Monday, March 10, 2008

Pandemonium at City Hall

Thứ Hai, ngày 10 tháng 3 năm 2008
Pandemonium at City Hall
• John Vu

Pandemonium at City Hall
John Vu

At the council meeting on March 4, 2008, after more than 6 long hours of listening to over 400 hundred people asking for the name Little Saigon, Councilmember Nguyen put forth a motion to rescind all votes on November 20, 2007 and June 5, 2007 items. She said:” I want to have a clean slate”. Mayor Chuck Reed agreed:” I do not want to have the June 5 item be tainted with the association with the communist government in VN. The November 20 vote is also tainted with the allegation of Brown Act violation.” Councilmember Sam Liccardo suggested a new motion to have an up or down vote on Little Saigon. Vice Mayor Dave Cortese and Councilmember Kansen Chu second the motion and said it would only make sense. Councilmember Judy Chirco spoke for the council in admitting that the council “… messed up and for that I am truly sorry.”

The votes were 11-0 in favor of Little Saigon. The whole chamber erupted in applauds. Some people broke down and cried. More than two dozen people rushed up the podium and started hugging Liccardo and Reed. Before Nguyen could walk into the chamber room, people hoisted her on their shoulders and the crowd cheered wildly. The other 400 people in the two adjacent overflow rooms started to chant Madison, Madison, Madison. The 450 people in the rotunda stood up and yelled loudly as they saw on the big screen what had transpired inside the council meeting room. They started to chant “We love Chuck”. The 700 people who brave the cold and stood outside the rotunda for more than 6 hours listening to speakers only also erupted with the chant “We love Chuck.”

A Reality Check

But just like any perfect ending of a long drama, it can only happen in Hollywood . We live in San Jose where political logics so far defy any conventional wisdom and movie script. Two days before the council meeting, over 5,000 people filled the public square and the whole square block in front of city hall as a show for their desire for the name Little Saigon. With over 4,000 signatures, more than 120 businesses owners signed a petition for Little Saigon and 2,000 people show up for the council meeting, the city council rejected the name again and asked to have a new process of naming the area.

The first time the name Little Saigon was rejected, it was mainly on Nguyen’s strong argument “I am elected to represent and serve my entire district” and Reed’s statement of he had listened to both sides and there is “A silent majority.”

With the Brown Act violation of securing the majority to vote against Little Saigon, the email chain obtained thru RDA showing that Madison had in fact agreed to have the area name Vietnam Town Business District with a wealthy developer Tang Lap without the council’s knowledge or community input (as required by the process), and the majority of the Vietnamese-American people in San Jose wanting the name Little Saigon, there were no good or logical reasons why it could be denied again on March 4, 2008.

But in a well orchestrated series of motions, Councilmembers Nguyen, Liccardo and Mayor Reed outmaneuvered Councilmember Chu and Vice Mayor Cortese’s attempt to force the council to an up or down vote of Little Saigon. All motions to force an up or down vote were declined due to procedural technicality.

Liccardo, in a brilliant calculated move, put forth a motion to have a resolution to acknowledge that the name Little Saigon received the wide support of the Vietnamese-American community. But, the naming would be visited another time when the city staff could design a process that is inclusive to the so called stakeholders.

He reasoned that he had received and reviewed the petition of 92 business owners on Story Road . The petition asked the council not to name area since they want to determine for themselves on what the area would be called. The petition was given to the council by Huong Le, a man claimed to be the co-founder and co-owner of the Lee’s Sanchwich franchise. To emphasize the point, Liccardo called Huong Le to the speaker’s stand and asked him how he obtained this petition and what did the owners tell him. Huong Le told Liccardo it was him and his friends who gathered the signatures and the people there want to name the area themselves.

In a heated exchange between Liccard and Cortese before the vote of Liccardo’s motion, Cortese told Liccardo:” You know this issue will not go away”

Just Like the Movie “Ground Hog Day”

Prophetically, the issue would not go away. In a not so shocking series of events immediately afterward, the city council is now in a deeper crisis.

First, there is a planned class action lawsuit against Huong Le for falsified signature of the business owners. The 92 signatures were obtained over a year ago for the support of the naming the area a Vietnamese Business District. However, the cut and paste job by Huong Le and his friends put the signatures onto a March, 2008 letter declaring that the business owners are fed up and wanted to have the area name according to their wish. The more than 30 business owners interviewed by reporters in the last two days were very much outraged. Matter of fact, these people preferred the name Little Saigon.

Second, the disturbing story by members of the Story Road Business Association of how Nguyen asked the association to change their vote from supporting Little Saigon to Saigon Business District. Nguyen asked the member to revote and specifically asked them to vote for Saigon Business District. Her reason to them that they should vote for Saigon Business District is because it was the choice of the Vietnamese-American community.

Third, the demand for open record and an independent investigation into Nguyen’s private dealing and agreement with the developer Tang Lap to have the area named after his shopping mall, her use of RDA and city staff to help him with the naming of the area as Vietnam Town Business District. The demand for open record is necessary for there many redacted emails in regards to conversations between Nguyen, Tang Lap and the RDA. Why these emails were not released to the public for viewing is a concerned.

The controversy surrounds her dealing 3 months before the council vote for approval of the area as a business district and the loophole she manipulated to agree to a name without community input. When asked about this, she replied:” It is a moot point since the city attorney stopped it when Tang Lap decided to offer money for the maintenance of the monuments and banners.” The banners and monuments were designed with the help the city’s senior graphic designer. This of course begs the question - What if the city attorney did not told her that taking money is not right, would she continue with having the area named as Vietnam Town Business District without the council knowledge or community input?


One hundred years from now, the area will know doubt will be known as Little Saigon for it is clearly the choice of the people. Nobody will remember the debate of epic proportion. But there is a good chance that they will read in history book of a thing called “Saigongate.” The fact of the matter is Nguyen was elected to serve the entire community and yet she failed the people and her oath of office when she made deal behind closed door with a special interest group. And when exposed, she tried to cover up and using her power as a mini-mayor in her district to influence voting outcome to deny the people that she swore to serve their voices. In the process, she has divided the community, violated the Brown Act and orchestrated behind the scene with powerful business people who have their hidden agenda to misrepresent the small business owners and the people (Huong Le boasted how Nguyen arranged for two college students, who were interns in her office, to come to his house and worked with him and the lawyer Liem Nguyen, late until 3 AM in the morning to hammer out all the details and logistics of their plan as well as the well versed talking points).

Many observers including myself indicated at the beginning of this controversy that groups wanting to recall Nguyen have no justifiable causes. But mounting evidences of unethical behaviors and the looking the other way by city council have forced the people’s hands. A culture of back door dealing, lying and unethical practices should not be tolerated. An end to this issue is necessary for it will consume city hall with long lasting controversy. It should begin with the opening up of records and all questions raised need to be answered with honesty and sincerity.