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March 29-April 4, 2006

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The Fly

Counter Measures

The tiff over Measure A, the county ballot initiative that proposes a half-cent sales tax increase, turned a little nasty last week. Already, anti-tax activists, namely the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, have sued to get the measure removed from the June ballot, arguing the California constitution requires that tax-related measures appear in the November "general election," which normally has a higher voter turnout. But now the counterattack has claimed first blood. In a petition against the opponents of Measure A, NAACP Prez Rick Callender, whose group has endorsed Measure A, challenged the opposition language that was slated to appear in the official voter pamphlet. Callender alleged that, among other fallacies, the opponents of Measure A falsely claimed that passing the measure would give Santa Clara County the "highest" tax rate of California counties, that the Silicon Valley Leadership Group is the financial backer of the measure and that the tax would last for more than 30 years. All false, he pointed out. The judge agreed and ordered that four facts in the opposition argument in the voter pamphlet be deleted and amended. "It was just some dishonest information on that side," Callender tells Fly. "We just wanted to make sure there was honest information."

The Real Singleton

The question, it seems, for South Bay newspaper readers is: Just who is the real William Dean Singleton? Singleton, the newspaper mogul and CEO of the MediaNews Group—which is rumored to have made a bid for at least some of the 12 new Knight Ridder papers that McClatchy intends to sell, including the Mercury News—seems to have two distinct identities. There's the Denver Post Dean Singleton, who bought and rejuvenated the Denver daily, beefing up its editorial content by investing profits—$27.5 million in 2004, according to the Denver Business Journal—in its newsroom. And then there's the Houston Post Dean Singleton, who suddenly and unexpectedly closed down the newspaper, costing 1,000 jobs. So who's going to show up in San Jose, should a Merc deal go through? It's worth poring over several years of press around the world on this guy for five Singleton Fun Facts: 1. Singleton counts President Bush as a close friend. 2. He climbs over the hallowed wall between the news and business departments at the Denver Post to sign off on editorials. 3. He once fired an editor for covering the Jimmy Carter-brokered Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, he told the editor who was laying out the front page, "Damn it! This is a local paper! We don't sell no fucking papers in Cairo. Get that thing off there, right now!" (That editor, David Burgin, has been hired and fired by Singleton several times.) 4. He has a penchant for "clustering" papers—he owns 22 papers in Northern California, which is of course one of the reasons he's been strongly rumored to have bid for the Merc and the Contra Costa Times. 5. In 1992, he bought the Oakland Tribune and promptly reduced staff from 630 to 280 to make the paper profitable. Lightning Bonus Round: In his 1997 deal to purchase the Los Angeles Daily News, Singleton had the cojones to finesse a deal in which he took out a $50 million dollar loan from the owners of the Los Angeles Times, his direct competitor in the Los Angeles market, to buy the Daily News. Maybe the folks over at the Merc should listen closely to Burgin, who told the Journalism Review about Singleton: "If he's got one eye on his legacy, he's still got the other eye on the cash register."

Odor Leaders

Mayoral hopefuls here could learn a thing or two from San Francisco about dealing with Norcal. The garbage giant's subsidiaries Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal Recycling, who serve most of S.F., asked for a sizeable pay increase in January that would raise resident rates by 26 percent in one year and 36 percent over the five-year agreement. But instead of conceding to corporate bosses in a backroom deal that would drain resident pockets, San Francisco officials did some homework. They discovered that the garbage company's request only justified an 11 percent rate increase. Douglas Legg, a representative from San Francisco's Public Works Department, said the documents they were given had inflated the company's projected costs for staffing, pension plans and insurance premiums. They're now in the middle of negotiations over garbage rates that are (hold on to your seat) open to the public. Residents are free to attend hearings, speak out and ask questions of garbage company representatives, and, for the first time, are represented by a "rate payer advocate." The city hired consultant Linda Eggerth for $49,000 to represent the public at the hearings and break down complicated trashspeak. San Jose leaders did neither homework nor outreach when they offered to extend the local Norcal contract (which expires in 2007) in December last year. Maybe the bad publicity surrounding the Gonzales scandal and censure left a bad taste in their mouths: Norcal representatives rejected the offer for "financial reasons." The city's single-family garbage collection and recycling service contract went up for bid earlier this month, and the winner will be selected in the summer of 2008.

Hindu Redux

It looks like the six-month battle over California grade school textbooks on Hinduism—and the headache for state Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell—may not be over. Even after the state Board of Education made a final decision on March 8 to reject most of the controversial changes religious educational groups had lobbied for. Before the mainstream got to this story, Metro exposed the mudslinging between opposing interests in this issue last month—in a nutshell, the fight is about what new sixth-grade textbooks will say about ancient Indian history. The contested Aryan Migration theory? Gender and caste discrimination? The diverse Hindu conception of divinity? All up for grabs. South Bay advocates from the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) complained the textbooks represented Hinduism negatively and unfairly. When they requested hundreds of changes, critics from the Bay Area's Friends of South Asia (FOSA), along with a contingent of academics, cried propaganda. They accused the HEF and their supporting organization the Hindu American Foundation of having ties to right-wing Hindu nationalist political parties on the Asian subcontinent—and alleged the proposed changes were an attempt to whitewash Indian history. After heated board meetings with overflowing attendance and an explosion of online name-calling, state education officials finally blew the whistle. They sided with FOSA and academics on the most contested topics, a move that hasn't made things any more peaceful—and may not give publishers their material any sooner. Fly's inbox recently lit up with a press release from FOSA declaring victory like an 11-year-old kid pointing his finger at the loser: "Hindutva Groups Suffer Massive Defeat in California." Shortly after this message came a press release from the losers, who've gone crying to the courts: "Hindu American Foundation Sues California State Board of Education." Representatives from the board, sounding exasperated from the never-ending ordeal, would not comment on the lawsuit.

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