It was a simple idea. With a General Plan for Fremont’s future development being close to approval, council member Anu Natarajan wanted to meet with residents of various neighborhoods in the city to discuss their concerns. I invited her to my Ardenwood home to meet with local residents yesterday. This is a summary of the discussion –
1. Crime – A quick survey showed that every single one of the participants had been burglarized at some point in the last 7 years. This was the most urgent issue, topping out schools and city development as topics of concern. We bombarded Anu with passionate entreaties to increase police presence, enable better response to 911 calls and asked for solutions to ameliorate the problem.
Anu’s response( and I paraphrase): “Fremont has always suffered from under-policing. We have just 10 police personnel for the 92 square miles that comprise the city. This is inspite of the fact that about 80% of the city budget goes to public safety( police and fire). The good news is that thanks to the Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as the stimulus bill -ed) we are going to hire 8 more officers very soon. But a lot of the effort towards improving the situation should come from the community itself because the budget situation is not going to improve soon.”
The take-away: On this matter, the community is largely on its own. We came up with some ideas to address the issue –
– Contact the Police Department to arrange for help on setting up neighborhood watches.
– Report any suspicious activity such as unknown cars by taking down the license number and/or photographing the offending vehicle.
– Reduce your risk by installing locks on your windows and keeping valuables in a safe or locker.
– Support a public safety tax the next time it comes up on the ballot. These will be funds directly going towards hiring more officers.
– Question the city council on reducing salaries for police officers in the current downturn so additional personnel can be hired.
2. Residential vs. commercial development – Why was the city considering more housing development when the infrastructure in the form of housing and services was not in place? What are we doing to attract new business? Was there any effort to get additional funds from the stimulus package? Why can’t we have a recreation center like Silliman Center which would provide much needed revenue to the city?
Anu’s response: “The city is mandated to add 6000 more units of regular and affordable housing becasue of population and job growth. At the same time we cannot pressurize developers to build schools as a condition for development. We can only ask for higher fees.”
“As for new business, it is a misperception that fremont is not business friendly. Yes, more work has to be done in this area but we are constantly improving. I welcome feedback about any specific problems. The city manager can also be contacted for the same. (All contact information is available at the City of Fremont website – ed)”
“We have an Economic Commission whose 3 mmembers are constantly looking to attract new business. With some new funds coming in for the Bart extension through the stimulus package, we might be able to spend some money on repaving and resurfacing roads right away. Check recovery.gov and League of California Cities website to see exactly how we have been impacted by the stimulus bill.”
“Issues like a new recreational center are best dealt with in the General Plan. We have had several community meetings over the course of the last 2 years but this has never come up and now we are at the final stages of approving the plan. We had an online survey about what the city’s residents would like to see in future development and we only had 600 responses. We need more community participation.”
Anu also unveiled a development plan for Fremont Downtown in the area bounded by Liberty and State streets towards the north and south and Paseo Padre and Fremont Boulevard in the east and west. It is an ambitious plan that is retail friendly and also has high density housing and a City Center.
The take-away: The City Council has to do a better job of informing the residents about up-coming plans. We suggested sending email alerts through the various PTA groups so as to reach a large segment of the immigrant population. It is unfortunate that the General Plan for the city has proceeded to its current level of completion without any of yesterday’s participants being aware of it.
3. Lack of trust in the City Council – One member from the Fremont Citizen’s Network talked about being rebuffed by the mayor during the previous campaign to stop the A’s stadium. Others expressed a view that the City Council’s actions are opaque to them.
Anu’s response: “The City Council needs to hear from you. All the contact numbers are there on the website. Call or send email. We also have several boards and commission in the city for which we are actively looking for volunteers. This is the best way for you to be a part of the planning for the city and be aware of developments. Come to City Council Meetings( held every Tuesday) and say your piece.”
The take-away: The City Council’s meetings are not structured for good public response. However, it is possible to contact the various managers of the city and explain your concerns. The best way to be heard, though, is to mobilize into a larger group that can have a bigger voice.
Action points and conclusions:
– The community needs to be pro-active in dealing with local issues. For instance, for problems with poor pavement, call or email the Engineering Department. For suspicious vendors you think are scouting the neighvborhood, alert Code Enforcement.
– Set up a neighborhood watch with the help of Fremont Police to deal with issues of burglaries. Given the budgetary issues, it would not be practical to expect the stretched police department to deal with non-priority crime. Some alleviation is on the way thanks to the stimulus package.
– Get involved with the city by joining the various boards and commissions. These are volunteer positions that require a couple of hours a week.
– Attend Council meetings every Tuesday or make it a point to watch the live telecast on your local cable channel( channel 26 – 28 on Comcast). Very significant decisions impacting the city and your future are often made by a simple majority vote of the Council. The agenda for the meetings is always posted on the city’s website and it is worth taking the time to be prepared.
– Join a citizen’s group like the Fremont Citizen’s Network to magnify your voice and keep track of important developments in the city. Or create your own.
– Anu Natarajan has promised to add local yahoogroups to the city’s mailing list to keep residents abreast of city issues. She can be reached at email@example.com for further concerns.