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Silicon Valley News Notes

One Hand Slapping

Watergate started as a simple burglary when a night watchman spotted a taped doorjamb at the Watergate apartment complex. The discovery led to a trail of dirty tricks that tracked to the Nixon White House. Was Eric Hernandez 's break-in to email accounts at City Hall the tape on the door, linked to a Nixonian effort to dredge dirt about the personal lives of politicians, journalists and business leaders critical of South Bay Labor Council's political initiatives, and post it to the web? The public will never know, thanks to a rushed settlement by the Santa Clara County district attorney's office, which under DA Dolores Carr , has shown little interest in prosecuting political cases. (Previous beneficiaries of the new prosecutorial discretion include Mayor Ron Gonzales and lobbyists Tony Arreola and Sean Kali-Rai .) The Hernandez case came to a quiet end last Wednesday, when the teenage former City Council intern pleaded guilty to reduced charges and received 50 hours of community service, along with a day in jail, which he already served. He was also ordered to pay $100 restitution. Hernandez's top-shelf defense attorney, Steve Manchester , argued for a motion to reduce the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor, and the DA's office had no problem with that. "We weren't going to make a big stink about it," said Deputy DA Tom Flattery . "I think Mr. Hernandez has gotten the message and I'd be surprised if we see trouble from him again." Sure, reports that Hernandez's former boss, Councilmember Cindy Chavez , as well as SBLC head Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins , made calls on his behalf may suggest nothing more than concern for a young man's welfare. Hernandez, after all, bragged to co-workers of being invited to Chavez's house for dinner while he was working for her successor, Sam Liccardo . (Hernandez rummaged through Liccardo's girlfriend's email looking for dirt.) But anyone who sees anything suspicious in Hernandez's ties to Chavez, the speed with which a labor-aligned website rushed to express empathy just hours after he landed in jail or the sudden appearance of one of the valley's most expensive criminal defense attorneys won't have their conspiracy theories validated by any further investigation. Like the Warren Commission after the JFK assassination, San Jose's law enforcement community brushed aside doubts and stuck to its official conclusion: He acted alone.

Right to Lie

Leave it to San Jose's Vietnamese community to turn the Little Saigon naming issue into another civics class for City Hall. Supporters have already put city leaders through a political hazing, protesting weekly at City Hall, packing council chambers and even spurring investigations of councilmembers and their back-room dealings. Now they've forced the issue of how much truth the City Council can demand from public input. Although the council has said the Vietnamese-Americans could hang a Little Saigon sign over the Story Road retail area (which is what they wanted all along), that doesn't completely satisfy the Saigonists. Activists had asked the council to come down on Henry Le , who presented a petition with signatures from 92 businesses who allegedly said they didn't want the council involved in the naming of the Vietnamese retail area. At the time, the council used that petition as a launching pad for its March 4 decision to step out of the naming controversy. Since then, councilmembers concluded that petition was bogus. But what can they really do about it? Well, Little Saigon advocates wanted the council to penalize Le and rescind its March 4 vote. However, San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle has cautioned that the council isn't really in the business of limiting an individual's freedom of speech (that includes petitions) at council hearings. In other words, Doyle thinks anyone has a constitutional right to lie freely at a public forum. (Memo to politicians: Whew!) "It's not a crime that we are aware of," Doyle said. "What can you do to limit people? They are not under oath." Doyle said it is up to the council to discern what is true and what is not true. Still, the council committee asked that Doyle research the dos and don'ts of limiting speech—spoken or written—during public forums. Maybe it's an unusual request, but the council has learned to cover its bases. The Viets say the issue was once about the name Little Saigon. But not anymore. It's now about holding City Hall accountable, every step of the way, said Barry Hung Do , spokesman for the San Jose Voters for Democracy, an informal group of Little Saigon advocates. "This has gotten more Vietnamese-American citizens more involved with local operations," Do said. "They didn't care about local politics, but since Little Saigon, more and more are scrutinizing their elected officials within the city."

Tiny Town Appeal Downed

In a preschool parking lot in east San Jose on March 19, some 60 parents and elected officials gathered to express their outrage at the Department of Social Services for shutting down the popular San Jose preschool Tinytown . Fly reported earlier this month about the appeal filed by former operator Charu Vaidya after she was refused a license for—among other seemingly innocuous reasons—a parent bringing snacks to the school for a birthday party. The DSS, however, has denied the appeal, and Vaidya (an Indian-American) and her supporters feel the refusal to grant a license is discriminatory. Human Relations Commissioner Richard Hobbs and County Supervisor Pete McHugh showed up to vent on the issue. McHugh, who had even written a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger in support of Viadya's appeal, asked the crowd to take a page out of the Vietnamese community's recent mass mobilizations around the Little Saigon issue. "We need a mass level, and where are the representatives from the city?" Vaidya has worked at Tinytown Preschool for more than two decades, and has been a recognized partner with Gayle Davis in the ownership of the preschool since 1992. In 2006, when Davis sold her share of the preschool to Vaidya, the DSS demanded that Vaidya apply for a license to operate the preschool. As soon as Vaidya became sole owner of Tinytown, the DSS established what she believes is a double standard, asking her to change the snack menu for the children, which they had approved for the prior licensee, and requiring her to submit multiple applications and resubmit required documents. The DSS asked Charu to have several extensive and expensive facility repairs made, which weren't required of the prior licensee, either. Charu submitted the documents as requested, had all requested repairs made and changed the menu according to the DSS officials' specifications. And yet, administrative Judge Ralph Venturino upheld the denial of Vaidya's license. Her supporters, like Rajesh Verma and Kalathil Pappachan of the Federation of the San Jose–based Indo American Association of the Bay Area, are trying to find a way to keep Tinytown open.

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