San Jose City Councilmembers et al.,
THE HEIGHTS OF HYPOCRISY, HUBRIS, AND CHUTZPAH
order to understand the confusing issues surrounding the Little Saigon
controversy, we must return to 2005 when Terry Gregory was still the
councilman for San Jose District 7 (now occupied by Madison Nguyen).
San Jose boasts as being the 11th largest city in the nation. It is
also the city with the largest number of Vietnamese living anywhere
outside of Vietnam, and its District 7 has the highest number of Vietnamese
residents of any of the 10 Districts in this city.
Madison Nguyen ran for Gregory’s seat on a platform full of promises. She prided herself as a fighter of injustices and often spoke out about the press’s mischaracterization of the Vietnamese community. The people in District 7 at that time voted for her with the belief and hope that she will represent District 7 with fairness, honesty, and integrity. However Nguyen soon began to curry support and favor from special interest groups. For example, in early 2007 she began to discuss privately with Lap Tang the owner/developer of the Grand Century and Vietnam Town malls on Story Road for proposal of the name for the mile of corridor on Story Road between Senter Road and Freeway 101. Nguyen and Tang wanted the name Vietnam Town Business District as the official designation for this corridor. Tang even commissioned the gateway monuments with the name Vietnam Town Business District and promised to pay for the maintenance of the monuments and the banners in anticipation of its adoption by the city council. Nguyen was confident that the area would be officially called Vietnam Town Business District, so she asked the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) that “since Mr. Tang is willing to pay for most of the costs, is a public meeting still necessary to inform the public of this project?” (actual text from Nguyen’s April 5, 2007 e-mail to RDA). The RDA immediately responded that “It doesn’t matter who is doing this project, we (RDA) believe that the community should be informed early on in the project so that we can mitigate potential problems.” This RDA admonition to Nguyen turned out to be most prophetic. Had Nguyen’s and Tang’s proposal for the name Vietnam Town Business District been successful, Lap Tang would in essence have greatly benefited from the city’s designation because it would surely help to promote Tang’s Vietnam Town mall which was (and is still) being built next to his Grand Century Mall. Credit must be given to the RDA and the City Attorney which had turned down Nguyen’s proposal of the name Vietnam Town Business District because it clearly would have been inappropriate, unethical, and possibly illegal for such a name designation.
Only after RDA’s response to Nguyen (about the need to inform the community) on April 5, 2007 and the council’s direction on June 5, 2007 to conduct community outreach did Nguyen felt obligated to consult the community on the naming issue. Nevertheless Nguyen consistently avoided requests by community leaders to meet and discuss the naming issue until the first community meeting which took place on August 15, 2007 at the Tully library branch. Had there been no community meetings on this issue, Nguyen’s stealth proposal for the name Vietnam Town Business District would surely have been summarily approved by the council. At the August 15, 2007 meeting attended by about 150 community members, Nguyen told the attendees that “The people who are doing business on Story Road….who live within one thousand feet of this area will have the biggest input in regards to what the name will be. Now even if all of you let’s say 100% of you including myself, like the name Little Saigon, right? but since we don’t live there, we live about three or four miles down, our input is not going to make that much of a difference.” She further added “…the merchants and the people who live within the area, they will get to vote…those people are going to give us the name. Whoever guy come up with the most votes, that’s what the city council is going to take into consideration. It’s the most fairest way on how we’re going to achieve this resolution.” (actual audio and video recorded statements made by Nguyen at the meeting). It should be noted that at that meeting, the overwhelming majority of the attendees preferred the name “Little Saigon” for the proposed area. After the August 15, 2005 meeting, the RDA was directed to conduct a survey of the stakeholders within 1000 feet of the designated area for a proposed name. Thereafter, at the second (and last) public meeting on October 10, 2007, the survey’s results were announced which indicated the name “Little Saigon” was the top vote getter on a list of 6 proposed names, and it was chosen by a ratio of more than 7 to 1 over the name “Saigon Business District” (SBD) which had come in dead last. Incidentally the name Vietnam Town Business District which Nguyen and Tang had wanted for the area was never suggested by the community as a plausible choice, and therefore was not even included on the list of names provided in the RDA survey.
The overwhelming majority of the community preferred the name “Little Saigon.” This fact is evidenced by results in all the surveys conducted, by the attendees at all the community meetings, and in particular at the city council meeting on November 20, 2007 where more than 1000 community members appeared and supported this name.
Nevertheless the city council disregarded the will of the people and voted 8 to 3 for SBD the most unpopular name on the RDA survey. Nguyen claimed that this name was a compromise. The logic in Nguyen’s reasoning is totally incomprehensible. The infamous vote by the council was due in no small part to the orchestration behind the scenes by Nguyen. As the truth slowly surfaced, we found out that prior to the vote, Nguyen had lobbied other council members to obtain the needed votes to defeat the name Little Saigon. With her Vietnamese community, Nguyen had also fabricated the facts and misled her people in order to gain their support and falsely claimed that those people represented numerous community organizations when in fact they only signed in their individual capacities. Naturally people were very upset that she had exploited them and they sent in retraction letters and withdrew their support. Such letters apparently were suppressed by Nguyen. Recently council member Forrest Williams admitted on a TV interview that Nguyen had spoken with him prior to the vote and had asked for his support on this issue. This is a violation of California’s Brown Act open meeting statutes because with Williams’ commitment Nguyen had secured a majority before the council voted. Williams indicated he agreed to go with whatever name Nguyen wanted, and said that he will always defer to her because he believed she knows best her district. Mr. Williams made it very clear in the TV interview with this writer that his principle is always to defer to another council member’s decision when it involves an issue in another district; in so doing, Mr. Williams has basically abdicated his role to exercise any open mindedness or independence and became nothing more than a rubber stamp. However to his credit, Mr. Williams indicated that Madison Nguyen must accept the consequences of any bad decisions she may have made, and he also commented that the community has the prerogative to recall Nguyen if it so desires. Vice-Mayor David Cortese also recently changed his position and is now in full support of the name Little Saigon. Mr. Cortese indicated that he was misled by Madison Nguyen into voting for the unpopular name Saigon Business District. And despite some people’s speculation and suspicion that there were more ulterior than altruistic motives for his change of heart, Mr. Cortese should be commended for his fortitude to be contrite.
After the council’s vote on November 20, 2007, Mayor Chuck Reed and Madison Nguyen stubbornly held on to their unpopular decision despite an unusually high level of opposition from the Vietnamese community. This is exemplified by the consistently large rallies at noon every Tuesday at the City Hall since the November “Black Tuesday” vote, and the hunger strike the past two weeks by Ly Tong, a fervent Little Saigon supporter. Some might call these actions useless, foolish, and disruptive; others however call it democracy in action and the exercise of the First Amendment. But for many months, both Reed and Nguyen were adamant that their decision was correct, that the matter will never be revisited, and insisted that it’s time to move on. However, after revelations of the Brown Act violations surfaced along with other incriminating evidence relating to Nguyen’s deception and dishonesty, plus the Vice-Mayor’s change of mind, Reed and Nguyen in a span of less than two weeks suddenly launched two major memos. The first memo proposed a rescission of the previous unpopular vote for SBD, but included a recommendation to put the naming issue on the November 2008 general election for the entire city to decide. This proposal absolutely contradicts Nguyen’s earlier assertion that only the choice of the people within 1000 feet of Story Road would count. Furthermore, at a time when Reed is pleading for a reduction of spending and expenditures to counteract the city’s large deficit, he had the audacity to propose putting the issue to the entire city’s electorate; an act that according to the city clerk could conceivably cost as much as 2.68 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money. Reed’s and Nguyen’s strategy in placing this issue on the ballot for the entire city are threefold: First, it will distract and deflect focus on the Brown Act violations and on Reed’s and Nguyen’s deception and incompetence with the inherent ramifications on their political futures; second, it will guarantee the defeat of the name Little Saigon because the majority of the voters in the city (90% of the residents are not Vietnamese) do not have a good grasp of the facts revolving around this naming issue; and third, it will cause resentment toward the Little Saigon supporters which unfortunately will fan the xenophobic flames against a particular immigrant community, e.g. the Vietnamese-Americans; many of whom had previously been strong supporters of Reed and Nguyen when they ran for office, but who recently have become most active and expressive in their strident opposition to both because of this naming issue.
When their earlier memo backfired, Reed and Nguyen back pedaled again and submitted their latest memo recommending that after rescinding last November’s vote, the naming matter not be placed on the ballot. However, they also proposed to suspend the naming issue, which is tantamount to putting the issue in deep freeze and destined for oblivion.
however be noted that currently there are other memos submitted by council
members Kansen Chu and Pete Constant, as well as by Vice-Mayor Dave
Cortese which would quickly and fairly resolve this issue. These reasonable
memos proposed that the council acknowledge the passion and affect Little
Saigon has on the community, recognize the right choice, and adopt the
results of the RDA survey. The council can then move on to more urgent