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Santa Clara County supervisors name controversial developer Vidovich to Planning Commission

Tracy Seipel

Two separate appointments by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday sparked controversy.

In a 4-1 vote, supervisors named former Sunnyvale Councilman John Howe to a key board with power over property tax assessment, despite pleas from County Assessor Larry Stone that Howe was not qualified.

Only Supervisor Liz Kniss agreed with Stone, saying the position on the assessment appeals board should be filled by someone with more training in appraising commercial properties and business equipment. Howe, 59, is a residential real estate broker.

And in a little-noticed consent vote Tuesday, the board unanimously appointed Los Altos Hills developer John Vidovich to the county’s seven-member Planning Commission. That appointment, recommended by Supervisor Dave Cortese, a high school chum, was called “unfortunate” by one local environmental group.

“The county has very good growth management policies which, given his history, makes us concerned about the Vidovich appointment because he is very pro-sprawl,” said Melissa Hippard, campaigns director for the Greenbelt Alliance.

Vidovich defends his record, saying that in partnership with land owner Gary Gillmor, he is in the process of helping preserve a 2,000-acre “environmental bank” of land near Gilroy. Hippard said she was unaware of those plans.

This will be Vidovich’s second term on the county

Planning Commission; his last appointment was recommended by then-Supervisor Ron Gonzales in 1990 and sparked controversy for Vidovich’s pro-development views.

He said he owns no property in unincorporated Santa Clara County, other than a home his mother lives in and a nearby vineyard, both near Los Altos Hills.

Santa Clara County attorneys said Vidovich would have to recuse himself from voting on any matter before the commission that involved his property, property located 500 feet from his or land in which he has any economic interest or affiliation.

“I did a good job and everybody was happy,” Vidovich said of his previous four-year term. “I have experience on the other side of the process. It’s a seven-member board, and the board needs balance. And if you appoint all environmentalist or anti-growth people unfamiliar with the process, you don’t get balance.”

Vidovich, 54, is no stranger to controversy — or politics. He is a consistent contributor to South Bay candidates, including Cortese’s run for supervisor in 2008.

In 2006, Vidovich lost a race for Los Altos Hills City Council.

He is considered a shrewd businessman, one of Silicon Valley’s richest and best-connected developers. Between 1999 and 2002, residents in his mobile home parks in Santa Clara, Mountain View and Santa Cruz complained he tried to squeeze them out of their homes.

And two years ago, he and members of his family were criticized by the Environmental Working Group for accepting more than $1 million in federal farm subsidies. The direct payments mostly go to large farms that grow a few crops — in Vidovich’s case, cotton, wheat and peanuts grown on Central Valley farms controlled by his Sandridge Partnership.

Vidovich on Tuesday said that while his family has a large agricultural operation and qualified for the payments, “I’m against the farm payment system. We participate in it because it’s there, but I’m against it.”

Still, over the past two decades, Vidovich has left his mark on projects throughout the valley, including an Apple campus in Cupertino and that city’s first hotel.

He said he wanted to serve as a planning commissioner again because, “If you don’t participate, you can’t complain.”


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