February 3, 2004 > A Discussion with Fremont Councilmember Dominic Dutra
A Discussion with Fremont Councilmember Dominic Dutra
TCV: You just came from a "work session" with State Assembly Member Dutra: and State Senator Figueroa. Are there any new or exciting things to report from the state front?
Dutra:: No, not really. I think the bond is the big thing right now. Not a whole lot is going to happen, especially coming from the governor until March goes by. Every year from here on out has a structural deficit of about 12 to 14 billion, so, it doesn't solve anything because it doesn't balance the budget in an ongoing way.
TCV: It appears that the work sessions aren't designed for anything except a presentation.
Dutra:: I would agree with that.
TCV: The "work session" on the Centerville Unified Site Redevelopment Project did not allow time for citizen input. After the surprise decision of Charter Development as the exclusive developer, citizens were interested more than ever in being heard.
Dutra:: I think it's a question of process. The real story here, from my perspective, is that there was a failure of the process. Staff went through a long process as did CBA (Centerville Business Association) and a representative group of citizens. They came up with recommendations that, in my opinion were completely disregarded. It was as if it didn't even occur, so at that point the community has to ask, "Is my input valid?"
If they feel hurt by the process, are they going to want to continue to contribute? To me, of all the votes I took last year, this one was so important because it really sets the tone. It was important from the perspective of process for people in Irvington and in Niles to feel "hey, look, they (Centerville) got together and the city worked with the community and they came up with the recommendation." Maybe they didn't agree with the community altogether and they tweaked some things but I think the community was open to seeing one or another developer perhaps get it, maybe Blake Hunt, maybe TMG.
If we're going to have work sessions, let's have work sessions where people both on the council and in the community have an opportunity to inject their opinions and ask questions. That's what they're designed for. If that's not going to be the case, let's just call it what it is and say we're going to have a presentation and that's that.
TCV: I agree. Going back to the Charter Development deal and Centerville, it seemed as though we went through a lot of hoops in terms of each one of these developers developing a pro forma and making their presentations and now we're going back to a market study. If you start throwing out the low income and senior housing, are you actually saying that that initial pro forma was essentially meaningless?
Dutra:: Well, I would read it in a little different way. I would actually read it in a positive light. Remember, all the developer has at this point is an Exclusive Right to Negotiate. They earn that by getting three council members to vote for a plan and a pro forma, but a preliminary pro forma. When someone has an Exclusive Right to Negotiate, that's all they have. So, I'm actually very supportive and heartened by staff's diligence in saying "listen developer, you said a couple of things as you were designing this plan." It seemed as if the council was very supportive of the retail nature of this plan, 60,000 square feet and I think the community should be excited about that. The developer said in their presentation that they didn't have to have all senior housing and they didn't need the $4.4 million up-front subsidy, a huge difference between others who like TMG would have taken that subsidy in the form of a tax increment in future years.
So what's really going here, from my perspective, is that staff is saying "hey we want to go back out to the community." Now again, I think that because of the failing of the process there's going to be some trust that's going to have to be rebuilt. And I can see where community members will say "I'm not going to waste my time, I tried this and it didn't work last time." But I would encourage them not to take that approach. I would encourage them to look at what's now going on as "hey, maybe we're getting another shot here." And I think that there needs to be a communication of the disappointment in the failure of the process as part of this.
The community now has the opportunity to come back in and say "hey we want to see that market study." You saw me pressing that on the market study. I think it's important for the community to see that, in fact, they're going to end up with a valid, viable project that works. If seniors are the best group to support the project, fantastic. If that is what will support retail, than I'm all for it. If not, then the community should know.
To the extent that changes to the nature of the development are necessary, the community should make sure that they hold the developer's feet to the fire, and that it does in fact change. Then the implications as they relate to their pro forma- their financial pro forma - should stay true. If modifying to the extent that they need more money is required, at that point maybe we need to revisit this and let some of these other people who were biding on the project back into the fray.
I'm not saying that's what's going to happen, but that's what could happen. So as much as this process has failed, and I can see where people would want to back off at this point, that, in my opinion, is the worst thing that could happen. The best thing that could happen is people would say now is when we really need to organize and voice our disappointment in the failure of the process and really hold this developer's feet to the fire. To make sure that they are open to doing what's best for the community.
TCV: I think some of that is starting to happen, although there's certainly, as you sense, a lot of disappointment and disaffection with the process.
Dutra:: Sure, and I don't blame them. But I think that again the positive thing that can be taken away form this is that staff is not continuing the failure of the process and they're saying to the developer "hey, we want you to go back out in the community, we want you to do a market study." Why are they doing a market study? What the staff is really saying to these people is, "listen, you need to do a study that shows this is going to be successful." Again, I laud them for what they are doing. I think that's a good thing. As opposed to saying "[we've got] three council member's vote, that's what we're going to do. Just show us your plans and we'll start production drawings." That would be the worst thing that could happen, they just "boom" and move forward and that's the end of the day. I think there's a tremendous opportunity here for the community to really shape this process.
TCV: How do you think the process needs to change, looking back at what did happen, so that we avoid this in the future? How would you change the process itself?
Dutra:: Well, there's a couple ways to do it. You probably sensed a little bit of my frustration (of time limitations at the work session) Tuesday night and I don't think that will happen again. That's one way. I've communicated to staff that I think there's been a failure in the process, and I again, I don't think the failure was staff, I think that the failure was of council, that the ruling wasn't done with a sense of really listening to the community.
I think the community should take this opportunity to have meetings with the developer and staff about how they want this plan to come out and how they're going to look at the market study. Coincident with that, they need to express their disappointment in the process and that the community is going to make a good faith effort to try once more. That is something to be appreciated by the council, that the community would even consider doing that based on what they've experienced but that they would hope the same thing would not happen again. It could happen in editorials, oral communications at council, community meetings, in the CBA having council members come and talk to them about how the process failed and how certain council members arrive at certain decisions and why they apparently disregard a lot of the community input, I think that's how it changes.
TCV: I also look at it in another sense. People who are on the committee that was formed to make a recommendation were told that the drawings really had very little of anything to do with it, that they were to focus on other factors, and when push came to shove, it was a picture that did it.
Dutra:: I could not agree with you more. That's what was disappointing to me. Normally I speak once, the mayor kicks it off and lets council members speak, then he closes once the council members had the chance to speak, but I spoke twice. I don't normally do that. What I felt was exactly what you're noting, that the community input was not there.
I don't have to agree with the community all the time, I just thought there was a failure in the process. I think it's dangerous when a council has that level of disregard. Let's say that the community is disregarded, well that's one thing. It's the compounding of that when there isn't a whole lot of substantive data that you're basing your decision on. Meaning it was pretty clear that the economist we hired was noting that their pro forma did not have near the foundation support as others pro formas did, that they questioned whether the numbers really worked. An economist saying that, senior housing, that certainly was out of left field form the standpoint of where the community was coming from. But it came down to "well we like the curved street, we really like the artwork" well I can hire an architect and make up a pro forma and draw a really beautiful picture, but there's a lot more to development than just that. It's the team, it's the entire group.
TCV: Centerville is a bellwether for the entire city. Before downtown or anything else goes, this is the thing that has to be successful.
Dutra:: I couldn't agree with you more.
TCV: Given what you said, and the weakness of the pro forma, the question is, what to believe and what not to believe.
Dutra:: Well. It's a whole different ball game. They have to meet a very high threshold, and it's going to be very transparent to the community as to what's going on. I'm all for getting things done in an expeditious manner, but this isn't the same as the Auto Mall development. That's important too, for a different reason. This is precedent setting, both in terms of process and in terms of what ultimately goes there. It is our chance to show that we can do something special.
Therefore, if it takes a little longer because we really have to make sure that the community is happy with this process and understands in a transparent manner what is going to be there. This can have very positive implications for Irvington and for Niles and for any other sort of development work we do on the city. So we need to be very careful and very prudent about how that happens. So, again, I think we can take this as very positive what you're seeing from staff. They are being very careful about how this thing rolls out. I think that's a positive thing.