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January 17-23, 2007

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Swear Words At City Hall

Whatever punishment prosecutors are able to bring down on Ron Gonzales probably won't be half as brutal as sitting through Chuck Reed's inauguration ceremony last week. Gonzo sat stone-faced in the audience as Reed proclaimed: "Welcome to a new day in San Jose!" to thunderous applause. A fresh start was the theme of the entire program under City Hall's rotunda, with Reed promising, "We're going to rebuild the confidence of our citizens in the mayor's office and the city government. We are going to get a government we can be proud of." Yow! Ironically, less than a year ago in his final State of the City address, Gonzo seemed perfectly proud of all the "great things" he had done for neighborhoods, housing and education. He even took an obvious jab at Reed, then a candidate running on a successful reform platform: "The people of San Jose need a dialogue that goes beyond the politics of blame," Gonzo declared. "Criticism alone is not leadership." He clearly wasn't too keen on the turned tables, but almost everyone else seemed giddy over the idea of a new beginning (with the notable exception of senior Councilmember Forrest Williams, who refused to clap during Reed's speech). Five councilmembers were also sworn in: District 5's Nora Campos donned a Jackie Kennedy look-a-like skirt suit and pearl necklace and managed to recite her entire oath while smiling. New District 3 Rep. Sam Liccardo was also grinning from ear to ear throughout the ceremony while he "solemnly swore" to uphold his civic duties. However, incoming District 1 leader Pete Constant, now the only Republican on the council, won the stiff competition for highest-fructose cute factor, with three daughters in matching sapphire dresses, the baby clad in pink in mom's arms, and the little boy sporting a suit just like his dad's. Luckily, a handful of glitches in the short-but-sweet ceremony were laughed off, as when Reed accidentally thanked a supporter for "baking 29 dozen employees"—er, make that cookies for city employees.

Whitening Power

After the thrill of election victories and inauguration parties has worn off, San Jose's leaders will have to face an inconvenient truth: they're more white and more male than the city's government has been in a decade. With Reed and Liccardo stepping in for Gonzales and Cindy Chavez, Nora Campos is the only Latina left on the council. Pete Constant has taken the reigns from Linda LeZotte, and the vacant District 6 seat is sure to be occupied by a white man, with Pierluigi Oliverio and Steve Tedesco vying against each other in the runoff. District 4 is most likely to become the diversity hot seat, attracting a handful of strong candidates like Hon Lien, Kansen Chu and Manuel Herrera. White men also head most city departments. It's fair to ask if this is the best direction for such a diverse city (31 percent Hispanic and 28 percent Asian). "Rarely does someone who does not have a strong tie to a minority community deliver social policies and services that benefit that community," explains Stanford professor Luis Fraga. The closer city leaders can reflect the race, ethnicity and gender of their constituents, the more inclusive the representation, he says. But he adds that skin color isn't everything—not by a longshot. "Minority groups are not just interested in someone who looks like them," he said. "They want someone who will deliver." That's what Reed promises to do. "I don't think you can get elected in San Jose without the capacity, ability and desire to deal with all parts of the city," says the new mayor. But he's still aware of the diversity issue and has endorsed Lien, a Vietnamese woman, to fill his now-vacant District 4 spot. He's also pushing for minority candidates to apply for the city manager position. In the meantime, Campos is heading statewide minority leadership as president of the California League of Cities Latino Caucus. She represents the East Side, home to San Jose's largest Latino population. "I think the next year holds a lot of opportunities for me representing the Latino community," she says. "I want to make sure that the voice I bring to the table is heard and that all segments of our community are heard."

Phone-y Info

You may have heard about how State Sen. Joe Simitian's new law has made it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device. Well, sort of. It's true that after much trying—about six years' worth—Simitian (D-Palo Alto) finally passed a hands-free cell phone bill last fall. And the bill, signed by the guv in September, does demand that cell phone users be limited to chat only on hands-free devices while driving, except in some special circumstances. But here's the thing: while most bills signed in the fall are enforced the following January, Simitian's cell phone bill doesn't go into effect until July of 2008. Why the lag? To allow cell phone companies and consumers to adjust to the new rule and to give the CHP enough time to educate the public, says a Simitian rep. While hands-free technology is already widely available and fairly cheap (in fact, most cell phones come with ear pieces), the Simitian representative still insisted that the time was needed for allowing companies to develop more technologies, as well as make the technology more affordable for consumers. Law enforcement is more than ready. "We're all for anything that might improve traffic safety," says Tom Marshall, a spokesman for the CHP. "If this helps reduce distraction [while driving], then that's a good thing." In a more ambitious move, Simitian plans to introduce a state bill that will ban new drivers from using cell phones, hands free or not, behind the wheel. If his past efforts are any indication, however, we wouldn't hold our breath.


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