October 17, 2006 > A lesson in civics
A lesson in civics
On an evening devoid of significant council calendar items except recognition of Police Chief Craig Steckler for his 20 years of service, the Fremont city council chamber was filled with those who came by to witness the ceremony and congratulate the chief. As they filed out, another group remained to test the responsiveness of their local government. Interested adults, parents and members of Fremont's Cheer with a Twist (CwT) cheerleading club gathered to plead their case directly to councilmembers.
Statements by Director Melanie Warden indicated that the club was about to be barred from their location on Industrial Drive due to a recent ordinance that forbids business that involve assemblies, especially of children, in some industrial areas. While a sensible restriction when hazardous materials are in close proximity, the type of facility useful for the acrobatic maneuvers of cheerleading gymnastics often requires high ceilings and large, open areas for practice. Industrial areas typically offer buildings that can accommodate such activities at a reasonable cost. Through a combination of miscommunication and the possibility of administrative snafus, CwT was allowed to locate and remain in such an area until code enforcement personnel abruptly took a hard stance and threatened to chain the doors.
The problem that has faced other businesses forced to relocate in Fremont, now looms over CwT. While it may be relatively simple to determine if hazards or redevelopment offer safer or better use of certain facilities or properties, the relocation of existing businesses is often much more complex. Often those who waive the wand of dislocation, have little to say or do about the consequences for those displaced. While the "greater good" may be satisfied by the change, there is at least a moral, if not legal obligation to those affected by it. Where can these businesses go when the housing requirements are relatively narrow and the city offers few, if any, alternatives? What role should government officials take when asking specialty businesses to vacate when replacement venues are unavailable? Is it enough to simply hire a relocation firm or should city personnel lend assistance?
In the case of CwT, the group came well prepared with organized and rational statements from young and old alike. CwT speakers noted that others in similar businesses, also located in industrial areas have been "grandfathered," avoiding displacement. It was refreshing to hear citizens of all ages speak to their representatives in a calm, reasoned manner asking for help and solutions. The response from staff and council was also reasonable, giving time to hold all in place while investigating the issue, sorting out the facts and hopefully reaching a rational solution. In the meantime, CwT was assured that no further action would be taken until due process was served.
This will be an interesting exercise in civics for all involved. CwT is using its prerogative as a collective citizen to petition its case. So far, the process is working and all have acted responsibly. Local government is, at this time, being responsive to their constituents. The interim report card for this civics lesson is an "A" as young members of CwT experience the positive side of advocating for a cause. Let's hope that as this issue unfolds, an equally positive result is found and the grade remains.