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12.05.07

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Sewer Services Down the Drain

Think twice before you dump the grease from your holiday dinners down the drain. 'Tis the season for sewage clogs and backups, and city maintenance folks say the added stress just makes things worse for everyone. You see, most of San Jose's 2,200 miles of middle-aged pipes haven't been examined or rehabilitated for 25 years, according to deputy director of Public Works Kevin O'Connor. Some of the pipes that city workers have been patching up are 50–100 years old. The sewer system isn't falling apart—yet. But O'Connor said his crews have been cutting maintenance corners for the past four years due to staff shortages. Vacancy rates as high as 30 percent to 40 percent may have saved the department's budget, but there just aren't enough people around to keep things running smoothly. "We got down to such a low [personnel] level, we were unable to sustain some of our services," O'Connor told Fly. "We've gotten so far behind in our maintenance. This isn't something we can sustain in the long run." What does that mean for you, the sewage-generating citizen? Well, if sewage (your own or your neighbor's) starts flowing into your home through your toilet or bathtub, you may not get help immediately. O'Connor said it takes longer to respond to calls, and his crews have to prioritize by urgency. What's more, shorthanded city workers aren't doing any kind of preventative care, cleaning or inspection for the sewer lines. They simply don't have time. They're basically drilling cavities instead of brushing or flossing. "We do temporary fixes, which costs us more in the long run," says city inspector Steven Blake. O'Connor said he started hiring six months ago to relieve some of the pressure. Still, it's unclear how much room O'Connor's infrastructure maintenance division will get from the city's tight budget, especially when he's already projected the need for a $250 million sewer expansion as new developments pop up in North San Jose.

Porno for Poli-Sci

Things have been crazier than usual at the Dome lately, so maybe we shouldn't have been surprised Saturday morning by the Internet expert who demanded Fly google "lesbian sex" and "animal sex" on a laptop in the council chambers. If we're talking bestiality, you know we're talking about Pete Constant's crusade against "second-hand porn" in the San Jose libraries, and indeed, the point of all the naughty googling ended up being that the Internet filtering that Constant is calling for at the city branches can be beat by almost any of the roughly 15,000 sites offering the means to do so. However, it was a little early in the morning for links to "real farm girls" and The Circumventor (could there be a better porn name for an anti-filtering program?). The main event was a mock council meeting staged by former Councilperson Cindy Chavez's San Jose State political science class featuring her students acting the part of councilmembers, city staff, police chiefs and community members while weighing in on Constant's crusade in front of an audience. In many cases, the students performed better than their real-life counterparts, which actually makes sense since clearly no one is grading Rob Davis on his preparation for public events. Don't even ask if Constant showed up to present and defend his proposal, 'cause you know he did—we said there was an audience! Meanwhile, leading the proceedings was a former mayor who put the "Ham" back in Susan Hammer. She was great with the students and seemed to be having the time of her life, telling one speaker, "You're not old enough to remember me" and admitting that while she might have more to say on the issue after seeing further research "I'll be saying it to myself." Students assigned to argue against Constant's proposal (which is not so much a specific filtering proposal as a proposal to draft a filtering proposal) deflated the councilman's contention that San Jose needs to get in line with the federal Children's Internet Protection Act (since San Jose libraries do not actually receive federal funds). In the end, Constant got little support from the college crowd, when Hammer couldn't even get a second to his motion. "C'mon," she urged for education's sake, "one of you guys second it." Constant just shrugged and told her, "I'm used to this."

Warning: Contains No Actual Juice

Suddenly "juicy" is the dark horse contender for overused journalistic adjective of the year. After spotting it in the first paragraph of a recent Merc story, and the headline of a New York Times story, Fly did a few searches to discover it's currently running amok in news, sports and column writing all over. Mainstream news keeps trying to go snarkier to appeal to—well, anyone. "The problem we have is, no one likes us," admitted Matt Mansfield, special assistant assigned to helping "rethink" the Mercury News. A few weeks ago he spoke candidly alongside the paper's executive editor, Carole Leigh Hutton, to a crowd of Santa Clara University students wondering about the future of journalism. While Hutton spent a half-hour whining about hemorrhaging ad revenues like a brusque businesswoman, Mansfield cut to the heart of the matter. He's in charge of finding out what readers want—a novel idea—in the hopes of revamping the newspaper's image. All this while the paper's news content and staff have been shaved to a skeleton of what they used to be. Market studies revealed what we've known all along. "The Mercury News has no personality," Mansfield said. His point of comparison? "The Metro has attitude." What's really going on, Mansfield says, is that people don't want to make the time to read something boring. Always an important, reminder, true, but doesn't San Jose's daily have bigger problems right now? Like front-page hot-dog contest stories, maybe?


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