April 27, 2004 > An Interview with Jack Rodgers, former Supervisor of Maintenance and Recreation, City of Fremont
An Interview with Jack Rodgers, former Supervisor of Maintenance and Recreation, City of Fremont
TCV: Let's talk about saving City of Fremont parklands. On Wednesday, March 21st, a meeting of interested citizens gathered to learn of the potential sale of undeveloped parklands by the City of Fremont. How did the organization get started and how did you get involved?
Rodgers: It began with a call from the Mission San Jose Chamber of Commerce. They expressed concern about the possible sale of park land in Mission San Jose. I was asked how I felt about it. I told them that I do not support the idea of selling park land. I think it's a heritage for future generations. A group of interested people, including myself, decided they would act on their convictions.
TCV: What is the purpose of the group?
Rodgers: Our primary mission is to protect parklands. To that end, we want the city council to understand that this community values both developed and undeveloped parkland. TCV: The group, Save Our Parklands, has formed to raise awareness of the importance of our parks and that parklands acquired for future park development should be protected. We also want to warn of the temptation of starting down a path of saying "I'm willing to look at sale of park land." What about the next park parcel and so on? Right now there are three future park lands on the table.
There are other parcels that the city owns. For instance, the corner of Paseo Padre Parkway and Stevenson Boulevard in Central Park, next to the library was set aside for some future development. That is a prime location, and it's undeveloped parkland. Here's the question, "Once you decide that undeveloped parkland has value other than its intended function, is the value of this land for other purposes greater than the value of parks? That wasn't the intent at acquisition. The intent was to hold these lands for future development to serve our population.
We are now circulating a petition that we will bring to council letting them know how we feel. Council has asked the public to be involved in the process. We are soliciting public input to help the council understand that parkland is a high value.
TCV: What is the petition signature goal?
Rodgers: Around 8,000 signatures is our goal, mainly because if it ever came to qualifying a ballot measure, 8,000 is the magic number.
TCV: How many undeveloped parklands are on the list of saleable properties in the city of Fremont?
Rodgers: There are three that we are concerned with. One of them is the property on Palm Avenue of almost 20 acres; the second piece is in the Centerville District, at the corner of Dusterberry Way and Peralta Boulevard. A small neighborhood park was to be built as that neighborhood converts from the commercial mixed use that it has today to more residential. The third piece is in Central Park off Stevenson Place - about a two acre parcel by the golf course site.
TCV: There was some discussion of how these properties could be exchanged for other property being held as future park land.
Rodgers: One parcel on the list that council asked staff to explore is the "Catellus" property - forty acres that is now referred to as the "municipal parcel" - originally called the "Large Park." The thoughts that I heard expressed indicated that council was looking to explore the possibility of using that land in exchange for other undeveloped park properties, for instance, a twenty acre parcel in Mission San Jose.
TCV: Why not do that?
Rodgers: The reason is that the so-called "municipal parcel" started out as a large park and our concept, from the staff's point of view, was that we were going to acquire another thirty or forty acres at the south end of town for a park as the city moved toward build-out. We were also looking for an additional large parcel in the North part of town. Our belief was that these parcels would allow us to meet our five acre per thousand park standards.
If you don't get those two large parks and keep the parklands that we already have, I believe that you'll fall short of our standards and therefore we will be committed to putting more intense use on existing parks. This means that they will be subject to excessive maintenance and repair, creating the need for a lot more money for maintenance.
TCV: What's the argument on the Centerville site?
Rodgers: The Centerville site was actually acquired at the request of council and a 17-person citizens group called the Centerville Specifics Plan Study Group. They looked at the long-term growth potential for the Centerville area and expressed support for more intense residential use of property as distance increased from Fremont Boulevard. Commercial use was expected close to Fremont Boulevard, but as you move west, the land would be converted into fairly high density residential use. But, they believed that a neighborhood park was necessary to support that. And I think they were right.
There is no park accept one very small half-acre park between Washington High School and the Cabrillo area. If you are going to put in a lot of high density residential development - the council recently reviewed the redevelopment plan for Maple Street - we need park land. We have already seen three parcels of land in the Centerville Specific Plan area converted into residential, the old Di Giulio Pontiac site, a PG&E site, and the Union Sanitary District site. Those have all gone to residential and the long-term plan is for the rest of the property in and around there to move to residential. If that happens with small lots, there's got to be a place, I believe, to put in a playground and some grass.
TCV: What about using "pocket parks?" Why not build little parks to create small green areas throughout the area?
Rodgers: My preference, and I have been on record for a long time with the Park and Recreation Master Plan, is that the city is better served in the long run by building larger parks, which is why we opted for a large park in the North and a large park in the South. The reason for that is economy of scale. It is much easier to operate and maintain one twenty-acre park rather than four five-acre parks.
The Centerville area was an exception. As we were adopting the master plan for parks, the Centerville area was moving forward with their specific plan and put a lot of high density in with the assumption that we would get a smaller park in that area.
TCV: What about the undeveloped land that is not necessarily designated as parkland but as open space? Is that subject to being developed even though it may have been thought of as future parklands?
Rodgers: There is a difference between open space and parkland, at least in a technical sense. Open space, for instance, the 2,000 acres that the city owns behind the Avalon development is not a park; it's just being maintained as open space. Municipal parks are traditionally thought of as having playground elements, grass elements and the things you see in an urban setting. The open space that the city is looking at does not have the same protections and the same needs as park space. That would be up to the council and local neighborhoods to decide whether that needed to be maintained as open space or if there is an opportunity to convert that resource into income that could be used for other projects.
TCV: Can you take us through a hypothetical situation where a swap of parkland might create funds for non-park related coffers?
Rodgers: Probably the best example is an exchange of Mission San Jose parkland, valued at $20-$25 per square foot, sold for residential development and the purchase of Catellus property near the Bay that has significant building costs associated with the geology and therefore, less expensive at $2.50 per square foot. Can that considerable difference be used by the city for other purposes? At what cost do we surrender of valuable parkland?
TCV: If that property were sold and replaced by a different property in a different area, council could argue that parkland is not being lost.
Rodgers: That's correct. But, you are losing utility of parkland. The Mission San Jose property is in close proximity to residential areas and serves a very specific population while the land in the Catellus area is removed. It's at the end of Auto Mall, towards the sanitary waste disposal station.
TCV: What about the historical parks, for instance, the Shinn property and Ardenwood?
Rodgers: Shinn is fully developed, but some of our other historic parks do have undeveloped parklands. For instance, there's a project in the capital plan for development of the historic Higuera Adobe property in Warm Springs. There is the same for the Vallejo Mills Historic Park, at the mouth of Niles Canyon. The California Nursery in Niles is about 20 acres - a very small portion of that is developed as parkland. The remainder of that could be seen as undeveloped parkland. So that's the slippery slope once you start to think about selling undeveloped parkland.
TCV: And would that be an outright sale or a trade?
Rodgers: At some point they would have to think about how they replace it. The question is, "What does replacement mean?" What is an "in-kind" exchange? Is it dollar for dollar, value for value or what? How do you measure the value? Do you measure it in terms of proximity to people or just as acre to acre? How do you value an historic site?
TCV: You can't replace a historic site.
Rodgers: The question is, for instance, if at the Higuera Adobe site, which is about ten or eleven acres, you were to leave three acres in or around the adobe, could you use the other 7 acres for something else?
TCV: Once you let it go, even if you've retained the structure and a couple of acres, that's all there is - a fence around a little house.
Rodgers: But you could see how it's open to a significant amount of judgment. What's the value of the alternate use of the property?
TCV: It really comes down to a question of valuing parklands and historical lands versus development?
Rodgers: Exactly, there is a need to hold onto the open space of Fremont. Over the last 30 years, this has been a rapidly developing community and 20 years from now, people will look at and value the open space even greater than the high value placed on it today. I think that 20 years from now, people will be glad we held onto our parklands just as we did in the Central Park debate of the 1960s. Today there is no doubt of the value of Central Park. I think that this other land that we're trying to hold, the large park in the South, the large park in the North, along with the existing park lands, will be seen the same way 20 years from now.
TCV: You would use the same argument then if someone said, "Look, we have the East Bay Regional Parks, we have Don Edwards, we have the Hills?
Rodgers: Traditionally, the East Bay Regional Park District and the National Wildlife Reserve provide a different type of park recreation opportunity. They provide an open space recreation opportunity where you see hiking trails and preservation and maintenance of open space land. The type of land that the urban parks provide are places where kids kick soccer balls, play little league, basketball, come for a quiet picnic, have trees and a grass setting.
TCV: Are the historical parks and recreational parks in the same category?
Rodgers: They are. Historic parks are a type of urban park. There are seven historic parks throughout the city at this point.
TCV: How are park monies held?
Rodgers: There are three funds. One is for subdivided land and another for non-subdivided land, but they both are for park land acquisition. The developer is assessed when a home or any residential building is built. These funds are held to acquire future parkland. In addition to that, there's also a park development fee that is assessed in order to be able to develop the land which you are acquiring. The development of Centerville Community Park, Mission San Jose Community Park and a couple of other projects were put on hold, due to the tight budget situation.
TCV: That money held in these accounts is solely for acquisition and development of parklands, correct?
TCV: Is there any other way the monies can be used?
Rodgers: No, it's locked in by state law. If I were a developer, and the money was used for other purposes, I would think of this as a "switch." At one time, cities were using development fees to supplement ongoing operations. This is a bad choice because Fremont is somewhere between 95 and 97 percent built out, leaving us only three to five percent remaining. Once we build that last three to five percent of residential development, there will not be any more development fees coming in or, at best, the income will be dramatically limited. If you build a system on the assumption of a continuing income stream that proves to be untrue, how are you going to support ongoing maintenance and operation of your park system?
TCV: What do you see as a current threat to our park system?
Rodgers: The council is being lobbied for a lot of different needs in our community. Certainly one of the needs that all of us are hearing over and over again is the development of a downtown area. I believe the council sees, with the recent consultant presentation, an opportunity to kick-start the downtown development. In order to do that, though, they need money. The real threat is whether parklands become a source of funds; whether you can convert them from parklands to meet some other need in the community.
TCV: Are you talking about the undeveloped parkland?
Rodgers: Yes. Once you start to sell those resources, the question is open on an ongoing basis - whatever the flavor of the day, whatever the greatest need. We have several hundred acres of undeveloped parkland that's been land banked for future development.
TCV: If land has been "banked," how can it be converted to anything else?
Rodgers: That is something that you will have to ask legal counsel and the city council about. Staff was asked to explore any options of whether this land can be sold and create an asset that can be used for other purposes.
TCV: Do you think this is on a fast track for decision?
Rodgers: I think that council has some rapid and difficult decisions to make because the development window is limited. Anytime you're dealing with a developer, they want an answer to the question, "Can we move forward with the downtown development project?" The longer the council has to put that on the back burner, the greater chance the developer will go elsewhere.
TCV: So it's something that we, the public, need to pay attention to now?
Rodgers: Yes. I think that at least on some of this land, the intent is to make decisions this summer.
TCV: How can people get in touch with Save Our Parklands?
Rodgers: The best way is through our website, http://www.saveourparklands.com. Fremont residents can sign the petition on the website, and anyone can volunteer to help.