June 22, 2004 > Editorial
Fremont Makes Some Noise
A raucous crowd attending a recent Fremont Planning Commission meeting met politics head on and the commission blinked. Faced with community pressure, the commission, poised to rubber stamp zoning changes recommended by staff, backed off. Some items were pulled from the agenda and others were tabled for another day. Please note that those folks won a battle, but are still facing the same pressures at the next meeting scheduled for June 24th. The heartening thing about all this is that people are beginning to understand that although cities are facing state mandates and pressures, the power of the people starts at the city level and upward pressure can be exerted as well.
City personnel are well aware of where the power lies but loathe enlightening the population at large since it is easier to simply make decisions without the public rabble getting involved. The public is often unaware of the full range of choices and often given information that, while true, may contain only a selected group of possibilities. For instance, when examining the budget crisis in Fremont, the argument is that through good advance planning, the city is currently remains solvent yet on the verge of implosion.
Planning for hard times, especially when anticipated well in advance, usually means belt-tightening measures prior to catastrophic choices. Instead, this planning led to a huge cut of staff and services and now another looms ahead. As we enter a critical phase of city finances, the choice being presented is either swallow a 7% or greater tax or suffer Armageddon. No one has asked about the funds going to redevelopment and what our dollars have bought with those monies. In fact, there is even talk of extending the life of redevelopment since the city will most certainly raid that pocket to satisfy the state bite. No one has brought up the new maintenance yard on Osgood that is currently at a standstill because of a poor contractor choice. Far back in memory is the Poe Dam fiasco that used a significant amount of "Opportunity Funds."
While the past is the city's legacy and, in retrospect, not filled with brilliant decisions, the present situation is intolerable. There are a few options that should be discussed and either discarded or examined closely. At one extreme, the city can declare insolvency and return to an unincorporated state and at the other, residents can vote to dip into the citizen tax pocket and extract whatever is necessary to return to the "good ol' days." What lies in between? Are cost saving measures still available? Are there local folks who would chip in with volunteer work? Many already volunteer and others might if not restricted by city regulations. Can the city workweek be shortened to four days with an extra hour tacked on the remaining days? Is a minimum services city an option where basic services such as police, fire and maintenance are strengthened while other staff functions are reduced to bare minimums? Have we put the minds of our best and brightest citizens - working, retired, at home - to the test as a roundtable discussion and examined the problem for innovative solutions? Has the community been involved in the process or just the recipient of a sad story?
A proud city manager once stood up at one city council meeting and spoke about an original idea of a staff member that money could be saved by outsourcing printing. Kinko's was selected to do the work and voilą, substantial savings were realized. Maybe there are local businesses that can do this and other work too. Maybe there are local businesses that will work on city contracts, save money AND put the money back in the local economy. What an idea! Pay a "staff" that actually lives, works and spends their income within the local area!
Hopefully, everyone in our cities wants to create a safe and healthy environment for themselves, their families and neighbors. We can do it if all sectors of our economy are brought to the table.