March 6, 2018 > Editorial: Where have all the flowers gone?
Editorial: Where have all the flowers gone?
Pete Seeger?s popular folk song of the 50s is appropriate when trying to recall all the projects proposed by our government and those that have subsequently disappeared from view. Some have gone underground and may resurface periodically, others appear to be permanently left to gather dust on a backroom shelf. Each has had its day in the sunshine of political life but lost from view as time marches on. The song?s refrain, ??long time passing? and ?When will they ever learn?? resonates throughout bureaucratic cycles of rhetoric, debate, promises and uncertain disposition.
In some instances, proposals are considered and resolved. Whether in a proponent or opponent?s favor, the resolution of an issue in full view of residents and electorate demonstrates the value of our political system. When transparency is neglected and significant decisions are ignored or abandoned without due process, public unrest is the result.
Recently, a project mired in controversy for many decades has resurfaced? the East-West Corridor, designed to facilitate traffic from Union City to the Decoto Road intersection with I-880. Land was set aside for this project, but squabbles between Union City and Fremont, and the requirement for funding and unity between a variety of public agencies became a formidable obstacle to resolution. Another project, the Dumbarton Rail proposal to facilitate train travel between the Southeast Bay and Peninsula was also considered during the same time period. Both fell victim to politics, financial and jurisdictional barriers and disputes. Each was consigned to a dusty shelf even as transportation issues and woes have intensified. BART is a partial solution for north-south mass transit, but east-west connections within the greater Tri-City area are sadly lacking.
Currently, a bruhaha has emerged about a Union City proposal to re-address the East-West Connector project, giving renewed focus to a vital question for both Fremont, Newark and Union City. What are the combined goals of these core cities to deal with resident, transient and workforce mobility. Is it enough to plan solely within your city boundaries? Although other agencies such as Alameda County Transportation Commission exist to provide a consolidating arc for several communities, progress or delay can ultimately depend on local, grass roots understanding and support. I have watched this process and attended quite a few meetings of stakeholders when considering implementation; it is disconcerting to see arbitrary battle lines drawn when much of the information to clarify positions, funding sources and background information is available on city/county websites.
Where to start when reviewing past, current and proposed improvement programs can be overwhelming, but our cities have been required to develop plans in several documents that can make this process understandable. The first is a comprehensive guide to the city and its mission, present and future. The General Plan is an extensive long-range strategy; following a general statement of purpose, readers can easily find a particular area of interest. All plans are mandated to include seven basic elements: Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Open Space, Noise, and Safety. It may also incorporate additional elements. In Fremont, for instance, these include: Sustainability, Community Character, Economic Development, Parks and Recreation, Public Facilities, Community Plans, and Implementation.
Another place to look for projects on front and back burners as well as those on a future wish list is the Capital Improvement Plan. It is a short-term proposal, usually around four years with intervening reviews and updates. In this plan, government entities determine how to use funds available for capital projects and some types of equipment. It is important to note that many sources of funding come with strings attached and cannot be used solely at the discretion of the government receiving them. Do you wonder where bygone projects have gone to rest? Do you remember train whistle ?Quiet Zones? and Performing Arts Center proposals? These and many more can be found resting in government plans.
Supporting documents and information are available through each department of a government and, in addition, through reports issued by citizen boards and commissions, aided by government staff. This is the heart of government and a practical interface between the public and its civic hierarchy. The place to become involved and make necessary changes in a system is often from within. Each resident has the opportunity to become an integral part of the process. All it takes is a bit of attention and a few hours during the month. Waiting until an activist or neighbor taps your shoulder to voice an opinion is fine, however watching and listening as issues evolve is preferable and smarter. ?When we ever learn? is not only speaking to those in power, but to all of us as well.