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eMeg’s Tale of Woe About PayPal Expansion is Bull

Sep8

In a softball interview with Fox News  sycophant host Neil Cavuto last May, Meg Whitman explained what it is about the sorry state of things that made her decide that she must “refuse to let California fail.”

Said eMeg: “The first thing we have to do is, we have to streamline government.” And to make it easier for business to grow? “Well, the first thing you do is, we have got to streamline regulation.

“The permitting process, the competing agencies that try to regulate — we built a building in Sunnyvale for PayPal, two-and-a-half years to break ground. We had to hire three consultants to navigate the labyrinth of California regulations.”

Powerful testimony to the debilitating roadblocks plucky little eBay faced as it sought to build a new home for PayPal. It’s a story Whitman has repeated often – portraying it as one of the principal experiences that compelled her to get into politics.

There’s only one problem. It’s what Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, eMeg’s alma mater, calls “bullshit.”

Since at least one Calbuzzer covered land-use planning issues in Silicon Valley for a good part of his career, we knew this was a serious allegation against Sunnyvale. So we tried repeatedly to get clarification or comment about any of this from Sarah Pompei, Whitman’s spokeswoman, and from eBay and PayPal. Despite many, many phone calls and emails, we got nothing. Pompei so wants nothing to do with this story that she decided not even to return our calls with a “no comment.”

So let’s break down Meg’s fantasy, with what we were able to find out with some actual reporting:

First off, the folks at City Hall in Sunnyvale aren’t too happy about Meg slandering their building-permit process. Especially since the PayPal expansion wasn’t in Sunnyvale – it was in San Jose.

Sunnyvale Mayor Melinda Hamilton and City Manager Gary Luebbers, sound pretty pissed off. In an email to Hamilton, who asked him to track it down, Luebbers wrote:

“We have taken considerable time trying to ferret out this assertion. In fact our research shows absolutely no record of ANY contact with PayPal. I think she may have just pulled Sunnyvale out of thin air. PayPal is in San Jose. And that may have been the case there. This is very unfortunate in light of the significant effort we expend in being the best and continually polishing this image.”

But it wasn’t the case in San Jose either. In fact, in March 2008, Whitman commended San Jose in a speech she delivered at City Hall, saying:

Our partnership with the office of the mayor, the city council, the city staff and the office of economic development is a testament to San Jose’s status as a world class place to grow and operate a business. We could not be prouder to be one of the companies that was born in San Jose and stays in San Jose . . . The City of San Jose has always been extremely flexible in helping to anticipate and meet our rapidly changing needs. It’s been a tremendous partnership between the city and our company . . . So this commendation is truly one of the highlights of my career, having come out to join eBay in March of 1998. And I will never forget the honor.

“At least until I confuse it with something in Sunnyvale,” she might have added.

According to City of San Jose records, which Santa Clara County Supervisor David Cortese, formerly the vice-mayor of San Jose, got his hands on only after submitting a public records request, eBay submitted its preliminary review for a General Plan change (to alter the then-existing height-limitation in the North San Jose Industrial Redevelopment Area) on May 8, 2003.

eBay submitted its actual GP amendment change on June 2. A site development permit was submitted a month later, and environment impact review was circulated starting August 29 and by December 2, when the council considered GP amendments, eBay’s development permit was  approved.

For those who don’t follow city planning, Cortese explains: “It’s a huge deal to change the general plan. That’s the blueprint for how the city is going to be built out over a 10 to 20 year horizon.” eBay’s GP change sped through the process like grass through a goose.

Once the general plan had been changed, it was up to eBay (not the city or any state agency) to develop building plans for the project – adding to their existing facility to accommodate PayPal. eBay didn’t submit building, electrical, plumbing and mechanical plans to San Jose until March 2006; fire and haz-mat plans came shortly thereafter. After the typical process of submissions, review, resubmissions and sign-offs, eBay’s building permit was approved July 28, 2006 and the final fire approval was made August 21.

“I remember the hoopla more than anything,” Cortese recalls. “It was billed by the Economic Development Department as the fastest permit-approval of its kind in the history of the city.”

The charge that excessive regulation and bureaucracy held up the PayPal project? “It’s absolutely absurd,” Cortese said. “She personally came into the new city hall and said this is the finest management staff I’ve ever seen . . . With her, political expediency apparently trumps everything, including her past testimonials.”

Cortese, of course, is a Democrat, as was his father Dominic, a former Assemblyman who also served as a county supervisor. But these are pro-business, conservative Democrats who don’t take cheap shots at Republicans.

So for Dave Cortese, it’s no small thing to say of Whitman’s charge: “Obviously, these statements are totally inconsistent with her campaign spin that California is a bad place to do business. And they are offensive to all of us from San Jose who made things work and are now the brunt of her rhetoric.”

We don’t know how many consultants eBay hired. Frankly, who cares? And yes, the general plan change was submitted in June 2003 and the building permit was issued in July 2006. That’s not just two-and-a-half years – it’s three years.

And excessive regulations (and Sunnyvale) had exactly nothing to do with any of it.


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There are 9 comments for this post

  1. avatar Bob Mulholland says:

    Whitman is use to “pushing” people around and she does the same with facts. Bob Mulholland

  2. avatar tonyseton says:

    Money can’t buy character. She is a disgrace to everything important about our country.

  3. avatar A.G. Block says:

    Gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.

  4. avatar rwg says:

    Even if any of it were true, why not then just run for mayor of Sunnyvale – localize the misery, as it were.

  5. avatar tegrat says:

    This particular oversight is unfortunately being drowned out by the din of her and her fellow Republicans as they denounce scheduled the September 11 burning of the 200 Korans in Florida. No worries, the MSM will pick it right up after all of their reporting on Republican outrage has eased up a bit.

  6. avatar Divebomber says:

    Ya know, I started reading Calbuzz because I thought I found a blog that actually reported and commented on things on a somewhat unbiased playing field… something that is sorely lacking in the press these days. But the more I read, the more I believe I was wrong.

    Let’s start with the thinly-veiled “sycophant” comment about Cavuto. Wow. Have you guys been taking notes from right wing radio? Have you decided to use the same tools that you so despise in others? Hmmm…. I think Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, eMeg’s alma mater, would call that ”hypocrisy”.

    As for Ms. Whitman, because she said Sunnyvale instead of San Jose, she gets labled with “bullshit”? After all, Sunnyvale and San Jose are all of what?… two miles from each other? If you ask someone who lives in Sunnyvale where they live, and they don’t think you’re familiar with California, they say “San Jose”… because Sunnyvale is a bedroom community for San Jose, and few people outside of the local area actually know where Sunnyvale is. So just because she mentioned the wrong planning department, she’s lying, full of bullshit, and not fit to be governor? Man, you guys must REALLY hate Mr. Brown. Oh, that’s right. He’s a Dem. He’s allowed such honest mistakes. Hypocrisy.

    As usual, your slash piece (and the following sycophantic and pedantic comments) illustrate just how much you didn’t get the point….either because you aren’t quick enough, or just didn’t want to “get it”. (I’m thinking the latter…)

    She makes a good point (whether you like it or not). The building approval process is a bureaucratic nightmare – and I have plenty of experience to back it up. You would not believe the level of regulation and hoop-jumping that must be done in this state – as compared to any other state in the union. And I’m not talking about earthquake regulations or environmental submissions. I’m talking about duplication of agencies. Submitting the same packages to duplicate agencies who then fight tooth and nail to prove which one is more senior or has authority over the other. In the mean time, you get to sit there and twittle your thumbs while spending millions on lawyer fees and financing payments on stalled development. Heaven help you if you’ve already signed a construction contract.

    So frankly, Ms. Whitman has a good point. Something does need to be done about the ridiculous and redundant building process that has been forced on the cities and other entities in this state. It is a major roadblock to new business being developed.

    And you missed it, all because you were busy trying to prove that saying “Sunnyvale” instead of “San Jose” was worthy of a Pulitzer prize in journalism.

    Frankly, in the immortal words of Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton, eMeg’s alma mater, you’re full of “bullshit”.

  7. avatar OC Progressive says:

    Divebomber,

    Maybe you should pull up and read the entire piece. It’s not that Mrs Harsh got Sunnyvale confused with San Jose. It’s that everything she said about the project in San Jose was a lie, and contradicted completely what she had said at the time when she actually worked with San Jose.

    Despite the massive sums of money she is spending on political consultants and communications experts, it’s just more convenient for Meg to repeat a flat-out lie than find a real example of bureaucratic ineptitude.

  8. avatar gdewar says:

    you’d think someone who had a 100 million bucks to spend could at least tell the truth. She lied about where the expansion was, she lied about the permitting process and she lied about pretty much everything in that piece.

    I don’t know what’s worse – that’s she’s just as big a liar and as incompetent as our current Governor, or that she’s willing to spend over $100 million on an endless army of consultants and ads to boost her ego. For $100 million she could have built a WHOLE NEW COMPANY or something constructive.

  9. avatar sqrjn says:

    Politician lies . . . shocking. More interesting is the type of lie she is choosing to tell, one that requires complex fact checking and a detailed analysis (more than 60 secs) to understand. I want the inside baseball. Is this a calculated move, was this strategized? Why is her spokesman nonresponsive. Was this just a human foible which her consumate and highly paid staff will now deny and deal with? It is definitely another example of an ego which could self-justify spending $100 mil to get elected, she actually believes what she says because she said it. Whitman’s narrative is a lifetime movie, “based on a true story” but not necessarily connected with reality.

    In response to Divebomber, I never thought these guys were unbaised. They just occasionally do really good reporting.

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