Trial boosting Redwood City's economic hopes

January 22, 2004 

REDWOOD CITY -- John Anagnostou could barely contain his excitement at the thought of a media swarm descending on this Bay Area city's quiet downtown for Scott Peterson's double-murder trial.

"This is good," said Anagnostou, president of the Redwood City Downtown Business Group and co-owner of a theater and adjoining nightclub a few blocks from the courthouse.

"Is it good that we're getting notoriety because of a murder trial? No. But is it good because all of the press is here? Absolutely," he said.

Local business leaders see the decision to move Scott Peterson's murder trial to this bedroom community halfway between San Francisco and San Jose as a shot in the arm for a hospitality industry yet to recover from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But the move to San Mateo County has drawn mixed reactions from residents and created a logistical labyrinth for court and law enforcement personnel.

"We've had other high-profile trials, but nothing that can equal this," said Bronwyn Hogan, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department, which operates the county jail and provides courtroom security. "We just have to deal with this."

Officials have scheduled a flurry of meetings to handle the transition.

Hogan and other San Mateo County sheriff's officials are expected to meet today in Modesto with their Stanislaus County counterparts to discuss transferring and housing Peterson at the jail here.

Stanislaus County prosecutor John Goold was in Redwood City on Wednesday to prepare for the move, but he declined to comment on his trip.

Stanislaus County Court Executive Officer Michael Tozzi, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with court officials here today to discuss transferring the case and handling the accompanying media crush, officials said.

Tuesday, Stanislaus County Judge Al Girolami ordered the case moved to San Mateo County, saying pervasive media attention threatened Peterson's ability to get a fair trial in Modesto.

Peterson, 31, is charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Conner. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

"We feel terrible for Laci's family. We feel terrible about that," said Anne LeClair, president of the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

LeClair said she screamed when she heard the news Tuesday that the trial would be coming to San Mateo County.

She estimated the trial would inject $8 million to $16 million into the local economy as reporters, legal staff and onlookers converging on the community seek out food, lodging, office space and rental cars.

Redwood City, with a population of about 72,000, is the county seat in an area overshadowed by its metropolitan neighbors to the north and south, which were sent reeling when the high-tech bubble burst several years ago.

Anagnostou said the trial would bring welcome attention to a tree-lined historic downtown in the midst of an extensive renovation that will bring in a multiplex theater and paved open plaza a few hundred feet from the courthouse.

Business has picked up at Le Boulanger, a bakery and sandwich shop on the quaint downtown artery, said Rene Schykerynac, who was staffing the counter as county and court employees dotted the dining area.

"We're usually really slow," Schykerynac, 17, said. "Now they're talking about bringing in more employees."

John Cooke, a civil attorney who works regularly in Redwood City, said he was concerned about parking but thought the trial would be "interesting."

"It just should make things a little more lively down here," Cooke said.

He and some residents questioned whether moving the trial increased Peterson's chances of getting an objective jury.

"That's debatable," Cooke said. "Most people in Northern California have heard of the case. I don't know if that will preclude them from being fair and impartial."

Schykerynac said potential jurors here equally were tainted by the media.

"I don't think it's different in any way," she said. "We still have as much publicity here as they do in Modesto. People are making a big deal out of it, but it's just like any other case."

Mike Hollis, 46, a Redwood City maintenance worker turning up soil around a downtown tree, agreed.

"I don't think something like this should be glorified. It is what it is." Hollis said. "This is just something gruesome."

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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