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I Got Nothing: Mayor Gonzales skips the fresh ideas and begs voters to expand his airport.

Public Eye

Measuring Up

Gonzo can see for miles and miles, according to his recent 2003 State of the City address. In a short but soporific Feb. 5 speech in which Mayor Ron Gonzales used the word "vision" no fewer than six times (nevermind the wagging heads in the audience), he strongly urged that voters "say yes to jobs at the polls on March 4 by approving Measure A ... to make immediate improvements in security at the airport." How's that? Gonzales waxed that the ballot initiative would bring 1,700 jobs and an airport "we could be proud of." (Memo to city motto planners in search of a new slogan to replace "Capital of Silicon Valley." How about "San Jose: Proud of Our Airport.") He continued that it would ease traffic, and ultimately, that "the airport is the essential player in our regional economy." (Eye concedes it's possible he said "layer;" it's hard to imagine an airport wearing a gold chain and driving a Mercedes.) ... But it will take more than booster talk to convince former San Jose City Councilmember David Pandori, co-chair of the Airport Traffic Relief Alliance, that the mayor's measure is anything but a sham. The ex-councilman had nothing but harsh words for Gonzo and city staff for the way they've constructed the Measure A sample ballot/voter information pamphlet. "It's all about a plan to fool the voters," Pandori tells Eye, pointing out that there's more deception in what the ballot doesn't say than in what it does. For starters, he says, the ballot doesn't contain the one-page ATRA ordinance that its passage would erase, or the full wording of the proposed new law, making it guesswork as to how the ordinance is actually being changed. Instead, says Pandori, our city leaders have crafted a misleading one-paragraph summary that trumpets hot-button issues like airport security (and no new taxes) while conveniently ignoring the fact that the promised light rail connection to the airport is being effectively axed and road improvement projects delayed. What voters also don't know, Pandori adds, is that the current law already allows for airport security requirements to proceed posthaste without the mandated traffic upgrades. (The only way voters can get the complete current or proposed law is to dig out the info for themselves by calling the city clerk's office and requesting it.) "They're selling fear; they're not telling the people what they're really doing," says Pandori. ... Well, hardly, retort the highly paid city officials Eye contacted on the matter. "That can't be a serious challenge; we never print the ballot measure in the book," says San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle. "The text of the proposed ordinance change is never printed in there, and those affiliated with ATRA who used to work for the city should know better. It's a bogus claim. They're trying to make the issue that we're trying to hide something, and that's not the case." Both Doyle and Nancy Alford, San Jose's assistant city clerk, note that state election code allows the city to abbreviate the measure on the ballot while filing the full measure with the city clerk. "It saves paper and it saves costs, and in this budget climate that's important," Doyle sniffs. (Side note: The March single-issue special election is costing voters between $1.7 million and $2.5 million.) While the secretary of state's office confirms that statewide measures are legally required to include the full text of the current and proposed law in the back of the pamphlet, San Jose does not have to, counters Leslie Smith, ballot layout manager for the county registrar's office. "It's up to the participating jurisdiction; the city of San Jose opted not to print the full text," she says. "We get feedback both ways; some people say there's too much info, and it's not read anyway and how expensive it is ... and others are upset that we've not taken that extra step." Gonzales spokesperson David Vossbrink assures Eye soothingly, "The ballot measure is being proposed in exactly the same way it's been done for decades. ... Voters have every opportunity to see what's in the ballot and make a choice." Pandori remains unconvinced. "There's a clear dividing line between politics and nonpolitical activity," says the former pol. "This is politics."

Driving Miss Deficit

City Auditor Gerald Silva was on cloud nine last Friday, Feb. 7, the day he released his damning report on the city's frivolous car-buying habits. "We identified over $30 million in actual and potential savings from reduced vehicle purchases," Silva's report boasts. Silva started investigating the cars that city departments were buying about 18 months ago, after policy violations showed up in an unrelated water plant audit. "Boy, has this turned out to be a bonanza," Silva tells Eye. City departments--especially the police--have ignored their own rules and been buying swank cars as if they were going out of style. Silva's researchers found an impressive horde of 92 new police cars sitting in the general services department's lot, for example. The police are basically cut off now. "Any requests are going to receive a lot of scrutiny," says Silva, whose recommendations include formalizing "the current freeze on all vehicle and equipment purchases." Silva assures Eye that, in the future, "Police will be far more judicial." The department in blue isn't the only problem. In August and September 2001, for instance, the housing department requested two new cars as replacements, and then instead of returning the old ones for auction, kept all four. Also, the Public Works Department bypassed budget office approval by "borrowing" one ex-patrol car for nine years and another for six years from the fleet-management department. The department then ingeniously replaced the used loaners with new ones that the department also wasn't supposed to have. Remarkably, despite the audit's clear assignment of blame to those in charge, specifically department heads, the heads are outwardly embracing Silva's embarrassing critique. In no uncertain terms, the audit report instructs the fleet-management department to "stop loaning vehicles to departments on a long-term basis." In response, the accused party "concurs with this recommendation." In fact, fleet management and the budget office both concur with nearly every scolding word the auditor wrote in his report. "We probably made some decisions that were not the best decisions," understates Jose Obregon, general-services director.

Women Unite

County Supervisor Liz Kniss and City Councilmember Cindy Chavez decided to take back the night last month by forming a new women's legislative caucus. They cited institutionalized sexism as the prompter and a male supervisor gang-up against board chief Blanca Alvarado's committee assignments as the last straw. But while Eye loves the stamping out of ugly abuses of power, this cause seems hazy. First of all, it's odd that Alvarado didn't join Kniss and Chavez in founding the group, since she was exhibit A. Unfortunately, in response to the approximately 100 calls Eye made to her office for enlightenment, Alvarado had little to say. She did, however, send a message through an underling that she is now part of the women's caucus, although she left no explanation for why she didn't immediately assume a lead role. Supervisor Don Gage, one of the alleged sexists who voted down Alvarado's attempt in late January to reassign committee heads, defends himself and his kind, although not entirely convincingly. "All of the sudden when one can't get what she wants, it's sexist," Gage complains about Kniss and Alvarado, to whom he refers as "ladies." His reason for voting against new board chair Alvarado's proposed committee changes is that they came too soon. He said that, as last year's board chair, he gave the ladies the committees they asked for, kicking out the boys to make room. "Both the ladies said that Blanca wanted to go to Public Safety and Justice. She wanted to be chair and Liz wanted vice chair. So I took Pete off that," Gage says. "We don't flop those committees around very much." Gage also tells Eye that he doesn't believe Alvarado thinks the males supes are sexist. One insider tattletale claims that the real reason the three male supervisors voted down the committee assignments this year is that they don't want to work with Kniss. The rumor is that she's late or absent to meetings, which makes it hard to get anything done. "It's absolutely untrue," a shocked Kniss tells Eye, adding that the only person who's really a stickler for attendance is Gage, and he's obsessed with it. Eye checked the attendance record at full board meetings and found that Supervisor Pete McHugh tied Kniss for the record number of absences. Between Jan. 9, 2001, and Jan. 28, 2003, each ditched three times.

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From the February 13-19, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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