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September 24, 2004 > Interview with Bob Wieckowski, Candidate for Fremont City Council

Interview with Bob Wieckowski, Candidate for Fremont City Council

TCV: What qualities can you bring to the Fremont City Council?

Wieckowski: I think I have an innovative and creative mind which is lacking on the council. I try to solve difficult problems creatively and I am not afraid to ask questions such as, "What would happen if we did this?"

Fremont has many challenges right now, and whether it's increasing our revenue with retail sales, re-stimulating the industrial base or attracting affordable housing, we have to look at different ways to present the city and create opportunities for new residents, new businesses or current businesses to improve. I think I have some ideas and leadership qualities that catch peoples' attention, and I want to try those ideas out.

TCV: What do you see as the relationship between the city council and the administration of the city?

Wieckowski: Fremont is not Chicago, it's not a charter city. We have a city manager designed city. That became popular a hundred years ago when people were worried about graft and corruption in a city; people don't want Bob Wieckowski's cousin working for the chief of police, because he needs a job.

We have a separate professional that runs the city who has the difficult task of taking five different views of the mayor and council members - trying to coordinate that to enact city policy. The city manager's job is to run the city and deal with the policies that the council approves. Unfortunately, some of the city policy is dictated by the state constitution, federal constitution and state law. As much as we as citizens want to have the city council members and the mayor beat their chests and say we're not going to do that, we're mandated to take certain actions. One example is the housing element.

We must provide a road map of opportunities for housing to be built. We must show the state that we can do it. We don't have to build it - we're not in the building business - but we have to use our zoning laws and use our general plan to allow the chance for housing to be built. That's something the state requires of every city or you can lose funding. There are affordable housing advocates in the city who, if the city did not get their general housing element approved, would bring suit and stop the city from issuing permits.

TCV: What is the role of the city council?

Wieckowski: The city council is supposed to set policy. It gives the directions that the city is supposed to go and the city manager is the driver of the bus. An example would be the "toe" of the hill. The hillside initiative was enacted by voter initiative of 58% in 2002; it became law 11 days after the election was certified. The charge of the city was to draw the line where the grade first meets 20%. Now the city staff has developed principles that they implemented using hundred foot variables and drew a line. The city council is obligated, because it passed by an initiative, to follow the law. They cannot say, 'We want to make the percentage twenty one percent.' Legally, they can't do that. The city attorney and the city manager will instruct the council, if they seek to adjust the initiative, that they can seek to make it stronger or more prohibitive, but they cannot make it more lax.

Something that needs to be defined is visual impact? People have different interpretations; the old interpretation is stand at Mission Boulevard and look at the hill. That's ridiculous to me because the voters who live in Irvington, Warm Springs and Niles are asking, "Is this going to litter the hills? We want to have the hills in their pristine state. Some council members would say, 'No, you can have a little bit of visual clutter.' That is something on which council members can provide guidance to the city manager.

TCV: How will Bob Wieckowski fit on the city council?

Wieckowski: I see clarity when Bob Wieckowski comes in. If you go back to the Hill Initiative debates at the Planning Commission meetings, I can be quiet during the presentation of the public. You must listen to the public speak. When I was serving as a judge "pro tem," I was told that you must treat people with dignity and listen to them. Many are not used to public speaking, so they are nervous; listen to them and give them the dignity they deserve and then make your ruling.

If you are not a veteran of government and you haven't been through the process before, then it is like a vacuum; you get sucked in and are trying to make everyone happy. People have reputations for going to a variety of meetings to listen to people, but that doesn't mean they make decisions. At this time, I think that Fremont needs that level of clarity and decision-making that I can bring.

I am a mixed-use advocate. I think that Fremont, over the next four years, should stimulate our economy by using mixed-use development (housing with retail/office) throughout the city. The articles and books I read about urban development and development along transportation corridors are all pointing in the direction of having mixed-use and the city of Fremont has accomplished some of that.

There is a certain attitude out there toward government that I would equate with a child. You can say, "Can the child do better?" "Sure." You can objectively sit here and say the government can do better. People can look at the city government and tweak it, and say it can do better. But, how about the other children? How is this child doing compared to Mountain View, Hayward, San Leandro, and San Bruno, and you might say, "Given what they have, they are doing a pretty good job."

We're facing an economic crisis; we need to stimulate business, and we have to attract big and small businesses to come to Fremont. I think an element to that is a mixed-use development. This marries the shops and office buildings with livable environments, and there are plenty of spots where it would be ideal.

TCV: Does Fremont lack adequate retail? Why? How can this be solved?

Wieckowski: I was flying to Chicago and picked up a paper that said Chicago lost over six billion dollars in sales outside the city. So, there is nothing unique about Fremont's problems. People have the sense that our founding fathers missed the boat. I have been here my whole life - my parents moved here when I was four. I worked for Don Edwards, the United States congressman from 1977-1982. I wasn't in Fremont - I wasn't buying ice cream across the street at Safeway - but I was working on legislation and looked at the city and the federal government's interaction with the Governor of California, Jerry Brown.

One of the basic premises' was that Highway 238 was going to be a six-lane highway. It was going to come down from Hayward and intersect Highway 680 and be an interstate. Stevenson Boulevard, Thornton Avenue, Jarvis and Mowry would all be interchanges. So, the Newpark Malls and Union Landings were going to be off of the new highway. That never happened as a result of a series of lawsuits and concerns. All the gladiola fields that were in Fremont, from the east side of Fremont Boulevard across, became homes and townhouses.

Shopping centers all want to have highway access. Look at Broad and Kaufman's development on Stevenson Boulevard - I was in high school when that was a nursery and the city was anxious to get revenue. Kaufman came in and said that they would build single home housing and nobody had that fifty-year vision saying, "Wow, why don't we build a shopping center here and build the housing somewhere else?"

There are many things that are attractive about Fremont - people want to live here, they want to raise their kids here, people feel safe here, and people like the city The weather is wonderful and there are a lot of awesome things. However, city council needs to face the problems we have, and change the things we're doing wrong. The current appetite is to go retail, retail, retail when we are in difficult times, having lost twenty million dollars in state funding.

I was briefed yesterday that we used to have 212 sworn officers on the streets, now we have 169 police officers not including those who are injured. They have done all kinds of gyrations to change priorities. I don't know if the public realizes that those changes have been made, but what we must do is present opportunities to people and businesses to come and establish their businesses here, make money, and improve the economic health of Fremont.

I think that I have a stimulus package that would be realistic with progressive businesses, people like Fremont Bank, NUMI, HP, Lam Research; people who provide good jobs for people who live in Fremont. We need to sit down and figure out what it will take to get them here without giving away the farm. I am interested in listening to what kind of concessions the city has to make to attract businesses that are going to partner with the city. I want to partner with business to help us in these difficult times but I don't want to give everything away.

TCV: Do you sense that a lack of trust in the present council?

Wieckowski: Sure, I sense it. I have been walking precincts for the last three weekends, so I am talking to people and introducing myself. I am asking them how they are doing in Fremont, how they work and how are their kids feeling, how they feel about the neighborhood. One of the roles that I think that a councilperson has to serve is as a teacher. With my background in government, I feel it can do wonderful positive things to improve peoples' lives but people need to be educated about government. There is a political thought that the government is evil and anything the government does is bad. There is also the thought that government can do good things, and the city of Fremont can do good things for peoples' lives; create an environment and home for people.

I think that one of the things we need to do is explain things to gain that trust again. It may be tough medicine that people don't want to hear, but I think you need that leadership from the council members. Trust also comes from being around. I am a veteran of Fremont; it is not like I fell out of bed and my ego said, "I need to be on city council." Because, it's not really about Bob Wieckowski, it's about the ideas and the policies, and I just happen to find myself in the position. I make this analogy of the guy, who plays the organ at the wedding, and I just happen to be here at this time, and when the bride and groom walk in I see there is nobody at the organ so I play it. I have the tools and skills and I would like to apply them to help the city. I would love to be on the city council and pull us out of this mess.

TCV: How would you help relationships with our neighbors, Newark and Union City?

Wieckowski: To comment on Union City and highway 84, there is an option to allow the money to remain in the area. We could improve the existing roads and expand those roadways to allow the traffic to be defused. The idea is rather than funneling all the traffic into one area, you diffuse it and improve the grid that's there. Union City wants to build a transit hub and it's a great idea - I wish Fremont had the idea to build a hub. My perspective of the transfer station dispute with Newark is that they are trying to get sweeter concessions from Fremont.

TCV: How do we get beyond these problems?

Wieckowski: I would say to Newark when we build the transfer station that I am an ecologist and we studied that thing and commented on the environmental impact report. I had to recuse myself from voting on it because I had written a letter saying we need to have a hazardous drop off waypoint. Who would be opposed to that?

Newark needs that [transfer station] in the long term. We are better than Berkeley and better than any other city in the Alameda County area about reducing our waste; we do a wonderful job of recycling. Now we are moving to the next generation. I want to help Newark and Union City; let them come to us and dump their garbage here too. This is the state of the art; there are three in the state of California. We shouldn't be using a landfill on the bay, because we have the largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States of America, this open space should remain in its pristine state.

Long-term challenges are different than those of a few years ago. Now there are over 500,000 cell phones that are discarded each year in the United States - that's nearly two cell phones a person. We have computer equipment becoming outdated; we have to worry about those going into the landfill and in 30 years, we'll have new things to worry about.

TCV: Why is Fremont having these disputes with its neighbors?

Wieckowski: I think part of it is selfishness. It is really difficult to be selfless and take a regional approach. You have to sit down and say what can we do regionally here that's is going to be in the best interest of all of us. As a city council member I would try to explain the mutual interests. I understand why Union City is advocating the traditional highway 84. The [Fremont] city council members resent the fact that they are going to be the driveway for the new development of Union City.

TCV: Additional thoughts?

Wieckowski: I want to let the readers see that I have done a variety of different things for and in Fremont. I have that perspective of a young boy growing up in Fremont, seeing where it is right now, not resenting the fact that, "That use to be a corn field, and that use to be a pickle factory." I'm not afraid to take positions that some people find controversial. If I have to lose three to two, or four to one, that's ok, I am going to work hard to say, "This is where I want to go."

Many times on Planning Commission, I am on the wrong side of the vote pleading, "Do you understand what we're doing?" I know where Linda Vista is and I was mad when the school closed it down. By putting fewer homes in there you can put in monster homes that are going to be startling in the environment. I would rather have said to Summer Hill, "Here, you build sixty homes, eighty homes, but I don't want one of those homes over $800,000." That's the way I would have gone at it.

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