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January 24, 2006 > Fremont welcomes new 'interim' housing and redevelopment director

Fremont welcomes new 'interim' housing and redevelopment director

With the departure of Redevelopment Agency Director Laura Gonzalez-Escoto on December 31, 2005, Fremont recently appointed Elisa Tierney as "interim" Housing & Redevelopment Director. TCV asked Ms. Tierney to talk about her background, appointment and duties.

TCV: What is your background?

Tierney: My degree is Economics. I have spent my career largely as a public servant doing economic development and redevelopment projects for redevelopment agencies. I have worked for 4 redevelopment agencies - San Leandro, Emeryville, Berkeley, El Cerrito - for twelve to fifteen years. At the last 2 agencies, Berkeley, then El Cerrito, I served as a director.

My love and interest is land-based development which is at the nexus of economic development and redevelopment. This is accomplished by working with a community to understand what they want to achieve, understanding what is missing and how it can be improved and then taking a realistic shot at achieving those goals. An example would be "pedestrian orientation." What a lot of people are looking for is a sense of place which may be called an "urban village" or "main street." I believe there is something attractive and fundamental about those places - we all enjoy those spots.

To do these things, we need to find out what is necessary in Fremont with the assistance of demographic research. Daren Fields and the Economic Development Department are really awesome at putting statistics together and doing "leakage analysis," finding out what new businesses can be supported - and supported well - here.

TCV: What attracted you to Fremont?

Tierney: Fremont, a large land-based city, has 4 active redevelopment project areas with tax-increment financing creating the ability to make a difference. The biggest reason I am here is that Fremont has a supportive and active community that has been involved in various projects such as the Irvington Concept Plan, Bay Street Streetscape, Niles Plaza and Centerville Market Place. These are all good examples of community-driven projects. It is great to be part of a city that has all the pieces; it has the land, it has the ability and desire to change, grow, improve and some of the funding to do it.

TCV: A large portion of redevelopment funds have been allocated for roads and targeted projects. Do you see current redevelopment responsibilities as creating a vision or implementation?

Tierney: Implementation. There has been a lot of momentum established. For instance, approval of the preparation of construction documents or Niles Plaza is going before the city council at the last council meeting in February. That is close to fruition. The Irvington Concept Plan has been done and we have little interest in refining it over and over again. We want to get things done. It is time for implementation. The only question now is if there are other projects to be identified by the community and elected officials.

TCV: What does an "interim" director do - what do you add to the process - when the projects we are discussing may transcend your tenure?

Tierney: When you have been a director, there are typical functions: administrative - I can hit the ground running on those; redevelopment law that guides how projects are developments developed and legal requirements - I understand those; and project implementation and management. Once you have done or been a part of a variety of real estate development projects, you understand the process. While I may not know the name of a specific street in Fremont, I do understand the concept of a retail development or a plaza - development, landscaping, lighting districts, etc.

TCV: How can you have confidence in the successful completion of Fremont redevelopment projects when serving on an interim basis?

Tierney: This is a "standup" staff. These folks are seasoned, experienced and very good at what they do. I might have my own ideas of what would be good, but it is very clear that the community has spoken. It appears to me that the project managers know what has been requested and are very good at implementation. My goal as "interim" is largely to support, facilitate and expedite. As an "interim director," although I do not know if a permanent position will be offered to me, I can also see if there is a fit on a long term basis.

TCV: How does Fremont compare with other cities you have worked with in redevelopment?

Tierney: The cities I have worked in before are largely more urban with higher density and more in-fill orientation projects. Typically, projects have been more traditional - going into an area that otherwise would not be touched by developers due to blight and rundown conditions; areas that are economically disadvantaged for whatever reason.

These projects are designed to catalyze the revitalization or rebirth of an area. If we are lucky, we have been able to work with community when doing this. The idea is that the project, once done, will stimulate private development. I have seen this happen where once one developer takes the leap, others will follow.

In Fremont, that revitalization tool has been used, but there have also been transportation projects. The industrial area needed more connections and the regional transportation projects have been necessary but I am in favor of more traditional projects once transportation projects have been completed.

Another difference is how spread out Fremont is in comparison with other cities. That has advantages, allowing for larger developments, but depends on automobile traffic. It would be nice if there were more pedestrian-oriented small scale developments for people to enjoy.

TCV: Have you worked in the private sector?

Tierney: After I left El Cerrito, I worked in the private sector as vice president of operations and finance for an early stage real estate company. This was an online, business-to-business corporate real estate that was a great idea, but didn't make it.

TCV: Did this give you additional insight into redevelopment?

Tierney: I like to think that I always had a customer-oriented approach. It comes down to treating others the way I would like to be treated. However, being in the private sector - I have also worked as a real estate analyst - is definitely helpful to see different protocols and a streamlined process where a deadline is definite. As a result, I am sensitive to work with businesses and identify with their needs.

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