Santa Clara County marked something of a backward milestone at its Tuesday board of supervisors meeting, the last for outgoing Supervisor Liz Kniss.
Kniss, who is termed out and headed back to the Palo Alto City Council, leaves behind an all-male board of supervisors: Ken Yeager, George Shirakawa Jr., Dave Cortese and Mike Wasserman. Her replacement come January will be Joe Simitian, formerly of the state Senate and Palo Alto City Council, who's now returning to the county board.
That means for the first time in 37 years, there will not be a woman serving as supervisor there.
Passing Kniss a bouquet Tuesday, County Counsel Lori Pegg noted with a brave smile that beginning in January, she will be the only woman sitting behind the dais at supervisors' meetings. She may well be the only reason the board won't re-christen its chambers the Man Cave.
Kniss responded to this dilemma, nearly unthinkable for the 21st century in one of the nation's most progressive regions, by encouraging new candidates to run.
"I hope that in the future, that there are women who will step forward and serve on this particular board," she said.
Kniss went on to say that "this is so much about human services, and it's not that the people sitting up here aren't certainly humane and aren't aware of people's needs -- I know that you are."
It's just that, she explained as diplomatically as possible, "women approach work differently."
Exactly. With Kniss gone, the board will be free to discuss residents' most pressing concerns. Like sports.
But Susanne Wilson, a former Santa Clara County supervisor, ended the Tuesday exchange with a warning that the testosterone on the board would soon be diluted.
"I wish none of you any bad luck," Wilson told the board's four male members. "But there will be a time when there will be more women up here than men. We still hold up 50 percent of the sky!"
Potential successors circle Shirakawa's District 2 seat
At least two politically connected women's names have been raised as potential successors should Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. be bounced from his seat next year for misusing his county credit card or failing to file required campaign forms.
And last week, one of them -- Teresa Alvarado -- made waves after moving into Shirakawa's District 2 from District 1.
Alvarado, the 48-year-old manager at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, is also the daughter of former District 2 County Supervisor Blanca Alvarado, who has publicly railed against Shirakawa's ethical lapses.
In 2010, Teresa Alvarado ran for the District 1 seat eventually won by Mike Wasserman. She also considered running against Shirakawa in 2008 but wasn't a registered District 2 voter at the time and couldn't compete.
This time, Alvarado's starting early, moving from a home near Hayes Mansion that she shares with husband Jess Moreles to rent a loft in District 2's Japantown -- closer not only to her dentist but plenty of downtown San Jose-based civic groups she belongs to.
Regarding Shirakawa's seat, Alvarado would only tell us she thinks the county needs to hold public officials accountable over their use of public funds and wouldn't confirm whether she would want to be appointed as his replacement, saying "unfortunately, it's irrelevant."
Labor leader Cindy Chavez -- a District 2 resident also cited as a potential Shirakawa successor -- was similarly coy.
"I'm not speculating -- it's not the right thing to do," Chavez told us. "As a community, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Meetings turn chaotic
at Santa Clara Unified
The newly configured Santa Clara Unified school board got off to a rocky start this month, squabbling over everything from elementary school expansion to meeting decorum as the superintendent headed toward the exit.
It began with a raucous Dec. 13 meeting that ran well into the early morning. Impassioned parents and teachers turned out for a proposal by trustee Ina Bendis and newly elected member Chris Stampolis to change Bracher Elementary, which Stampolis' sons attend, from a K-5 school to K-6 next year, and to study expanding alternative schools Millikin and Washington Open.
But with the meeting room already full of principals and district employees waiting for other items on the crowded agenda, late arrivals had to listen to the meeting broadcast out in the hall and lobby.
In the wee hours, Superintendent Bobbie Plough capped off the Dec. 13 meeting by announcing her retirement, just a year and a half into her tenure. A coincidence?
Last week, ¿the board reconvened twice in an effort to right itself, addressing among other things concerns about meeting decorum, efficiency and "the civil rights of all constitutionally protected classes."
Bendis and newly named board President Christine Koltermann proposed the board appoint three trustees to research "the constitutional issues at play" -- because, Koltermann said, among those outside the door were Latino parents and at least one physically handicapped person.
Their memo cited "repeated outbreaks of applause, hand waving and spontaneous oral outbreaks by district employees who'd obtained preferential access to seating in the boardroom compared to members of the public who had been excluded from the boardroom" and "the refusal of those engaging in this conduct to cease it when requested."
To improve public access, Koltermann hopes to have board meetings broadcast on cable or streamed on the Web. The board on Wednesday also kicked off its search for a new superintendent. It may be a long one if this keeps up.
He pays the price for loan
to strip club dancer
Twenty-two years ago, in 1990, Ann Ravel and Luke Breit were both parts of the political constellation in San Jose -- Ravel as chief assistant county counsel and Breit as the consultant for Frank Fiscalini's campaign for mayor against Susan Hammer.
This month, their paths crossed in Sacramento. As the head of the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, Ravel approved fining Breit $9,500 for improper use of campaign funds.
It was the circumstances that made the case unusual. As treasurer for a committee supporting the decriminalization of prostitution, Breit loaned $3,000 from committee funds to a strip club dancer who was also his paramour. Breit told FPPC investigators he believed that the woman would use the money to pay for a lawyer in a child support case. Instead, Breit told them, she "got a boob job and had another kid." The loan was not repaid.
In a tweet about the case, Ravel said the case was the "FPPC Staff's vote for the most amazing case involving improper use of campaign funds this year."
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Karen de Sá, Tracy Seipel, Sharon Noguchi, Scott Herhold and Paul Rogers. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 408-975-9346.
With the winter holidays upon us, Internal Affairs will hibernate for the remainder of the year. Look for our return in January.