Gonzales To Announce No Lobbyist Left Behind Act

An unnamed source from City Hall leaked the news of what would appear to be a controversial new program that Mayor Gonzales intends to unveil in his State of the City speech in early February.

The No Lobbyist Left Behind Act would seem to fly in the face of the current call for ethics reform and the curtailing of veiled access by special interest groups. 

In an attempt to pre-empt this morning’s reports, Gonzales was abnormally accessible to and effusive with the press and offered the following, “Please do not judge this program until you hear all of the details.  We have many decent, hardworking lobbyists in our city, but too many of them just don’t seem to be thriving.  Not all of them have had the opportunity to work at City Hall and forge the close relationships needed to open doors.  We must level the playing field.”

The Act would include workshops designed by Working Partnerships USA, the terrorist arm of the Labor Council, that would include the following topics:

-Ways to gain access cheaper and faster by running and electing a “pet” council representative.

-Gain more freedom and leverage for your clients, especially if they happen to be a national retail chain or out-of-town developer.

-How to take all of your salary in “success based” fees.

-What “cronyism” means and why you should know.

-How to get Labor on your side in order to push charter amendments and zoning changes through the system without public hearings and/or council approval.

Gonzales trumpeted, “This will be my legacy to the people of San Jose.”

When pressed, Gonzales concluded curtly, “Remember, lobbyists are people too, and most of them make great golf partners.  It is our moral obligation to make sure that none of them are left behind.”

For The Sake Of His District, Terry Gregory Should Resign

This week, I’m turning my column over to a guest blogger, Jim Cunneen, President and CEO of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.  Jim has asked that we use this blog to share his concerns, and the chamber’s, for the handling of Terry Gregory’s alleged misdeeds by the City Council.

Since it seems too early for me to have been built up a large fan base, and since this is a critical issue for the city, I agreed.


For The Sake Of His District And The City, Terry Gregory Should Resign

In the life of a community, there come moments that reveal both the very best and worst in us.  The events surrounding alleged abuse of political power by District 7 Councilman Terry Gregory illustrate both good and bad about political power – and how it’s exercised – in San Jose.  The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce commends the December 19th unanimous City Council action to censure Councilmember Terry Gregory and to strip him of nearly all Council responsibilities.  The Chamber believes that these actions by the City Council coupled with Gregory’s ethical violations make him unfit to serve as a Councilmember. 

Therefore, in a letter to Councilmember Gregory delivered this week, the Chamber joined Councilmembers Lezotte, Cortese and Reed, as well as former Vice Mayor Dando, in asking him to resign from the San Jose City Council. 

By way of full disclosure, the Chamber did not support Councilmember Gregory’s bid for City Council.  In fact, the Chamber’s political action committee actively opposed his candidacy, in part because of an unseemly pattern of questionable judgment in his public life, including disclosures of “hard to defend” expenses charged to the school district where he served as a school board member. 

Such ethical lapses are part of a consistent pattern for Councilmember Gregory and the Chamber strongly believes that it is time for this pattern to end.

Being an effective City Councilmember is more than just attending the Tuesday Council meetings, which is truly the only role Gregory will be allowed to play.  Councilmembers are active advocates for their constituents.  Critical work on the City Council is done in Council sub-committees focused on driving economic development, improving our transportation systems, and providing critical social services for our community—all of which are critical issues affecting District 7.  Because of the Council’s decisive and correct action to punish Councilmember Gregory, he can no longer serve on these sub-committees.  In addition, Councilmembers represent their constituents by serving on the Valley Transportation Authority, the California League of Cities, the National League of Cities and other regional bodies.  Gregory has been stripped of these responsibilities as well. Councilmember Gregory cannot represent the broad interests of his constituents given his newly limited responsibilities.

We ask for Gregory’s resignation because the people of District 7 deserve a Councilmember who can represent them fully and broadly at City Hall and beyond.  A person who can powerfully and passionately speak on their behalf should represent District 7 and, unfortunately, Councilmember Gregory can no longer do this.  District 7 deserves better.  Therefore, the Chamber will help District 7 get the representation it deserves in whatever way possible.

As an organization that represents the business community, what is of particular concern to the Chamber was Gregory’s strong-arming of the business community for tickets, wine, and in the most egregious case, financial support, in exchange for favorable treatment by the Council.  This is unacceptable.  The Chamber hopes all elected officials learn from Gregory’s case that strong-arming the business community for personal benefit is unethical, leads to bad public policy, and will not be tolerated.

It is time for the City Council to show that its bite is as strong as its bark.  We applaud Councilmembers LeZotte, Cortese, and Reed and former Vice Mayor Dando for calling for Councilmember Gregory’s resignation.  It is time for the others to join their colleagues and the Chamber in calling for the same. 

If Councilmember Gregory does not resign, the Chamber stands committed and will pledge resources to help neighborhood associations and other community groups in District 7 recall Councilmember Gregory.  District 7, like all City Council districts, deserves to have effective representation at City Hall.

What do you think? 

Should other civic organizations join us and call for Gregory’s resignation?

Should other business groups?

What about those folks that helped Gregory get elected in the first place?

The State Of Our City, Part II

Events are now in the saddle in our City. Each new day brings different and corroborated charges against members of the professional staff, one beleaguered Council Member, and the chips are falling: loudly. The sad story continues to unfold before the horrified eyes of all but a few too involved or too blind to see.

In recent years basic needs have been pushed to the forefront at City Hall—the basic needs of the politicians.  The need to be collegial, to play on the same team, to never rock the boat, has predominated in the rarified air of City Hall on North First Street. It has prevented the Council from doing the right thing in this time of the City’s utmost need.  With a casualness bordering on dereliction of their oaths of office, they have abdicated the most essential sworn duty of any public official—keeping the confidence and preserving the trust of the people.

Most of them have done it with a certain casualness, and little malice or forethought. This is a plausible, but weak defense; this is the heart of the secondary problem.

First things first, let’s look at the problem. Mayor Ron Gonzales made a fatal mistake with his pronouncement that the voters of District 7 should decide the fate of Terry Gregory.  Now the District Attorney and Grand Jurors will lead the way. Gonzales has charted a course into this ethical morass followed by his many acolytes on the Council, unable or unwilling to find an independent course for themselves.  While three courageous members of the Council, Chuck Reed, Dave Cortese, and Linda Lezotte, have been guided by a moral compass, others have chosen silence as their weapon.

This silence is screaming at all of us.

There is a day of reckoning approaching and what form it will take is still unknown. Yet this juncture may well determine who the next Mayor of our City will be. One thing is certain beyond any reasonable doubt, the months ahead will provide one of the defining moments in the modern history of San Jose.

On Monday—the leadership crises in our business community—Et Tu Chamber.

Pitching Baseball

Imagine this: our County Assessor Larry Stone is standing on the mound at Candlestick Park.  It’s 1989. He’s a Sunnyvale City Councilmember and it’s Sunnyvale Day at the ballpark. Larry’s wearing a Giants cap and gets to throw out the first pitch.

The stadium is full and the fans are cheering. His name gets announced.  He rocks back.  His long arm reaches skyward and he throws the ball in the dirt – not the dirt at home plate where the catcher is patiently waiting.  No way.

Larry throws the ball in the dirt on the mound – just barely in front of his feet.  I’ve been to thousands of baseball games from Little League to Major League and that was the most pathetic pitch I’d ever seen.  I could have dropped a bowling ball and it would have gone farther.  So let me state the obvious:  Larry Stone can’t pitch a baseball.

But he can pitch a San Jose ballpark.  He’ll do that at a Downtown Rotary Club speech tomorrow at noon and his timing is perfect if you’ve read today’s paper. Lew Wolff is in position to buy the Oakland A’s from Steve Schott.

This is great news for San Jose sports fans, business leaders, civic boosters, and especially Baseball San Jose – a grassroots organization that is committed to bringing Major League Baseball to San Jose.  (Larry and I are both active members.  Anyone who wants to help the effort, can easily sign up at the website).

Lew Wolff knows San Jose.  He’s made major investments in our downtown and knows that a ballpark at the right site will be a major boon to San Jose’s downtown and citywide economy.

When I worked at City Hall, I learned that Lew was smart and practical.  He can visualize a project and move the elements of a deal into place.  He’s also someone who can be creative and bring big projects to the table.  In Los Angeles for example, he’s working on a project across from the Staples Center that will be what some people are calling a “Times Square West.”

There are still many hurdles to leap before we’ll see a Major League ballpark in San Jose, including a citywide vote.  But things are moving in the right direction.

Someday, Steve Schott will be fondly remembered as the guy who saved baseball for Oakland and Lew Wolff may be the guy who brought baseball to San Jose.

If that happens, under no circumstances – absolutely none—should Larry Stone be the guy throwing out the first pitch.

Note:  Dan Pulcrano corrects my first post with a comment.  Dan’s right.  I should have written that Terry Gregory “allegedly” said that he could take care of a political enemy by paying $50 to a crack head. 

The State Of Our City, Part I

The events of the last few years in municipal affairs have caused me great unease. It is now time for me and those who care about the direction of our city to speak out, for we have held our peace too long.

In both my grandfathers’ and father’s day, ordinary members of the community seized the opportunity to initiate basic reform and fundamental change in San Jose. There have always been such people in our local government; those that were more concerned about the welfare of the citizens than their own political future.  I will be speaking out and making suggestions in this forum now and in the future. I hope others will join me.

Our city is in a deepening crisis.  For nearly a year it has worsened as the Mayor and City Council have allowed our citizens to twist in the wind of ethical lapses, policy blunders, and perhaps even criminal activities.  The politicians at City Hall have dithered and procrastinated in an atmosphere of complete denial.  They are now seized by fear: fear of the Mercury News, fear of their colleagues’ ambitions, and fear of the citizens.

The critical question is where will the many good people on the Council and in our local government choose to go in the great divide that is now present at City Hall?  It “is” the question that many are anxious to have answered.

Come back Wednesday for Part II.

The Pulse Of Downtown

It is a common cliché that a city’s downtown is its heart and soul.  Having lived and worked in downtown San Jose all of my life, it is also my belief.  Our downtown, like all others, is the cultural, social, and entertainment hub for a larger region and serves its neighborhoods as the city’s largest park.

But it is in peril.  After three years of a depressed economy, Santana Row, the County’s music hall plans, a season without the Sharks, and the impending threat of future BART construction “area bombing” downtown into Dresden, 1945, we are losing businesses and patrons by the boat load.  It is no wonder the city, in order to attract tenants, needs to hand out subsidies like numbered tickets in a bakery – but that’s another story, for another column…

Through my management of downtown properties in San Pedro Square, my involvement as a Board member for the San Jose Downtown Association, and my chairmanship of the San Pedro Square Association over the past five years, I believe I have developed a unique perspective of urban life in San Jose.  My weekly Friday postings will focus on downtown programs, policies, issues, places, people and events that affect all of us who use, enjoy, and care about the future of our downtown and thus, the vitality of our city.

Downtown has been a place of both promise and frustration.  The vicissitudes of downtown are numerous and well known, but there is much potential and plenty we can do.  It is my hope that this site will provide a platform, that will allow all of us to engage in debate, offer ideas, and motivate public officials and private citizens, with the goal of helping grow a living-and-breathing, 24-hour downtown that we can all be proud of.

Oh, and be ready for a bit of satire; there is no better medicine for pointing out the utter absurdity of certain things.  And next Friday’s column will be dripping with it as I focus on a rumor pertaining to Mayor Gonzales’ State of the City speech…

Knowing When To Get Off The Freeway

Within a five to ten minute drive (sometimes even just a walk) of where I work in downtown San Jose, there are a wealth of choices.  Choices for places to live or work?  Well, maybe, although not as many as there could be, but that’s John McEnery’s beat.

I was thinking of the diversity of restaurants, which is just one of the topics I’ll be covering every week.  I spend quite a bit of time commuting, so my column will focus on reasons to get off the freeway and explore a different part of San Jose.

In any given workweek, I can walk a block from my office and eat pasta, chinese, vietnamese, pizza, and falafel for lunch, without walking more than 500 steps and certainly without breaking a sweat.

Perhaps that last is the reason my doctor told me I need to lose 10 pounds.

Some weeks see such a range of dining, but I confess, there are weeks I’m just as happy to eat Lee’s Sandwiches (now with 27 locations!) every day. 

For those unfamiliar with Lee’s, their specialty is banh mi, which is seemingly a result of France’s influence in Vietnam for so many years.  Basically, it’s a baguette or roll with cilantro, chili, mayo (which I tyipically hate, but make an exception for in this case) and some type of meat.  Lee’s makes their own baguettes.  I suggest going with a friend, family member or co-worker and getting 1.5 sandwiches per person.  A single sandwich just doesn’t seem like enough, but two is something else entirely.

Having eaten at a few of those locations now, I have to report that my favorite one is the one on King Road.

Any one who thinks they can find me a better banh mi in this city is welcome to leave a suggestion in the comments.

The Forest And The Trees

You see the trees better when you’re not in the forest.  I don’t know if someone said that, but someone should have.

Anyway, that’s the way I feel about San Jose City Hall.  I left four years ago - close enough to have understanding, but far enough to have perspective.

At first, I missed the action.  I certainly don’t now.  It took me six months to get it out of my system.  I know this precisely because that’s when I started my mornings reading the sports pages first, rather than local news and editorials.

I’ll write frequently about San Jose issues.  I’ll usually discuss it within a larger framework:  state, national, cultural, political, social, and business trends.

In San Jose, like many important cities, we do a lot of navel gazing.  That can be a good exercise if it yields greater awareness.  It’s bad if it limits perspective.  It’s like a person who spends all day looking at his belly button.  He removes a lot of lint, but bumps into a lot of walls.  We need to look up now and then.

So here are some of the topics that I want to discuss in the coming weeks:

Councilman Terry Gregory - He’s the talk of the town—and the town consensus is that he isn’t fit for office.  I even hear this from people who helped get him elected - former employees included. When your employees testify against you at ethics hearings, you’re probably not winning any management and leadership awards soon.

Most interesting story within a story:  Gregory said he could take care of a political enemy by paying $50 to a crack head.  Who’s the target for this low-life, low-budget assassin?  Tell me your candidates.

I sat next to Mercury News VP and editorial page editor David Yarnold at a dinner recently and told him my guess is that he’s the man.  My friendly advice to David:  drive a different route to work everyday and be careful when you’re buying crack.

San Jose versus LA - I’m consulting for Bob Hertzberg who is running to be the next mayor of LA.  I’ll write about the similarities and differences between the Garden City and Tinseltown. 

My first read of the political culture:  LA is more competitive and less polite than San Jose.  There are four talented candidates willing to challenge an incumbent mayor in LA.  That’s never happened in San Jose.  Hurray for Hollywood.

Most Interesting Person I Met in 2004: Craig Newmark - I was backstage at a Howard Dean rally in Oakland prepping Governor Dean before his speech. (I was Dean’s California state director).  Kevin Bayley came up to me and said, “Craig wants to meet you.”

I said, “Craig who?”

“Craig.  THE Craig.  You know, Craig’s List?”

“I don’t know a Craig Zalist.”

Kevin finally made me understand it was Craig Newmark – the founder of Craig’s List, the Bay Area’s uber website.  Craig understands better than anyone the power of technology and how it can successfully build communities.  More importantly, he believes it should.

Check out this profile and picture in Newsweek.  Craig’s wearing giant bear feet slippers.  Given Craig’s influence on important trends, someday we will all be wearing giant bear feet slippers.

If you have ideas for interesting topics, I’ll write about those, too.  Please send me your feedback, your ideas, and even your unwanted Christmas presents.  I’ll put them all to good use.

The Beginning Of San Jose Inside

When in the course of human events… No that’s been used before. I also dismissed two score and two years ago. I dislike alliteration.

This is the beginning of San Jose Inside. I expect and hope that it will become one of the premier places for those of us who care about San Jose and our Valley to exchange ideas, explore new directions, and ruminate about the future.

There does not seem to be much of that going on now; certainly not at City Hall, which is beginning to resemble that other ossified regime of which it was said, “they learned nothing, they forgot nothing.”

All governments must have a value system and a collective knowledge of the past to prosper— some have it, and it helps them keep track who they are, while the great sweep of history, even though it might be local, keeps them grounded; others do not have it and recall only the slights and petty offenses. As Mark Twain once commented on the seemingly small variance in two items, it is the difference between “the lightning and the lightning bug.” I will explore many such items, bugs and all!

Once, in a seeming slight, I was called an accomplished politician and an amateur historian. I set the record straight now.  I was an amateur politician, although I think I was a fair to middling mayor in those long-ago days of the 1980’s, but I was and am a trained historian.  I have a Masters degree in History from a fine University down the road, and I intend to use these fading academic skills in my columns.

Knowing where we came from, how we got here, and who preceded us, is important. This is a chance for all of us to work to create a better community on the shoulders of many, many others. I hope that you will join in and help make San Jose Inside a unique way to explore the past, change the present and influence the future of San Jose, Silicon Valley and, perhaps, the world.

Coming this Monday, my focus will be The State Of Our City, Part I.