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BRIEF: SJ COUNCILMEMBER OLIVERIO LEADS PACK AGAINST HISTORIC LANDMARKS COMMISSION AND OTHER CITY COMMISSIONS, “BACK-FILLING” BEGINS

[This is a brief of a longer article seen here]

SAN JOSE CITY COUNCIL RETURNED TO SESSION AS OF 12 AUGUST 2014; BUT, THE ITEMS ON THE AGENDA AND ITS CONSENT CALENDAR —NAMELY THAT OF THE HISTORIC LANDMARKS COMMISSION NOMINATIONS — RECEIVED IRE AND CRITICISM, SUCH AS FOR HOW THEY WERE STAGED AT A PRIOR RULES & OPEN GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE.

The Rules and Open Government Committee met as of 6 August 2014, so as to review both yesterday’s 12 August, as well as the upcoming 19 August 2014 City Council Agenda. (See video and Agenda items here)

In other words, select council members discuss and review what will be approved for “consent” during the following weeks.  Not only that, but they decide how these matters will be discussed and how things will be decided.  In of those regards, some opposing council members are intimating their differences with their colleagues.

This newest Agenda, as of yesterday 12 August, appeared lighter in content than some others which have been seen; however, it seemed to set a tone for  the final business of Mayor Reed’s term; that is, before a new Mayor becomes elected.

The city’s Historic Landmarks Commission was the hot topic of the day; but the seeming ire and disgust that came with Item 2.19, “Historic Landmarks Commission Nomination,” was anything but marginal (or insignificant).

A simple paragraph read as follows, but the simple black-and-white of it does not tell the entire story, by any means.  It siphoned much attention and touched on many other bigger considerations:

2.19 Historic Landmarks Commission Nomination.
Memo from Councilmember Rocha
Recommendation: As recommended by the Rules and Open Government Committee on August 6, 2014, approve appointments to the Historic Landmarks Commission:
(a) Appoint Jesus Gomez to an unexpired term ending June 30, 2015;
(b) Appoint Josh Marcotte to a term ending June 30, 2018;
(c) Appoint Patricia Jones to a term ending June 30, 2018;
(d) Appoint Steven Roldan to a term ending June 30, 2018; and
(e) Appoint Romiro Torres to a term ending June 30, 2015.
CEQA: Not a Project. (City Clerk)

* [Rules Committee referral 8/6/14 – Item F(1)(a)]

It doesn’t take a full lesson in civics to realize that yesterday’s Agenda item 2.19  was symbolic, therein representing the next round within the current political climate at San Jose’s city government.  That’s aside from related issues; which, oddly enough, includes “open government” and matters like city planning.  After all — and as noted by council members herewith — City Planning and Code Enforcement often interacts with preservation concerns, cultural heritage and the Historic Landmarks Commission.

What happened here, August 12, brings to mind the recent resignation of Assistant Director Laurel Prevetti and the controversies surrounding “Save the Domes” preservation campaign for the Century 21 Theaters (located at Winchester Boulevard).  Indeed, although that business is supposedly done, it still appears to have ramifications.

In of these times, historic preservation and city planning has been an ongoing battle with the current city council; as this last high-profile matter created a firestorm of controversy and divisiveness.  The old Century 21 building just recently got approval as a city landmark, as well as added to the California Register of Historical Resources.  Although, that came at a high cost, politically, as some council members remained vocally against it.

In that contest, the Century 21 Theater was determined eligible for the National Register, therein causing some embarrassment for some council members that wanted to raze (flatten) the domes and raise (erect) a completely new building development in its place.  Although that seemingly came to a compromise and at least one dome will be saved, its being pointed out how some of these council members have become retaliatory.

City council took their regular break from session as of this last July, now to return this August.  During that hiatus, the political tension was simmering.  But, many of them have since returned with what appears to be a counter-attack and dis-empowerment of the opposition.

As key city administrators and other employees continue to resign in various offices and departments throughout the city bureaucracy, boards and commissions; still, its being accused that their replacements are “green” in a number of ways, beyond simple inexperience.

Despite the business of so-called “Rules and Open Government,” its super-ordinate nature — as the committee of other committees — is currently bringing into question the authentic nature of transparent governance (e.g., “sunshine law” and “right to know”).

It seems somewhat obvious that there was a dilemma at the Council Agenda meeting of 12 August; but, that’s highlighted by the lesser known business of the The Rules and Open Government Committee that met as of 6 August 2014.  This other session included Mayor Reed, select council members and a few city administrators.   Taking a look at those other individuals and their personal stances on previous agenda items, its more revealing as to the politics and divisiveness that is currently playing out during this larger presentation of the “Council Agenda.”

The opening of the “Consent Calendar” of the 12 August Council Agenda began with a statement from Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, as Mayor Reed asked him to brief.  Focusing on item 2.19 Historic Landmarks Commission Nomination, he began by saying with regards to the appointed nominations to such committee:

These were approved by the rules committee last week to fill the vacancies, I understand one of my distinguished colleagues has a high level of interest in the appointments. I am completely open to input from my colleagues, verbally or in writing.

Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio

Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio

Oliverio answered to the Mayor and City Council, but was indirectly referring to Councilmember Don Rocha, who had authored a Memorandum that challenged his own initiative.

So, this in mind I’d like to make the following motion:

To re-appoint Romiro Torres and Marilyn Messina for terms ending June 30, 2015.

To appoint Jesus Gomez, Josh Marcotte and Patricia Jones for terms ending in June 30, 2018.

If council would like to change the appointment process…. let’s please consider that… I’m open to anything…how the council would like to do that.

What was understated by Oliverio in the above is that said “re-appointment” refers to the incumbent commissioners that he was originally intending to jilt —as if to suddenly reject or abandon them —  for the favor of a new set of commission members.  His original intention, as set forth from the Rules Committee, was to appoint four new members, while unexpectedly letting go the incumbents.  Of course, Oliverio’s original plan would have change the balance of the commission, such as with terms of continuity and, namely, experience.

As Mayor Reed opened the floor to the public with requests to speak, the following responses to City Council expressed resentment.

First up was Brian Grayson of Preservation Action Council of San Jose (PAC*SJ), who is probably the most obvious critic in these regards, as well as that person who is one of the more visible recipients of much acrimony. He put forth a rather mater-of-fact rebuke:

It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this today.  Instead of working to preserve the historic resources of San Jose, we have to spend time trying to preserve the historic landmarks commission.   We support the memo submitted by council member Rocha, his proposal is what the Rules Committee should have  considered at last week’s meeting.

Not only does his [Rocha’s] proposal bring new people on the commission, but it maintains the expertise and experience of two incumbent commissioners.  It also provides broader geographic diversity, than what Councilmember Oliverio was attempting to achieve.

But, this is not just about historic landmark’s commission.  It’s about the larger issue of how volunteers are treated by the city.

The two commissioners who originally were not considered for reappointment never had the courtesy of being notified of that recommendation.  In addition, the nominees were not even informed of their potential appointment until today.   Some of the nominees filed their applications nearly a year ago, but heard nothing from the city until they received the notification today….
[Minutes, as recorded per official video: 23:49- 25:04]

Following Brian Grayson was incumbent commissioner, Marilyn Messina.  In less than a minute, she faced the jilted regards of Oliverio and similar colleagues, while simultaneously expressing appreciation for Rocha’s support.  Messina’s words did not need to be long:

I have served as a historic landmarks commission for… [what is] going on two years, from district four.  I am here to express my interest in continuing to serve as a commissioner. . I would like a full term…
[Minutes, as recorded per official video: 25:27 – 26:20]

Commissioner, Marilyn Messina

Commissioner, Marilyn Messina

Mayor Reed eventually concluded “Public Testimony” and the conversation next turned back to the Councilmembers themselves.

Councilmember Sam Liccardo.

Councilmember Sam Liccardo.

There began Councilmember Sam Liccardo, known lately as the mayoral candidate that’s endorsed by current Mayor Chuck Reed.  Lately, Liccardo has been at-large campaigning against County Supervisor Dave Cortese for the Mayoral prominence, whereas he seemed rather amiss with current happenstance at the San Jose City Council Chambers:

I’m just trying to catch up to where we are now.. I’m just reading it now and trying to understand how exactly we got to where we got.

So, Councilmember Oliverio replied from across the far end of the council chamber:

Just because one of my colleagues had a strong viewpoint that they would like reappointments.

Again, that refered indirectly to Councilmember Don Rocha, with apparent regards to a few other council members.

And that I had not reached out to anyone on the council.

Therein, Oliverio added a brief side note or acknowledgement.   But, this was really a considerable matter with regards to process, as it deals with the affairs of the Rules Committee, of which Oliverio is part.  In turn, it also deals with the Council Agenda and its current business at the floor that day.

Oliverio then continued…

Typically, these appointments are ones that council members make… reviewing them, coming to some discerning thought and making the appointments.

And, obviously, I see a memo — in writing — that they feel strongly.  So I’m willing to accommodate that…

That tone was received with what appeared to be a sense of entitlement and prerogative, much to the seeming exasperation of his dissenting colleagues.  Oliverio did not appear truly interested, perhaps merely entertaining these points for the sake of public discourse.  Oliverio hinted at his disfavor later on.  Meanwhile he reiterated his original stance and put forth a seeming compromise:

…to appoint them for the shorter terms, and then back-filling it with new people for the longer term.  Instead of giving someone new a short-term.

To those words ended by Oliverio, Councilmember Don Rocha had his chance to address the Council Chambers and set forth an alternative:

I want to thank my colleague Councilmember Oliverio for making those changes.
I’m going to make a substitute motion,  I feel strongly about continuing the current individuals on that are on the commission.   I don’t think they’ve done work that would warrant removing them.  Unless that is the case, I think they deserve another term.   So, I am going to make a substitute motion with my memo.

Councilmember Don Rocha

Councilmember Don Rocha

Mayor Reed took Rocha’s statement and put forward a “Substitute motion on the floor… With memorandum Councilmember Rocha authored.

That then led to an address by other council members, in addition to the City Clerk.

Councilmember Xavier Campos began with a hypothetical questions to the City Clerk:

The other commission that stayed in the same process was Planning, right?

That suddenly brought into question related matters of greater turmoil.  It includes the greater breadth of city politics.  Campos’ question framed the Historic Landmark Commission within a bigger picture of concern.

The only thing I wanted to add to this — is having served on the planning commission —  the historical preservation commission works hand-in-hand with the Planning commission and does a lot of the background that’s valuable when planning is making some very tuff decisions.

Ash Kalra followed Councilmember Campos’ remarks, expanding on that same idea, supporting Rocha and Campos:

We’re not the kings in terms of appointment.  We want to make sure that we have a process that has integrity…and that doesn’t, in any way, have a chilling effect on those that have a desire to serve their city as volunteers…

The last words by Kalra seemed to realize the so-called offer and compromise by Oliverio; but, nevertheless, confirmed the displeasure of his fellow colleagues that were standing in opposition.  Kalra continued:

There’s no reasons that I’ve been given.  …They should be allowed to be given the full term.  Then allow the new one’s the shorter term. Then you have the opportunity to vet them.

Oliverio replied with a defensive stance; but maintained an overall affront to his colleagues.

All the appointments… have interest in historical preservation and therefore independent.  None of them are from my own council district.

That may be true, but at least one of those appointed members, Josh Marcotte, is known as the husband of Mayra Flores de Marcotte, who is an active board member of Willow Glen Neighborhood Association (WGNA). That neighborhood association deals primarily with Willow Glen, of which the majority is in Oliverio’s District 6.  The Marcottes are believed to live in District 3, which is technically in the greater Willow Glen Planning area.  Their district is that of Sam Liccardo, who supported Oliverio’s case.  But, the center plate of WGNA and its social issues is in Oliverio’s District 6.   To some extent, it includes a small corner of District 3 (the Gardner area) and south Willow Glen/Cambrian (District 9, of Don Rocha).

For that matter, Councilmember Oliverio also appointed WGNA’s Chris Roth to the Library Commission.

A 41-year old grassroots neighborhood association, all of the San Jose City Council, and many of the city’s administrators are aware of WGNA; whereas, Oliverio should know that its Bylaws explicitly forbid a conflict of interest in regards to political nature.  WGNA is a non-profit 501(c)(4) association that has traditionally stuck to neighborhood social issues.

Section 7. CONFLICT OF INTEREST Each member of the Board of Directors is to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance thereof between their political, personal, professional, and financial interests and the stated purpose of the Association.

Nevertheless, Chris Roth brags on his own Facebook Page that he is an “Alternate to the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee, the official body of the Democratic Party in Silicon Valley.”  At that, Roth attributes this favor to none other than Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, saying:

Thrilled to have been appointed as an Alternate to the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee, the official body of the Democratic Party in Silicon Valley…. Thank you Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio for your support!

Chris Roth thanks Councilmember Oliverio for appointed favors at Facebook.

Chris Roth thanks Councilmember Oliverio for appointed favors at Facebook.

Indeed, at the time of this writing, Chris Roth simultaneously forwards himself as current Board President of Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, even though Bylaws stipulate that this is a conflict of interest.  It seems that both Oliverio and Roth should know this; as well as that they should be transparent about Josh Marcotte’s ties to Mayra Flores de Marcotte.

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 3.03.22 AM

WGNA’s Board is not fully functional, by admission of its own online posting

The case in point, is not just “district representation,” but conflicts with any council member and outside interests.  As exampled, Oliverio can appeal to Board Members of WGNA, therein influencing the balance of power in that organization.  That’s although WGNA is suppose to be an independent, non-political, grassroots and a non-profit association that addresses social issues.

Likewise, it goes similarly for participation in the Commissions, Boards and Committees of the City of San Jose.  Hidden conflicts of interest go against that which is set forth by the Rules and Open Government Committee.  Again, Oliverio sits therein, with insight from current Mayor Chuck Reed and Vice Mayor Nguyen, plus Councilmember Constant (District 1).

Regardless thereof, Oliverio finished his retort:

I will be supporting my motion, because I believe it gives more people a chance to serve,  by cycling through people.

Therein is yet another irony, coming from Oliverio’s own rhetoric, since its “Cycling through people” which is what his opposition dislikes.  Even if Oliverio seemed not to mean it that way, essentially colleagues are implying that he is “milling” out commission seats.  Although, in Oliverio’s parlance, this is called “backfilling.”

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 11.28.52 PM

Mayor Chuck Reed

But, with that, Mayor Reed simply bridged Oliverio’s comment, thereby making an easy explanation for his vote:

We have a lot of people that want to serve on our boards and commissions.  We have placed term limits on there and we still have lots of people that want to serve.  This is a chance to get more people, if they’re all qualified…. all interested in historic preservation.

So, then came the ire and disgust of Councilmember Don Rocha, but which really came as no surprise:

By appearance, all I can surmise is that this was a political decision.

There really is  no compelling reason why these folks shouldn’t be serving a full term, based  on their credibility… I’m sorry, credentials.

If this is purely about a political move up here [at the Council Chambers], that’s a failure of leadership…

And I would encourage you to support my motion.

Mayor Reed didn’t seem very moved and simply motioned to complete the order of business:

Well, lets find out, we have motion on the floor… Councilmember’s motion

I count opposed [to Rocha’s motion] : Oliverio, Constant, Reed, Nguyen, Khamis, Herrera, Liccardo.  Motions fails… 4-7 vote.

Until that time, Councilmember Pete Constant, Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and Councilmember Johny Khamis had remained silent.  It was an odd turn of expression by Councilmember Constant; since, in prior months, he had been very vocal in opposition to Century 21’s preservation.

What is more, both Constant and Vice Mayor Nguyen sit on the Rules and Open Government Committee, including that of Mayor Reed, Councilmember Oliverio and City Clerk Taber.

Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio is the council’s liaison to the Rules and Open Governmnt Committee, which includes seven members. He had the privilege of nominating candidates for five vacancies this month.

RULES COMMITTEE: Left to right: Councilmember Pete Constant; Mayor Chuck Reed; Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen; Councilmember Oliverio.

RULES COMMITTEE: Left to right: Councilmember Pete Constant; Mayor Chuck Reed; Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen; Councilmember Oliverio.

Oliverio, like Mayor Reed and Constant, sits on the Rules and Open Government Committee, while all three of them also opposed saving the Century 21 dome theater that incumbent commissioners of the Historic Landmarks Committee deemed historic.

Oliverio led the campaign, along with silence of Pete Constant and Mayor Reed; therein, to rule over his colleagues, as well as that of the Historic Landmarks Commission.

At that, it’s also been rumored that this triumverate will also have influence on the seemingly disarrayed Planning commission and department.  That idea, as expressed in the Mercury News editorial that was cited by Brian Grayson of PAC*SJ, is that fewer structures will be salvaged that are “newer than the Peralta Adobe.”

In short, what’s being conveyed is a priorly “done deal,” in advance of the City Council Agenda. In the bottom line, this is what really drew the ire and disgust of Rocha, Kalra and Campos… and a fourth person tha’s camera-shy.

So came Mayor Reeds closing, acting like a gavel to what’s already known:

Motion on floor still…Oliverio’s.
Same people, different set of terms:  opposed, Kalra, Campos, Rocha…

Motion passes on a 7-4 vote.

Indeed, a “different set of terms” is what was has been gaveled.  It begins to set forth a “process,” while the outgoing Mayor still maintains his seat.

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This entry was posted on Friday 15 August 2014 by in San Jose, San Jose City Hall & Council.

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