Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

May 16, 2006 > This time it was really going to happen, or was it?

This time it was really going to happen, or was it?

Praise to the City's Public Works Department is in order. Many of us get so frustrated with the City regarding the alleys, but this bit of history makes it clear that the Public Works Department, specifically George Bliss, was hard at work trying to fix the problem. The best insights into the Staff's efforts are the internal memos between the various departments working the project.  The formal Reports to Council edit-out the personal efforts of the Staff and their disappointment with the ultimate outcome of the project. In the end, the project was terminated and under suspicions of public funds mismanagement.

Those who were living in Niles at the time do remember, "Yes, I did get a letter from the City. They said some workers would be in the backyard surveying for the alleys. If I could only remember where I put the letter... here it is, finally."

16 December 1983
From: Public Works Director, T.M. Blalock
To: Niles Residents (379 letters sent out)

"The City of Fremont has received Federal funds for a project to improve drainage and pave the alleys and some portions of the streets in your area of the City. There will be no cost to the property owners for these improvements."

The Construction drawings were completed in March 1984 and had been fully reviewed by PG&E, County of Alameda Public Works Agency and the City of Fremont's Public Works Department. The project was ready to go, but there were problems with the allocated federal funds for the project. The memo files tell the story best.

26 October 1982
From: Public Works Department, G.Bliss
Re: Niles Alley project PWC-391

"For eight months, I have been told that this project had been tabled. No design funds appear on the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant Funds) printouts. Helen now advises that: (1) Herb wants the project and was to advise us regarding his choice of consultant... (2) Design funds were inadvertently transferred to the contingency account by Helen. (3) Construction funds are mingled with those for PWC-390 (Upper Niles) and so do not show up on printouts. (4) I suggest, Herb have funds provided again and put the job out to a consultant along with our new projects."

It must have been extremely fulfilling for the Public Works Department to begin the alley improvements. They could finally respond to the community's well-founded requests which started in 1957. However, from the onset of the alley paving project, something was going-on with the approved federal funds. Shortly after this memo, the Public Works department went to the City Council for approvals to begin the project. As recorded in the City Council Agenda for 6 December 1983 (Item 7.2) the federal funds were discussed.

Council Agenda: 6 December, 1983 (Item 7.2)

"As part of a total Niles improvement program adopted in 1979/1980, Community Block Grant Funds were set aside for design and improvement of the alleys and cross streets. Adequate funds have been budgeted for the design work. Additional funds will probably be needed for construction...This can be addressed in the 1984/85 CDGB entitlement grant".

Records show that the original design fees, as discussed in this Council meeting, were much less than the amount ultimately diverted by the City Council.  A good question would be, "So just how much money was given to the City to improve the Niles Alleys in the 1979/1980 federal grant". Were the funds actually sufficient, but willfully mismanaged to fund other "pet projects" the City could not otherwise get federal funding for? In 1983 the community of Niles assumed that all was well. The construction drawings were completed; time passed; nothing happened. Then an interested merchant makes an inquiry into the status of the project. These memos explain the fight for the money.

24 June 1985
From: J & K Painting Co., Rosmary Epler
To: City of Fremont
Re: Niles Alley project PWC-391

"...We would like to inquire as to the status of this project (Niles Alleys).Is the paving to be completed in the near future? It would be helpful to us to know when the paving will take place. Any information you can give us on the status of this project will be greatly appreciated".

30 July 1985
From: Public Works Department, G.K. Bliss
To: Housing Dept., John J. Eshorn
Re: Niles Alleys

"Please draft a report to the citizens about the project not having sufficient funds. Confer with C. Lamont. She should prepare a report to Council on the CDBG funds. The letter can be coordinated so people can speak before Council if they want."

8 August 1985
From: Public Works Department, G.K. Bliss
To: Debbie,
Re: Niles Alley update

"Upper Niles Project PWC-390 will consume all but a few thousand dollars of the CDBG funds. Carol Lamont reports that the City Council wants to put the remaining CBDG funds into the purchase of a building. Therefore the Alleys job will not be funded for the present. Carol and I will prepare a letter to the residents."

14 August 1985
From: Public Works Department, G.K. Bliss
To: Director of Housing,, C. Lamont
Re: Niles Alley update

"Please advise what action is being taken by Council (and when) regarding the use of surplus CDBG funds in the Upper Niles project, for buying a building. If it turns out that no funds will be provided for the Niles Alleys, we should so inform the residents."

19 August 1985
From: Housing Dept., John J. Eshorn
To: Public Works Department, G.K. Bliss
Re: Niles Alley

"Talked with C. Lamont... She will notify property owners when subject goes to Council in approximately 4 to 6 weeks."

The Public Works Department was motivated to complete the Alley project, but somehow the Housing Department had become empowered and was after the Niles Alley funds.  What was the big deal over a few thousand dollars, or was there more?

As suggested in the Council Agenda by the Public Works Department, additional CDBG funds for the period 1984/85 were not pursued and on 13 May 1986 the City Council transferred the remaining funds for the Alley project, approximately $100,000, to the Housing Department and placed the money in its "landbanking" fund.

Well, $100,000 is not a "few thousand" dollars, and there is no public record that any letters were sent to the Niles residents regarding the stalled project or the transfer of funds. There was definitely something inappropriate going on. If I'm not mistaken, federal funds are to be used for the projects intended. Why didn't the City pursue additional funding for the Alleys and just finish the project? Did the ownership issue pose a problem or get in the way of the City requesting additional federal funding? Would the City have to tell the Federal Government that they did not know who owned them?

In 1988 the Niles Alley project PWC-391 was officially terminated due to lack of funds. In a closing letter to the engineers, the Public Works Department requested the original construction drawings be sent to their office, where they reside today.

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