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Mayor, council candidates promote vision for future of Fremont
By Wes Bowers
Fremont Bulletin, September 27, 2008

Candidates for Fremont City Council and mayor gathered at Fremont City Hall Monday to express views on everything from a future downtown to the possible baseball stadium venture with the Oakland Athletics.

Hosted by League of Women Voters of Fremont, Newark and Union City, the event gave an hour for the mayoral candidates to field questions, while an hour and a half was given to council candidates.

The mayoral candidates' forum began the evening with Councilman Steve Cho and former mayor Gus Morrison.

Mayor Bob Wasserman fell ill last weekend, but Vice Mayor Bill Harrison read a letter from the incumbent, apologizing for his absence.

Laying out Wasserman's plan for a second term, the letter stated, "I will always work to fund programs like our (Fremont Police Department's) Street Crimes Unit and support other innovative ways to keep our crime rate low. I will also ensure our police and firefighters have the resources they need."

Moderator Nina Moore's first question asked was what the candidates thought was the most important issue facing Fremont.

Morrison said finding ways to deliver all the city's programs with the current lack of funding was the biggest issue for him.

"I think the hotel occupancy tax is important and it needs to pass," he added. "But we need to find other ways to fund our government. We should be able to set a program and find a way to fund it, rather than set a program with just the funds we have available."

Cho said the biggest issue was public safety.

"People do not feel safe in the community because of the type, or lack of response from our police department," he said. "But it's not their fault. We need to be in a position to add more police officers to tackle our crime problem."

Cho added the verified burglar alarm response policy terminated by Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler a few years ago needed to be reinstated. Many other candidates at the forum expressed same belief.

A second question asked if candidates supported the Oakland A's proposed baseball stadium with Cisco.

"I initially thought Fremont was being used as leverage for a better deal in Oakland," Cho said. "But as time went on I learned the team was serious about coming here. I think it will be positive because it will bring economic development, national exposure, and put Fremont on the map. Lots of concerns have been raised too, but I want to make sure we look at everything before we make a decision."

Conversely, Morrison said the deal was a bad idea, a position he's held since the city and team announced the partnership.

"It's a transportation disaster waiting to happen," he said. "If you look at the studies done, there's no way to get there except by car. The team has admitted with proposed bus service, businesses and residential traffic, there's going to be 130,000 vehicle trips per day. Right now there's only 40,000 trips there. The people coming there will impede other people living there who are trying to go elsewhere."

Morrison added the city would actually lose sales revenue from the project. He further stated if the A's wanted a large site to build the project they should have looked at land near the car plant, New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.

Another question asked if candidates supported having Fremont become a charter city.

Cho said he favored the idea because the city would then be able to charge its own fee for seats at Cisco Field on top of the price set by the A's, among other things. He added that move would bring much-needed revenue to the city.

Morrison said when the city last considered a charter, he found the only thing it did was take some leadership duties away from the mayor. He said he wants change, but not through a charter.

The mayoral candidates were asked if they supported a plan for a downtown. Morrison said he believed the city needed to rethink its options.

"Originally downtown was supposed to be equidistant between 880 and 238. We had a plan for a life center when I left office the only life center between Oakland and Santana Row and it sort of died after I left," he said. "Now the A's want to come along and build a project with a life center the only one between Oakland and Santana Row and we can't have two. There seems to be a conflict."

Cho said a downtown will come, but people have to be patient while plans are formed.

"The city isn't just sitting and doing nothing," he said. "It's beyond our control when we talk to developers. We don't have the flexibility to just do what we want," Cho said. "If you sit and wait, downtown will come. It may not come as soon as people would like, but it will come."

Council candidates

The second half of the forum featured eight of the 10 council candidates speaking to virtually the same issues asked of the mayoral candidates.

Incumbent Bob Wieckowski, Fremont Planning Commissioner Suzanne Chan, Ohlone Community College Trustee Trish Tahmasbi, perennial candidate Linda Susoev and 2006 candidate Alan Stirling are all vying for two seats against political newcomers Vinnie Bacon, Fazlur Khan and Larry Montgomery.

Two candidates, Hou Leong and Charles Bartlett, did not attend the forum.

Khan opened the forum stating the most important issue for Fremont was the economy.

"Our economy is in very bad shape," he said. "I'm running a strong agenda to fix the economy. People are losing jobs and homes, and their financial situation is very bad."

Stirling said the biggest issue was the A's potential move to Fremont, stating he opposed the idea because it won't fit and the police won't be able to handle the influx of people.

Bacon said the city needed to rethink its pattern of development.

"It seems the city is intent on housing developments that aren't sustainable in the long run," he said. "Much of this development is poorly planned and disliked among a lot of residents. The city's overstressed, the police are underfunded. We need to focus on business and community development to balance our land needs."

Montgomery said he'd like to find a better way to balance the city's budget.

"If you look at the 2009 budget, it runs out of money by the end of that year," he said. "We need new ways to raise revenue. The A's are good for the community but we still need other ways to raise money, and raising taxes is not the way to go."

Susoev said she wants to lower the cost of living and lower rents for businesses, and increase education among Fremont students.

Council candidates were also asked if they support the A's move to Fremont.

"I believe this can be an exciting project if it's done right," Tahmasbi said. "If we want to be a major league city, we need a major league process that brings everyone together on this. But the city needs to walk away if it's not right for us."
She added, however, a retail component needs to be revealed and traffic mitigated.

Stirling again voiced his opposition to the project, stating it was not worthwhile for the city. He added the public will be asked to fund the stadium, despite the A's promise it will never happen.

"Not one sports stadium in the history of this country has been built without public money," he said. "You have to look at your money when looking at this process. (Teams) have walked away from deals when public money wasn't offered."
Stirling added stadiums have never been a benefit to city revenues either. Bacon also opposed the project, citing roads can't handle the traffic and the team has offered no viable transit option.

Additionally, he said 85 percent of the revenue generated will go to the Fremont Redevelopment Agency and not the police and fire departments as proposed, because the project site is in a redevelopment area.

"I favor a stadium, but until we get BART to the stadium, you can probably kiss it goodbye," Susoev said. "Ballplayers make more money than the rest of us and the only way I'd really support it is if they agree to help pay for it."
Chan said the deal is a win-win for Fremont and the A's.

"Looking at the village, with all the shops, retail, and dining it's what the city wants," she said. "It would revitalize the city and stimulate our businesses."

Wieckowski said whenever a project like this comes to a council it must be taken seriously.

"When an EIR like this comes in, we need to hear from the community," he said. "We need analytical information in front of us. Yes, we will look at all of this and go through the process and listen to the proponent. And as a juror on the council I'll decide if this is a good project or not."

Both forums will be re-televised on Channel 26.

The candidates will have a second opportunity to air their views at a forum sponsored by the Fremont PTA Council at Irvington High School's Valhalla Theatre at 7 p.m. Monday.



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