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April 18, 2017 > Editorial: Design or Default?

Editorial: Design or Default?

The meeting of Fremont City Council on April 11, 2017 highlighted a controversy that will not be settled swiftly. A Master Plan for a California Nursery Historical Park sparked spirited comments and a fundamental schism between those who favor high profile exposure of FremontÕs attributes and others who prefer a more reserved approach. Given the hectic nature of traffic patterns and intense development in Fremont and the Greater Tri-City Area, adverse attitudes toward anything that might exacerbate the current situation is understandable. Preservation of natural habitat is a fundamental issue as well.

A master development plan for the historic California Nursery in the Niles District of Fremont shares a common problem with other similar attractions to residents and visitors. Fear of natural resource deterioration due to overuse, traffic problems and public misbehavior head a list of objectionable behaviors that weigh heavily on nearby residents. In opposition, some argue that resources such as Mission Peak, Niles (precursor of Hollywood) and the California Nursery are historical and natural gems to be shared, using reasonable precautions, with the public.

In some cases, public access to parkland for instance, is generally acceptable to nearby residents. Examples of peaceful coexistence can be found at Central Park/Lake Elizabeth, Ardenwood, Coyote Hills, Quarry Lakes, Don Edwards and others. Although some developments such as the Skate Park at Central Park have sparked controversy from nearby residents, most direct conflicts including noise and crowd behavior have been reduced or removed if problems surfaced. For instance, Ardenwood used to host a Civil War reenactment during the Memorial Day weekend. Noise mitigation was unsuccessful and the program no longer exists at Ardenwood. When neighborhoods encroach on open space, public events may no longer be welcome. If an attraction becomes popular and its location or access is within a neighborhood, the case of a Mission Peak trailhead, something must give.

Without proper planning and discussion, the opportunity for neighborhood preservation and public access leads, inevitably, to conflict. Should Fremont and its environs maintain a cloak of invisibility or promote its attractions? When visitors come to local hotels, is there adequate information about nearby recreation and educational resources? A concerted effort has been made to reach business communities, near and far, about the advantages of locating and doing business in Fremont, but do their employees know about the rich heritage and diversity of the community around them? How can our residents balance native attributes and tranquility with growth?

Without a formal Visitor Bureau or interdisciplinary commission to anticipate and discuss such issues, time and effort spent on documents and plans such as the California Nursery Historical Park Master Plan is set on a collision course with neighborhood concerns. Faced with determined opposition, unprepared councilmembers are faced with an untenable choice between staff recommendations and vocal citizen disapproval.

A commission whose role is to deliberate and moderate these differences before a council decision could make a difference, especially when Fremont becomes a district-election city with six councilmembers plus mayor. Meetings that now are hovering around three or four hours will move beyond the witching hour of midnight with the addition of two more councilmembers. Adequate discussion and planning (council work sessions or Interdisciplinary Commission meetings?) should take place before votes are cast. Fremont needs to develop a rational and comprehensive design rather than reaction by default.

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