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12.19.07

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Supe or Sally

When it comes to grabbing headlines and pushing the envelope, it won't be easy for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to out do Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, who is running for a seat on the board in 2008. But can it possibly be coincidence that they suddenly seem to be trying? Historically, the board has been known to avoid making waves, but in the last few months, they've pushed forward on some progressive proposals that have even impressed Lieber herself. On Tuesday, the board discussed possibly loosening up regulations on ear piercing. Before that, the county got media attention when Supervisor Liz Kniss, a public health advocate, rolled out her plan to force fast food restaurants to display calorie counts on menus. It's nothing compared to Lieber's controversial anti-spanking bill which put the Democrat from Mountain View on the map. But it could be a sign that the supes have some fight left in them. "I think over recent years they have been more reactive than activist and proactive," Lieber said. "It's great to have discussion and for people to see, yes, there is a Board of Supervisors and they are doing things." Funny, someone recently told Kniss the same thing. "I heard, 'Gosh, you guys are really doing something.' It was fun to hear that, and I was surprised," Kniss said. But it's not easy to be enterprising on the current board—take the hands-free cell phone law Kniss tried unsuccessfully to get passed. But she's hoping that the calorie count proposal will get a unanimous vote and become the start of something new for Santa Clara County political action. "I think if this passes, it will be more progressive than a lot of the things we have done," Kniss said.

Fong Memories

Speaking of the 2008 supervisors race, Frank Chavez is an underdog with a bark, though we'll have to see about the bite. The 60-year-old fine jewelry merchant will be running against former San Jose Councilmember George Shirakawa and possibly ex–Vice Mayor Cindy Chavez to fill retiring Supervisor Blanca Alvarado's District 2 seat. Mr. Chavez spoke with Fly from the behind glittering glass cases of diamond rings, bracelets and earrings—all tucked into a tiny corner of the Food Bowl 99 grocery store in east San Jose. Somehow, people know where to find him. The silvery haired businessman says he fills jewelry orders for buyers around the Bay Area. But Chavez is also known for immersing himself in political activism during the Tropicana eminent domain controversy six years ago—and he still carries a huge grudge against Tropicana owner Dennis Fong. At the time, Chavez was fighting on Fong's side as they tried to prevent the city's redevelopment takeover. He organized two marches to City Hall and rallied the other merchants who feared they'd be paying higher rents to the city's chosen private developer. But Chavez told us he ended up with a much higher rent bill from Fong after they won the battle and had to move his business to the Food Bowl 99 (where he now pays about $2,000 a month). Fong disputed the allegations and said Chavez signed a lease for rent in a remodeled location of the Tropicana center. "I never trusted Frank," Fong said, "He wasn't playing straight with me when he walked out on the lease." Neither Shirakawa nor Cindy Chavez would be likely to make the unresolved beef an issue—they both voted in favor of taking over the Tropicana center.

Dome Love

Despite the council's pointed rhetoric on the nepotism ordinance, former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales isn't the first and last name in City Hall intra-office affairs. More recently, of course, there's San Francisco's Gavin Newsom and even our own San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo. The difference with Liccardo is that his inclusionary zoning policy proposal turned out to be more of a drama than his intra-office love affair, leaving his squeaky-clean rep untarnished. To review: after pursuing a mutual romance with his chief of staff, Jessica Garcia-Kohl, the two decided one of them had to get a new job, and it probably wouldn't be the councilman. Kohl took a job with Mayor Chuck Reed's office as a policy analyst. Liccardo says he didn't pull any strings to place her there—Garcia-Kohl, who holds multiple degrees from UC-Berkeley, was also looking into a job with the mayor's office before she decided to take the position as Liccardo's chief of staff. "I didn't go to the mayor and say, 'Hey, can you please hire Jessica,'" Liccardo said. Compare that to how Gonzo handled his situation and it's clear why Liccardo fared better. The council on Tuesday enacted a new ordinance that says elected officials can't hire their kin or date someone in their chain of command. The rules already apply to city employees, but after Gonzales' affair with a staffer whom he later married, city leaders decided it might be time to extend that nepotism and relationship rule to include elected officials (who are required to fess up to any romantic relationships that might violate the new law.) "We don't want the judgment of our elected officials compromised in any way by personal biases," Liccardo said.


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