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05.28.08

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Sleeping in The Sunshine

Mayor Chuck Reed's efforts to make government more open and transparent have had an unexpected side effect—he's also made it more boring. Even some councilmembers say that under his rule the council meetings have become painfully long, with discussion and debate carrying on for hours. At a recent hearing (which lasted more than four hours—and that was just the daytime hearing) one City Hall gadfly chided the council for losing focus and allowing the debate over a land-use item to drift off-topic. "Stay focused and you will save time on these lengthy meetings," he said. Reed staffers said it's true that the mayor's sunshine reforms and open government mean lengthier dialogue and discussion, which then leads to longer meetings. And guess what? It's only going to get worse. The mayor is predicting the meetings will get longer come June, when the council is scheduled to discuss the city's budget. "That's just the way things work," said Michelle McGurk, Reed's press secretary. "May and June are busy, as are November and December. I remember some very long meetings back in the day." The council has already made some attempts at streamlining the meetings where they can. Earlier this year, a council committee suggested to the group that they cut back on the amount of time they spend on presentations, awards and ceremonies, which can take up a good chunk of time at the start of each meeting. Now, the council is limited to five presentations in the afternoon meetings and three in the evening. "We wanted to see what we could do to shorten these meetings," said Pete Furman, Reed's chief of staff. So far, council staffers say it's helped move things along, slowly but surely. Where's a hunger striker when you need one to liven things up?


Don't Mess With Teflon

Is it possible that the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce's campaign against Craig Mann is backfiring? The chamber, which is backing Rose Herrera for San Jose's District 8 council seat, carpet-bombed the area with mailers that blast Mann, referencing his widely reported credit card use while a trustee on the East Side Union High School District board. The three mailers (two went out in mid-May and one last week) ask whether San Jose can afford Craig Mann and talk about how he spent more than $31,000 of district funds (roughly $1,100 he paid back for purchases that were not legitimate). But Herrera was quoted in the Merc saying she would have preferred that the chamber focus their attention on her instead of going negative on Mann. And Mann himself, who is notorious for getting tangled up in controversy, said he's not taking the bait this time. Instead, he's walking precincts and only talking to voters about the mailer issue if it comes up. So far, only a few voters have even mentioned it, Mann says. "I will not take the low road to City Hall," Mann says. "These bumps in the road, they happen, and I am going to move forward."


Therein Lies The Scrub

The mainstream media has yet to pick up on some of the biggest issues behind the janitors' strike. About a thousand janitors walked out of Silicon Valley's highest profile corporations last week demanding medical coverage and better pay. Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman with the Service Employees International Union Local 1877, says janitors have to work one year to get medical insurance benefits for themselves and 30 months for family coverage. The 6,000 members of Local 1877 voted to strike after the labor contractors they work for offered them a four-year deal increasing the wait for family coverage to three years and pay to about 40 cents more an hour. Mike Garcia, Local 1877's president, says the janitors' wages are low and don't provide half of what it takes to meet basic needs. "A janitor would need to work 112 hours a week to support their family on the current wages," he says. OK, but what does all the rhetoric mean in the real world? High housing costs are forcing many janitors to live in garages or share crowded rentals. "My husband and I work very hard, but we're paid so little we have to share a house with two other families," says Maria Lopez, a mother of four who has cleaned Cisco full time for nine years. Last Friday, janitors spoke at a rally about not being able to pay their utility bills and having to rely on food bank and church food donations to feed their families. Garcia says the strike is gaining support. "Teamsters won't cross janitors' picket lines," says Larry Daugherty of the Teamsters Local 305, "and that means no trash will be coming out, no deliveries will be going in, period." Cartwright says part of the challenge for strikers is that other Silicon Valley workers don't see the work they put in. "Most people don't see the janitors that keep their offices clean, because they're cleaning at night," Cartwright says. "It's not munchkins doing this work. It's not like these offices are being cleaned by magic."


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