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02.27.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Brown Bagged

What a difference an allegation of Brown Act violation can make. After months of standoff, the Little Saigon fight has been in constant freefall since the law, which essentially prohibits councilmembers from masking decisions on public matters behind closed doors, reared its ugly head. Mayor Chuck Reed and Councilwoman Madison Nguyen immediately set about to put the whole issue of the Vietnamese Business District name to rest by suggesting it be placed on the ballot so voters could decide. But once they crunched the numbers, they decided the price tag was way too high—it would have cost as much as $2.7 million to put the issue on the June ballot. "The cost is overbearing," Nguyen said. "It doesn't make sense for us to go forward with this even though it's the best way to resolve it." Instead, both Reed and Nguyen put out a memo Friday, suggesting the council rescind its vote to name the Vietnamese retail area "Saigon Business District" and instead name it nothing at all. At least for now. "I think we need a time-out on this issue," Nguyen said. They want city staff to come up with a formal process for naming districts in the city. The Vietnamese who have stood outside City Hall every Tuesday afternoon for the last few months demanding the area be renamed "Little Saigon" never wanted the ballot measure. They say the city fulfilled its obligation to the democratic process when it spent money to survey people within 1,000 feet of the retail area, asking them what name they preferred for the district. That survey came back with overwhelming support for Little Saigon. "The democratic process has not been honored based on last year's survey," said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for San Jose Voters for Democracy. Meanwhile, San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle says he is still investigating whether Nguyen and Councilman Forrest Williams did indeed violate the Brown Act when they had a "casual" conversation about what to name the Vietnamese retail area prior to the council's Nov. 20 vote. Though the law is notoriously slippery when it comes to enforcement, Doyle definitely noticed the change in atmosphere once it was invoked. "I think it had a lot to do with it," he says. "I think it raised a serious enough question."

Labor of Love

San Jose Police are holding to the "lone gunman theory" in the case of Eric Hernandez, the teenage council intern who is charged with forwarding hacked City Hall emails to an anonymous website politically aligned with the South Bay Labor Council. According to the police report, Hernandez confessed to reading messages in the email account of Jessica Garcia-Kohl, former chief of staff and current girlfriend to Councilman Sam Liccardo. Garcia-Kohl had stripped Hernandez of his Council Chambers backstage pass after the former Cindy Chavez intern—who stayed over to help Chavez successor Liccardo figure out his computer systems—started eavesdropping on office conversations. Police spokesman Mike Sullivan says that Hernandez "appeared to be a disgruntled former employee." What undercuts that theory is that Hernandez's departure resembled a lovefest. "Dear Friends," he enthused in his farewell message. "It has been a pleasure to work with you all for the past year. ... I take with me the fond memories and opportunities that I had here as an intern with District 3." The warm feelings were reciprocated. "Our superstar intern and future USC student, Eric Hernandez," gushed back Liccardo's August 2007 newsletter, "started his internship with Cindy Chavez, and helped to ensure a smooth transition of our team to the office. Eric's long-term commitment and his dedication to helping us reach out to his neighborhood, the Washington neighborhood, were invaluable. ... We are proud to have worked with you." The police investigation appears to have come to a halt with Hernandez's confession, expression of remorse and arrest. If the personal vengeance motive crumbles, however, police may have to look into whether Hernandez overstayed the transition to help Chavistas embarrass Liccardo and Mayor Chuck Reed. The blogged memo that triggered the investigation came from Reed chief of staff Pete Furman, though it was fished out of Garcia-Kohl's mailbox (not Furman's as we mistakenly reported last week).


Super Freaky

If Hillary Clinton is able to make a stand in the Texas and Ohio primaries, Tuesday, then all this talk about superdelegates as a deciding factor in the Democratic primary might turn out to be true. Do voters really know who these "supers" are? Probably not. Sure, we know about the spots set aside for legislators and other national power players. But superdelegate status is also bestowed on random party insiders who know the right people. In the South Bay, Santa Clara Democrat Chris Stampolis somehow earned a supervote—and recently endorsed Clinton. Now, the last time Fly saw Stampolis' name, it was on a press release from the district attorney's office because he was being investigated for allegedly publishing a fraudulent political mailer (Stampolis didn't return our calls for this article). All over the country, little-known party faithful with a talent for schmoozing are now being courted big-time by the Clinton and BARACK OBAMA campaigns. There's also a tussle over whether superdelegates should vote for whomever they please, which they're allowed to do, or stick with the candidate who won the popular vote in their congressional districts out of some kind of moral obligation. Silicon Valley Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo brought the fight home when they both pledged in favor of Obama, even though more of their constituents voted for Clinton.


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