2013: The Year in Review

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. Chang’s in January and warned that prosecuting embattled county Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. would upset East Side voters. Rosen didn’t back down and when Chavez’ ally resigned in disgrace, she ran for his seat. Chavez overcame conflict-of-interest allegations that she’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 more—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 doesn’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 that’s unfairly targeted. The results of the recordkeeping remain to be seen.

Same-Sex Marriages Legalized (Again)
California to gay couples since 2008: “You definitely can’t get married. Oh, fine, go ahead. Now stop! Nevermind (hangs head), go on and get hitched.” The Supreme Court’s ruling in June struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’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 Selig’s hostage tactics, the city of San Jose filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball to let the Oakland A’s relocate here after waiting five years for an answer. Rainmaker Joe Cotchett took the case on a contingency basis—he only gets paid if the city wins—and has lambasted Commissioner Selig at every turn. A judge threw out the city’s argument against MLB’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 NSA’s spy tactics on average American’s phone calls and emails. “No one is listening to your phone calls,” 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 state’s exploits to light, and more information is still coming out.

KTVU’ve Got to be Kidding
The Cox Media Group has apparently given up on purging the Internet of KTVU’s racist on-air blunder. It’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 station’s news director had bragged earlier about the network’s “100 percent accurate” 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: “Captain Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow.” Exhibiting the prudence and diligence of a ham sandwich, the station “confirmed” the names with a summer intern at the National Transportation Safety Board. Note to journalists: Avoid sources who still live with their mom.

Cop Out
With the San Jose Police Department’s morale shaken by a pension reform plan that cut into retirement and disability benefits, the force’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 couldn’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 don’t belong or give transgender athletes an unfair advantage on the field. While it can’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.

Jail Mail
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 Movin’ 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 hand—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 Attorney’s office decided to charge him against the sheriff’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 paper’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 Jose’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 Shirakawa’s DNA to a mailer sent to Vietnamese voters in San Jose that depicted Campos’ opponent in a City Council race as a communist. Campos then ran to NBC’s Damian Trujillo to say he doesn’t trust those local government lawyers but, of course, he’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 accounts—something Shirakawa knows plenty about. The DA and Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) are investigating.

Call Waiting
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 Honda’s Wake-up Call
Congressman Mike Honda is a likable old Joe, but he’s been on the job so long some are beginning to question his effectiveness. He didn’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 Bay’s homeless population as the fifth-largest in the nation. The report notes that the region also claims the country’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.

17 Comments

  1. You left out probably the biggest local story, with the heart of Measure B being ruled illegal and unconstitutional, as council member Ash Kalra predicted. Mr. Kalra virtually begged this council to come up with a collaborative agreement, as city employees were willing to do, but this mayor and city council were too obstinate for their own good. A pox on the already stained house of Chuck Reed and most of the current city council, specifically Liccardo, Oliverio, Constant, Herrera, Khamis, and Nguyen.

      • Hey hughbiquitous are you a thin skinned Metro/SJI employee or thin skinned Councilmember or staffer?

        (posted to the MW fb page just incase huhgb is any one of the above….)

  2. So you think the POA’s primary obligation should be to the city and not its members? The POA didn’t spark any officer’s interest in moving to another agency; it only provided information to those with an interest in doing so. Police officers think for themselves and, when pushed, they don’t just sit there and take it. The same number of officers would have left with or without the job fair. The responsibility for the exodus of officers rests solely at the feet of Reed and the council majority.

  3. Don’t take it personal, Measure B is not solely about the PD but all public employees. Hats off to our police, fire and all public workers.

    But these positions are Public and paid for by citizens many of whom are facing hard times in this economy.

    Did you see the Merc News headline/story yesterday – “Part time work, life time perk” about how public (self) servants feather their own nests? As we know many of our elected decision making officials are backed by public employee unions so it becomes a tight little circle with nice rewards paid for by the taxpayer.

    In this day and age there is no need for public employee unions. Since everything is PUBLIC – put it out there – salaries, benefits – everything. Factor in area cost of living so that a police officer in San Jose will be making an equivalent amount (adjusted for housing,etc etc) as a cop in Bakersfield.

    There would be no need for public unions and thus eliminate all friction (and BART strikes) between employee and employer.  There would be no deals or arrangements to leave the public stuck with a check that it cannot afford.

    A tabulated matrix would clearly define what the public employee will make, future adjustments, raises, benefits would be calculated out so that there will be no surprises such as spiking over time on the last year of a job and other little “perks.”

    Do away with public unions.  Whom do they “bargain” with and strike against?  The public employee works for their community, their neighbors and themselves.  When there is a level playing field for public payer and public employee then all would best be served.

    • You really are thin skinned and brain dead.  Don’t lump all unions together.  Police and fire cannot strike so they have to try and bargain with someone like Chuck who had no desire to sit down and bargain in good faith.  Instead he wanted to use measure B and waste million of your tax dollars.  Be careful of what you wish for!

    • In “Your” Opinion , there is no need for Public unions .Yet they are here , and yes there is a very real need for unions. Workers would have Zero rights if it weren’t for unions. Its is sheer stupidity to think employers would be willing to voluntarily give you breaks, lunch , or any benefits if they didn’t legally have to. As far as the perks go , its an absolute joke ! The Merc would have you believe that all benefits are either free to city employees or that employees contribute nothing to their retirements/Pensions and that is a complete and utter Lie. I can’t speak for al city workers but Public Safety right now contributes over 25% in to their own pensions ( more than just about everybody in the state.

  4. Nice to see SJI is encouraging debate by not posting responses to “hughb…”

    Still,  it doesn’t give much insight to my earlier questionright.

    • Go back and read as I posted.  I referred only to public employee unions.  This is not the bad old days when we had lumber, coal and industry barons corralling workers into company housing/stores, etc.

      A public employee is just that – public. Any sensible community is not going to allow the people who serve them be underpaid, w/o benefits or mistreated in any way.  But by having unions in the middle of employee and citizen it just sets up a natural mechanism for all varieties of scoundrel-ism.  Backroom deals, political brokering and cronyism and on and on.

      As previously stated fair and equitable matrices can be developed that show what the salary range and benefits for every type of public employee and balanced to reflect the area’s cost of living so that an employee living where housing costs are high would have an adjusted salary that would be greater for a comparable worker living in a less expensive area.

      Since it is all public all the info is or should be out there (public) anyway.  So what would a union do for that employee that a standardized Pay/Benefit matrix would provide anyway?

      Historically if one goes back before the first Jerry Brown governership signed the Dills Act public employees were a happy bunch.  They were paid well, received fair and equitable compensation and didn’t threaten the public with strikes or gouge with end of career retirement spikes.

      There is the added cost benefit of not having the bloated bureaucracy of union reps pitting the two sides (taxpayer and employee) against one another.  Plus there would be far less public disdain for employees taking advantage of the system (the chump taxpayer) again – see the early McNews headline story “Part time work – lifetime Perks.”

      Full disclosure – I am not a public employee or an elected official or a union representative and NO I do not work for SJI either.  I am HughBiquitous ~ ~ I am trying to be as objective and fair to all sides.  Just eliminate the unnecessary middleman (unions) and let the public employer (citizen taxpayer) bargain directly with the public employee.

      • Hughbiquitous – FIrst, I would love to continue the discussion with you but as I review this thread (as published by SJI) there is at least one of my posts to you that has not been published here.  It seems to me from your response here that you may have seen or had access to a lengthy post where I discussed your “matrix” among other things.  MAybe through the email alerts posters can subscribe to or some other mechanism – I don’t know… 

        All salary and contract information for bargaining units in the city of San Jose is public information and readily accessible to anyone with access to a computer and the http://WWW. 

        The way the negotiations process works is the tax payers elect Mayor and Council to do “the peoples business.”  THe mayor and Council appoint/approve the City Manager who appoints deputy City Managers one of whom heads Employee Relations who in turn appoints/hires a negotiating team to deal with the CIty/Tax Payer side of the equation.

        City Wide , employees of different skills/professions/ trades appoint their own negations team o represent their interests. 

        It is much easier than having 900 individual police officers or 700fire fighters or x electricians or y attorneys negotiate with the 1,000,000 residents of which maybe 500,000 are actually tax payers.  I don’t think that is what you are suggesting but it could be interpreted that way. 

        THe NEgotiaions teams on both sides are experts at pay/benefit issues for each trade – knowledgable in market rate pay as well as the CIty Budget – something the average “tax payer ” has little expertise in other than the “BS” they think they know thanks to propagandists at the Merc…

        THe current system works just fine.

        Please stop generalizing – BART going on strike has nothing to do with San Jose City employees.  Perhaps you were unaware but it is illegal for San Jose Police and fire fighters in fact is illegal for any police or fire personnel in the State of California to strike.  I don’t know if other CIty employees can strike or not. I do know this none of them have threatened to strike.

        Your assertion that there is “cronyism” or anything of the sort going on with the employee unions and the City or its negotiators is laughable. The animosity the CIty has engaged in especially in recent years is legendary – they carry Chuck Reeds water and they don’t spill a drop! He lies – they repeat the lies – the lies are proven to be lies Reed parses, the negotiators mumble and await further instructions.  Don’t believe it? ask anyone who was involved in the recent Measure V arbitration hearings City Manager Figone got her a$$ handed to her over the true state of the CIty’s Budget.

        I can tell you exactly where cronyism and back room deals are SOP – for starters look at Mayor Reed’s office and his “advisors”  who individually are paid more than the Mayor himself and that is even before benefits and pensions!

        (i’ll continue to post on the MW fb page because…)

        • Hey Weed – relax I’ve had some of my posts dropped as well.  I don’t think its a conspiracy just the old “shit happens.”

          as for council/mayor negotiating w/ 900 officers that wouldn’t be necessary.  everything would come off of the National Standards Public Employee Salary and Benefits Matrix.  It would be there for anyone to see. I.e., police officer – 5 years exp.  $xxx,xxx plus %%%% in benefits.  Cost of living adjusted for area.  perhaps livability as well – being a cop in Duluth, MN right now warrants some extra – ??

          Setting something like this Matrix up wouldn’t be nearly as complicated as starting and setting standards for an Affordable Care Act.

          By eliminating the continual contentious push/pull between public(elected)officials and the public employee unions – every one will be better off and a happier bunch.

          Public employees are a critical element of modern urban life. It is unthinkable to have PD/FD going on strike. As population and urban growth increasing will come to relie on transit – strikes there will be banned as well.

          Which is why it is important to get this ongoing problem of public labor solved in a equitable and fain manner.  Eliminate these unions and allocate to a well defined public pay/benefit matrix.

        • Take the mean average of a given type of public employee.  Across the country it comes out to $75k/y + benefits.  Adjust for particular local.  A vacancy is announced for that particular position. 5 or 10 candidates submit resumes, qualifications and experience.  They are posted on a public bulletin board.  Any interested citizen may weigh in on their choice for the position – after all they are truly the employer and its is direct citizen involvement.

          It is far more democratic, cost efficient and fair to all involved than say a mandated national health care system, wouldn’t you say?

          Again, I am not a public employee or retiree or govt official or a part of SJI or any media.  I am Hugh Biquitous.  Are you impartial as well?

        • Something you may not be aware of (although, from reading your comments, it appears you think you are the world’s foremost authority on these questions) is that the standards for hiring police officers are not uniform throughout the country. Depending on the region, lesser or greater qualifications are required. Should everyone still receive the same wage? Some less desirable localities might want to pay more to attract quality people.  They shouldn’t be allowed to do so? Who would make the determination as to what each job is worth? You?  Or would there be a negotiation like those you are trying to avoid?  In your line of work, would you be in favor of all of the different employers getting together to agree about what you should be making? Obviously, it would be an artificially low number. Or maybe you’re an employer, in which case you’d love keeping wages down. Your matrix idea has no application in the real world.

      • “Any sensible community is not going to allow the people who serve them be underpaid, w/o benefits or mistreated in any way”. 
          Who ever accused the Population of San Jose of being “sensible”?  They were gullible to believe that the Mayor and his Council were telling the truth. That was abuse of the Public Employees to begin with…and the fact that the comparative wages, benefits and salaries are far below those of COMPARABLE cities and counties. V and W were disasters for public employees. That was a direct assault on the EMPLOYEES ability to negotiate with the City at all!  It eliminated Collective Bargaining. You are neither objective NOR fair in your assertions and assumptions.

        • Exactly – the City lost the majority of Measure B. One point the City won was the new “disability” rules for Tier2 employees (aka: new hires)- common sense said there was really not much the POA could do about that. 

          Now the City is taking that portion of the ruling and preparing to impose the disability rules that the Judge ruled were legal ONLY for new hires on current employees – how’s that for sensible? The City (mayor/council/city manager’s office does not respect its employees nor the judicial process that ruled on the matter… 

          The sad reality though is that they do not respect the people of San Jose as they continue to promote the toxic employment environment that will continue to drive police, fire and other city employees elsewhere leaving the citizens to fend for themselves!

  5. Is there a reason the photo is cropped the way it is?

    If we saw the entire scene would we see Shirakawa campaign consultant Rich Robinson handcuffed to Shirawawa’s other wrist and participating in a synchronized perp walk?

    Or, am I just fantasizing some social justice.

  6. Hugh,

    To understand what public service would be without public employee bargaining units (only some of which are unions), one merely has to revisit how San Jose treated its police officers in the 1960s (keep in mind that, thanks in large part to San Jose State’s Police School and its JC imitator, SJPD officers were among the nation’s most educated and qualified). 

    —Wages were woefully low, but due to less than adequate staffing (never more than 1.3 per 1,000 citizens) officers could augment their pay by policing the downtown on their days off (almost a cop on every corner, thanks to downtown businesses), working a shoplifter detail, or moonlighting at one of the local dance halls.

    —Attractive retirement benefits were offered to offset low pay, a strategy based on the growth potential of funds (earned by a youthful force) invested for thirty years (the Dow increased five-fold in the thirty years following the plan’s inception). This is the City revealing its lust to fund core services from outside its treasury.

    —Officers, no matter their objections, were illegally forced to work five hours per month without compensation (to allow the briefing of each shift).

    —Safety equipment, which state law mandated be provided by the employer, was not provided (although the City arrogantly set standards for pistols, riot gear, and other safety items the officers had to purchase).

    —Training was abysmal, with new officers taking to the street immediately after swearing in, without benefit of an academy or formalized field training program.

    —Department equipment, like cars, siege weapons, cameras, etc., was maintained in a manner more in keeping with a Third World force than in America’s “fastest growing city.” Police cars routinely suffered catastrophic failures due to high mileage and hard use (the City was becoming huge, annexing square miles by the score), putting at risk the lives of both officers and the public.

    With rare exception, every one of the major improvements made to the SJPD over the last fifty years had its impetus in the SJPOA, and there is zero evidence that even one of them would’ve materialized had the City—which has always preferred political fluff over professionalism—gone unchallenged by organized labor. Truth be told, up until Chuck Reed’s reign of terror, the residents of the city, who’ve enjoyed decades of professional and efficient policing, have extracted more benefits from the efforts of the SJPOA than have its members. Compare the cost (in dollars, dysfunction, and distrust) spent to police other large cities versus the price paid in San Jose and the value of the SJPOA becomes undeniable.

    That said, the SJPOA’s record of success has not been perfect: fifty years ago a modest home in a safe neighborhood cost four or five years a SJ cop’s take home pay; today, in the wake of pay cuts and increased retirement and health care contributions, its eleven plus (although the safety of most neighborhoods has declined). Less than half the buying power: so much for Chuck Reed’s claim about the disproportionate power of the SJPOA over the City.