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

July 25, 2006 > Interview with Fremont City Manager Fred Diaz

Interview with Fremont City Manager Fred Diaz

TCV: Fremont has gone through some reorganization since your arrival, is there more to come?

Diaz: I think things are pretty well set at current service levels. The reorganization spawned the Transportation and Maintenance Department and focused community development services. A great deal of thought and effort went into the reorganization which will pay future dividends, but this isn't something to do on a continuous basis.

TCV: Is there forward movement on Option 2 (Route 84)?

Diaz: Yes. I believe it is going to the ACTA (Alameda County Transportation Authority) board pretty soon for approval. Fremont and Union City have done what we needed to do and from ACTA, it will move on to MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission). An agreement will be put together and then the EIR process (Environmental Impact Report) will begin.

TCV: There is basic agreement on the plan?

Diaz: Yes, absolutely. At the last mayor's conference - a weekly meeting when the local mayors get together - Art Dao of ACTA made a presentation which was strongly supported by the mayors. This was not an official vote, but there was a great deal of support.

TCV: Any update on the downtown area development?

Diaz: We are hoping to come forward within the next month or two with a development agreement. The project is complicated, but alive and well.

TCV: Does the plan cover the entire Central Business District (CBD) or a more confined area?

Diaz: Downtown is more of a subjective term. There are two specific descriptions. One is the actual project we are talking about called the Capitol Avenue Project behind Fremont Plaza, the area of Fremont Bank and Capitol Avenue. This is the catalyst that will make the CBD happen. The Central Business District serves as a guide for development, bringing all the elements together: BART, the courts and strong retail and mixed use along Capitol Avenue. This will create a civic center for Fremont.

TCV: Many projects in progress appear to be running into financial problems due to rapidly escalating construction costs. How will this issue be addressed?

Diaz: Staff has been looking at this closely. Our goal is to move forward in a work session with the council concurrent with initiating our capital improvement process. We are looking at ways to garner larger contingencies and prioritize projects. This is not just about development projects, but affects all construction projects at any level. Staff is being proactive coming forward with recommendations to deal with projects that will be impacted and how they will be impacted. We will try to deal with this as a whole rather than doing it piecemeal.

TCV: Progress on the family water park?

Diaz: This project is not immune to the cost increases we just talked about. The water park is challenged with a set amount of resources. We are evaluating this with other projects to explore our options.

TCV: What steps are being taken to review the General Plan? Will it be delayed due to cost factors?

Diaz: It has to start relatively soon because our land use plan is outdated. It creates inefficiencies for processing projects that are important for economic development and uncertainty for our development community. A current General Plan is very important since from a legal standpoint, you need to show compliance with the state approved housing element. It has a lot of relevance and guides us through development even though the average citizen may not work with it on a day-to-day basis. A General Plan is a land use blueprint and vision for the future. A critical component is public input reflecting a vision of what Fremont wants for its future.

TCV: What is your vision of how housing density and infill development will impact Fremont?

Diaz: At some point in the not-too-distant future, all of Fremont will be infill. There is not much land left to develop. Fremont will 'densify' as a result of real estate prices; it is a natural evolution that will occur and I believe the council is encouraging this to a large extent. Densification will start in the core area and work its way out.

Affordable housing is the single most important issue in the state. Cities have an obligation to look at densification. Fremont is evolving from its rural and suburban roots to something more urban. You will see development projects that reflect that but the city will always have a balance between high density areas such as the core CBD near BART and areas such as Glenmoor and Niles that will probably remain suburban for generations to come.

Fremont will be a little bit of everything. That is what is great about good land use planning; this is where the General Plan comes in. It creates an identity for the districts and the core, guiding development in a logical path. The General Plan is a large investment of time and money, but without it, you are planning in the dark. My vision for Fremont is a dense core of mixed use residential with high end retail and a civic presence including offices that would encourage pedestrian traffic. If we dream a little bit, maybe a performing arts center in the middle of all of this as well. Medical facilities are a strong asset to make the Central Business District happen too.

TCV: The proposed utility tax measure, if passed, will not create a huge amount of money for the city. What will be accomplished with these funds?

Diaz: Since the council has approved this it is moving forward to the November ballot. There is a big line that staff cannot cross at this point. Putting on my city manager hat, I cannot touch this as an advocate. I can say that in the past, the council spending priorities have been focused on police, fire and road maintenance.

TCV: Are we fully funded on the Washington Boulevard and Paseo Padre Parkway grade separation project?

Diaz: The costs have risen dramatically. I, along with Jim Pierson (Transportation and Operations Director) and Lisa Goldman (Intergovernmental Relations Manager) have been lobbying the state, MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) and BART to come up with more money. That is looking very good.

TCV: As the redevelopment agency closes in on its spending cap, will it try to increase it?

Diaz: That is on our work list and we have a strategy formed to come before the council within the next year or so and present options of increasing the spending cap or decide where we go from here - expand the cap or not, expand redevelopment agency activities or ramp them down.

TCV: Will you need the approval of other contributing agencies?

Diaz: We may have to do this. Most cities in California at this time are choosing to extend the life or their redevelopment agencies, but some have decided to shut down.

TCV: Wouldn't the General Fund benefit?

Diaz: The overall increment because of pass-through benefits to a redevelopment agency is much better, but there are some general fund benefits if the agency shuts down.

TCV: The Fremont website is an excellent resource.

Diaz: I think so. When I was researching this job almost two years ago, that was the first resource I looked at. I was very impressed.

TCV: The Niles Town Square has been facing cleanup issues. Is this project on schedule?

Diaz: It will probably cost a bit more, but we have made significant progress. We should be getting official approval from DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control) soon. Because approval has taken a while, we may delay construction, but the project is moving forward.

TCV: Will Centerville's Unified Site be delayed as well?

Diaz: It will be delayed. It is running into increased construction costs. Staff is working with the developer to explore some options. We will be coming forward with recommendations for the council soon. I will know more after a briefing that is scheduled in the next week or two.

TCV: Any other comments?

Diaz: I am having fun. I know this is a big job and Fremont is going through significant changes, but that is the challenge and this is an opportunity for personal growth. This is a fun community to live in; I enjoy my new friends and neighbors. I have a strong sense of optimism for the future. We are on a good path for the future. I have my fingers on the pulse of what is going on both in the organization and the community. We are making tough choices and not everyone is going to agree, but we have a plan and are moving forward.

I am getting out of my office a little more and during my second and third year want that to happen more often. I have a new Deputy City Manager and that will allow me to get out into the community even more. More importantly, out into the organization. I have done my fair share of getting out into the community, but I feel a sense of obligation to pay more attention to the employees where they work.

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