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July 26, 2005 > Editorial: Smoke and mirrors, the land of Nod

Editorial: Smoke and mirrors, the land of Nod

As a child, I marveled at the nursery rhyme of Winkin, Blinkin and Nod who "Sailed off in a wooden shoe - Out on a river of crystal light, Into a sea of dew." As the poem unfolds, these three fishermen are told, "Now cast your nets wherever you wish,
Never afeared are we."

Things are not quite as they seem and the story ends with the verse:

So close your eyes while Mother sings
Of the wonderful sights that be
And you shall see these beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea.

At the last "work session," of the Fremont City Council, the land of Winkin, Blinkin and Nod was evident. The session began with an ethereal discussion of the mythical downtown, currently budgeted at $1 million dollars a year. I am not sure how much of that money is being spent on planning, but if funds are allocated for architectural jargon, the city certainly got its money's worth. There was much discussion of vibrancy, critical mass and rhythm, but little substance. Whenever councilmembers asked basic questions they were told that this was simply a presentation of ideas without the bother of entering the land of reality. The only thing that came out of this presentation was a question of how many residential units can be packed into the area for accounting purposes.

Pictures that council were told are simply concepts, not to be taken too seriously, show Capitol Avenue as a steel canyon of high rise apartments, condominiums or whatever over a few shops along a narrow strip of land. But, we are told not to despair since a "plaza" will open the area as a pedestrian sanctuary. "Vibrant Retail Environment" is defined by pictures of Plaza Escuela in Walnut Creek, The Ferry Building in San Francisco, Janss Court in Santa Monica and a scene from Vancouver, B.C. Creating a "memorable experience" is illustrated with pictures of Santa Cruz and Santa Monica. What these planners fail to understand is that many of these areas began with an older section of town now modified to create the current retail area.

Fremont's so-called "downtown" should not be defined by old or historic buildings if there are none to remodel. If there is to be such a place as Fremont's Downtown, fresh ideas are called for, not the same Santana Row that everyone is currently building. The Centerville Market Place is designed as a miniature Santana Row; we don't need two in our city. The movie industry is rife with remakes of movies or stories that have been around for years. Are we destined to be a remake too?

Long term planning is supposed to take into account construction options over many years, not simply what is in vogue today. The mad rush to fill every nook and cranny of Fremont with residential or the more palatable, "mixed use," is simply pandering to the new mantra of "smart growth." Today's smart growth is destined for modification and possibly the scrap heap of tomorrow just as shag carpet has gone the way of the Dodo bird.

As the afternoon work session progressed, the subject of Highway 84 was again discussed. Absent from this discussion was even a modicum of consideration by several councilmembers of Option 2. The mayor has already made it plain that he opposes any such road and Councilmember Dutra is fixated on the I880/Mission interchange without giving a hoot about the transportation issues of northern Fremont. Councilmember Wieckowski has done a weird turnaround and now talks of a narrow version of the entire historic route and there is little discussion from the others. As representatives of ACTA (Alameda County Transportation Authority) watched, the funding estimates for Route 84 were twisted and massaged until Councilmember Dutra announced that the decision was clear; there is not enough money to do both Option 2 and the I880/Mission Interchange. Therefore there is no choice in the matter.

This is a strange statement in light of ACTA projections that clearly show there is enough money for both projects. AB1462 which would allow the release of funds from the sale of excess Caltrans lands to other local tax-supported projects (I880/Mission) is being held on the Senate Floor by Assemblyman Torrico until Fremont and Union City can come to some conclusion. Caltrans too has asked for consensus in order to enlist its help. The question is if Fremont will refuse to grapple with the question of east/west traffic in north Fremont and sacrifice it to the underfunded Mission interchange. The manipulation of numbers by Councilmember Dutra suggests this is the case.

The ACTA Board approved measure B funds to be distributed if Option 2 is not viable as follows:
$46 million for Union City's segment of Route 84
$9 million for "traffic mitigation" of this segment
$30 million for Tri-City transportation improvements
Support $10 million STIP (State Transportation Improvement Program) for I-880/Mission
Support State land sale (est. $72 million) for I-880/Mission and existing Route 84

Let's examine the numbers if Option 2 were approved:
Cost of Option 2 estimated by ACTA at $106.5 million
$73 million from Measure B funds
$15 million from ACTA property sales
$10 million from STIP
$8.7 million from local match (Union City)

Councilman Dutra's argument is that use of these monies for Option 2 will remove necessary funds for I-880/Mission. What he has conveniently left out of his math is the sale of Caltrans lands estimated at $64 million with Option 2. The Phase 1B shortfall is estimated at $34 million.

The impression I get from some councilmembers is that Fremont is the dominant force in the area and should dictate regional decisions. Why should Fremont pay attention to Union City or Newark? The answer is pretty simple and important. Just as with any group, the opinions and actions of all determine how well the group operates. Bullying behavior is usually ineffective and not acceptable to others. It is time to remove the chip from some Fremont shoulders and get down to business. We need to clear out the smoke and mirrors and leave the land of Nod.

The new deadline for consensus is September 30, 2005. The clock is ticking.
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