Ethics in San Jose 101

George Bernard Shaw once was asked if he liked the bagpipes. Shaw, hesitated for a moment and then responded that the bagpipes were a horribly difficult instrument to play – it’s a pity that it’s not totally impossible! You might think that discussing the ethics of San Jose City Hall is not just difficult to discuss – but, well, it’s nearly impossible. Let’s look at recent history.

Last Wednesday night the Commonwealth Club sponsored just such a conversation at the Martin L. King Jr. Library. The panel was moderated by Gloria Duffy and consisted of myself, Bob Kieve of Empire Broadcasting, David Yarnold, editor of the Mercury News, and former Mayor of Santa Clara, Judy Nadler, now of the Markulla Ethics Institute. It was the first such event after scores of headlines and dozens of editorials concerning the ethical free zone known as City Hall. After years, finally a reputable group said, “let’s talk about it.” Hallelujah.

It was highlighted by Kieve’s witty banter, Nadler’s analysis of ethical guidelines, but most of all by the incisive candor and thrice repeated phrase of Yarnold, that the administration of Ron Gonzales is “morally bankrupt.” This would be strong talk in any city. In San Jose, it is positively a “10” on the Richter Scale.

It was all the more laudable because it was in stark contrast to the meeting that day of the Downtown Rotary Club and their main speaker, Ron Gonzales. He gave a brief and according to many, sleepy talk, and after, during the ample time allotted for questions, there was only silence. Finally two, I repeat, two brief questions, one by Kieve himself, were asked. Startling. Amazing. Sad.

All of this in the city of San Jose, known for her competent and dedicated business community and courageous citizen leadership. I raised many of the same issues in a speech there in June of 2001. What mystifies and disturbs me still to this day, is how the leadship cadre of the city’s finest, could seat on their hands in the face of such municipal corrosion and still believe that they deserve the title of “leaders.” Is it any wonder that the Labor movement has been predominant in the last decade? Focus and work and a bit of backbone are the reason. It is a sad and alarming end to a story that begs for an epilogue.


  1. A technical point of order … Yarnold kept referring to the Gonzales/Guerra administration.

    I was there and quite surprised that a staff guy got so much blame.  He takes orders doesn’t he?

  2. I here a lot of talk about corruption or more likely, the appearance of corruption.  Has any one been convicted of corruption or conspiracy to commit corruption?

    Why hasn’t our DA invesitaged this and created a sort of “public intergrity” divison within the DA’s office?  Why not alert the US Attorney to the corruption?

  3. VTAs current leadership and managment are responsible for the woes at VTA. This is like moving around the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. VTA needs to address VTAs bloated bureaucracy. VTA hires and promotes friends, relatives, and others. VTA promotes incompetence from one level to the next. Change will come from the inside.

  4. Another point of order: There were actually 3, I repeat 3, questions asked to the Mayor at the Rotary Club: One about downtown parking, One about BART and a third about his health “How are you feeling”? But you are right…the silence was deafening. I would suggest the lack of questions was a statement in itself…nobody CARES what this Mayor has to say.

  5. It’s obvious, Gonzo has nothing to offer us as a city.  But he is not going anywhere until is city hall project is done.  So why not a compromise…..

    We can just declare Gonzo our “king” until the city hall project is open.  He’d have no power; he would just be a public figure.

    Then we could push the election for the new mayor up a few years.  We all would win.  Gonzo could take all the trips he wants.  Locally he could run the kangaroo court commissions.  Imaging how good he is at dealing with special interests.

    We could have a chance for a new person as mayor; an actual leader to help get this city moving forward again.

  6. As long as we have lobbyist/lawyers who write about how the public is too ignorant to participate in government, and how we must be easy on our elected officials, we will have problems with ethics.

  7. “  Is it any wonder that the Labor movement has been predominant in the last decade?  Focus and work and a bit of backbone are the reason “

    A clear realistic look at local politics, adapted public policies and local “ quality of life “ issues that matter to local voters solves the “ mystery “ of why the Business Community has not been successful in electing their recommended candidates. While it disturbs some, it is obvious that many local leaders in the Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group still do not “ get it “  when it comes to successful local political election strategy that would also advance their interests

    Whether you support or oppose Labor’s political strategy, the 3 reasons given above are not enough to account for Labor’s primary reason for being consistently successful in local political elections.

    Labor has consistently identified and focused on local public policies, expenditure of public tax dollars and community “ quality of life “ issues that matter to the voters and Labor’s membership.

    They have developed local community involved candidates that support the issues that matter to the majority of local voters and support Labor’s members interests. A very smart political strategy.

    If you disbelieve the above statement, then ask a cross section of local residents / voters / small business owners the following “ Perception is Reality “ question –  “ Do you believe that the Chamber of Commerce, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and their recommended local political candidates who suggest where your public tax dollars are to be spent supports local small / neighborhood businesses and resident “ quality of life “ issues to benefit you and the San Jose community or it is being done to benefit them?

    Labor will continue to beat the Business Community at the polls, until they wake up and strongly advocate for local issues that matter to local voters and small / neighborhood businesses rather than focus only on statewide or large business issues.

    Successful local business political candidates need to have a long history of community involvement advocating those same issues that matter and not just be another local business person who wants to run for elected office, with little past community involvement.

  8. I don’t give a damn about ethnic b.s.. You guys talk to much about malign subject. It’s over with and taken care of. It’s a very boring subject!

  9. of hearing about this big-mouthed mayor who can’t doing anything right. Nothing. So, let’s stop arguing and discussing him. He will be a footnote and that’s it. Meanwhile, we have to rebuild our city. There’s a crisis brewing out there and we are not ready.

  10. I work for a very large company.  Some of the processes here really impede the progress of things that need to get done—and usually those things involve better service for our customers.  I am all in favor of cutting through the red tape, and I believe that this is what Gonzo has practiced, but unfortunately he didn’t set any boundaries for himself.  I’m not defending him.  He has become arrogant and impetuous to the point of being unsuitable for the office of mayor.  One would think he would try to change, knowing the majority of his constituency is not happy with his behavior.  But he’s too arrogant and full of himself to think there’s a problem.  Still, I have to give him credit for cutting through bureaucratic red tape in those cases where it was appropriate and caused no harm.  I think this is a guy thing—it sure is where I work.

  11. If I were a major league baseball team, I think I would be very interested in starting a business here with this mayor and council.  I’d get a sweetheart of a deal and the mayor would make sure the citizens didn’t spoil it for me.

  12. Cmon,

    I can’t see any sense in subsidizing the wealthy snobs whose children attend Bellarmine.  What a joke. Since Gonzo and Joe don’t have any sons that might want an easy admissions plan, doesn’t look like you’ll get that one.

  13. Mayor Gonzales reminds me somewhat of Mayor Quimby from the TV show “The Simpsons.” I’m pretty sure the motto of that mayor’s office went something like “in corruptus extremis.” Not accusing the mayor of being corrupt, but extremely ineffective. If he focuses as much attention to the city as he does with his personal affairs, we would be in much better shape (or we would wake up and he would be mayor of Salinas).

    Tom, there’s another issue regarding the Peninsula Corridor JPB’s intentions to close the College Park Station. As a Bellarmine alum, I understand how important that stop is for students coming from Gilroy, the Peninsula and all points in between (I rode in from Tamien on occasion).  I wonder how much resources are tied up in red tape (aka “The Rotunda”) which would be much better served saving this station for the students. I understand that many people, including Councilman Yeager, are working very hard to come up with viable options, but it surprises me to hear very little from the Mayor’s office. Maybe the job nowadays is to feed the ego, not serve the constituents.

    I like that, “The Emperor has no clothes.”

  14. Considering that CalTrain has two or three stations in the city of San Jose, money tied up in bureaucracy could be better served to help subsidize the stations and keep them open for commuters in general, not just San Jose’s favorite “snobs.” The Peninsula JPB could be in deep trouble and could use Gonzo’s help if he’s willing to give any.

    Furthermore, if one of your “snobs” grows up to become mayor (as it has happened before), perhaps an event like saving the station will help cement the notion that it is much more valuable to serve the constituency (including you) rather than to succumb to self-serving interests. I am sorry that your son didn’t get accepted.

  15. The only mass transit a Bellermine grad would ever take as an adult (and be interested in) is the bus from long term parking at the airport.

    An no, my son won’t be applying to Bellermine. We’re Catholics and we wouldn’t want to send him to a Jesuit institution that is so clearly designed to undermine his faith.

  16. Ha! Very clever.

    Continually bashing a local high school (for reasons unknown) and not addressing the real purpose of my post makes me feel that you agree that some money is better served towards other projects, and not just on Gonzo’s legacy. Maybe you are GONZO HIMSELF!

    I don’t feel I have to defend myself against simple-minded ignorami (ignoramuses?), but it’ll be fun to do:

    Bellarmine: Used VTA Light Rail & CalTrain

    UCSC: Used Metro bus lines (although smelly, got me around everywhere I needed to be) & UCSC Shuttles (equally smelly)

    Now that I live in LA (where everyone drives), I utilize the Red Line subway downtown.

    Out of curiosity, when was the last time you used public transportation? Do you feel too good for public transit? If these are values you are instilling in your own child, then maybe he won’t belong at a place where they challenge people to be “men and women for others.”

    I’m done with this one.

  17. “Out of curiosity, when was the last time you used public transportation?”

    It really needs to go somewhere for a person to use it!  I use public transporation in real cities that have actual things to go to.  Our light rail isn’t well developed and doesn’t go anywhere of interest.

  18. “Our light rail isn’t well developed and doesn’t go anywhere of interest.”

    The nail has just been hit on the head – again. 

    Name a few points of interest.  Falafel Drive-in.  Winchester Mystery house.  Have I missed any?

    The fact-of-life is that the valley is just too un-dense to support any kind of transit aside from buses.

    But why should facts and common sense impede our monument hungry visionaries in CH?

  19. VTA upper level management gives themseleves promtions and pay raises, keeping promoting incompetence and filling unnecessary jobs like messenger positions @ $48k a year and operating the copy machine @ $50k /yr.  It is a joke. The US Govt is right not to fund BART with this kind of VTA waste. This is only the tip though.

  20. BC. (Before Children) I actually commuted by combo Lt Rail and bike for 5 years. I only drove to work on 4 occasions during that stretch.  The battery on my car ran down on several occasions. I also lived in SF for several years where I used public transit most days.

    Since kids, I don’t have the time to devote to public transit. It just takes way too long to get anywhere and in this spread out valley if you have to make multiple stops, you can’t make it work.

    Bellarmine is a very expensive intitution populated by the children of very wealthy people. If it costs anything extra to provide a service for them, they should pay for it themselves. Bellarmine could easily provide a shuttle bus to and from the Cahill or Santa Clara stations. They can afford it. This is better than taking the sales taxes of maids and janitors to subsidize them.

  21. Where is it? Who paid for it? How was it conducted? Blah, blah, blah. SVMG guilty as charged. Grabidino hanged.

    Let’s sweep this mess under the rug and start fresh. VTA BODs and Gonzales are wasting our time, money, and future: misguided and misdirected. Wake up folks, wake up. Do you really want San Jose and downtown to be little Oakland: crime, drugs, slums.

  22. 2 question pop-quiz:

    Question 1.  “…after that, you are spending literally $3 billion for very few riders when that money could be spent on projects all around the county that would carry many more people.’‘

    Is the speaker above talking about:

    A.  SJ Lightrail
    B.  Bart to SJ

    Answer:  Not easy is it?  smile

    Actually the answer is here

    Question 2:  How many albatrosses can be hung around the SJ taxpayers necks?

    Answer:  Discuss amongst yourselves – I’m feeling a little verklempt.

  23. Yeah lets talk ethics. The mayor cheated on his wife with a young girl from his staff. How ethical is that…oh I guess it is ok because he married her. Boy her parents must be soooo proud.