April 3, 2018 > Community Development Director set to retire
Community Development Director set to retire
A familiar face at Fremont City Council meetings will soon be absent. After over 20 years of service in Fremont ? beginning as a contract planner in 1999 working on the Niles Concept Plan - Community Development Director Jeff Schwob is retiring May 4, 2018. As a senior official and long-term employee, Schwob is often asked by councilmembers and fellow employees to provide the background of projects and policies under review. His calm, level-headed responses are welcome to those with less tenure who require context for current and future decisions. When asked about the timing of his departure and other senior Fremont personnel who have recently announced retirements, Schwob said, ?In part, it may be that people feel that things will be different going forward with district elections. This is a time for adaptation and adjustment. It will be a big change in structure.? He says that the new Community Development Director will have a bit of breathing room, ?The General Plan is in place, the zoning code is in place and we are in fiscal good health with a good team. Whoever comes in will be able to take a breath and digest it all while figuring out the next steps. I am leaving a good, solid foundation for my successor.?
As Community Development Director, Schwob is responsible for the Planning Department ? ?my roots? ? the Building and Safety Division that reviews all construction drawings to make sure they are built to code, field inspection to make sure plans are being followed and fire plan reviews/inspections on new construction. He also oversees Code Enforcement that is responsible for non-police enforcement on private property. He notes that the affordable housing aspect of Community Development was inherited from the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. Building affordable housing is one of the most challenging aspects of the job. ?This year?, says Schwob, ?we will probably build more of these than we have ever done in any one year of the past. The program has become much more robust due to fees collected, a county bond measure, linkage fees for non-residential development and other sources. There are many projects in the works and that will be a positive thing for the community.? Recently Fremont added a Sustainability Coordinator to the department to oversee streetlight replacement, microgrids at fire stations, solar carports, the Green Challenge to let people review their energy consumption and make better choices.
The complexity of Community Development is integrated with other city departments to allow an efficient flow of information between departments. A ?Development Cabinet? - police, fire, public works, environmental services, community services, economic and community development - meets quarterly under the guidance of the City Manager. ?We talk about high priority projects in the city and any assistance needed so we can all be on the same page in terms of our goals. These projects have to deal not only with the city, but other entities such as utility companies and, at times, flood control, etc. Our staff needs to coordinate with their staffs to facilitate a project,? says Schwob.
Fremont also has a ?Business Ally? who helps guide people through the permitting process. Schwob says that this position began as assistance for small business but grew quickly to encompass all businesses. If someone needs help to navigate the permit process with the city, our business ally will help them to partner with the right team of individuals to guide them. He adds that the Business Ally is a special person with ?technical and social skills? acting as a liaison with Economic Development as well.?
Asked about challenges facing his replacement, Schwob says that new State laws create difficulties at the local level. ?Our legislators are constantly passing new laws; we are being micromanaged by the State.? He cites new land use laws as examples: ?One will take control away from local community?s land use decisions of transit-owned properties to those agencies. Loss of local control and accountability is troubling. Even more challenging is that if within one-half mile of a transit station (i.e. BART, Centerville Train Station, etc.) or one-quarter mile of a bus or transit line with 15-minute headways, buildings at least 85 ft. tall and 4.5 floor area ratio [4.5 x lot size] are allowed without density limits; no parking requirements. There are rules about replacing housing and tenant relocation, but overall there isn?t much the city can do should laws like these be passed. Also included in this law is a density bonus that gives leniency on other rules. Local control is being eroded.? He adds, ?In some cities, this may make sense where an area is dilapidated and rundown but doing this in places with existing single-family residences, giving carte blanche, is asking for trouble.?
Planning issues are important for a community but Schwob realizes that people are busy with family and personal issues so when listening to residents, ?It is really hard to hear a representative mix of responses. The challenge is to get people engaged.? Fremont is trying all types of outreach ? permit software, citizen access, development digest and other newsletters ? to become more transparent.
Traffic congestion has become a major problem throughout the Bay Area. This not a localized problem. There is a tremendous job base in the area and people cannot find a place to live so they live further and further away; they are cutting through every neighborhood to get here. This is challenging because the jobs are creating the traffic. Everyone wants a good-paying job so a partial solution is creating efficient transportation to these jobs ? shuttle systems and incentives to encourage use of alternative transportation models.
Although new regulations will present significant challenges, Schwob is confident his replacement will inherit competent assistance. ?We have some very talented people in the department who have experience and can help with the transition.? He has learned that success depends on a team effort and cautions, ?You can?t do it all by yourself; there will need to be a rebalancing, a team that will complement each other. Everyone has their own strengths and needs assistance in other areas.?
Plans for the future are not definitive; Schwob says his favorite ? and facetious - answer is to ?sit on the sofa and eat Bon Bons!? On a more serious note, he says he will eventually consider consulting work. The bonus of retirement is ?I can pick and choose what appeals to me.? Whatever he chooses, Jeff Schwob will have left an indelible impression on the future of Fremont.