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October 18-24, 2006

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Silicon Valley News Notes

Hug Me, I'm Independent

Did Cindy Chavez violate independent expenditure guidelines when she showed up at the South Bay Labor Council's phone bank to cheer on her completely independent troops? Volunteers at the SBLC's Almaden Avenue headquarters have been furiously dialing San Jose phone numbers on Chavez's behalf, and one volunteer, SJSU techie Steve Sloan, was so excited by Chavez's visit that he posted a photo of the two at the scene of the lines. In an accompanying post, Sloan wrote, "I was especially thrilled when [Chavez] ... came by the union hall to thank those of us who were working for her." Local, state and federal regulations are clear: candidates cannot direct or assist independent organizations expending resources on their behalf. The law reads that any independent efforts may not be made "in cooperation, consultation, coordination or concert with" the candidate, otherwise they are not exactly, well, independent. "You think thanking volunteers is coordination?" asked a representative for Chavez's campaign testily, before taking Chavez's latest line with Fly—no access to the candidate until the campaign feels the coverage is "fair and balanced." (Hey what are we, Fox News? See below on this craziness!) To be fair, we did check with experts, who agreed that hugging and mugging alone doesn't break the law, though it's probably not a good idea. Sacramento-based expert political reform expert Derek Cressman says thanking phone bankers on election night probably entered into a gray area. "Most campaigns erect a pretty tight firewall; if they know somebody is out there spending money to advance their candidate they don't communicate with them at all," says Cressman. "Other campaigns blur the line. It's arguably a gray area; it's not troubling to me except to the extent that it suggests that there may have been greater coordination and awareness." Steve Levin of the L.A.-based Center for Governmental Studies agrees that it's "a close call." Levin says "it definitely looks bad" and is "pushing the envelope" but would be legal "as long as there's no cooperation and coordination."

God Save The Queen

In reference to the Chavez campaign's—and apparently, by extension, Cindy Chavez's—decision not to speak with Metro until the Chavistas consider this paper's coverage "fair and balanced," all Fly can say is—seriously? Let's get this straight: An on-the-record supporter of open government—a mayoral candidate, no less—has made a policy decision not to talk to the media until she's pleased with that outlet's coverage. Is this what we all can expect to put up with if Chavez wins? Fly has to laugh, since over the years it has offended so many politicians it can't count anymore. It has never asked for approval from any of them—all it has ever asked for, in fact, is their side of the story. When they refuse to share their views, it makes it harder for a reporter to figure out what the pols are thinking or trying to do—and harder for the public to stay informed.

The Unkindest Cuts Of All

As the election approaches, Santa Clara County's dire financial straits should be a huge part of the debate—there isn't a local race that this crisis doesn't affect in some way. And here's one more reason why it matters so much: With Santa Clara County's budget still short after years of cuts, some of the area's most innovative social programs might be next to get chopped. "After five years, we're cutting some programs because we don't have any options left," said Joy Alexiou, spokeswoman for the Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System. Alexiou said that any program not mandated by the state could get phased out next year. But let's talk about specifics—what's really at stake here? One program hanging in the balance is School-Linked Services, a Santa Clara County program that turns public schools into one-stop shops for health and social aid. It's a way to inject assistance directly into communities. No bus pass? No problem! Eligible families can walk into their participating schools and sign up, with a team of health and social services workers, for everything from food stamps to counseling. School-Linked Services started in the 1990s and exists in about 20 of Santa Clara County's 300-plus schools. The beauty of these programs is that each school can tailor its team to its community. In Mountain View, School-Linked Services teams are experts in gang violence. In Gilroy, the program gives kids a fast track past long county waiting lists for assistance with mental health. Lissette Moore-Guerra is a social worker with School-Linked Services in one Santa Clara elementary school. She says she's seen attendance improve and grades climb as students join her program. School-Linked Services helps her respond to complex cases, like one child who got in trouble because she was sleeping in class. Moore-Guerra went home with the child and learned she was sharing a bed with her older sister, a new mother at 14 years old. Pulling resources from various services, Moore-Guerra found the child a bed and helped her refocus on school. "You spend a lot more time with the kids," she said. "I think I have a lot more impact than just at a clinic or in a hospital setting." Since services are free, however, programs like this are especially vulnerable when money runs out. School-Linked Services "may be something that isn't here for long," says Alexiou. Martin J. Blank is the staff director of the Coalition for Community Schools, a national education advocacy group. Many partnership programs, like School-Linked Services, he says, only get money from philanthropists or state and federal agencies for a few years. "Teachers have time to say, 'It's useful.' And then it's gone."

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