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March 29, 2005 > Editorial: Fremont Council Says 'Yes' and 'Maybe'

Editorial: Fremont Council Says 'Yes' and 'Maybe'

A long session of the Fremont City Council tested the mettle of the council and attendees last week. Stacking the calendar with several items of intense community interest, there was plenty for everyone at the meeting.

Ceremonial items gave way to what many thought would be easy approval of the Disposition and Development Agreement for the Centerville Unified Site. After years of false starts, heated debate and controversy, most of the bureaucratic hurdles standing in the way of the Centerville Market Place appeared to have been cleared. The Fremont Planning Commission had given enthusiastic approval of the plans a week before.

What followed was interesting in every sense of the word. Instead of smooth approval, councilmembers Natarajan and Wieckowski began to question and recommend major revisions. With more than a little patience, staff and Mayor Wasserman explained that changes of this nature were better suited for preliminary discussions rather than scraping documents that have been finalized after years of discussion. It is rather odd that this conversation took place at all, since the new council members both served on the planning commission prior to joining the council and had participated in the early planning process.

Natarajan questioned providing too much parking space and wanted deliberation of live/work units while Wieckowski decided that taller buildings should be considered. This type of discussion does not belong at the end of a lengthy planning process unless these items have been a constant source of debate throughout. In this case, live/work units were briefly included in the plans and discarded with good reason; height and "massing" was also under scrutiny and parking is always an issue but until that point, in the context of not enough parking, not too much. Where and why these comments were made is a mystery to me. There was no public dissention and finally the City of Fremont was about to embark on a successful redevelopment project.

The council meeting calendar contained issues that provoked extended public comment and lively debate (i.e. zoning provisions that will affect church assembly locations and a council decision on Highway 84) so it was inappropriate to waste an extensive amount of time discussing the Centerville Market Place. Ms. Natarajan needs to understand that there is time to be a planner and there is a time to let go. Mr. Wieckowski should remember that he is not a planner and often a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. His comments appeared to be designed to impress the audience rather than add any substantive information. In fact, his eagerness and earnest demeanor when presenting superfluous information comes across as insincere and grandstanding for air time rather than pursuing an orderly and efficient transaction of city business.

...And the result of this extensive discussion and time spent on these grave reservations of the Centerville Market Place, unanimous approval of the DDA and associated documents.

The night of wobbling was not over. As the clock continued to run and the steno-captioner's fingers began to fail, the Highway 84 decision neared. Council listened to many citizens from north Fremont assail ACTA's (Alameda County Transportation Authority) plan and ask for a "thumbs down." ACTA Executive Director Christine Monsen and Deputy Director Art Dao told the council that the deadline was now and asked for one of three decisions on the proposed compromise - vote "no," vote "yes" or vote "yes" with the provision of a review following the completion of a supplemental Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

True to its nature, the council instead went through lengthy discussions resulting in a decision that was so murky that they had problems framing a motion. I pity the staff member who is given the chore of deciphering the minutes and coming up with a reasonable and rational description of what occurred.

It appears that the idea was to "spike" any approval with so many conditions that members of the ACTA board - Fremont does not have a representative on this board - will conclude that Fremont is not serious about this plan. Councilmember Cho brought up a valid point - truck usage - which could probably be settled following a decision to build the road. However, asking for all stakeholders to meet and discuss the plans now, after many years of debate, name-calling and acrimonious meetings seems disingenuous. It will be a minor miracle if ACTA bows to Fremont and delays use of these monies rather than find alternate projects. This waffling of saying "yes" while saying "no" is disconcerting since, as most of the councilmembers have said at one time or another, they are there to make the tough choices. For all the bluster and tough talk, the council settled for a definite maybe.

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