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January 30, 2007 > Public Works Director Peggy Classen

Public Works Director Peggy Classen

By Steve Warga

TCV: What prompted you to join the City of Newark after 24 years with the City of Fremont?

Claassen: It was a great opportunity for me. Dennis Jones, who is our new Assistant City Manager, was my first supervisor when I was hired by Fremont in 1979. He's my ideal as a supervisor and a really fine person and engineer. He approached me about working for Newark when the Assistant City Engineer's position opened three years ago.

Newark has changed a lot over the years and has developed a real team spirit atmosphere with all the staff. Their commitment to public service is phenomenal. I like being a part of such unusual dedication.

TCV: Can you tell us a little bit about the Public Works Department?

Claassen: Sure. There are three major components to public works. The first is building permits. We review all building permits for compliance with Newark ordinances and building codes.

Next is engineering which includes all the design and planning of capital improvement projects. We also come into play in any development projects where access, utilities, storm drains and so on need to be installed or extended.

The third area we're responsible for is also our largest: maintenance. Public Works is responsible for maintaining all city streets, including utility structures, lighting, traffic signals and, of course, filling potholes. Our goal here is to have zero potholes within the city limits.

Along with street and road maintenance, we're also in charge of maintaining the trucks you see out there working on the streets, plus any other city-owned vehicles.

Landscaping is another of our maintenance responsibilities. It's actually one of our top priorities because it's so visible. We want the public to enjoy attractive landscaping around city buildings and along our streets.

TCV: What do you see as your biggest challenges?

Claassen: In a word, money. We maximize our limited resources by operating very efficiently. I'm real proud of how much the staff accomplishes within our budgetary constraints.

It's tough sometimes, though, because we have needs for capital improvements, and some serious maintenance challenges. Just look at City Hall. It's a good building, but it's just plain getting old.

TCV: What's on your wish list of capital projects?

Claassen: Well, a new administrative building is probably first. We'd like to have more room for police and fire services. We're presently leasing space for some of that. But this is not a big-ticket item, it's huge!

We get requests for skateboard and dog parks. It would be nice to have a couple of small dog parks. They're real popular with the residents. A new senior center and a community center would also enhance Newark's services.

We are expanding the senior center by another 2,000 square feet, or so. That's in addition to the existing 4,400 square feet of space we have currently. And we're adding more parking, which we desperately need.

A couple of other projects we've been eyeing for awhile are the railroad overpass on Central Avenue; and we want to widen Thornton Avenue. But until we have the money, those things will have to wait.

TCV: That sounds like a lot of money. Where will it come from?

Claassen: Yes, it's somewhere around $70 - 80 million. I can't say for sure how we'll fund these things we'd like to do. We are looking more for private development partnerships, like the Area 3 and 4 golf course development that's going through environmental review right now.

We're very proud of the Silliman Center. It's a first class facility and gets heavy utilization. That's something we put together with some creative funding mechanisms and a lot of determination.

I believe we'll see our dreams turning slowly into reality. The new Fire Station #1 is another good example. We saw the need, put our heads together, and made it happen. It's the Newark way!

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