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Silicon Valley News Notes
Right to Lie
Leave it to San Jose's Vietnamese community to turn the Little Saigon naming issue into another civics class for City Hall. Supporters have already put city leaders through a political hazing, protesting weekly at City Hall, packing council chambers and even spurring investigations of councilmembers and their back-room dealings. Now they've forced the issue of how much truth the City Council can demand from public input. Although the council has said the Vietnamese-Americans could hang a Little Saigon sign over the Story Road retail area (which is what they wanted all along), that doesn't completely satisfy the Saigonists. Activists had asked the council to come down on Henry Le , who presented a petition with signatures from 92 businesses who allegedly said they didn't want the council involved in the naming of the Vietnamese retail area. At the time, the council used that petition as a launching pad for its March 4 decision to step out of the naming controversy. Since then, councilmembers concluded that petition was bogus. But what can they really do about it? Well, Little Saigon advocates wanted the council to penalize Le and rescind its March 4 vote. However, San Jose City Attorney Rick Doyle has cautioned that the council isn't really in the business of limiting an individual's freedom of speech (that includes petitions) at council hearings. In other words, Doyle thinks anyone has a constitutional right to lie freely at a public forum. (Memo to politicians: Whew!) "It's not a crime that we are aware of," Doyle said. "What can you do to limit people? They are not under oath." Doyle said it is up to the council to discern what is true and what is not true. Still, the council committee asked that Doyle research the dos and don'ts of limiting speech�spoken or written�during public forums. Maybe it's an unusual request, but the council has learned to cover its bases. The Viets say the issue was once about the name Little Saigon. But not anymore. It's now about holding City Hall accountable, every step of the way, said Barry Hung Do , spokesman for the San Jose Voters for Democracy, an informal group of Little Saigon advocates. "This has gotten more Vietnamese-American citizens more involved with local operations," Do said. "They didn't care about local politics, but since Little Saigon, more and more are scrutinizing their elected officials within the city."
He'll Drink To That
Maybe San Jose's City Council can survive accusations of scandal, threats of recall and weekly protests at City Hall. But there's no chance they could overcome being known as the council that let a Vietnamese man starve himself to death on the steps of City Hall. Mayor Chuck Reed was savvy enough to see that, and Reed put an end to Ly Tong's month-long hunger strike last week when he agreed to give the Vietnamese community what they want: Little Saigon. Well, at least part of it. The mayor quickly struck a deal with Tong, agreeing to ask the council to allow for a "Little Saigon" sign to hang over the Vietnamese retail area along Story Road. "We can't have someone die on City Hall grounds, we can't have that." said Councilwoman Madison Nguyen." It's true. Had the city let Tong carry on with his hunger strike until the horrible end, San Jose would suddenly be known not as the solar capital or the epicenter of innovation but as "the place where that Vietnamese guy died." San Jose's decision to not name the retail area Little Saigon has already drawn media attention from around the globe. Shortly after the mayor and other councilmembers signed the agreement, Tong could be seen sipping lemonade while Reed held a press conference with the Vietnamese community, asking (in a pleading tone) for everyone to move forward peacefully. Little Saigon advocates said they're willing to put a rest to the weekly protests and the phone calls to councilmembers. But this deal isn't going to mend the rift between the Viets and Nguyen. So there's still a good chance the community will pursue a recall, said Barry Hung Do, spokesman for the San Jose Voters for Democracy, the Little Saigon advocacy group. "The city mismanaged it from Day 1, " Do said. "It was one bad thing leading to another."