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Silicon Valley News Notes

Cold Calling

San Jose Mercury News employees already know the drill—just stay home and wait by the phone. It took about two hours on Friday for Merc executives to call employees and inform them they no longer had a job. Between buy-outs and layoffs, the Merc lost a total of 50 positions in this round of cuts, half of which came out of the newsroom. Newsroom layoffs include City Hall vet Barry Witt, reporters Erik Olvera and Connie Skipitares, 49ers beat writer Dennis Georgatos, food columnist Carolyn Jung, photographers Joanne HoYoung Lee and Thu Ly and eight others. Film critic Bruce Newman and TV writer Charlie McCollum are being reassigned to general features. It's a harsh blow for a newsroom that has already been hit three times over the last year with layoffs. But MediaNews Group executives declared last month they had no other choice. The only way to deal with declining revenues and a bad economy was to scrap its newsroom. "It was horrible," said Sylvia Ulloa, president of the San Jose Newspaper Guild. "People were really stunned and sad." In a bit of payback, features columnist Sue Hutchison reportedly resigned saying she "wouldn't work one more day for this crappy newspaper." Buyouts were taken by op-ed head STEVE WRIGHT, features editor PAM MORELAND, deputy managing editor MATT MANSFIELD, state bureau chief ALVIE LINDSAY and assistant managing editor REBECCA SALNER. The Merc was the only paper in the Bay Area chain to get hit with layoffs and buy-outs. In the East Bay, where MediaNews owns the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times and a string of other dailies, executives convinced enough employees to take buy-outs (107 exactly). Nobody is optimistic that this is the end, especially as newspapers continue to struggle everywhere. "The only way they respond to anything is to cut staff," Ulloa said.

Daylight Savings

Has Gilroy ushered in a new era of government sunshine? It depends on whom you talk to. New Councilmember Perry Woodward told Fly it's about time the burgeoning South County city make its own Sunshine Policy. City leaders have been following California's Brown Act for open government, but Woodward said the law was getting too loose in Gilroy. He campaigned for more transparency when he was running for office last fall, telling voters about the "culture of secrecy" in Gilroy City Hall. A recent example: in early 2007, Gilroy's police chief and assistant police chief retired with pensions and stayed on the job with salaries, thanks to the secret approval of then-City Administrator Jay Baksa. The double-dipping violated state pension laws, though Baksa claimed he needed the chiefs to oversee the construction of the new police station. Woodward, also a lawyer, wrote the Gilroy sunshine policy to put an end to those kinds of backroom deals. But mayor Al Pinhiero, who just got re-elected last fall, says he doesn't think Gilroy needs major reform. "As far as I'm concerned, our way of doing business in Gilroy is not unusual or different from other cities," he says. He's not opposing the new Sunshine policy, but he sees it merely as a way to "enhance a few things" for the public. Woodward's draft is now tumbling through the hands of city bureaucrats, and Pinhiero is scrutinizing it with an eye for "financial implications." A few highlights of the proposal include: videotaping closed sessions, allowing the public to comment at council meetings by calling in, and requiring every city department to create an inventory of documents it keeps in order to facilitate public records requests. However, the policy doesn't encompass some seriously fishy campaign finance problems Metro uncovered last year. Woodward and Pinhiero both expressed interest in the issue, but campaign finance, apparently, must wait until the city gets closer to the next election in 2009.

Saigon Split

In their three-month campaign of emotional protests, hunger strikes and threats of recalling Councilwoman Madison Nguyen, Little Saigon supporters have sought to define their favored name as the choice of a unified Vietnamese community. But it's clear now how much the issue has divided the Viets, driving some of them, for the first time since this issue began, to come out and protest the protests last week. A legion of Vietnamese-Americans showed up at the City Council meeting, delivering more than 800 signatures from people who feel the Little Saigon supporters have gone too far. They asked that the group put an end to its acrimonious campaign and instead find a peaceful way to name the retail area. "I had no idea this opportunity would turn into such turmoil and division, especially from certain members of my own community," said Buu Thai, a Vietnamese-American and trustee for San Jose's Franklin-McKinley School District. She wasn't the only one. Nguyen, who represents the district with Vietnamese retail area, recalled that when she proposed naming this district last year, it was only meant to mark the success of the Vietnamese business community. "I regret that what was meant to be an economic development project has turned into a political upheaval," Nguyen said. Needless to say, the council is ready to wash its hands clean of this issue and move on, erasing the November 2007 vote that named the retail area "Saigon Business District." Instead, the council is leaving it to the businesses and other stakeholders in that business district to pick a name. The council based its decision on a petition that was brought forward from 92 business owners in the area. Councilman Sam Liccardo then suggested the council get out of the way and let these businesses lead the way to name the retail area. But that wasn't enough to put an end to the fight for Little Saigon. In fact, Little Saigoners have already fired off letters to the City Council asking them to revisit the issue, suggesting that the council based its decision on misinformation and fraudulent petitions, said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for San Jose Voters for Democracy, the group fighting for Little Saigon. "We are asking for a revote on this," Do said.

Tiny Details

A parent bringing snacks to school for a birthday party might not sound like the kind of violation that would get the attention of the Department of Social Services, but it's one of the charges against a popular San Jose preschool being threatened with closure. Despite dozens of letters from angry parents getting behind the school's current operator Charuluta Vaidya, and the support of state Assemblyman Joe Coto and county Supervisor Pete McHugh, administrative Judge Ralph Venturino has ruled against the licensing of Tiny Town Preschool and Daycare to Vaidya. After working at Tiny Town for more than two decades and being recognized by the DSS as its co-owner, Vaidya was forced to apply for the license when she bought her former partner GAYLE DAVIS' share of the school. Vaidya is an Indian-American immigrant, and some parents whose children have attended the preschool contend the license denial is based on racial discrimination. Members of the local South Asian community and the Federation of the Indo-Americans of Northern California have sent a petition to the DSS asking for Vaidya to be granted the license. Mike McInerney, chief of staff for Supervisor McHugh, told the DSS: "From my many conversations with Charulata Vaidya, I am convinced she sincerely wants to operate a first class preschool and comply with all state and local regulations." The DSS has yet to offer its final decision, and can either side with the judge's recommendation or give the appeal to Vaidya.

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