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June 28, 2005 > Editorial: The Perfect Storm

Editorial: The Perfect Storm

In October of 1991 a storm stronger than any in recorded history hit the coast off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. This "Perfect Storm" - so called because it was three storms combined into one - was the subject of a book and movie that followed the decisions, efforts and tragic result of a fishing vessel, the Andrea Gail, caught in the midst of the tempest. The story outlines a set of highly unusual circumstances that coincided to create an unlikely situation. In another hard-to-believe scenario, this time much closer to home, Tri-City politicos are all smiles over a last minute monkey wrench thrown by Caltrans into a 40-year process, the Highway 84 connection between Mission Boulevard and Interstate 880.

Highway 84 has become synonymous with bickering and political posturing for years. Fremont politicians have promised loyal opposition to this highway and have been elected, at least in part, due to their rhetoric. But, when money was dangled before their eyes for the Mission/I880 interchange, they quickly changed their tune. Struggling to maintain the appearance of opposition while giving a go-ahead, the historic parkway morphed into different designs and began to meet approval. As deals were being struck to finally bring this political hot potato to a semblance of conclusion, one small detail got in the way - no one asked a major stakeholder, Caltrans, if they had changed their primary position of support only for a comprehensive connection between Mission Boulevard and Highway 880.

After Union City decided to go ahead with a small portion of the highway, the wrangling began over a connection between Alvarado-Niles Road and Paseo Padre Parkway. Money was to flow to Fremont and city council members, Dominic Dutra in the lead, could hardly contain themselves over the bundles of loot that would bail out a poorly funded Mission/I880 interchange project and even (dare we hope?) reimburse Fremont for the millions it has already invested. Facing mounting funding issues of the Washington Boulevard overpass and a huge shortfall for the I-880/Mission Boulevard interchange, another redevelopment debacle was on the horizon. It was time to get down on collective knees and pray for a miracle. This was the ultimate "Texas Hold-em" game when all cards but one have been dealt and the Ace of Spades is the only card that can save you. It turns out that Caltrans was holding that card and played it!

Councilmember Dutra could not contain his glee at a council work session last week and others were hard pressed to hold in their smiles. By changing the discussion from the merits of Highway 84 to compiling a set of conditions that changed the entire character of the plan, they ensured a Caltrans rejection. In the aftermath, a meeting of the Alameda County Transportation Authority on Thursday, June 23rd allowed the neighbors to join the game. Union City will have a small portion of the road it wants for access to its Intermodal Station, while Fremont chases the big bucks for Mission/I880 and even Newark gets into the mix, asking compensation for collateral damage. Scott Haggerty joined in the fun while Gail Steele made sure she could be included too.

Union City Mayor Green figures that $300 million could stay in the Tri-Cities and urged a united front to keep the bucks local. He quipped, "We need everyone holding hands." Fremont Mayor Wasserman, a staunch opponent of just about any Highway 84 alignment applauded Caltrans and called their rejection, "a wise decision." Paul Tong, Newark councilmember claimed that "the City of Newark has been impacted" and had his hand out for a "definitive number for Newark to solve this problem."

I am all for getting what money we can out of this deal. Southern Alameda County can certainly use the funds for improving transportation and street repairs. But voters need to remember how we got into this situation in the first place and why that money has been sitting in a bank account, losing purchasing power since Measure B passed in 1986. Remember the promises your politicians made and what they were saying prior to the refusal of Caltrans to play the smoke and mirrors game. It will be up to Fremont politicians to explain why they waffled on Highway 84 when they next face the electorate. Also, lost in the fray may be the financial straits of Fremont's Redevelopment Department which is closing in on its spending limit. Where did the money go and what do we have to show for it? Will the Highway 84 bailout bring us back to business and spending as usual? Did the council play a politically astute game or was it pure luck that they fared better than the Andrea Gail and survived, exiting with a strong enough cologne to hide the aroma of incompetence?

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