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Routine Council Salute Brings Scolding From China

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council has been chided over the years for frequently dabbling in foreign affairs and not paying enough attention to plugging local potholes. Just last week, the council voted to support creation of an International Criminal Court by the United Nations. But city officials were still taken aback when one recent, seemingly mundane council action sparked a minor international incident.

It began when Councilman Dennis Zine met the outgoing director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) at a party and invited him to be honored by the council at City Hall.

Shortly after honoring the outgoing director, Jason Yuan, Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa brought in the new director, Wu-Lien Wei, so the council could welcome him to Los Angeles.

Zine was surprised then to receive a sharply worded letter from Lai Bo, the consul of political affairs for the People’s Republic of China, criticizing the handling of the matter.

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Bo’s contention was that only his government should be recognized by the city as an official government of China. China views Taiwan as a renegade province.

“We hope that [Taiwan] will not be treated officially as a government and that the one-China policy will be observed,” Bo said in an interview.

He complained in the letter that a member of Zine’s staff had been “pledging that there would be no such thing as welcoming anyone from TECO in the City Council” and that “quite unbelievably, the above-mentioned welcoming ceremony did occur.”

Bo went on to write that “the whole process seemed rather ridiculous” and “never before have I come across similar situation that I felt being cheated, shocked and totally confused” by a city staffer.

Zine said he was unaware that Villaraigosa was honoring the incoming Taiwanese official but that Bo’s complaints would not have dissuaded him anyway.

“I had no idea these people were at war” politically, Zine said. “I know this ruffled some feathers. We don’t want to step on any toes, politically or internationally, but we had good intentions.”

Junket Protesters Say It With Leis

A handful of state legislators spent a portion of Thanksgiving week on Maui, hanging loose at a conference sponsored by the prison guards union.

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The California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., one of the most powerful campaign contributors in state politics, planned to pick up the tab for meals, while lawmakers said they would cover their own travel and rooms at the Sheraton in Lahaina.

Memories of mai tais and hula dancers may have been spoiled, however, by a small but colorful gaggle of protesters Wednesday outside the Capitol.

Dressed in Hawaiian shirts and wearing plastic leis around their necks, the demonstrators sprawled in beach chairs, hoping to embarrass the lawmakers with an island-flavored welcome home.

One protester, Rose Braz, said that while legal, the Hawaiian junket gives prison guards unfair -- and inappropriate -- access to politicians: “We cannot allow the prison guards union -- through campaign contributions or poolside massages in Maui -- to block what the voters want and what’s best for California,” Braz said.

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No word on whether lawmakers were regretting their holiday jaunt.

Vasquez to Stay at Peace Corps for Now

Just two months after announcing plans to step down as director of the Peace Corps and return to Southern California, former Orange County Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez has changed his mind, at least for now.

In October, Vasquez announced he was quitting the $295-million relief agency that he took over in February 2002, saying, “I decided it was a good time to come home to Orange County and my family.”

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Long active in Republican politics and an active supporter of Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor, Vasquez was rumored to be a prime candidate for a post with the new administration in Sacramento.

But his resignation date of Nov. 14 came and went without him vacating his office.

Eventually, Vasquez sent out an e-mail to employees and volunteers in which he said, “In light of pending initiatives and activities affecting the Peace Corps, I will be continuing my Peace Corps service to an indeterminate date.”

Spokeswoman Barbara Daly said the initiatives that Vasquez cited include a proposal to increase funding for the Peace Corps, to involve the agency in the president’s $15-billion AIDS assistance plan for Africa and to expand recruitment at community colleges.

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With many of the key posts filled in the Schwarzenegger administration, one wonders whether perhaps Vasquez concluded that the job picture in California wasn’t as rosy as he thought it was.

Daly said the decision was strictly based on Peace Corps issues, and she noted that Vasquez still plans to leave his post and return to California eventually. “He didn’t rescind his resignation. He just delayed his departure,” she said.

Gavel Passing Brings Gaffe at Board Session

Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe last Tuesday replaced Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke as board chair, a rotating position that changes hands every year.

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Proving that habits die hard, county Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen referred to Knabe during Tuesday’s board meeting as “Madam Chair,” prompting the following exchange.

“It’s actually Mr. Chair now, to you,” Knabe said.

“Right,” Janssen said to laughter. “It’s only been an hour.”

“It’s going to be a long year,” Knabe said. “A long year, boy.”

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Points Taken

* More than 100 cities and counties across the nation have just said no to the USA Patriot Act, but the Santa Rosa City Council voted 4 to 3 on Nov. 25 not to join them. More than 1,200 people had signed petitions urging the council to oppose the act, but the council voted to table the resolution indefinitely. “I don’t have the same concerns some of you do,” Mayor Sharon Wright declared.

* Skateboarding legend Tony Hawk is in no danger of being forgotten, but young board riders in Fresno County may soon also be using the term “rad” to describe another figure -- U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

The 70-year-old senator is being honored by local officials who are naming a skate park after her in the small town of Orange Cove. The Dianne Feinstein Skateboard Park is being opened in a new park partially funded by federal grants. Feinstein said she is “stoked” about the honor.

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You Can Quote Me

“With the cut in the vehicle license fee, I’m not sure the city can afford a going-away party for the governor.”

-- David Gershwin, a deputy to Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla, when asked why dust is collecting on a 2-month-old proposal to give Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a send-off ceremony at City Hall. Schwarzenegger, a resident of Los Angeles, cut the vehicle fee, which could mean a reduction in revenue to the city.

Times staff writers Jenifer Warren, Richard Simon and Daren Briscoe contributed to this column. Regular columnist Patt Morrison is on vacation.

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