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City Hall Diary

Berkeley and Santa Cruz have a reputation of voting on proclamations or supporting causes that are outside their domains, such as the independence of Tibet, the genocide in Darfur, and federal issues like immigration or going to war. Topics like these are worthy of discussion on a blog, in person, or for our elected officials in Washington DC. However, is it the best use of time dealing with these at a level where you have limited influence instead of spending time on what you can really make an impact on? Like the “City” Council meetings?

Last week we were asked to support certain federal bills. These bills start one way and then end up out in left field, and before you know it, you are supporting a bill that has a pork barrel amendment that is paying for a bridge in Alaska.

One particular bill was on immigration—a program for people from another country being able to live and work in the US. (I do acknowledge that a sizable portion of our agricultural labor is made up of non-US citizens.) My job as a council member gives me plenty to do already, and having to read through federal legislation on top of it is too time consuming. The city does not have a role in immigration or agriculture. These are issues that must be dealt with at the national level.  I do believe in supporting legislation that directly impacts the city, such as transportation legislation with dollars tied to a Santa Clara County project, for example.

In discussing the immigration bill at the council, it was said that it would help with the escalating food prices we have seen locally. Actually, food prices are rising globally and it has little to do with farm labor. We have seen riots break out over food in Haiti, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Senegal, and Cameroon, where 24 people died. In fact, hoarding rice in the Philippines is now punishable by life in prison! Prices for rice since January have soared 141 percent, and prices of other grains have also risen sharply.

The reasons for price increases are the growing affluent populations of China and India, who are eating more grains and meat, as well as using grains for biofuels like ethanol, quotas and tariffs that restrict trade, and the USDA paying farmers not to plant crops on their land.

Whatever the reasons, I just don’t see it as my main focus on the council to spend 30 minutes peeling back the onion on all the nuances and amendments in a single federal bill that does not have a direct impact on San Jose. I remember as a candidate filling out questionnaires for organizations that asked me federal questions, and I would write in “N/A” or “bogus.”

NOTE: If you happen to be reading this on Monday, April 28, there are three important meetings that deal directly with San Jose tonight. One is the General Plan 2040 which will be discussing water and population growth; another is the 3-Year General Fund Structural Deficit Elimination Plan Stakeholder Group; and, finally, the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force.  Public comment is welcome at all the meetings.


  1. Just a little correction for you PO. 

    Lack of adequate labor does effect the price of produce.  If you don’t have enough labor to pick the produce it doesn’t reach market; which leads to less of the products on the market; which leads to higher prices.

    This is a huge issue in regards to produce.

    You are however spot on in the bigger picture regarding the global changes that are causing food shortages, price gouging and lack of supplies.

  2. Pier I’m with you 100% on this one.  This smacks of stupidity like under Gonzo’s watch when after SF began allowing gay marriages, SJ quickly followed suit (such a creative bunch, Councils past & present) by passing a resolution to recognize such marriages.  Then look what happened.  It all went up in smoke when the marriages were stopped.

    The Council needs to focus on local issues no matter how mundane.  I’d rather have their time spent on how to come up with the money to fix potholes than combing through federal legislative items which they can’t even vote on for real.

  3. Good move Pierluigi.

    In a year or two, may also be faced with “campaign issue” votes, like so many years ago when another councilwoman with mayoral inspirations put a “ban on the sale of handguns in San Jose” in front of the council. 

    She knew that her likely opponent, a competent lawyer, would bring up this was not the purview of a City Council to make such ordinances and it certainly would be challenged, costing the city lots of money, and would vote against it.  She wanted the ability for her hit pieces to say he voted to put guns in the hands of criminals…..

    She got her wish.  It passed, and San Jose spent years and lots of money in court over it.

    And I can still get a handgun in San Jose.

    Keep calling them as you see them.

  4. In Mountain View, we adopted a policy of not taking positions on state issues, federal issues, and ballot measures.  The one exception is when the law directly affects the finances, powers, or legal responsibilities of the city. 

    It seems to work pretty well, at least so far.  Kept us focused on city finances and trash contracts for a bit.

  5. What a disappointing post. Just when I thought it might finally be possible to get the council to take a position on French rule of New Caledonia, Mr Oliverio comes along and suggests that the city council’s priority should be the city itself. Tsk, tsk. I guess the good councilman doesn’t have “enough time” to learn about the hopes and dreams of the Kanak Independence Front.

    Also disappointing was the news of a scheduling snag in Madison Nguyen’s upcoming, privately-funded trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories. Unlike her closed-minded colleagues, Ms Nguyen recognized that getting an up close and personal look at the situation in the Middle East (orchestrated, of course, according to the prejudices of her sponsor) was much more important than her participating in San Jose’s annual budget hearings (snoozer!). Am I the only one who thinks it unreasonable to expect Ms Nguyen to properly represent her constituents without at some point getting a good grip on the issues separating the Israeli and Palestinian peoples? Absent proper indoctrination, how can we, next time some District 7 Zionist bulldozes his Palestinian neighbor’s home and olive trees, expect Ms Nguyen to recognize that the bulldozer had not been driven with criminal intent but had instead been used to carry out a mandate issued by God? Can you imagine the international calamity that would follow should Ms Nguyen, for lack of knowledge, deny the Zionist’s ancient claim and instead uphold the Palestinian’s property rights—rights granted to him by the measly ol’ County of Santa Clara? Doesn’t the young councilwoman deserve a chance to learn that the first rule of modern American politics is that Zionist interests come first?

    Madison Nguyen already suffered an earful from Ly Tong and his Little Saigon Band; would it really be fair to risk exposing her to the blaring horns and deafening drumbeat of America’s Israel-First Marching Band?

  6. While I find myself sharing many ideals with these “radical” towns and their people, you’re very right that local government should not be using (abusing) their soapbox to preach matters which are beyond their power. Their duty is something else entirely and I’m glad you have enough sense to fulfill your given role. Please keep SJ city council from ever becoming a “look at me” affair.

  7. I agree with Greg Perry 100% who said, “The one exception is when the law directly affects the finances, powers, or legal responsibilities of the city.” 
    I also agree with Frustrated FinFan in that we must keep ourselves and our leaders educated in these matters because many immigrants who reside and work here come from all over the world. Being uneducated about foreign issues, and cultures will come to bite us in the butt if we don’t make every effort to be culturally sensitive and open to the diversity in our City. Ask the County Board of Supervisors! In the past, there has been a lot of conflict between groups over events held on County property. If our BOS weren’t educated in these differing cultures they’d be in deep trouble and at a loss as to how handle these types of issues without causing a race war here. YIKES!

  8. PO,
    My compliments to you.  City government should be concerned with city issues and
    Nothing more.  I don’t even want to hear
    opinions that are not concerning our local

  9. Good on ya’.

    I think half of the time local politicians are asked those questions are so that the media has something to nail you on when you run for higher offices.

  10. Pierluigi,

    I agree completely with you about wasting time on such issues.

    I hope that in discussions regarding the General Plan – water supply and population – some understanding of the importance of this issue is recognized.

    It appears that our faithful politicians, in an unholy alliance with developers, believe it’s just fine to add 32,000 new homes in north San Jose.  What are they thinking?!?

  11. Remember the Skibereen Eagle. This small-town Irish newspaper made itself famous enough to be mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses (or perhaps it would be better to say, made itself a permanent laughingstock in the annals of journalism) by publishing an editorial in the 19th century warning the Tsar of Russia that it was keeping an eye on him.

    City councils offering their views on international events present a similar image. We are used to Santa Cruz and Berkeley doing this kind of thing, and as their neighbors we may find it a source of harmless amusement.

    However, if I lived in either of those places, I would be inclined to point out that there are some serious social problems right in town, which might be more deserving of the city council’s time than debating how best to present their collective wisdom to the government of China.

    If we want to make our views known on international issues, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t, our senators and representatives are more likely to have some real effect on setting foreign policy. And there’s still the good old-fashioned protest march if we want to take a more personal role in making our views public.

    The SF gay marriage affair did have a real effect—on the political fortunes of Gavin Newsom. Outside of that I’m not sure it has had much of an impact on that particular issue.

    There are times when it is appropriate to take actions that are somewhat symbolic. For example, a number of states including California have legalized medical marijuana, although this is not recognized by the federal government. In this case there is some reasonable likelihood that this will influence the outcome.

    At the local level, city councils of large cities can have some influence on the state government—but it would be more effective as part of an organized action.

    For certain issues directly affecting the city, actions of this kind can have some value. Transportation policy is a good example. But I think the number of such issues should be limited to the most important ones.

    My grandfather was born in a small town where the town government spent so much time debating national affairs, neglecting local issues (particularly the issue of providing a reliable supply of water), that in the end the citizens rose up, dissolved the town charter and divided up all public property in a lottery.

  12. You said: “…is it the best use of time dealing with these at a level where you have limited influence instead of spending time on what you can really make an impact on? Like “City ” Council meetings.

      Over 50 members of San Jose attended the VTA Board meeting on May 1st to speak to the Board which had 5 San Jose City Council members and Mayor Reed serving on the Board.
      The residents all spoke against the planned “high density” project on San Carlos and Meridian Streets, with the RFP showing 850 new units to be built on the former VTA bus site. Their was an incentive offered on the RFP of $37,000 per unit on every condo unit built above 400 units or, a $15 million dollar incentive paid if the developer was able to build out to 850 condo`s on the site, instead of following the San Jose “Midtown Specific Plan” that called for a maximum of 400 condo units.

      The San Jose Mayor, after listening to almost San Jose voters speak on the record, all against the project, decided to listen to the two only proponents for the project, “two lobby people” speaking in favor, Ms. Ballard from the Silicon Valley Leaders Group and the head of our local labor union.

      The Mayor stood up and requested a motion that was later seconed by council person Sam Liccardo in favor of selling the property and sending the developer on to the San Jose planning department.

      The Mayor and Council person Liccardo went with the two lobbiest asnd all five San Jose City Council members sitting on the VTA Board voted with the Mayor. At first, the Mayor made the motion, only to look for someone to second the motion. Then after a short delay, he looked to Liccardo and Licardo ( stuttering at first) seconed the motion.

      Pierluigi, we did not have limmited influence, we had “NO influence” on our Mayor and City Council. The two lobbiest both got it their way.
      Now we have to go to City Hall to speak against the project and watch the same “Dog and Pony Show” when the same two lobbiest show up. Your point ???

  13. Personally with the Mayor allowing a vote on Boycotting a another state, when your city is a 1000 miles away, and the new state law there is really just upholding federal law, and keeping it alive so it will not get washed away also. San Jose is supporting and condoning the breaking of state and federal law. I have seen people in jail for less.

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