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August 31, 2004 > Claudia Albano leaves Fremont for Oakland Position

Claudia Albano leaves Fremont for Oakland Position

Fremont Neighborhood Resources Manager, Claudia Albano has announced her resignation from the City of Fremont on September 10th to accept the position of Neighborhood Services Manager of the City of Oakland. Claudia leaves a legacy that includes development of Fremont neighborhoods and two "Community Engagement Summits."

TCV: Why was an Office of Neighborhoods created?

Albano: If you look at the literature and the research around what makes communities strong, what makes them vibrant, and what makes democracy work at a local level, you find is that communities that have strong connections between people are the ones that are the most successful. Communities that have lots and lots of formal and informal groups, whether a rotary club, a baby sitting co-op or a book club, when people know each other, trust is built.

We might take it for granted that we know our neighbors or that we know people down the street, but if you thought about it, if you didn't know your neighbors, would you be so bold as to ask them for a ride? Would you ask them for a cup of sugar? Would you help them if you thought a problem was going on? The more people know each other, the stronger a community is, the more problems get solved faster and the faster information travels. Everything affects everything else.

When I came to the city of Fremont, I was charged with the responsibility of developing a neighborhood program, something that would help people solve problems more effectively, a better partnership with the city. What we did was develop a program that was not only tailor made for this community, but also used the best advice we could get from the research and the literature. That's why we developed a program that was based on doing something at the block level, the neighborhood level, and then at the city-wide level.

The block level is where those bonds of trust and reciprocity are the most important thing. It is called "social capital." That's why things like the Neighborhood Crime Watch program or the National Night Out, that on the surface might seem like feel good programs, are so important because that's where people get to know each other.

It's kind of revolutionary to think that we have to go back to getting to know our neighbors, but that's what it's about. We had block level strategies and neighborhood level strategies. That's how we developed the 28 neighborhood map, because how could you go from block to neighborhood if you were talking about "Niles," or "Mission San Jose," the original historic districts. I found that people didn't identify with the five historic districts, so it was really important to do this map. This map is a work in progress; those lines aren't solid, they're dotted, they change. If you have a block-level problem like a drug house or a blighted property, they're working with their neighbors to solve that, but if there's a neighborhood-wide issue, like the redevelopment in Centerville or something, you want the leaders to be connected so that they can work and mobilize. Then there are city-wide issues, so that's our city-wide focus. That's when we did the two summits. The first year we had 350, the second year we had 471 people. People were excited about meeting their neighbors, and about building their skills. That was the focus of the city-wide strategy. You want leaders to know each other from across town, you also wanted them to create an opportunity for them to know people in their neighborhoods.

Leadership is only one part of the equation. You could have people in Glenmoor, for instance, who want to be leaders and desire to do something good for their community, but if they don't have skills, it doesn't mean a whole lot. By skills, I mean, can you run a meeting? Can you develop an agenda? Can you mobilize your neighborhood? Do you know how to navigate city hall? Can you do problem solving? Those are the kind of things that they don't teach in civics 101 in school. People think that being a good citizen is about voting and obeying laws, and you know what, for a democracy to work, that's not enough. You have to participate. In order to participate effectively, you have to know how to participate. That's why our program is really very simple. It's connecting people to each other, and it's building their skills. That's really what it's about.

TCV: Who works in the Office of Neighborhoods?

Albano: The way the office of neighborhoods is structured now, there're six of us. There're are three community engagement specialists, they take a zone of the city, and are responsible for neighborhood crime watch meetings, all the hot spot issues, and coordinate neighborhood networks. On the staff, there's also Debra Nunn who is the Volunteer Coordinator for the city. I don't think people realize the extent of volunteers in the City of Fremont. It's an incredible operation. Debra coordinates that program, and also the special events for this year. And there's the Eldred, our support staff, and myself, so there's only six of us.

TCV: What is the future of the Office of Neighborhoods?

Albano: I think that the future of community engagement in Fremont will depend on the new city manager, the council, and since we are located here in the police department, it will also depend on the police chief. In order for a city to afford to do community engagement, it has to be a big enough city, with a big enough population, and a big enough budget because even though it's fundamental to you and I that people be involved in the democratic process, you have to be a big enough city where you get over the threshold where you start to provide other services. Human services are under a big crunch. This all affects public safety in the long run. If you don't have a youth and family services that provide counseling and intervention programs for people, and you don't have community engagement, it's going to affect everything else.

Fremont is by far the best managed city that I've ever been associated with. I have learned how to be a good manager here. I can go to Oakland and take the challenges of a big department, of a big unit, because of this. It has been the experience of my lifetime. I can go to Oakland and meet those challenges because I'm well equipped to be a really effective manager.

TCV: What will you be doing in Oakland?

Albano: I'm an Oakland native. I was born and raised in Fruitvale and all the skills that I have in community organizing, I learned in Oakland. I always felt the responsibility to give my time and talent back to that community. I'm at the top of my game in terms of my talent and my experience, and it's time for me to go home and to do what I can for my community of Oakland.

I will be called the neighborhood services manager, and I will be managing 17 neighborhood service coordinators, much like our community engagement specialists. It's on a completely different scale and on a completely different level, in terms of size and the types of issues. I'm going to provide training so the community engagement specialists will have a model to follow.

TCV: What is the legacy that you leave with Fremont?

Albano: The important thing is not that the office of neighborhoods has three staff, six staff, nine staff, that's not our legacy. Our legacy is how we developed leaders in the community. Can you point to people in the neighborhoods around you and ask, "has your ability to participate been affected by the office of neighborhoods" with an affirmative response? I know that people will say that it has. That will be our legacy. Bureaucracies come and go. City staffs come and go. The real value is what you left in the community. Not how empowered was I seven years later, but how much more empowered were other people because I was there. If we give our knowledge away and we're effective in doing that, that's our legacy.

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