This week, San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen answered 10 questions selected by SJI staff out of dozens submitted by San Jose Inside commenters. The topics range from the Little Saigon controversy and Nguyen’s relationship with public safety unions to the city’s legal basis for the pension reform ballot measure.—Editor
1. The Metro did a great expose on the Little Saigon issue, pointing to financial support your campaigns had received from Lap Tang, who developed Vietnam Town on Story Road, as a possible reason you pushed so hard to have the name of the business district include “Vietnam,” and in essence help market his development. As evidence of this, they cited emails you sent to Redevelopment Agency officials questioning whether or not the naming required City Council approval since Lap Tang had offered to fund all associated signage.
In the same article, the Metro alluded to the fact that the shopping center “Little Saigon” on Story Road is owned by the family of Linda Nguyen, your opponent in your first city council election, and pointed this out as a possible reason why you so vehemently resisted naming the business district “Little Saigon.”
Can you respond to these two facts and explain how either motivated your resistance to naming the district “Little Saigon”?
- Joe Johns
I ran a total of six campaigns in the last six years and Mr. Lap Tang did not make a single contribution to any of my six campaigns. When the issue of designating part of Story Road as a Vietnamese business district came up, my office did extensive outreach to the businesses located on Story Road and Mr. Tang responded that he would like to assist with the project by helping to pay for the banners and monuments. I told him that city staff needed to ask the city attorney if that was acceptable. It turned out that it was not acceptable because funding for the project could only come from the Redevelopment Agency. In my memorandum to the City Council, I also requested that funding for this project come from the Redevelopment Agency.
I did not support the name “Little Saigon” because I believed that “Saigon Business District” was a good compromise since many Vietnamese organizations and several Latino business organizations supported the name “New Saigon.” My office received a letter with 13 signatures from leaders representing 13 Vietnamese organizations supporting the name “New Saigon.” I did not want to choose between Little Saigon and New Saigon out of respect for the input coming from various segments of the community so I proposed “Saigon Business District” as a compromise.
2. Why haven’t you apologized to San Jose police officer Chad Marshall for demonizing and labeling him as a murderer when he justifiably shot and killed a Vietnamese women with what was reasonably believed to be a weapon according to the grand jury? You led the charge to have him arrested for murder. So why no apology?
The incident concerning Bich Cau Tran was unfortunate and caused both an emotional and political stir in the San Jose community. I don’t recall ever labeling or calling officer Chad Marshall a murderer in this incident. I have the utmost respect for the work and service that our police department does for our community. Public safety continues to be one of my top priorities. As a matter of fact, I served as the Chair of the Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee for four years where my committee had the opportunity to hear issues relating to the police department and provide input on various policy decisions that affect their operations.
3. The San Jose Airport has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and is protected within a City fund separate from that which provides “essential” services. How much revenue does SJC bring to the City, if any? How do you and Mayor Reed justify the enormous subsidy costs while so-called essential services are decimated?
The Airport (SJC) is entirely self-supporting through the revenues from its own operations. These revenues include landing fees, tenant rent, concession fees, parking, and other charges that are paid by the passengers and users of the Airport.
The direct and indirect economic impact of the Airport for Silicon Valley is currently estimated to be approximately $4 billion per year and more than 40,000 jobs. More than 5000 people work at the airport for tenants, airlines, and contractors. The Airport therefore provides benefits to local taxpayers measured in billions of dollars; local taxpayers have not paid a penny for the Airport itself.
SJC doesn’t receive any funding from the City either for day-to-day operations or for capital improvements at the airport. However, the Airport pays the City’s general fund for specific services provided by the San Jose police and fire departments, as well as for the costs for other administrative services from City Hall. By federal law, Airport funds cannot be diverted to non-airport uses or services.
The recent $1.3 billion modernization program was funded entirely by the Airport itself, with the exception of a relatively minor amount of federal funding for the new baggage security screening system. Funding the project required the issuance long-term revenue bonds that are secured by Airport revenue, not taxes, and this debt is entirely separate and distinct from the City’s General Fund obligations. This debt will be paid back over time from the money generated by the Airport’s regular operations, which is analogous to a homeowner paying back a mortgage over 30 years.
Because SJC must remain cost-competitive for airlines compared to other airports in the region and across the nation, it also cannot increase its rates and charges just to cover increases in its operating costs or debt service. For this reason the Airport has aggressively reduced its operational costs over the past several years in light of reduced passenger and airline activity caused by the recession. This has been necessary so that SJC will continue to be competitive for recruiting new carriers and flights that will meet the travel needs of Silicon Valley residents and businesses.
4. What ever happened to the Viet Heritage Garden and the Vietnamese American Community Center projects you were championing?
The Viet Heritage Garden project is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in Spring of 2012. If you have a chance to drive by and check out the site, please do so. It is located behind Kelly Park, between Coyote Creek and Roberts Avenue, San Jose, CA 95112. Because the project is still under construction, we don’t have an exact address in our database.
The Vietnamese American Community Center project is currently on hold due to the elimination of the Redevelopment Agency. Since we anticipate that funding for the project would come from the Redevelopment Agency, it is unknown as this point whether this project will materialize. Please check back with my office from time and time and we will be more than happy to provide updates on this project. I can be reached at 408-535-4907 or email: [email protected].
5. The San Jose Police Officers Association supported you during the recall campaign and even made the POA hall your election night headquarters and helped you win your job back. Now, a couple of years later you turned your back on us and give no support back?
- Do your homework
I will always be grateful for the support that the POA has given me over the years. I don’t believe that I have turned my back on them. I commend the POA leadership for their recent offer to take a 10% pay cut during the fiscal year 2012-2013 in an effort to avoid more police officers layoff. This was a noble action on their part and I truly appreciate it. If your question is directed at my recent vote on pension reform then please allow me to explain why I voted for pension reform and placing a ballot measure in upcoming June’s primary election. For the past 10 years, the City of San Jose has been struggling with a structural deficit. Last year, we had to lay off police officers and shortened hours at the libraries and community centers. We will continue to have a deficit this year and essential city services will be impacted. Many elements contribute to our structural deficit. However, escalating retirement costs consume more than 20% of the General Fund. Without adequate pension reform, the City of San Jose will continue to face a structural deficit for many years to come.
6. Based on what proven legal precedents, case law or constitutional analysis (both California and U.S) are you basing your decisions to put forth a ballot measure that strips away vested benefits? Given that case law is well established, will you authorize the release of the legal analysis that is guiding your decision-making process so that the voters can make their own assessment of risk to which you are exposing them?
- The Voters Deserve an Answer
The current ballot language is not cemented in stone. The bargaining units have the opportunity to modify the ballot language through a process called mediation. The City can no longer function with simply trying to make ends meet by bridging the budget deficit every year through employee concessions. We need to target the root of the problem – which is our rising pension costs and this is what this ballot measure intends to do. I encourage all 11 bargaining units to engage in mediation so that we can work together to come up with a collaborative ballot measure rather than a divisive one. At the December 6, 2011 council meeting, the city council approved direction for staff not to transmit the ballot measure resolution to the County Registrar’s Office until March of 2012. Therefore, the bargaining units have time to engage in mediation in an effort to modify the ballot language.
I will support the release of any legal analysis that is not protected under the confines of “attorney-client privilege,” which belongs to the City Council as a whole. I believe that voters should have all the necessary information relating to pension reform before they have the opportunity to vote in June.
7. Do you now (or at any time) derive income from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency or the San Jose Diridon Development Authority?
- Just anon 4 now
Not directly. Prior to the current fiscal year (FY 2011-2012), the Redevelopment Agency provided funding to cover approximately 25% of the City Council/Redevelopment Board’s annual budget. This fiscal year, the Redevelopment Agency has provided $250,000 to cover all City support services, including City Finance, City Attorney, City Clerk and the Board.
8. When in the past four months have you voted against the direction or desire of the Mayor? Can you stand on your own or are you simply walking in his shadow spending his political capital?
Although the Mayor and I don’t see eye to eye on every issue, I do support his efforts with pension reform because I believe it is critical to bring our City back to a sustainable level. It is not only our responsibility, but our obligation to provide essential services such as Police, Fire, Parks and Recreation, and Library, which directly affect the lives of our residents. Pension reform will help us achieve that goal. I make my decisions based on the interest of the residents I serve, not at the interest of a particular individual or any special interest groups.
9. I called the police for a suspicious person walking through my neighborhood. Over an hour later, I was called and asked if I still needed the police and that there were still none available to investigate my complaint. It seems that we are reading about a shooting, stabbing, or murder in San Jose on a regular basis. As a San Jose resident, I am very concerned that you and the Council have put other City services ahead of my families safety. Do you think that all City services are equal? I no longer feel safe living in San Jose and am considering moving because of the recent decisions you have made.
- George Braun
Public safety is and always will be one of my top priorities. As the former Chair of the Public Safety, Finance and Strategic Support Committee and a current member of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, I take the issue of public safety very seriously. I want every neighborhood in this city to be safe and secure. When people feel safe living in their neighborhood, it takes a lot of burden off of our police officers and public officials. Unfortunately, with an ongoing structural budget deficit looming over our heads, it forces us to make tough decisions like laying off police officers, which we did last year. Not all city services are equal but they are all important because they provide quality of life for our residents.
10. Now that you have voted to pass the ballot measure, do you anticipate more layoffs for public safety and city employees next year? What additional concessions do you want to see come forward from the unions? In addition, what is the status of the moth balled south valley police substation?
The possibility of layoffs is uncertain at this time. The City Council will have an opportunity to review the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-2013 at the beginning of next year. Everything will be considered during the budget process including reduction in city services and programs, layoffs of public safety and other city employees, delayed opening of community centers and libraries, etc.
Any concessions from the bargaining units are welcomed. My goal is to bring this city back to its sustainable level. I look forward to continue working with our bargaining units to achieve a solution that is workable and agreed upon by both the City and the unions.
In regards to the Police Substation, along with new and recently constructed libraries and community centers, the Police Substation is completed and ready to open, but unfortunately the City does not currently have the funds to operate and maintain these new facilities and therefore these facilities have never been opened. This is because the City of San Jose, like many other governments, continues to be plagued with budget shortfalls. In fact, 2011-2012 marked the City’s 10th consecutive year of shortfalls. To put things into perspective, the annual additional cost to operate and maintain the Police Substation alone is approximately $2.4 million.
The Police Substation was built to enhance policing services in the southern part of the City. The groundbreaking for this project occurred February 2008, and construction was completed in October 2010. As a budget balancing strategy for the past two years, the opening of the Police Substation, along with other new libraries and community centers, were approved to be deferred and re-evaluated as part of the next year’s budget process. Although I know how important it is to our community to open this facility, the cost of opening the Substation is substantial given the fiscal situation we are faced with now. We are hopeful with the implementation of the City’s fiscal reforms that are underway, we can restore important services that have been recently cut as well as open this facility and others as our community expects.