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01.16.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Riches to Rags

The residents of Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos Hills and Monte Sereno may be the wealthiest in Santa Clara County, but their local governments are running on the smallest budgets. It's a twisted irony that Cupertino leaders are quick to point out: their stunted cash flow doesn't allow them to offer the quality of public services they believe they deserve. And it's not because their residents aren't paying taxes. Landowners in all four of these cities pay hefty property taxes, which mostly go to the county and the state. Cupertino, the largest player with the most money at stake, is leading the fight to keep more of these revenues close to home. It all goes back to 1978 and Proposition 13, which severely curtailed the amount that "wealthy" cities around the state could receive—just 7 percent of the taxes their residents paid. But a bizarre caveat in the law chopped an extra 2 percent off for the unlucky four in Santa Clara County, shorting the group of about $4.6 million collectively every year. Things started looking up in 2006, when former Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn passed A.B. 117, a bill that, for the most part, fixed the problem. But Cupertino representative Carol Atwood says they were shocked when their property tax checks that year were about $1 million less than they were expecting. In another confusing tangle, cash-strapped state officials took a disproportionate chunk of the city property tax revenues out for a statewide education fund. Santa Clara County pays a higher percentage into the fund than the smaller cities, and somehow, Cupertino and crew got stuck with the county rate, all together paying about $2 million more than they should have. So round two of the fight starts this February, when Assemblyman Jim Beall plans to introduce another bill to even the scales. Beall's chief of staff Cris Forsyth says it won't be easy to convince state leaders they should accept a cut in their education fund. "They're looking at affluent residents who they think don't need the money," he tells Fly. "Overcoming that stigma is a challenge."

Viet-ervention

The Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations is calling a come to Jesus meeting between Councilwoman Madison Nguyen and members of the Vietnamese community, who are furious that the city refused to name the Vietnamese Business District "Little Saigon." The verbal attacks and vociferous campaign to boot Nguyen from office have intensified in the last few weeks, causing a wave of concern throughout the county, said Richard Hobbs, director of the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations. "We are concerned about a potential backlash of non-Vietnamese against the Vietnamese community, and we would not like to see that happen," Hobbs said. Hobbs is making contact with both sides, yet he's not sure exactly how his office will approach such a heated issue. Forget trying to find an exact solution to resolve the disagreement, at this point Hobbs is just hoping to get both sides talking again. "There's no easy solution, that's for sure," Hobbs said. "The main issue at this point is to lower the level of the rhetoric." Members of the San Jose Voters for Democracy, formerly known as the Committee for Little Saigon, said they are willing to come to the table, but only to discuss whether the city will reverse its decision to name the district Saigon Business District and work to repair relations with the Vietnamese community. But there's no way they are backing down on their demand for Nguyen to resign from the council, said Barry Hung Do, a member of the San Jose Voters for Democracy. The group, who claim the city cheated voters of the name Little Saigon, recently upped the ante on their Little Saigon campaign last week when they publicly asked Nguyen to resign or face a recall. "It's a done deal, there is no turning back," Do said of the group's push for a recall. "I don't think there is anything to negotiate about that."


Pushing Limits

Who could blame Assemblywoman Sally Lieber for supporting Proposition 93, the somewhat confusing ballot initiative that both reduces and extends the term limits for California's lawmakers? For termed-out Lieber, throwing her support behind such a proposition seems to be a no-brainer. According to the ballot language, the proposition would reduce term limits for lawmakers, from 14 years to 12 years. But here is the thing, Proposition 93 actually gives lawmakers more time in their seat. Currently, assemblymembers are only allowed three two-year terms and senators get two four-year terms before they have to go. So if state voters pass it in February, it would give Mountain View Democrat Lieber another six years in the assembly. If it fails, she has already announced her Plan B, which is run for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. "I wouldn't say it's a fall-back," Lieber said. "I know I want to serve on the board." But not as much as she wants to stay put in the Assembly, where she serves as the second-highest-ranking lawmaker in the Assembly, speaker pro tem. "I want to be wherever I can be to make the biggest difference for the people," Lieber said.


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