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.
Hi Vidya, you have captured the main points of the meeting. Thanks for such a detailed meeting minutes. I would, however, like to express my disappointment at the current and past city administration. The budget problem started only in early 2008. During the peak of the boom when the revenue stream was very good then also the number of police was the same. Why is that so? Let’s say that the total property tax collection during the peak of the boom was $2million and 8% of it is $160K. Now let’s say the property tax collection is $1million (a 50% drop) and 8% of it is 80K. Now 10 offciers were there during $160K and 10 officers are still there during 80K. If we had gone from 20 officers to 10 officers the one could understand the impact of economy on the budget. How can Anu say that this is due to economy?This proves my point that the city never cared much about security. This is a shame and it feels that we are back in India dealing with the Indian politicians. How can the city and the people in this city think about malls and downtown when it is turning out to be Oakland. No one would want to live here so what will happen to this downtown? Ardenwood has been known for its crime since the time it was formed. The budget problem started only one year back. What has the city done about Ardenwood? Anu’s response that the crime in the Ardenwood area is high because it is close to the Dumbarton bridge is just pathetic. So what does she want us to do, move the Dumbarton bridge or move the city of Ardenwood to a safe and secure place? Reiterating the cause of the problem does not help solve the problem. She did not propose any solution expect saying something that we already knew, that ‘we are on our own’. She said that we should not expect any service from the city as it is a community base service. I don’t know what she meant by that but yes, we the people of Fremont do expect service from the city. I hope that we get our 8 more cops and a feel safe, for the first time.
We know friends who have issues with school overcrowding. My wife just mentioned to me of another friend in the Ardenwood area who is sending children to 2 different elementary schools due to school overloading. I attended the school board meeting last week and witnessed another parent begging the school board to move her child back to the campus close to home, where he was thriving prior to being moved to a distance school, and the child is now underperforming.
It will get worse as the City Council continues to approve higher density housing without working with School Board to address this issue. They are not known to work together historically.
I was actually among most citizens who were rather naive about local government until my wife tried to open a small childcare nursery. Long story….after 3 years and very costly and painful process, we are fighting the City from shoving us under the rug. We have an influential opposition with “speed dial” to the City, who is willing to go as low as publicizing sex offender to stop the project. Worse, the City is behind him. As the planning department director, Jeff Schwob, privately told my wife..” it’s not that the City has anything against you, but as you know you are a new comer….”. In short, the rules and laws can be interpreted and changed in favor of those who have power. We also know others who can confirm that Fremont is not a very business friendly city, but we get a lot of non-responses for the meeting request to address the systemic problems.
As a result of my horrible experience dealing with the City, I joined FCN (fremontcitizensnetwork.org) in part because after watching how the City bureaucracy and the same group of politicians maintaining status quo over the years, I’m tired of it. I don’t want to pay more taxes to subsidies special interest groups, i.e. developers (http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_11848097?IADID=Search-www.insidebayarea.com-www.insidebayarea.com), A’s stadium (hidden subsidies via land usage, unfunded expenses that citizens will have to bear, refusal to meet concerned citizens on such a big project, City Councils not interviewing candidates for planning commission who are not supportive of A’s), chronic cost overrun on the City projects (i.e. http://www.tricityvoice.com/articlefiledisplay.php?issue=2009-01-28&file=Editorial%20Fremonts%20r1F9.txt), 2006 failed utility tax hikes that followed by surprise money found weeks later that rendered the proposed tax hike unnecessary, etc, etc..
Why is there no audit department to root out fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement? Who is independently overseeing how our taxpayer dollar for both general fund and redevelopment fund is spent? How about the Council’s vote in recent year to sweeten the retirement benefit by allowing early retirement for City employees? What’s next? Unfortunately, the City is perpetually misinforming the public (many of the politicians’ statements are untrue – i.e mandatory housing stock is not an enforceable requirement), and providing lips service (typical politicians promises with no accountability- (http://www.insidebayarea.com/search/ci_11822578?IADID=Search-www.insidebayarea.com-www.insidebayarea.com). Sadly, it seems like the public continues to eagerly paying more taxes and supporting failed policies. After all, we are responsible for voting people that will do what is best for the community. I simply wish more people can educated and get involved, so our City government will not be hijacked by those with special interests.
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Fremont is an example of a city that is going morally and financially bankrupt. I have known numerous people who have either moved out of Fremont or are in the process of doing so. When a city is more interested in capturing the minor traffic offences of its citizens through cameras than improving the quality if life for its residents by stopping burglaries, you know it is time to move out.
Vidya – I wanted to first thank you for organizing this get-together. I have always been available to attend these meetings when invited. I wanted to respond to Ajay Tripathi’s comments. He states that the budget problem started in 2008. Not so – the budget problems have been around since the early 2000s and for Fremont since the passage of Prop 13 in the late 70s that have impacted our staffing and service levels – I would be happy to get you more specific information on the timeline, staffing levels compared to other cities and the property taxes that we in Fremont get back compared to other cities.
To say that the city never cared about safety is wrong – if you look at our budget priorities, we spend over 85% of our funding on public safety and maintenance. I don’t know quite where he was going with his point about dealing with Indian politicians – I am assuming he means that we are corrupt…I find sweeping negative statements are offensive.
I did not make up the issue about people clamoring for a downtown and additional retail – and if you know the basics of how a city budget works, you know we have to be aggressive and smart about economic development so we can get the resources to provide the services needed.
We know that lack of funding is a primary reason for police understaffing – and we doing everything we can to reinforce the staffing. I said we could not do this without the community and we had to work as partners – and not an us v. them – on these issues. If there is anything that I said that you did not understand, please feel free to get it clarified or ask for more information.