The Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency that has earned the nickname "Golden Spigot" in recent years for its free spending, has a new project to boost its image: investing in the Silver Screen. The district spent $29,500 to hire a San Francisco production company to shoot and edit an 18-minute promotional film to sing its praises.
District leaders held a premiere for their film, "Protecting Your Future," on Oct. 16 at the agency's San Jose headquarters. To make sure they'd get a good opening night crowd, district officials spent an additional $15,580 to purchase advertising trailers in local movie theaters. An additional $5,139 went to buy ads in community newspapers. The district then spent an additional $5,000 to have 4,000 DVDs of the film made.
Total cost, according to Teresa Alvarado, the water district's communications chief who ordered and supervised the project: $54,200.
About 150 people attended the premiere. That it came three weeks before Santa Clara County voters decide the fate of a $548 million parcel tax to fund the district's projects is a coincidence, said Marty Grimes, a water district spokesman.
Even though the film contains such lines as "the investments we make today honor future generations," it is not an attempt to influence voters, Grimes said, because it was supposed to be finished months ago but ran into delays.
Meanwhile, the water district, which already has 12 people on the payroll in its communications department, approved spending an additional $272,000 this year to further beef up its PR efforts. Some of that money will be spent hiring a 13th staff member, with a starting salary advertised at $81,785 to $104,707.
"The district seems to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and money marketing itself," said Randy Shingai, a retired San Jose software engineer who closely follows the agency's spending. "I think if they concentrated on their mission instead of constantly marketing themselves, everyone would be better served."
Mud starts flying in water district race
Speaking of the Golden Spigot, you don't expect races for the board of the Santa Clara Valley Water District to produce hit pieces. Water policy is not precisely compelling stuff.
But in West Valley District 5, where incumbent Patrick Kwok is defending his seat against a challenge from former water district engineer and administrator Nai Hsueh, the mud is flying.
Kwok released a piece last week that accused Hsueh of all manner of sins -- collecting a $133,500 pension from the district, mismanaging water district projects, and presiding over a capital improvement program that was criticized by an outside auditor. He even took her to task for not voting -- by his count -- in eight of 11 elections.
Kwok's facts bent the truth. The auditor's report came three years after Hsueh retired, and a 2009 grand jury report on the water district was clearly more targeted at the board of the Golden Spigot than at the staff. As a former decline-to-state voter, Hsueh acknowledges that she didn't vote in primaries -- but she says she has voted in the past four general elections (to see the piece and her response, go to MercuryNews.com/internal-affairs). She also points out that the board gave her a commendation when she retired four years ago.
Nonetheless, the Kwok hit, which arrived in both English and Chinese versions, is likely to have an effect, if for no other reason than the highlighting of Hsueh's CalPERS pension. Although she was well-regarded as a hardworking administrator -- and is probably the best-informed of any water board candidate this year -- Hsueh does not have a name automatically recognized as female, a boost in down-ballot Santa Clara County races.
Max contradiction over minimum wage
The official ballot argument against San Jose's Measure D to raise the minimum wage in the city makes the case that "it will hurt those who need help the most," and by way of example states: "Goodwill Industries, which helps train people with disabilities, estimates that if this measure passes it will have to cut 100 job-training positions."
But that's not what Goodwill is saying. Mike Fox Jr., chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries of Santa Clara County, said he was surprised to learn that his nonprofit was mentioned in the argument against the measure. Goodwill, he said, has been neutral on Measure D since back in June after it qualified for the ballot.
"We're not cutting 100 jobs," Fox said. "I don't know what impact it will be, but our position is whether it passes or not passes, we'll continue to fulfill our mission of helping people with barriers to employment gain employment."
Fox doesn't live in San Jose and won't be voting in Measure D, which would raise the hourly wage floor from the state-mandated $8 to $10 with annual inflation increases. But he has deep ties to the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, which is leading the fight against it. Fox was the chamber's chairman in 2000, and he led its political committee during the 2006 mayoral campaign in which it successfully fought to lift city caps on independent campaign spending as a free-speech issue. He remains on the ChamberPAC board.
Matt Mahood, the chamber's president and chief executive officer, acknowledged it was a mistake to mention Goodwill in the argument against the measure but maintained nonetheless that Measure D is bad for nonprofits and other businesses.
"In hindsight, given the Goodwill's neutral position, I regret that we included them in the ballot argument," Mahood said. "However, Measure D has no exemptions and it will hurt nonprofits that hire the lowest skilled workers and teen employment. It will hurt small- and medium-sized business. It creates a new city bureaucracy and will open businesses up to a whole new set of potential lawsuits."
COPS mailer backed by consultants
COPS Voter Guide, a slate mailer circulating in San Jose, says, "Candidates we support have pledged to make public safety a top priority and work with law enforcement to protect our safety." But it's not a police group. The mailers are produced by Kelly Moran and Barry Wyatt, a pair of Sacramento-area political consultants.
Among the mailer's recommendations: Rose Herrera and Johnny Khamis for San Jose City Council and David Ginsborg for Santa Clara Valley Water District, all of whom paid to be listed. Ironically, the San Jose police officers' union backs Herrera's and Khamis' opponents.
However, Moran does have some public-safety cred: He was the political action coordinator for Peace Officers Research Association of California, coordinated public safety training for peace officers in California after the 9/11 attacks and worked to pass Jessica's law, a crackdown on convicted sexual predators. Wyatt is listed as a partner of Rich Robinson's consulting firm, which is handling Herrera opponent Jimmy Nguyen's campaign.
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Paul Rogers, Scott Herhold, John Woolfolk and Tracy Seipel. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 408-975-9346.