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March 30, 2004 > Editorial: Future Shock for Fremont

Editorial: Future Shock for Fremont

This year, there will be change in Fremont. Instead of the typical musical chairs that has been the hallmark of the city for many years, an opportunity for genuine alteration of the political landscape exists. Mayor Morrison is termed out and appears to be tired of the whole political game, commenting often in city council meetings that soon his time will be up. A looming "structural deficit" that must be solved will be faced by a new mayor, a new city manager and at least one new face on the city council.

Watching city staff bring up the issue of saleable parcels of Fremont's land bank as sources of revenue says volumes about the depth, rather the lack of depth, of city reserves With the exit of the mayor and now the city manager, it will become someone else's problem though Fremont's citizens will continue to pay long after the politicians, planners, redevelopment and other staff have fled the scene. This year, the city has been able to forestall some hard decisions due to a big settlement from the State Board of Equalization. This is a one time bailout and only delays some inevitable decisions.

The new city manager will be faced with a sobering reality. There is no more bailout money and something will have to be done to support the infrastructure of the city. Restructuring and consolidation of departments may provide an answer but new energy and a clear vision for the future can provide a jumpstart towards recovery. Fingers can always point to the state as the source of fiscal problems, but it is time to understand that part of the issue has been a clear understanding of what Fremont wants to be when it grows up. Physical growth has occurred - Fremont now has over 210,000 residents - but the political savvy to accompany the growth has a ways to go. Fremont has recently been "born again" as advocates of "big box" retail, but what of the smaller businesses that have been the base for many years?

Fremont formed from a collection of towns, each with its own character and identity. Some still remain and other areas have created their own identities. This appears to be at cross purposes with the vision of staff and council who seem interested in converting every square inch of property with any commercial purpose to mixed use - read this as residential - zoning, ultimately creating a large residential city with a one "downtown" servicing the entire city. There are hopeful signs with a new faŤade improvement plan in the works and some attention to small business, but the jury is still out on the Centerville Unified Site and as these properties in redevelopment areas are taken, small business is displaced and in some cases discarded as unworthy of sufficient help or funds to continue.

There is nothing wrong with trying to create housing for the population of Fremont, especially something affordable. At a recent meeting of developers and residents in the Irvington District, Regis Homes which will build new town homes is expecting to sell them at market values of "high $400,000's to $500,000's." This is unreal, and unless people already own over-inflated real estate, out of reach for the majority of citizens. The problems of Fremont run deep, but a glimmer of hope is out there.

Citizens need to be aware of the past and present decisions of our elected officials and look for new leaders with new ideas and a clear vision for the future. A big test for the council is how they handle the search for a new city manager. We need a mayor and manager who will provide fresh ideas and energy. Our new city manager must be a person who will lead staff by taking a personal interest in the community, its businesses and reflect the desires and vision of its citizens. The new city manager should be untainted by the present quagmire and prepared to complete tasks without continual and interminable studies.

The City of Fremont has continually allowed economic events to dictate its course of action. When business to business revenues were flowing, Fremont thumbed its nose at new retail, allowing neighboring cities to broaden their economic base and prepare for the future. The City of Fremont can no longer exist in a vacuum.

Is Fremont doomed to repeat its past or will this city flex its muscles, be a good neighbor and a take charge of its future?

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