Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
Good Neighbor Sam: Liccardo can get San Jose's downtown going again.
Metro's Complete Election Coverage
The Nov. 7 ballot race is going down to the wire on many of this year's most important seats and issues. So get out there and make a difference—and let us help you figure out how.
Chuck Reed for Mayor of San Jose
More than a million dollars is being spent to buy the mayorship of San Jose. Big money is coming in from gambling interests, out-of-town unions, tobacco profiteers and East Coast developers that want to erect tall high-rises here.
The money is being spent to run television ads that attempt to magnify a lapse of judgment into a fatal flaw. Chuck Reed has apologized for submitting reimbursements—amounting to about $6000 a year—for community activities that in some cases may have been unrelated to his council duties. Continuing to flog this issue makes about as much sense as ticketing a jaywalker during a bank heist.
Ironically, the Chavez gotcha came to light because of a public records request by her supporters—exactly the kind of government transparency that Reed has championed—and Chavez has attempted to water down.
The overriding issues of this election are open government and restoring public trust, and Chuck Reed is the candidate best equipped for the assignment. It's the reason Reed has been endorsed by every San Jose newspaper—from big daily to neighborhood weekly and alternative. That counts for more than who the Sacramento Plumbers, Steamfitters & Refrigeration Fitters union chooses to fund.
After eight years of secret backroom deals, contempt for public process, costly decisions and indictments, San Jose has a chance to make its government accountable again. Among other proposals, Reed has endorsed a comprehensive sunshine ordinance that would require government business to be conducted in the full light of day. His opponent, Cindy Chavez, created a set of "sunshine reforms" during secret living room meetings, then arranged for them to be sent to a task force without including a sunshine ordinance. Chavez's allies are now working hard to obstruct and narrow any ordinance that could make it to council.
Another difference between the candidates is how quickly they will move to develop Coyote Valley, a decision that could clog the area's freeways with thousands of new commuters if not properly timed. While neither Reed nor Chavez qualify as tree huggers, we believe that Reed would be the more likely candidate to hold the line on unwise development. Developers have showered money on Chavez, who seems to find creative ways to accommodate friendly interests. Reed is a straight shooter who likes to follow the rules; as a land use attorney and former Planning Commission chair, he is steeped in the balanced growth philosophy of the General Plan. Staying the course is critical to maintaining the valley's livability.
Reed has had the courage to stand up and vote against irresponsible spending decisions by the majority of the council. Chavez, on the other hand, remained too quiet and passive during Gonzales' lies and scandals over trash, phone systems, car race subsidies, sexual misconduct, free golf games, lobbyist influence and slush funds. San Jose just cannot afford another eight years of Gonzales-style backroom politics.
Sure, we'd like to see more style and excitement, but fiscal prudence and common sense are not bad attributes for a political leader, either. Reed best represents our vision of a political system that shares information and promotes accountability. It's the only way San Jose can heal from the broken public trust of the Gonzales era.
Dolores Carr for DA
Both candidates vying for the county's top prosecutor position, Karyn Sinunu and Dolores Carr, are intelligent women with ample legal experience. Sinunu has worked at the district attorney's office for the past 20 years and served as chief assistant to District Attorney George Kennedy for a year before she took a leave of absence this summer. Carr spent 15 years as a prosecutor before she became a judge in 2000. She also worked as a defense attorney early in her career. Her supporters say her experience filling three roles in the courtroom gives her the balanced perspective a district attorney needs. Both candidates are competent and have the potential to serve the county well—but there are areas of concern with each.
Carr's family ties to the county's largest law enforcement agency, the San Jose Police Department, where her husband holds a high-level position, could align the two agencies a little too closely. She has been popular with police associations because she prefers that grand juries investigate officer misconduct and police shootings behind closed doors, except in "extraordinary cases." Many police watchdogs favor open hearings.
Sinunu, on the other hand, allowed ambition to get the best of her when she laid the groundwork for her run for office, soliciting contributions from subordinates and members of the legal community who depend on the good graces of the DA to secure outcomes for clients. That creates, at minimum, the perception of a conflict. While an internal investigation has cleared Sinunu of intervening to protect an attorney suspected of drug dealing, Sinunu's handling of certain cases has raised questions about whether she would reward friends and punish enemies. While that's a risk with anyone in power, Carr appears to have the more cautious temperament. Current and former high-level managers who've worked with Sinunu over the years are not supporting her run for district attorney—including Kennedy himself, who distanced himself from her candidacy when he pulled his endorsement of her in July.
Carr, on the other hand, entered the race as an underdog and racked up an impressive collection of endorsements. Since prosecuting criminals involves teamwork between agencies, Carr's broad support is a sign that she can build bridges. The fact that Carr comes from outside an office that could benefit from reform is a plus. The ideal district attorney would be aggressive about modernizing the department while judicious in using the power of the state, including the discretion to initiate capital punishment prosecutions. While some of Sinunu's positions on issues such as victimless crimes are more progressive, Carr seems the better choice, on balance, to become the county's top prosecutor.
Yes on Measure A
Irresponsible urban planning after World War II transformed an idyllic agricultural region into a sprawling mess, with insufficient attention paid to infrastructure and quality-of-life issues. In the past 20 years, however, regional leaders began enacting more responsible growth policies: density along transit corridors, urban growth boundaries, efforts to correct the jobs/housing imbalance with growth triggers and passage of funding for open space districts. Measure A continues the responsible growth policies that have come to characterize the valley's efforts to retain its livability. Measure A opponents argue that initiative is poorly drafted, tramples individual property rights and will open the county up to endless lawsuits. While any ambitious land-use initiative is likely to raise these arguments, on balance we don't think the sky will fall if Measure A passes. Even County Counsel Ann Ravel—while still demonstrating the caution her job requires—has basically agreed that Measure A does a good job of eliminating the possibility of county liability. Perhaps no measure can be perfect in this respect, but one need only look at the list of dozens of county and city officials who have endorsed this initiative to have confidence that it will work as public policy. We can't go back to the Valley of the Heart's Delight, but we can protect preserve green hills and open spaces for future generations, while accommodating growth in already developed zones.
No on Prop. 90
Abuse of eminent domain, such as San Jose's failed condemnation of the Tropicana Shopping Center, has created a backlash against what should be a tool of last resort for cities wishing to purchase land from citizens for general community benefit. While supporters tout Proposition 90 as the "Protect Our Homes Initiative," it's attracted more suspicion than support from the real critics of redevelopment. It plays on the public's fear of eminent domain in order to push the hidden agenda of wealthy real estate interests. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that $3.4 million out of $3.6 million raised in support of Prop. 90 came from five groups connected to New York libertarian and real estate investor Howard Rich. Part of Prop. 90 aims to stop governments from forcing the sale of private property simply to hand it over to private developers. That's certainly reasonable. But the "regulatory takings" provision of Prop. 90 raises red flags about its true intent. Governments would have to compensate for passing any new laws that devalue private property. That includes zoning ordinances that regulate new developments and land-use controls to protect the environment. That's going too far. Even state Sen. Tom McClintock, an outspoken critic of eminent domain, told the Sacramento Bee that he preferred a cleaner version of Prop. 90, though he supports it because his own initiative failed to qualify for the ballot. Prop. 90 could curb redevelopment abuse, but at a price that Californians should not have to pay.
Sam Liccardo For District 3 City Council
Downtown San Jose has languished for the past eight years. Although there has been some progress on the housing front, and some historical buildings have come back to life, it has been beset by problems. Competition from other retail centers, entertainment zone policing policies and the failure to get going on major revitalization initiatives have kept downtown from realizing its potential. In addition, well-intentioned labor-sponsored initiatives like "living wage," "community benefits" and "labor peace" have introduced new bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. The city needs to get out of the way and let downtown come of age. New leadership is needed to get downtown moving again. That's why we are recommending Sam Liccardo for the District 3 San Jose City Council seat. He is the kind of talented outsider who communicates well and can get people excited about downtown and its neighborhoods again. He's shown the willingness and ability to listen to people's concerns and grasp issues with ease. That's probably why representatives of 23 different neighborhood organizations in District 3 have come out in support of his candidacy. Liccardo's opponent, Manny Diaz, is a career politician who formerly represented San Jose's District 5 before moving downtown. This is the fourth office that Diaz has run for. He offers little in the way of fresh thinking, and his service on the council and in the state Assembly were not exactly noteworthy. He's had his chance, and we get the feeling that he's running because it's another office to run for rather than to make a real difference. For these reasons, Metro strongly recommends a vote for Sam Liccardo for San Jose City Council.
Pierluigi Oliverio For District 6 City Council
There are a number of good choices in this race—we particularly like Clark Williams' championing of diversity and real family values, and Steve Tedesco's push to unify the San Jose City Council. But we think Pierluigi Oliverio is running not just the strongest campaign in District 6, but one of the most exciting campaigns in the Nov. 7 election. The 36-year-old Oliverio has caught lightning in a bottle by combining tireless energy and enthusiasm with analytical thinking and strong organizational skills. Many of the candidates in this race have a solid understanding of the issues facing District 6 communities—development, traffic, schools and more—but Oliverio has the best and most specific plans for addressing them. His innovative solutions drawing on the possibility of Silicon Valley technology have earned him the derisive title "Mr. Internet" among his opponents, but he doesn't mind in the least. To hear him lay out his concept for a web-based system that actually allows constituents to track the handling of their complaint is to understand that this candidate gets it. His ideas are cutting-edge, but not pie-in-the-sky. When it comes to open-government issues, he is close to fearless. Not only would he be willing to disclose his own expenses and donations online, he wants to bring the same level of transparency to groups that are funded by the city. It's a revolutionary notion that would truly shake up city politics. We think Oliverio will do the same.
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