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Businesses Hope to Cash In on Peterson Murder Trial

Hotels and eateries gear up for a rush of media and onlookers, but it hasn't materialized yet.

March 04, 2004|Donna Horowitz | Special to The Times

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — Aida Fox, co-owner of Frida Cocina Mejicana Restaurant & Bar, had high hopes for increased business a month ago when the Scott Peterson double-murder trial moved here from Modesto.

She took out advertisements in the local newspaper and handed out several hundred fliers to reporters and onlookers who flocked to the courthouse -- but the rush of customers never materialized.

"Everything is slow," Fox said. "We haven't seen any pickup in business. Everybody is talking about the gay marriages. Nothing is happening."

She and other restaurateurs and hotel owners are disappointed that the high-profile case hasn't done more for their bottom lines but hope once pretrial legal arguments wrap up and the trial actually starts they'll see a surge in business.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin today. Retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge Alfred Delucchi plans to seat 12 jurors and six alternates for a trial that will last up to six months.

Since February, Delucchi has decided on a raft of pretrial motions. He ruled against sequestering jurors and plans to seat only one jury for both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. He banned cameras and kept juror and witness lists secret. He agreed to admit evidence gathered by wiretap and satellite tracking devices as well as some information gathered from a scent-sniffing dog.

Peterson, a former fertilizer salesman, is facing the death penalty for allegedly killing his wife, Laci, and the son she was carrying in December 2002. Their bodies washed up on the San Francisco Bay shoreline last April.

Business leaders here were initially excited about the prospect of new revenue coming into the community from the high-profile trial, but have since tempered their enthusiasm.

They initially estimated that the trial would bring in up to $12 million countywide in hotel, restaurant and car rental revenues, but now have scaled back their estimates to no more than $6 million, said Larry Buckmaster, president of the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce.

"Once we had time to look at it, we came up with more realistic figures," Buckmaster said. "There is no scientific way to figure out something like this."

The county issued credentials to about 400 media professionals to cover the trial. He said the TV stations seemed to lose interest and cut their crews after the judge banned cameras in the courtroom.

"As long as there are other things happening in San Francisco and [the trial is] not the centerpiece of the news, it will fade from memory," said Rick Sondhi, owner of Pizza & Pipes, who delivered menus to the media waiting outside the courthouse on the rainy first day of pretrial arguments.

John Anagnostou, co-owner of the Fox Theatre and Little Fox near the courthouse, hopes that attention from the high-profile case will spill over to Redwood City itself, where he and others have been involved in efforts to transform the downtown into an entertainment center.

Anagnostou -- who is president of the Redwood City Downtown Business Group, which represents 100 businesses -- has converted an old 1,400-seat movie theater into a performance hall.

City officials have dedicated a portion of the city's downtown to develop a 20-screen movie theater and 85,000-square-foot retail complex.

With a population of 75,000, Redwood City, a blue-collar city 25 miles south of San Francisco, is home to such high-tech companies as Oracle Corp. and Electronic Arts.

Renee Garcia, general manager of Bakers Square Restaurant & Pies, which put up a red banner offering free pie to anyone with a press pass, is eager for the trial to start.

"I can't wait until it gets in full swing because we have people from the courthouse every day," she said.

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