The year 2013 will be remembered for its political turmoil, local and nationwide. A former county supervisor went to jail and the spotlight subsequently landed on his political buddy, a San Jose councilman. The Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to get married, and the president lied to the nation about domestic spying. San Jose Inside runs down the list of stories that caught our attention this year.
San Jose Inside Buys SanJoseRevealed.com
Unwilling to let a good story die, San Jose Inside purchased the domain name for an abandoned political attack blog that was run by Philip Bump, a freelance writer and former South Bay Labor Council political director. The website, SanJoseRevealed.com, anonymously smeared journalists and opponents of labor-backed candidates, even going as far to publish home addresses that led to vandalism and a hate crime. For a $10-a-year domain fee, the Internet never forgets.
County Supervisor Swap
Labor leader Cindy Chavez invited District Attorney Jeff Rosen to lunch at P.F. Changâ€™s in January and warned that prosecuting embattled county Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. would upset East Side voters. Rosen didnâ€™t back down and when Chavezâ€™ ally resigned in disgrace, she ran for his seat. Chavez overcame conflict-of-interest allegations that sheâ€™d conspired with nonprofit executive Kathleen King to fund political campaigns with money raised to pay health premiums for poor kids. Her victory in the low-turnout special election was one of the costliest local races ever.
Curb-sitting Kicked to the Curb
For years San Jose police have forced detainees to sit on the curb moreâ€”with black and Latino residents being stopped far more often than whites and Asians. But for the first time in its brief history of independent oversight, the city decided to track those incidents. Officers now have to report why they pulled someone over, even if it doesnâ€™t end in an arrest. They have to report information about the person, including race, age and other distinguishing characteristics, so the city can finally determine if there is a population thatâ€™s unfairly targeted. The results of the recordkeeping remain to be seen.
Same-Sex Marriages Legalized (Again)
California to gay couples since 2008: â€śYou definitely canâ€™t get married. Oh, fine, go ahead. Now stop! Nevermind (hangs head), go on and get hitched.â€ť The Supreme Courtâ€™s ruling in June struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and Californiaâ€™s Prop. 8, allowing homosexual couples in Santa Clara County to stop worrying about their fickle state and finally tie the knot.
Mentally Ill Dumped in San Jose
San Jose and other California cities unwittingly served as the destinations for thousands of mentally ill patients who were bused out of state by a Nevada mental hospital. Overwhelmed state health agencies sent schizophrenics and others packing with little more than a handful of pills and a one-way bus ticket. One man, who was delusional and suffered suicidal thoughts, found himself in Sacramento in February with no money and a note from his Nevada doctor instructing him to call 911 when he arrived. A federal class action lawsuit has been filed against Nevada authorities with help from the American Civil Liberties Union.
San Jose sues Major League Baseball
No longer satisfied with Bud Seligâ€™s hostage tactics, the city of San Jose filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball to let the Oakland Aâ€™s relocate here after waiting five years for an answer. Rainmaker Joe Cotchett took the case on a contingency basisâ€”he only gets paid if the city winsâ€”and has lambasted Commissioner Selig at every turn. A judge threw out the cityâ€™s argument against MLBâ€™s one-of-a kind antitrust exemption but an appeal was filed.
Obama admits NSA spying
Standing behind a podium in a Fairmont Hotel conference room in San Jose, President Obama delivered the first of his countless lies regarding the NSAâ€™s spy tactics on average Americanâ€™s phone calls and emails. â€śNo one is listening to your phone calls,â€ť he said. In reality, a perverse, Orwellian system called PRISM had already been in place for six years, tracking and cataloguing nearly every piece of electronic communication. Edward Snowden, a government whistleblower, worked with journalist Glenn Greenwald to bring the vast surveillance stateâ€™s exploits to light, and more information is still coming out.
KTVUâ€™ve Got to be Kidding
The Cox Media Group has apparently given up on purging the Internet of KTVUâ€™s racist on-air blunder. Itâ€™s just too damn ridiculous watching anchor Tori Campbell unwittingly read phony, derogatory names while reporting the July 6 Asiana flight 214 crash at SFO, especially after the stationâ€™s news director had bragged earlier about the networkâ€™s â€ś100 percent accurateâ€ť coverage of the crash that killed three passengers. The station fired three producers but spared the director and Campbell, who identified the Asiana crew as: â€śCaptain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow.â€ť Exhibiting the prudence and diligence of a ham sandwich, the station â€śconfirmedâ€ť the names with a summer intern at the National Transportation Safety Board. Note to journalists: Avoid sources who still live with their mom.
With the San Jose Police Departmentâ€™s morale shaken by a pension reform plan that cut into retirement and disability benefits, the forceâ€™s union campaigned to get new recruits and active officers to defect to departments in other cities. In August, the police union hosted a job fair, giving other cities a chance to woo San Jose cadets to agencies with better compensation packages. The union said it couldnâ€™t ethically ask new recruits to work in San Jose in a post-Measure B age, but was OK, evidently, with further thinning the ranks of an understaffed police force.
The Bathroom Bill
Transgender youth struggle disproportionately with thoughts of suicide and self-harm, largely because they grow up feeling like outliers. A landmark bill signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown addressed those concerns by allowing students to use school bathrooms and join sports teams of the opposite sex based on the gender they truly identify with. Critics worried that the provision would open the door for sexual predator students to slip into locker rooms where they donâ€™t belong or give transgender athletes an unfair advantage on the field. While it canâ€™t stop harassment, the law could give a vulnerable population an avenue to seek protection and make gender nonconformity less of a shock to future generations.
Santa Clara County wanted to nix all but postcard correspondence to both jails for the sake of expedience. But community activists raised enough commotion that they got jail officials to change their mind. Limiting mail to tiny postcards may make it harder to smuggle in drugs and other contraband, but it also seriously restricts communication for the incarcerated. Try to wrap up a day let alone weeks and months on the back of a three-by-five card. After a series of public meetings, the jail chief scrapped the plan.
Mercury News Movinâ€™ on Down
Print is dying. Well, maybe paid print is dying. The San Jose Mercury News got too small for its britches and decided it was time to sell off its 36-acre campus along Interstate 880 for a cool $30.5 million to Super Micro Computer. The fledgling daily newspaper has yet to announce a new home, while production crews experience widespread layoffs as print operations were consolidated in the East Bay.
Sheriff Gives Star Treatment to 49er?
Sheriff Laurie Smith gave a head-smacking interview after it was revealed that her office invited San Francisco 49ers star Aldon Smith (no relation) to a gun range while he was being investigated on gun charges. Aldon Smith, who lives in the east foothills, threw a party last year that apparently got a wee bit out of handâ€”he was stabbed and shots were fired into the air like happy hour in Tombstone. Investigators later came back to his house and found illegal assault weapons and ammo strewn about his bedroom. The District Attorneyâ€™s office decided to charge him against the sheriffâ€™s recommendations, leading to questions about the sheriff giving preferential treatment.
Shirakawa Goes to Jail
A little more than year after Metro/San Jose Inside first reported George Shirakawa misuse of campaign funds and a county charge card, the former county supervisor was sentenced to a year in jail. Prosecutors cited the paperâ€™s work for helping reveal that Shirakawa opened a secret bank account to funnel more than $130,000 in campaign money to fuel his gambling and lavish lifestyle addictions.
Xavier Campos Set to Follow Shirakawa?
San Joseâ€™s political version of Fredo invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid grand jury questions about a political mail fraud scandal perpetrated by his good buddy Shirakawa. Prosecutors connected Shirakawaâ€™s DNA to a mailer sent to Vietnamese voters in San Jose that depicted Camposâ€™ opponent in a City Council race as a communist. Campos then ran to NBCâ€™s Damian Trujillo to say he doesnâ€™t trust those local government lawyers but, of course, heâ€™s an innocent victim in all of this. A few weeks later, San Jose Inside found that Campos and Shirakawa were creating fictitious business names for their campaigns, which could have allowed them to open secret bank accountsâ€”something Shirakawa knows plenty about. The DA and Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) are investigating.
An audit blasted Santa Clara County child welfare services and the agency that runs a local child abuse hotline. As recently as a year ago, up to half of all calls were dropped, leaving an untold number of children in danger. Unfortunately, no one really stepped up to accept responsibility for the lapse in service, blaming budget cuts and staffing shortages. More people are expected to be hired to staff the call center as county supervisors keep a watchful eye.
Mike Hondaâ€™s Wake-up Call
Congressman Mike Honda is a likable old Joe, but heâ€™s been on the job so long some are beginning to question his effectiveness. He didnâ€™t do himself any favors in September when he was caught on video falling asleep at his own town hall meeting.
In the Shadow of Plenty
While the number of homeless people fell nationwide, it continued to grow in Silicon Valley, one of the wealth capitals of the world. A report highlighted the growing disparity between rich and poor, ranking South Bayâ€™s homeless population as the fifth-largest in the nation. The report notes that the region also claims the countryâ€™s highest percentage of homeless veterans and the most chronically homeless children and young adults. Those statistics became real for many when it was found that four people died during the cold snap.