Driving force in light rail to step out of spotlight
For more than four decades, Rod Diridon has been a colorful and controversial driving force in promoting mass transit in Silicon Valley. He's the father of light rail, began pushing BART to San Jose in the 1980s and came to the rescue of Caltrain when it appear the Peninsula commuter service might die in the '90s.
Now, he's about to -- almost -- fade away.
Diridon, 75, has retired as executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, which has evolved from a little-known think tank into one with national recognition. It's a post he has held since its 1993 founding at San Jose State.
"Rod is like a locomotive when he's focused on an objective," said Metropolitan Transportation Commission Executive Director and MTI board Chairman Steve Heminger. "Best to be on board rather than in his way."
Diridon, who became a Santa County supervisor in 1974 until termed out of office two decades later, will work part time at the institute.
The Mineta Transportation Institute conducts research, education and information programs regarding transportation policy, especially related to transit.
While Diridon has been called the father of the valley's light rail system that stretches from Los Gatos through San Jose and into Mountain View, he has also been dogged by the train's disappointing ridership and high cost.
Where the trolleys were expected to carry more than 40,000 riders each weekday by 1992 -- a figure later revised to 12,000 -- the count is 35,572 today.
And, in 1994, the man with one-time presidential ambitions was named the least trusted leader in San Jose, according to a Mercury News survey.
Surprisingly, light rail isn't what Diridon considers the crowning achievement of his long political career. It occurred in 1980 following a statewide attempt to pass Proposition 6, which would have made it illegal for gays to teach in public schools.
The defeat spawned a local push for a gay-rights initiative for county workers, guaranteeing they could not be discriminated against because of sexual preference.
Former San Jose council member David Pandori, then a student at SJSU, remembers going to the board and hearing Diridon make "this really eloquent speech" on behalf of the local initiative.
"To his credit, Rod really stepped up to bat," said Wiggsy Sivertsen, a retired professor at SJSU and activist in the gay and lesbian community. "It was a very heated and difficult debate, and Rod absorbed quite a punishment. But I've always appreciated what he did."
Retired judge takes on the 'Scarlet eLetter'
Some lawyers become judges and disappear from notice. Not so Eugene Hyman, who took controversial stands while on the Santa Clara County Superior Court bench. Now, in an article for a local law review, he proves he's no less outspoken since he retired.
In a 44-page article in the Santa Clara Law Review, Hyman sounds off on what he and scholars dub the "Scarlet eLetter.''
The term, derived from the fictional disgrace of the adulterous Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, refers to the "scarlet criminal record (of female offenders) that endures with equal stigma'' in this electronic age.
Hyman decries the host of "collateral consequences" that dog women with even low-level criminal records, including denial of jobs, housing, welfare and civic rights, as well as struggles over child custody. His primary concern is for their children, who pay the price of their mothers' transgressions, no matter how long ago they occurred.
It's hard to argue with his impassioned call to arms: "It is unconscionable and cruel," Hyman wrote, "to haphazardly deny a single mother and child a roof over their head and basic sustenance for a nonviolent drug offense."
But there's no consensus nationwide on the remedies he discusses, including diversion programs in which someone who committed such crimes as petty theft would be ordered to complete a specially designed program of classes to avoid a criminal record. Even more controversial is the notion of stamping a "past-due date'' on older records, meaning they would essentially expire after eight years or so.
The article follows at least three other outspoken stances Hyman took while on the bench. He retired in March 2011.
In a 2005 op-ed piece, he advocated letting judges nominate Supreme Court nominees.
In 2010, he declared a man who had been accused of murder factually innocent over the objections of then-District Attorney Dolores Carr's office. The judge used the opportunity to defend Judge Andrea Bryan, the target of a rare blanket boycott by prosecutors after she ruled against them in a molestation case. Also in 2010, Hyman wrote an op-ed piece in the Mercury News urging then-District Attorney-elect Jeff Rosen to focus on prison reform.
Perez still holding firm in state controller race
It wasn't looking good last week for Assemblyman John Perez' bid to become the next state controller. But Perez wasn't giving up easily.
The June primary winnowed the field down to front-runner Ashley Swearengin, the Republican mayor of Fresno, and a nail-biter between Democrats Perez and state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee.
A final batch of votes counted in Lake County last week appeared to hoist Yee above Perez for the right to advance to the November runoff against Swearengin. But fewer than 500 votes separated the two Democrats. So, while Yee awaited a concession last week, Perez pondered a recount.
"After nearly a month of counting votes and a vote margin of just 1/100th of one percent, out of more than 4 million votes cast, nobody would like to the see this process completed more than we would," Perez said in a note to supporters. "Since this is one of the closest statewide elections in the history of California, we have an obligation to review and ensure that every vote cast is accurately counted. During our review, we will also determine whether a recount is warranted."
Swalwell spars with Perry at border detention center
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, went to Texas last week to talk border security with the state's Republican governor, Rick Perry. After touring a detention center where hundreds of Central American children have been kept after crossing the border, Swalwell sparred with Perry at a Homeland Security Committee field hearing.
"Do you not agree that they need to be sent back to where they're from?" the GOP governor prodded Swalwell.
"I do agree on a case-by-case basis, we do not want them to come here," Swalwell replied. "The challenge, though, is that where they're from doesn't necessarily cooperate with us."
"But you agree -- I want you on the record here in front of God and everybody -- you agree that they need to be sent back to the country where they are from?" Perry continued.
"Governor, I agree that we can, on a case-by-case basis -- but I hope you understand that it's not as easy as catching a child from Guatemala and just dropping them on a corner in Guatemala."
"I didn't say this was going to be easy," Perry parried. "It's never been easy."
Internal Affairs is an offbeat look at state and local politics. This week's items were written by Gary Richards, Tracey Kaplan and John Woolfolk. Send tips to email@example.com, or call 408-920-5782.
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