June 8, 2004 > Dirk Lorenz Declares Candidacy for Fremont City Council
Dirk Lorenz Declares Candidacy for Fremont City Council
Recently, Dirk Lorenz, proprietor of Fremont Flowers and lifelong resident of Fremont declared his intent to run for city council in the November 2004 election. In an exclusive interview with TCV, Mr. Lorenz spoke of his motivation and ideas for change in city government.
TCV: What convinced you to run for council at this time?
Lorenz: I remember, having worked with the City last year on a couple of commercial projects; the frustrations I had with the process. I got to the point where I understood why Fremont is known as being business unfriendly. I thought, "I'm going to run for council and see what I can do to change things."
TCV: Council members often say they are restricted by limited access to staff and you get a sense that staff is running the council and not the other way around. How you feel about that?
Lorenz: I think the tendency is to beat up on staff. To be honest, I have done this too. I have backed off a bit and said to myself, "Okay, be rational about it now. Investigate the processes that exist, so at least you are making decisions with knowledge. I did that; I met with Lynn Dantzker and the Planning Department. They were very gracious, taking me through the department, explaining how things flow, how things work in the department. I now have a greater understanding of the challenges that they face. There are some very talented individuals working for the city, but, over time, we've gotten away from oversight to over-regulation. I think we're mired in over-regulation.
TCV: Do you see any opportunities for staff reorganization? The city faces a huge deficit for at least the next three years. How do you propose to handle this?
Lorenz: I'm not ingrained into the city organization to have all of the information to tell you right now, but, the big picture and vision is that the city can't be run any differently than I run my business. A financial statement at the end of the month indicates that you are either in the black or in the red; the idea is to get into the black. You've got to make whatever changes need to be made to get into the black.
I realize that a lot of the regulations in place are mandated by the state. Also, we spend a large amount of the budget on public safety - police, fire, maintenance. We are locked into that. As I've thought about things and met with different people over the past few months, the idea has occurred to me that perhaps we should look at contracting more work to outside vendors. I'm not talking about consultants. I am talking about contracting some work and eliminating staff positions through attrition. Nobody likes to lose their job and I don't want to see any city worker out of a job, but hard decisions have to be made. The city has to be run like a business; you have to be in the black. If you are going down the wrong path, you have no choice; you've got to do it.
TCV: Do you feel that the council should take a more proactive role?
Lorenz: There is a fine line between micromanaging and being proactive. I think we have very talented people working for the City of Fremont that know what they're doing. You have to let them do their jobs. To a degree, I think that the council has been more reactive than proactive. We have an opportunity now, with a new city manager and other changes within our city government, to be a little more proactive.
TCV: In view of recent decisions by the council on the Unified Site in Centerville and "downtown" along with an emphasis on transportation issues - Washington overpass and Mission Interchange - where are your priorities?
Lorenz: This is probably the area that I have the most knowledge on at this point - the CBD (Central Business District), the Centerville and Irvington redevelopment sites, highway interchanges, Route 84, etc.
I just returned from a trip to Japan. I was there for just about two weeks. What was so great about traveling in Japan was their public transportation system. In six or seven days, we covered about 50% of the country, all via their mass transit - the bullet train, their subways, etc.
In America we depend so much on the automobile and we have the luxury of open space. What does this have to do with transportation within the City of Fremont? If I am elected, I will make public transportation my number one priority. You are not going to see immediate results, but I feel that we've got to take a stand and get the ball rolling.
On Hwy 84, I was one that always believed that since it was planned and people knew about it, it should go in. But, I've backed off of that position. I think more of our resources need to be spent on public transportation. Rather than expanding our roads to accommodate vehicular traffic, we really have to start changing the mindset of the citizens of Fremont, the Tri-Cities, the Bay Area, and the State. It's got to start somewhere.
I'm adamant about thinking outside of the box, outside of traditional ways. We are beginning work on the overpass for BART in Irvington. We need to build an Irvington BART station, there's no question about that.
On the Centerville site, that whole plan is in flux. I am waiting to see how council handles the new Charter proposal.
I believe strongly in the CBD. We need to find the money to invest in the infrastructure to accommodate this development. Do we sell parklands to do that? No, of course not! We aren't growing any more parkland, so we can't dispose of it. We do have excess land in the City of Fremont that isn't designated as future parkland which, in my opinion, can be sold.
TCV: How will you handle competition for retail establishments between the CBD and the Centerville unified site?
Lorenz: I've been a big supporter of our historic business districts. I have businesses in two of them. We don't want to jeopardize our historic districts; we can't turn our backs on our historic districts. That's what gives our city its character.
We need more housing components within the districts to "plant" the people who will be able to walk to and use those businesses. I'm very much in favor of that. I was involved in the beginning stages in some of the issues in Irvington regarding redevelopment and the percentage of housing that can be built on some of the sites. Some major sites were up to 80% or 90% housing on tradition retail sites. I was against that. That's too much!
The same thing was going on in Centerville at the Unified site. Developers have come to the table saying that a preponderance of retail is not economically feasible. Charter has come back and said they are going to scale back retail from 67,000 square feet to something over 40,000 square feet. That concerns me.
I am a fourth generation Fremont resident and have a deep respect for those that came before us, my ancestors, people who built this city. These [Centerville] plans are turning our back on the Pioneer Cemetery. I was for a different developer at the Centerville site because they embraced that Pioneer Cemetery, they rebuilt the little church and they recognized that that was an important part of the community rather than turning their back on it and ignoring it.
I think that some of these developers are thinking about a Starbucks or other regional retailers to fill these spots. They are ignoring the small businesses within are own area that may want to move into that center. Early on, I spoke with redevelopment personnel about the Centerville project and asked if they had talked to local business like Dale Hardware, Bogies or my own business, Fremont Flowers. With 40 or 50 thousand square feet, I'm pretty darn sure that we can fill that space.
TCV: There are people who have successful businesses in the Tri-Cities who might want a second location. And, they already know the area.
TCV: Has the Redevelopment Agency lost sight of its mission?
Lorenz: I served on the Centerville PAC (Project Area Committee) for five years and was against its dissolution and the formation of the RAC (Regional Area Committee) because I believed the RAC was just there to receive information, not give input. The PAC was representative of the community: residences, businesses, property owners, etc. We pleaded with the city council to retain our PAC. I stood at that council meeting with a newspaper article, the city's own publication, touting how the city was encouraging public input and involvement on one hand and here on the other, they were eliminating it.
The mechanics of redevelopment are very difficult to understand, and even after serving on the PAC with my involvement in the Centerville site, I don't totally have my mind wrapped around it. I wonder how many other people don't either.
TCV: It appears as if the Redevelopment Agency and the developer are looking at the Centerville Unified Site as more of a private development that must focuses on expenditures rather than the enhancement of the district. Is that how you see redevelopment?
Lorenz: Where is the global vision? I go back to a certain developer that I was championing during the selection process. They recognized the value of the Center Theater, the value of the Centerville Train Depot as a transit hub, especially when the Dumbarton rail express begins service. Next year, Capital Corridor is adding more trains.
The Centerville Unified Site should be opening up to this. Instead, current plans appear to create walls and borders to prevent the flow. This relates to what I was saying earlier about our vision in the community; about embracing this mass transit public transportation. We need a developer that is looking globally and really has the best interests of our neighborhood in mind, not just the economics of his development and how he's going to make money. I think that the thought process has become very developer-centered, at least in Centerville. We have lost sight of organizations like the Center Theater preservation group that's working hard and still together, still moving forward and embracing a global Centerville vision. We can move forward with the Centerville project when we get the developer problem straightened out.
I don't think what Charter has proposed will be successful. The garage area looks like a storage facility. Charter has said they know that it needed less hardscape and more landscape. It looks like a fortress.
The city eliminated Santa Clara Development in the selection process. I wasn't necessarily for their plan, but I think they brought forward an economically viable plan. TMG and Blake Hunt did their homework and they brought plans that were economically feasible. Charter, on the other hand, apparently didn't, because they presented a plan which some council members favored but has now totally changed. To me, that says that Charter didn't do their homework. Now they're coming back presenting something totally different. I say let's take another look at the other guys.
I was a proponent of Blake Hunt because the embraced a global vision. However, others were for TMG, including the group that was selected by the city to study these plans and make a recommendation, as well as staff and CBA (Centerville Business Association). I think that TMG can do equally as good a job as long as we make sure that the public input is there and they have a more global vision.
You think of the money that's already been spent. What have we gotten for it so far? Granted, these things don't happen overnight. I asked a developer about the CBD, "In the event of a best-case scenario, how soon would we be open for business?" With the best-case scenario and no problems, the answer was four years, possibly three and a half. We're not even close to having our ducks in a row at this point in time. If this campaign is all about retail, it's not going to happen during any of this new council's first term, at least insofar as the CBD.
I said we don't want to jeopardize our historic districts to put in the CBD. There's a balance to be struck. I have been in on some of the meetings for both the [Centerville] Unified Site and for Irvington and see that staff is paying attention to them. The Bay Street project is coming along but there are still parking issues that need to be worked out. Staff wants to move forward making parking a secondary issue. I think there's a feeling in Irvington, at least from the business association, that parking must be a very close second because they need that parking solution. I believe staff is working on that. I have faith in the efforts there. I wouldn't say that staff is ignoring the historic districts. I'm just worried about working on so many fronts at this point in time.
We have to break out of the box, out of our paradigm, and think differently. I think that's one of my strengths; I'm going to think differently, independently applying common sense. That's where I think I have the advantage. I have had a business in Warm Springs, I have lived in Mission San Jose, I have a business and have lived in Irvington, I have a business and have lived in Centerville, my family used to farm in Ardenwood. The only place I have not had a business or lived is in Niles although I take part in many Niles events and love the area.
I think all of the districts have great potential. The key to the districts reaching their potential is for each to reach a critical mass of retail. The synergistic effect from enough businesses will create success. I firmly believe the old Niles depot, now located on Mission Boulevard, should be moved into Niles. It is part of doing a good job and respecting where we came from. Moving the depot - not a replica - can become a centerpiece of Niles. We need to create a vision for the city and ask staff to stand true to that vision.
A good part of a councilmember's job is to be an ambassador at local events and gatherings; to listen to your constituents. This is also necessary for staff. Many of our staff do not live in Fremont, so this is their opportunity to engage and get to know the community. This will help them understand the ramifications of their decisions. I also believe we should have good relations with our neighboring cities and explore ways to share responsibilities. For instance, Union City has a fire station close to its border of Fremont. We are concerned with response times from the Brookvale station when Union City is sitting right on top of some of the areas. A more global vision of the Tri-City area may create some solutions to our economic and organizational challenges.
My responsibility, if elected, will be to my constituency and not to any particular political party or ideology. I believe in using common sense. I vote issues and people, not political parties and will continue to do so.