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March 8, 2005 > Fremont General Plan Amendments, Rezoning and the Budget

Fremont General Plan Amendments, Rezoning and the Budget

Why Councilmember Dutra voted 'No'

The consent calendar for the March 1 meeting of the Fremont City Council looked routine. Ceremonial items and a consent calendar that appeared benign would occupy the preponderance of council deliberations; the meeting was on a fast track to adjourn early.

Councilmember Dominic Dutra asked that item 2.6, to rezone a small parcel on Grimmer Boulevard at the intersection of Irvington Avenue, be pulled from the consent calendar and discussed. Currently, a restaurant occupies the area in question of approximately 0.5 acres, contiguous with the Tri-City Sports property.

Previously, the Fremont City Council had approved Tri-City Sports and Patio World sites for a higher density designation in preparation for residential development. This was done to help implement the city's Housing Element programs in an effort to satisfy state housing requirements. The small section in question was inadvertently left out of the previous decision.

Why question this small change? TCV asked Dutra to clarify his reasons. He said, "We are being pushed by the HCD [California Department of Housing and Community Development] to provide housing units." Dutra agreed that it makes "a lot of sense" to house people closer to job opportunities in the Bay Area. To create affordable housing, often living space decreases and density increases to fit more people in a defined area. "Density and affordability do not lend themselves to crime or degredation of neighborhoods, so I have no problem with any of that," said Dutra.

"At every step of the way, we need to analyze our ability to provide services based on our existing budget." Dutra explained that these services include police, fire, recreation, senior and youth services, maintenance and more. He added, "We have to live within our means." Zoning changes of the sort represented by the small parcel in question signify a "paradigm shift." The increase in housing is a "net negative" relative to the cost of services. Unlike retail where the city gains revenue (a net positive), residential units demand an increase in services with less offsetting revenue gain and therefore increase operational costs.

According to Dutra, the city has now "up-zoned"- commercial to residential - about 234 acres. A rough calculation of the change in property values is about $143 million, of which the city realizes little, if any gain. "A developer can come in, and with 'density certainty,' we can't say no anymore." Although the city does retain an ability to regulate site planning and architectural features, density has been predetermined. He contends that density planning is "way out in front" of city site planning, architectural guidelines and city services.

"If you can't provide services and assure yourself that it is going to look good and be sustainable, that is when I get worried. That is why I raised the issue and I think we, as a city council, should be discussing this."

In some areas, such as downtown, Dutra said that increased density makes sense when you are trying to draw people into the area. There is an economic rationale for this since there will be enhanced sales taxes to be able to provide services. The issue of promoting the conversion of retail to residential property with attendant requirements for site and architectural planning and an increased need for city services is, according to Dutra, "a conversation we need to have."

Item 2.6 passed: 4 Ayes, 1 No

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