Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | December 18, 2004

Holiday grab-bag

In the spirit of your favorite retailer, this week I’m offering a grab bag of items just in time for the holidays.

***

The cheers from the crowd that met the Scott Peterson guilty verdict were, I guess, understandable, but the celebration that met the jury’s decision to recommend a death sentence was shameful.

Judging by the revelry that greeted the news that a human being was condemned, we supposedly sophisticated denizens of the 21st century are not as far removed from the lynch mobs of our recent past or the barbarians of centuries ago as we would like to believe.

No matter whether you oppose or support the death penalty, no matter if you believed Scott Peterson was clearly guilty or think the state failed to prove its case, the jubilation that met the death penalty recommendation ought to give us all reason to consider what it says about our society.

***

I’m still stunned by this week’s news that the the Valley Transportation Agency has reached an agreement with Union Pacific for increased right-of-way on UP’s lines south of San Jose.

The VTA has been negotiating with UP for four years – back to the days when I was a reporter for the Morgan Hill Times and I heard no-progress updates on the status of negotiations – so I was surprised when news of an agreement came out of nowhere.

The deal removes one major hurdle to increased Caltrain service in South County.

The other hurdle, officials say, is declining Caltrain ridership from South County. I wonder if this is a chicken and egg problem. Which comes first, better train schedules or more riders? How many South County residents opt to drive solo or carpool to work because the trains to South County are so woefully limited? Currently, there’s a pitiful four trains each weekday to South County, and no service on weekends.

Of course, more high-tech jobs in San Jose and points north would help increase ridership, but I’ve been hearing predictions that Silicon Valley’s economy is just about to bounce back for years now, and I’m still waiting.

I wonder what better marketing and train schedules would do for South County’s Caltrain ridership.

***

Santa Clara County supervisors this week unanimously approved a plan to give top administrators pay raises of up to 7.5 percent. At least one of the administrators slated to receive a raise makes significantly more than $200,000 a year, according to a report I read.

The county is expecting to see red ink in the neighborhood of $127 million next year. How can they justify these raises for these already well-compensated employees?

Given the sorry state of the local economy, the state’s never-ending budget crisis that chronically impacts the county’s fiscal picture, the cuts in services that taxpayers have endured, and the fact that taxpayers themselves are losing jobs and going without raises, it’s hard to see the logic in this raise. And the timing stinks.

I know all about paying people what they deserve, and competition from other employers. But, just like in the private sector, government ought to understand that when revenues are down, salaries can’t go up. You’ve got to have money to spend money.

When government fails to grasp that, it behooves taxpayers to understand that the money will either come from reducing services or increasing taxes, and to remember that at the ballot box.

***

Thanks to the vagaries of the calendar, I’m off for two weeks as Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Saturdays this year. Happy holidays to everyone in South Valley, and I’ll see you in 2005.

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