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Silicon Valley News Notes

He'll Drink To That

Maybe San Jose's City Council can survive accusations of scandal, threats of recall and weekly protests at City Hall. But there's no chance they could overcome being known as the council that let a Vietnamese man starve himself to death on the steps of City Hall. Mayor Chuck Reed was savvy enough to see that, and Reed put an end to Ly Tong's month-long hunger strike last week when he agreed to give the Vietnamese community what they want: Little Saigon. Well, at least part of it. The mayor quickly struck a deal with Tong, agreeing to ask the council to allow for a "Little Saigon" sign to hang over the Vietnamese retail area along Story Road. "We can't have someone die on City Hall grounds, we can't have that." said Councilwoman Madison Nguyen." It's true. Had the city let Tong carry on with his hunger strike until the horrible end, San Jose would suddenly be known not as the solar capital or the epicenter of innovation but as "the place where that Vietnamese guy died." San Jose's decision to not name the retail area Little Saigon has already drawn media attention from around the globe. Shortly after the mayor and other councilmembers signed the agreement, Tong could be seen sipping lemonade while Reed held a press conference with the Vietnamese community, asking (in a pleading tone) for everyone to move forward peacefully. Little Saigon advocates said they're willing to put a rest to the weekly protests and the phone calls to councilmembers. But this deal isn't going to mend the rift between the Viets and Nguyen. So there's still a good chance the community will pursue a recall, said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for the San Jose Voters for Democracy, the Little Saigon advocacy group. "The city mismanaged it from Day 1, " Do said. "It was one bad thing leading to another."

Recycling Progress

Isn't there something a little counterintuitive about tapping into recycling money to help pay for global warming programs in California? But that's exactly what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to do. The governor has been touting his massive global warming bill for the last year, suggesting this legislation will make California the bellwether of green policy. But alas, he has yet to find the money to fund these megaprograms, which include expanding solar rooftops across the state. And like any good Republican, Schwarzenegger doesn't want to impose fees on carbon emitters to help pay for some of these programs. The best option is to use the state's leftover recycling dollars to help kick-start the A.B. 32 programs, said Stanley Young, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. The recycling fund is used to pay back consumers who recycle bottles and cans. "Once we develop a fee structure we would pay that money back," Young said.State recycling officials say there's usually a balance in the recycling fund every year (that's because not everyone is recycling their cans and bottles). That leftover money is earmarked for various recycling programs and other incentives to encourage people to recycle, said Mark Oldfield, recycling specialist with the California Department of Conservation. So to what extent would the governor's plan to take from recycling dollars? "That is what is still being discussed; I don't have the answer to the question," Oldfield said. It wouldn't be the first time a governor has tapped into recycling funds. In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis borrowed form recycling to balance the state's budget. That loan has yet to be repaid.

Gang Related?

What exactly makes someone a gang member? That question could come under some scrutiny this week when 24-year-old Joshua Herrera faces sentencing in San Jose Superior Court. There's no question as to his conviction: in 2006, he and three co-defendants were found guilty of home invasion. Herrera, who drove but didn't leave the car during the 2003 incident, has been in jail ever since, and will be sentenced on March 20. But although home invasion carries a maximum sentence of eight years, and Herrera has no criminal record or history of violence, he is facing life in prison because of California's gang enhancement law. During Herrera's trial, San Jose Police Department gang expert Greg Limbardo testified to Herrera's affiliation to a Norteņo gang, using evidence from their field investigation such as red T-shirts found in the family home from his high school days and pictures of him with admitted gang members. According to Herrera, prosecutor Deputy District Attorney David Ezgar mischaracterized him as a dangerous gangster. "It went from associate, to member, to 'hardened' gang member. I remember thinking, 'Man, he changed that fast.'" Michael Kresser, executive director of the nonprofit Sixth District Appellate Program, says that from his experience the gang enhancement law has had a wide impact in Santa Clara County and that it "turns misdemeanors into felonies, and drastically increases sentences especially for people who would otherwise wouldn't get such extended penalties." Herrera's attorney, Tom Kelly, is expected to put forth a sentencing motion to exclude various terms of the law that call for life in prison, and ask for a determinant sentence. If approved, it can reduce Herrera's time in prison to 11 years.

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