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Local Politics 103

Time: Wednesdays, 6 pm - 8:35 pm
Location: Dudley Moorhead Hall 161


Welcome to Local Politics 103!

Political Science 103 focuses on local government and urban politics in the U.S..  You’ll examine how people use—and decline to use--power within urban communities, but also about politics more generally.  You’ll learn about the basics of local politics, including the structure and organization of local government, intergovernmental relations and nongovernmental stakeholders (voters, interest groups, media, private power holders, race, class).  We will frequently use San José and the surrounding area as a case study or learning laboratory.  You’ll gain information, understanding and critical insights as to how American communities function politically, with particular emphasis on cities within the state of California.

Please keep your eye on this website throughout the semester, as it will be periodically updated with future weeks' assignments, and topics may change as the schedules of guest speakers demand.


Syllabus / Course Outline

Sam's 10 Tips for Good Writing and Lifetime Happiness

Please read the attached link -- it will serve you well as you prepare written assignments in this class, and hopefully, in your careers.

William Zinsser, "On Writing Well"

Zinsser provides great insight for any student seeking to improve the quality and effectiveness of their writing. I've provided excerpts from a couple of particularly helpful chapters in Zinsser's book, On Writing Well.

Reading and Assignments, Week 1: Jan. 25

Week 1, Introduction: Does Local Politics Matter? Do Cities Matter?

Reading Assignment:

  1. Local Politics (LP), Chaps. 1-2
  2. Richard Florida, "The World is Spiky," The Atlantic Monthly, May 2005
  3. Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, Washington Monthly, May 2002
  4. Joel Kotkin, "Why America's Young and Restless Will Abandon Cities for the Suburbs," Forbes July 2011

Reading and Assignments, Week 2: Feb. 1

The Evolution of Urban Places: Where People Live, and Why


  1. Local Politics, Chaps. 2 & 3 (quiz will focus on Chap. 3)
  2. Shelley v. Kraemer (U.S. Supreme Court, 1948) (excerpt)
  3. NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel, (NJ Supreme Court, 1975) (excerpt)

Please Be Prepared to Engage in Oral Arguments in the case of NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel. Each member of the class will take a role in the matter, and everyone will be expected to be prepared by having read the above assignments.

The justices (the judges who sit in the New Jersey Supreme Court) will be asked to resolve the question, "Should Mt. Laurel be allowed to shape its future development without interference from the State of New Jersey?"

Reading & Assignments, Week 3: Feb. 8

The Intergovernmental Environment of Local Politics

  1. Local Politics textbook, Chap. 4
  2. Materials regarding Federalism, Incorporation, and the County:
  • * "American Federalism";
  • * "Santa Clara County Governments & Regional Governments";
  • * Nancy Ward, "Steps to Cityhood," (Illustration) Orange County Register;
  • * Tom Brokaw, "Small-Town Big Spending," New York Times;
  • * Deborah Lohse, "Hometown Dreams: San Martin Residents...," The Mercury News;
  • * "Number of Special Districts by Type and Governing Body";
  • * "County of Santa Clara: Profile";
  • * Mike Swift, "1 million: Annexations Bring San Jose Closer...", The Mercury News

Reading and Assignments, Week 4: Feb. 15

Machines, Reform, and Counterreform

Required Readings:

1. Local Politics textbook, Chapters 5 & 6

2. Selected excerpts from the San Jose City Charter

3. Paul Rogers, Mercury News, "The Man Behind SJ's Rapid Growth...",

4. Christensen and Trounstein, "San Jose Becomes the Capital of Silicon Valley"

Reading & Assignments, Week 5: Feb. 22

Legislators and Executives: The Balance of Power

Read: Local Politics, Chapter 7, and the following:

  1. "Santa Clara Threatened with Lawsuit Over Lack of Minorities on City Council," Mercury News
  2. Edmund Burke, "Speech to the Electors at Bristol"
  3. Antonio Lambino: "Delegate vs. Trustee: a False Dichotomy?" (blog post)


Reading and Assignments, Week 6: Feb. 29

Bureacracies and Local Politics

  1. Local Politics, Chap. 8
  2. David Osborne & David Pasternik, Banishing Bureacracy "Introduction: Uphill Battle, USA" pp. 1-18, and "Appendix A: Principles of Reinventing Government," pp. 347-349
  3. Written Assignment (below) DUE TODAY, Feb. 29th.


Reading and Assignments, Week 7: March 7

Week 7: Elections, Campaigns, and the Media

Guest Speaker: Scott Herhold, columnist, San Jose Mercury News


Local Politics, Chaps. 9

Document #1: Scott Herhold, "DA Dolores Carr Deserves a Reelection Opponent," Mercury News, Aug. 2, 2009

Document #2: Scott Herhold, "Pension Protagonists Have Different Strategies," Mercury News, Feb. 9, 2012

Document #3: Scott Herhold, "A Gilroy Councilman with a Past", Mercury News, March 4, 2012

Document #4: Influencing Elections: Developers, Labor, & Money

  1. "Building Industry Invests in Race," Phil Yost, Mercury News, April 17, 2006
  2. "Plenty of Cash, Little Effect," John Wolfolk, Mercury News, July 10, 2008
  3. "Chuck Reed Sails to Easy Win," Phil Yost, Mercury News, November 8, 2006
  4. "S.J. Shake-Up Wrests Power from Labor," Scott Herhold, Mercury News, November 9, 2006

Document #5: Newspapers, Printed Media, & Elections

  1. "Look Closely at Campaign Mailings"
  2. "Step Inside as We Choose Top Candidates," David Yarnold, Mercury News, Oct. 31, 2004
  3. Clint Reilly essays, 2007
  4. "Mercury News Focuses on Offerring Unique Local Content," Mike Cassidy, Mercury News, Nov. 17, 2009



Reading and Assignments, Week 8: March 14

Interest Groups in Local Politics

Required Reading:

1. Local Politics, Chapter 10

2. Readings on Interest Groups in San Jose Politics:

  1. Mercury News, "Catalyst for Leadership," February 5, 2006 (People Acting in Community Together, or PACT)
  2. Mercury News, " A Force for Preservation," May 12, 2004 (Preservation Action Council)
  3. Mercury News, "How the Valley Got its Vision," June 19, 2008 (Silicon Valley Leadership Group)
  4. New York Times, "The Most Innovative Figure in Silicon Valley?" Nov. 14, 1999 (South Bay Labor Council)
  5. The Chamber Advocate, "Electing Leaders Who Make Responsible Decisions" April 2010 (Chamber of Commerce)

3. Readings on Targets and Methods of Influence: Lobbyists, Mail, Electronic Communication, and the Public

  1. Mercury News, "The Rise of Lobbyists in SJ," June 12, 2004
  2. Mercury News, "Access Brings in Big Fees; Taxpayers are in the Dark," Jan. 14, 2004
  3. Mercury News, "Calpine, Cisco, Push Projects with Mailers," ca. 2003
  4. Mercury News, "Neighborhood E-Lists Can be a Power for Good,"
  5. Mercury News, "Mayor Reed: You've Got Mail!" March 31, 2008


Reading and Assignments, Week 9: March 21

March 21 -- Community Power Structures

  • Guest Speakers:
  • Jaime Alvarado, Executive Director, Somos Mayfair
  • Imelda Rodriguez, Community Director, CommUniverCity

Assignment #2, Due March 21: Council Observation (see link, below)


  1. Local Politics textbook, Chap. 11
  2. Malcom Gladwell, Outliers, Chap 1: "The Rosetto Mystery"
  3. Robert Putnam,"Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital," Journal of Democracy 6:1, Jan 1995, 65-78
  4. Power in San Jose, 1979-2009 (please merely skim these selections, and simply observe the professions, race, gender, and backgrounds of the leading power-brokers in San Jose):
    1. San Jose in 1979: Trounstine & Christensen, "Power in a Sunbelt City," Movers and Shakers
    2. Silicon Valley in 2000: Mercury News, "Power in Silicon Valley" (series of articles)
    3. San Jose in 2009: Mercury News, "San Jose's Power 10"

Reading and Assignments, Week 10: April 4

Nov. 17th: Introduction to Budgets and Budgetary Politics

Required Reading: 

  • Local Politics, Chap. 12
  • Additional Required Readings on Budget Process, Prop. 13, & Current Realities:
  1. City of San Jose Annual Budget Process (chart)** Tax Information ("How Taxes are Assessed," "Proposition 13,"), Santa Clara County Assessor ** "Billions in Red Ink Drowning Cities" San Jose Mercury News, March 7, 2010
  2. City of San Jose 2010-11 Proposed Budget Summary
  3. James Hall & John Upton, "Prop 13 Shortchanges Communities," San Jose Mercury News
  4. John Wolfolk, "Measure Would Give Libraries Bigger Budget Boost," San Jose Mercury News, March 15, 2012 (This Article Will Serve as the Subject of an In-Class Debate & Discussion)

Reading and Assignments, Week 11: April 11

Budget Politics (cont'): The Poltics of Pensions and Other Retirement Benefits

Consider: Who Wins and Who Loses in "Ringing the Alarm Bell" About Retirement Costs and Unfunded Liabilities?

Required reading:

  1. John Woolfolk, "Making Sense of San Jose's Pension Mess," Mercury News, March 8, 2012
  2. "Radical Idea May Help Slash Cities' $382 Billion Pension Gap," Bloomberg, Dec. 3, 2010
  3. City of San Jose Budget Presentation: "Understanding the Problem," February 2011
  4. Yolanda Cruz, "The Crisis is Imaginary," Mercury News, April 16, 2011
  5. Sharon Erickson, "the Crisis is All Too Real," Mercury News, April 16, 2011
  6. "San Jose Mayor Lays Out Stark Choices," Mercury News, February 18, 2011


Reading and Assignments, Week 12: April 18

Politics and Public Policy: Land Use, the Growth Machine, and Fiscalization of Land Use

Guest Speaker: Tom McEnery, former Mayor of San Jose

Required Reading:

  1. Local Politics, Chap. 13. The lecture and discussion will focus on pp. 333-344
  2. Tom McEnery, "High Hopes and Hard Hats," in The New City-State
  3. "Framework for Preservation of Employment Land," City of San Jose Office of Economic Development, 2007-- focus especially on slides 10-15, and 30-32
  4. "Fiscal Issues," in League of California Cities, Planning Commissioner's Handbook, pp. 109-117
  5. "City Competition for Sales Taxes," Public Policy Institute of California, July 1999


Which model best describes and predicts political behavior around land use: the "Growth Machine," or the "Fiscalization of Land Use"? Are they incompatible? Who wins, and who loses, under either approach?


Reading and Assignments, Week 13: April 25

Local Politics and Policy: Urban Policing

Guest Speaker: Hon. LaDoris Cordell, San Jose Independent Police Auditor

  1. Review Local Politics, Chapter 13 (320-326, relating to Crime Policy)
  2. Additional Required Reading: Mercury News articles relating to politically charged environment prior to Judge Cordell's appointment, and relating to her work since: (a) Downtown Nightclubs, (b) Latino Arrests, and (c) Use of Force, (d) Cameras on Police Officers, and (e) her role as the IPA

Extra Credit Opportunity: Saturday, April 28th

On Saturday, April 28th, 12 noon- 3pm -- participate in CommUniverCity effort to work with neighborhood volunteers to identify existing fruit trees, and opportunities for fruit-tree planting for neighorhood food-sharing effort.

Meet at the Spartan Keyes Neighborhood Action Center, 570 Keyes Street (Please Notify Sam if you need any help with transportation).

Up to 5 (written assignment) points for participating, and another 5 points for responding with a thoughtful short (500 word max.) memorandum to the posted assignment, below.




Reading and Assignments, Week 14: May 2

May 2: The Future of Cities

Assignment #3 Due May 2nd: Policy Project (see link, below)

Required Reading:

  1. Kim Walesh, "Changing Forces, Changing City"
  2. Richard Florida, "How The Crash Will Reshape America"
  3. Christopher Leinberger, "Suburbia: The Next Slum?"

Reading & Assignments, Week 15: May 9

May 9: Metropolitan Regional Politics: The Future of Local Government

Guest Speaker: Carl Guardino, CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group

Required Reading:

  1. Chapter 14, Local Politics
  2. Mercury News, "Board Unanimously Approves Everything, Despite Historic Costs," 3/29/11
  3. Mercury News, "Bay Area Regional Plan for Growth Makes Sense," 1/10/12
  4. Marin Independent Journal, "Marin Opponents of Housing Join Forces...," 3/26/12
  5. Mercury News, "Rural San Mateo Activists Oppose Development Plans," Feb. 2012

Consider: Is metropolitan regional fragmentation helpful or harmful in enabling communities to address their problems? Should we move toward a model of regional governance over city-by-city governance?

Power Point Slides from Class Lectures

The following links will enable students to view the powerpoint slides that I've presented to class. Obviously, they are no substitute for attending class, but they will serve to help students recall what has been discussed, particularly if they lacked the time to get accurate notes. Of course, these slides are nothing more than a summary -- they will serve to provide an outline, but not the content necessary to prepare for the final exam.

Obviously, your grade in the class will be affected by poor attendance, as absent students will not be able to receive credit for quizzes, oral participation, or other in-class elements of the course.

Final Exam Study Guide

Your final exam is scheduled for Wednesday, May 23, 5:15 pm- 7:30 pm. The guide below will identify the subject areas to which I will limit the questions on the final. The exam will consist of a series of essay questions designed to elicit very short (3-4 sentence max.) responses.