Tri-Cities Voice Newspaper - What's Happening - Fremont, Union City, Newark California

May 31, 2005 > Fremont will reach out and touch someone

Fremont will reach out and touch someone

Outreach program takes shape

Failure of Measure V (Utility Tax) at the polls November 2004 has prompted Fremont city staff to reevaluate previous methods employed to present "neutral and factual" information to residents and businesses. In a summary of community outreach efforts, presented at the May 24 city council meeting, a staff report acknowledged that community meetings were "ineffective in identifying real solutions to the City's ongoing fiscal situation."

A need for two-way communication was cited; previous efforts simply shared information but "did not create sufficient opportunity for our residents and businesses to identify their priorities for City services and discuss their willingness to support those services. TCV asked Deputy City Manager, Christine Daniel to comment on new efforts for community outreach.

TCV: What is driving this current effort?

Daniel: In short, it is the budget; not just the financial gap. We are using budget reserves next year for the very first time. Fiscal reductions over the last several years are dismantling city services. Prudent financial decision-making of the council has allowed us to "meter-in" those changes in a relatively slow fashion. However, the fact is that the service level is continuing to decline. We held the line in the next fiscal year in terms of public safety, but services are not at acceptable levels.

We have looked at our financial projections and do not see the ability to grow out of the problem. There is a need to know what the community thinks about that. The council made a difficult decision last spring to put Measure V on the ballot, offering the community the opportunity to respond but the timing on this effort was condensed and there was little time for engagement with the community. We have a budget problem that continues without signs of a miraculous recovery. Our new city manager (Fred Diaz) looked at the problem and indicated that the first step is to ask the community what they want.

TCV: Will these meetings be less presentation and more fact-finding?

Daniel: Absolutely.

TCV: What is the process and who will be involved?

Daniel: We recently updated a survey taken in September 2003 and found that previous outreach has not resonated with the community. An interactive mailer will soon be sent to Fremont businesses and residents that will include a bit of information, a request to be included on a mailing list and asks recipients to prioritize their concerns. Information and interactive postings will be placed on our website (www.ci.fremont.ca.us) and others. Fred [Diaz] will convene a community advisory task force that will talk with people at meetings (business, community, garden groups, etc.). We will prepare a presentation but it will be abbreviated. There are issues that need some explanation; as an example, Councilmember Wieckowsi pointed out the other night that the pavement management system is important to understand. So, although there will be an element of information, these meetings will be used primarily as a tool to engage people in conversation.

TCV: What will be the result of this process?

Daniel: This is an iterative [repetitive] process. We intend to have a series of 'report backs' to the council. The next time we are planning to come back is the second meeting in September (September 13). Hopefully, we will be collecting information over the summer and come back to the council with a preliminary 'here is what we know' report.

TCV: Is the idea to approach this with no preconceived notions?

Daniel: The only notion I have is that we do not have enough money to provide the service level that we had in the past. It may be that the community will tell us that they are happy with services at this level and it may be that they will say we want more of specific services - more police, firefighters, more hours at the library, senior programs, etc.

TCV: Will you present options of how to achieve improvements or will discussions focus solely on what is desired?

Daniel: The first part will be primarily focused on what is wanted. Until we know what people want, we will not be able to figure out the mechanisms available to respond. Part of the iterative process is finding out what people want and confirming those choices - then finding ways to achieve those goals.

TCV: Will this outreach create separate meetings or use existing organizations?

Daniel: In my experience, the best way to have an authentic dialogue with people is to go to the organizations and meetings they are already having. We want to also get beyond the usual list of people that we talk to. We want to go to house meetings - PTA, book clubs, soccer groups - and all the groups we can. The Office of Neighborhoods has a wonderful list and we are trying to sort it and get the word out to people and say, "Do you want us to come and talk with you? Let us know."

We had a lot of those requests last fall although those meetings were more factual, more of a presentation. I was very pleased by the number of people who called and asked if we would talk with them. I anticipate that once the word gets out, we will begin to get calls and requests.

TCV: When will these outreach discussions begin?

Daniel: Speakers and a program are not set up yet. We will spend the next month doing that and let everyone know when we are ready.

TCV: Will this relate to the information collection process for the General Plan?

Daniel: Absolutely. The General Plan is more formal, but I see this collection process as complimentary and in some part overlapping. I am working with planning staff to let them know what we are doing and sharing information. We need to involve all people interested in weighing in on services of Fremont, not just the established and formal organizations.

Our job as staff is to get the most and best information we can to provide to the council. The only way to do that is to start "pounding the pavement."

 
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