May 11, 2004 > Editorial
Redevelopment or Misdirection?
The Centerville Unified Redevelopment site is about to undergo another transformation. Fremont's Redevelopment Agency has gone through the Ralph's Grocery fiasco followed by a lengthy period of Requests for Qualifications and Proposals from developers. An interesting city council meeting on October 28, 2003 selected Charter Development in the face of community and staff opposition. It appears that Charter has little experience with mixed use, but presented a pretty picture and a plan for senior housing.
Asked about the vote, some council members replied that senior housing was a key element and needed in Fremont. Charter's plan even included senior rental housing for low income seniors! One councilmember who voted for Charter stated that he was "not in favor of single family housing, townhomes or 'for sale' units. Another said he liked the "senior element" and the additional retail space while the third councilmember voting in favor said that the compromise of retail and residential was a good mix.
As it turned out, a majority of the council believed the Charter plan to be a winning concept, awarding a 6 month Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN). Much of this time has elapsed and, after extensive study and negotiations with Redevelopment Agency staff, a presentation at a working session of the Fremont City Council produced...a completely different plan. Out goes senior housing, rental space and some of the retail space. In comes more residential - all "for sale" units.
In some industries, this type of change is called "bait and switch" and teeters on the edge of legality. However, a larger problem arises with this new plan. The selection of a developer was predicated on trust and the plan proposed. Allowances were made for some variation of plan, but what happens when the plan morphs on a grand scale and begins to look suspiciously similar to another developer's plan? How much trust can the city council have in these people? Is it fair to other developers who put their time, effort and money into proposals that were realistic and competitive? One councilmember, when asked about the ability of another developer to incorporate Charter's concepts said, "...it isn't right to have someone build another's idea."
The ERN period ends in June. According to City Attorney Harvey Levine, city council can do as it pleases when the present ERN expires. They can accept a new proposal, extend the ERN, bring back the previous contestants or start all over again. Will this council have the fortitude to admit an error in judgment and recall the developers who negotiated in good faith? Will those on the council remember their pledges to Scenario Game and Hobby? This is a viable business that needs Fremont Boulevard frontage. The adage, "Location, Location, Location," must be observed and anything less is a broken promise.
The community spoke loudly about their preference when the ERN was at stake. They were ignored. Will this happen again? The three councilmembers who voted for the current developer will ask voters for personal approval in November. How will voters feel when asked to approve of their political aspirations?