September 14, 2004 > Interview with Robert Walker, Candidate for Fremont City Council
Interview with Robert Walker, Candidate for Fremont City Council
TCV: What is your background?
Walker: I've lived in Fremont for about two years. I grew up in a military family (five kids) and we were stationed in quite a few places. I work for a financing company and they moved me here. This is where I want to relax and put down roots.
TCV: Why are you seeking a council seat?
Walker: In financing, I not only have to research businesses - how they run and what motivates them - but I also have to research government and policy making. I have to analyze what they're going to do. What is the effect of a sales tax? How is an increase going to affect businesses? If there is a utility tax, how is that going to affect the businesses I deal with? So I've researched local government just as much as state and national government.
In the two years of my residency in Fremont, I have seen crime increase. There was a report of a gentleman who went to an ATM really close to my house and got hit over the head. That is a concern.
I want Fremont to be fiscally responsible; I want the city government to take my safety, as well as that of other citizens' safety seriously. We have to find a way to make sure that the police have the resources that they need.
I do financing and when somebody tells me that we're having financing problems, or economic problems like this city is having, I get a little frustrated. There are always solutions. And there's always more than one solution to a problem. I think you just have to make sure you look outside the box.
I have a good background in finance. Even though I have not been here as long as many of the other candidates, I want to give people a choice. There are three things that a city can do here. One is to shrink government even more; the second is to raise taxes and the third is to generate more revenue. I'm for generating more revenue.
Shrink the government and you jeopardize the safety of your people, which I'm totally against. We have to take safety as a serious factor. Growth is great, and we need growth. We're always going to grow, but there comes a time where you have to evaluate growth and safety. I'm the type of person where I would rather have another cop on the street, being more proactive instead of having palm trees lining Washington Street.
TCV: How would you create more revenue?
Walker: I haven't had the chance to look at the financials of the city. Businesses are moving out and that is lost revenue. They are trying to reduce overhead. We need to find a way to encourage companies to move here and encourage companies to stay here. Government, not just here, but everywhere, has taken a step backward, away from businesses. We have to understand what forces act upon businesses and what makes them make the decisions that they make. That is the only way we're going to get companies to stay here in the Bay Area.
TCV: What makes Fremont unique? If elected, how will you respond to the community?
Walker: Fremont is a mixture, a melting pot. That's one of the things that drew me here. I can go a block from my house to a Thai restaurant or an Indian restaurant. There are so many different types of ways to do business because of the different cultures that are here, but I think, ultimately, they are going to fit into the same mold in certain aspects such as taxes.
TCV: How would you approach the Highway 84 issue?
Walker: Whether people like it or not, Fremont's population is at approximately 209,000 and we are going to continue to grow so that highway will probably come. I think it is better to communicate with people to achieve synergy and consensus. A highway can bring an increase of smog, noise and danger, but I think that there are solutions to mitigate the problems. We just have to compromise and work with Union City.
TCV: What do you think about the utility tax that's being presented?
Walker: It would have been nice if, when the dotcoms started going down, we had a plan for additional revenue. We are behind the 8-ball. Do I think that the utility tax is a good thing? No. A lot of businesses are struggling and people are struggling. There are two places that a company will compensate: charge more, or absorb it and take less profit. Profits are pretty small unless you're Chevron. Most businesses are struggling.
We just had a sales tax hike, up to 8.75%. Do you want to pay 8.75% or do want to go outside the county and pay a lower rate? Companies look at that and realize that by making their customers pay a higher sales tax, they're going to suffer a loss of sales. It's the same way with the utility tax. If you implement the utility tax, businesses are going to raise prices on their products, or they're going to lose profits. Competitors outside the area will benefit. There are too many companies that are just barely running. A CFO I know has told me that all he cares about is making payroll for the next six months. PG&E wants to hike up the rates even higher.
TCV: What are your comments on the economic development in Fremont?
Walker: I believe there is an imbalance. A good example is if you go to Milpitas or Union Landing and ask people where they're from. I'm amazed when they say, "I'm from Fremont." The Automall Parkway development is a great start. Too bad it wasn't done years ago. Wouldn't it be great if every single citizen in Fremont went to dinner here? Went to the movies here? Went shopping here? That would add a considerable amount of revenue to the city's profit. That's what we need to look at: how do we keep our residents from leaving our city to spend their money? We have to have the right combination, whether it's a department store or the box stores on Automall Parkway, or whatever. You want to make sure that if you build a thousand homes, you also build a school, grocery store and other amenities - you have to have the right combination.
TCV: How does the city council make these changes?
Walker: The city council should be the leader. You need a mayor who's a leader, but the city council also has to play a leadership role.
TCV: If elected, you would be a newcomer to city government. How would you be able to make changes?
Walker: Growing up in a family of five kids, you've got to learn how to get along with people. I have dealt with difficult people under difficult circumstances. I look for points in common and work with those. I want to work as a team. I can't just come in and be a cowboy saying, "This is how it should be." I will be listening 90% of the time and talking 10% of the time, working with other councilmembers. I need to come back with proper questions, not antagonistic or bitter questions, but questions that will bring insight and get them to look at both sides. We need everyone to look at the whole picture.