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December 27, 2006-January 2, 2007

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Fight On

San Jose leaders aren't going to give up without a fight—or at least without spending a little more taxpayer money clinging to a 20-year-old campaign ordinance that a federal judge tossed out in September. The Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce's political arm COMPAC sued the city after the elections commission fined it for funding a series of sizzling mailers attacking former mayoral candidate Cindy Chavez. COMPAC got more than it asked for when the federal judge not only overturned the elections commission decision, but called San Jose's ordinance unconstitutional. City Attorney Rick Doyle disagrees, and he recently filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit "We view our ordinance as a reasonable regulation," he told Fly. The Chamber's lawyer Jim Sutton said he "respects the city's right to appeal" but doesn't think it stands a chance, especially since the courts have been knocking down independent expenditure laws across the state. In 2002, a handful of cities in Orange County got their hands slapped for muffling political speech with local campaign spending rules. San Jose's legal blow has since emboldened the political arm of Oakland's Chamber of Commerce OakPAC to sue its city for the same reasons—which follow a pattern of events eerily similar to our own scandalous soap opera (and Fly thought we were so original!). Here's a peek at the skeletons in Oakland's City Hall: Green Party progressive Aimee Allison fought incumbent and pro-business Democrat Pat Kernighan for a council seat this fall by using the same tactics that won Chuck Reed his election. She denounced the muck that tainted local politics after Council President Ignacio De La Fuente came under heat by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for his possible connection to a bribe for city contracts (Gonzo, anyone?). Kernighan had to distance herself from her ally, De La Fuente; only she had OakPAC on her side (unlike our Chavez). The group poured thousands of dollars into glossy mailers supporting her and helped her stay in office with 54 percent of the vote. OakPAC also succeeded in challenging the city's spending law. Oakland City Attorney spokeswoman Erica Harrold said they are waiting to see what becomes of San Jose's appeal. Even if they lose, both cities are hoping for a better explanation from the Ninth Circuit. "We need guidance as to what we can do," Doyle told Fly. "At minimum, we want the appellate court to chime in as to how we can regulate independent expenditures."

Wasteland

David Vossbrink said farewell to Fly on Friday after seven years of serving as the mouthpiece for ex-Mayor Ron Gonzales. He and 19 other staffers cleaned out the mayor's office to make way for Chuck Reed's crew. Only three secretaries will be staying on board with San Jose's new leader (talk about a total regime change). But Vossbrink said leaving together made things a little easier, a little better than being the only one to walk out of City Hall carrying a cardboard box. About half of them have found jobs elsewhere. Vossbrink is still looking, but he hasn't quite dropped the old pro-Gonzo spin. He referred to his now-former boss as a "role model" for staying focused and described the notorious scandals of his administration as mere "challenges." OK, he's been paid to say that for the past seven years, but who's he kidding anyway? On the bright side, Vossbrink doesn't think Gonzo's "challenges" will taint his résumé. "For me it's been a tremendous opportunity to grow professionally," the ever-positive flak told Fly. Now that's another way of looking at it.

Aqua Lungs

San Jose has been scrambling for political cover since Metro revealed the bad news earlier this year that it has the least swimming pools per resident of any big city in America. Things aren't exactly looking up. Yet another "aquatics planning meeting" drew the same small group of neighborhood activists that show up each time to fight for the reopening of two small pools in the downtown council district. Parks and Rec's Cynthia Bojorquez and consultant Scot Hunsaker will divulge their recommendations to the Parks and Recreation Commission on Jan. 17. From there it's off to the City Council in February, more community meetings and a final plan next summer. If they don't recommend the swift reopening of Biebrach and Ryland pools, the poolies are likely to get their Speedos in a twist. The city's options include repairing closed pools as well as building wellness pools, splash park or a showcase water attraction park. Gregory Plaza resident Cliff Price and other closed pool activists worry that in fighting the crocodiles the city might forget that the objective was to drain the swamp, or in this case, rehydrate the pools. "We just want our pools back," he summarized, "We worry that bigger projects will take priority over reopening them." Bojorquez believes that enhancements like lap pools and shaded picnic areas will draw more people and the fees needed to operate and maintain pools. Funding is important, everyone agrees, but this is a city that hasn't paid to keep up the few pools it has. "I don't see them finding ways to get the money to reopen the pools," says the Gardener Advisory Committee's Dee Urista.


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