday whether the stealth schedule suggested he has been bothered by his vocal opponents, blithely dismissed them, saying most "are paid by the unions to protest.''

"These are all people who want to stop progress. These are all people that are fighting for the status quo ... all the people that have created the problems in the first place,'' he said. "So we don't pay very much attention to that at all. We're paying attention to millions and millions of signatures that people of California have given us in order to change the system.''

The governor said he also was unconcerned about criticism that he should be in Sacramento working on budget issues, saying "the biggest mistake you can make is to stick around in the Capitol ... and not be with the people.''

The governor's staff said his San Jose event dramatized how cities and counties will reap as much as $254 million in Prop. 42 transportation funding for what it called "critically needed transportation maintenance projects.''

But neighbors in the area said while they welcomed the work by the governor, they weren't sure the repairs were so critical.

Greco, who used his video camera to record the crews ripping up his street, said Laguna Seca Way had "a few cracks," which he termed "unsightly,'' but they weren't as bad as the "major potholes'' a few blocks away.

"The street was very drivable,'' Vujevich said.

Stutzman, the governor's communications director, told reporters that "the staging of an event like this is paid for out of the governor's California Recovery Team account,'' which pays for many of the governor's political activities, "so there's no taxpayer expense.''

But David Vossbrink, director of communications for San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, who was in Washington, D.C., Thursday lobbying for more federal funding for BART, said the city paid the road crew and the extra security costs associated with the governor's visit -- as it would for any visiting dignitary.

Schwarzenegger's office "contacted us several days ago for a suitable area'' to depict his distribution of transportation funding, Vossbrink said. The neighborhood was chosen because "city workers were already in the area" doing repaving and resurfacing, which he said often requires peeling off old pavement and digging up roads to lay down new asphalt.

In this case, Vossbrink said, the governor's event involved "not exactly filling a pothole, but it represented the pothole aspect'' of the transportation funding measure.

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