August 3, 2004 > Editorial
The Image of Local Politics Will Sharpen this Week
As the filing deadline for local elected office nears, it is becoming clear that this year, voters will have a major say in how some local cities and agencies operate. In the City of Fremont, the electorate has begun to wake up from a long slumber. For years, many of the same faces appeared and name recognition was enough to assure a substantial vote at the polls. Politics as usual was the name of the game and little changed. Money flowed from "business to business" tax providently supplied by the encroachment of Silicon Valley. Spending kept pace with financial good fortune and little attention was given to small business, usually the backbone of a community and a ballooning staff. The remaining cities of our area may also face significant changes of their city councils.
Tactics that may have been tolerated in an environment of plenty (even with Proposition 13 restraints) have been called into question when the money tap closed. "Dot coms" and supporting industries withered and the state reached further into the city pockets. A howl arose from cities complaining that their woes had nothing to do with poor management; rather it was those old boogeymen, Proposition 13 and Sacramento politicians. In some cases, this argument is more valid than others. It is rarely pointed out that some of the Sacramento politicians who have mismanaged their budget are local folks who have played the blame game to further their own ambitions. Discussions of rapid growth of new residences and sales of existing properties at much higher valuation, therefore higher property tax, were discarded since that income is not tethered by Proposition 13 and doesn't further the "poor me" argument. In addition, pronouncements of good planning for a "rainy day" fall flat if that day arrives and the cupboards are bare.
Fremont faces significant change. A new mayor will give a different persona to the council even though it will probably be a familiar visage. Will anyone else challenge the dynamic duo that has been an integral part of the past? Will the addition of at least one new councilmember create effective oversight of a new city manager rather than just a rubber stamp of whatever he or she says? With the advent of the User Utility Tax proposal has the city begun to question city methods and will there be a closer inspection of spending even within the Redevelopment Department where the money still flows?
Union City will also see change. The possibility of a new mayor and changes on the council may herald a different approach to its financial challenges and the tenor of the city. With significant issues including Hwy 84 and the Dumbarton Rail Corridor as well as the Transit Center, this city will play a pivotal role in regional politics.
Politics in the City of Newark have been more sedate, probably due to an almost unified council and solid fiscal planning. Even here, the specter of change looms. Though councilmembers do not face election challenges this year, an election for state office will probably create a vacancy.
School and agency boards also face challenges and change. While many citizens are unaware of the important and powerful positions on these boards, some long term members are seeking reelection. An atmosphere of change may influence the outcome of these elections as well.
In the coming weeks, the Tri-City Voice will interview candidates to allow them to speak of their voting records or explain why they feel it is time for them to challenge an incumbent or fill a vacancy.