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July 17, 2007 > Hayward's Chamber of Commerce: A catalyst for change

Hayward's Chamber of Commerce: A catalyst for change

Recently, Michael Mahoney, CEO of St. Rose Hospital was installed as president of the board of the Hayward Chamber of Commerce. In an address to chamber members, Mr. Mahoney outlined areas of challenge facing the chamber, city of Hayward and southeast Bay Area region. TCV asked Mr. Mahoney to recap some of his comments.

TCV: You mentioned challenges facing the Hayward area. What are the primary challenges?

Mahoney: I think that the primary challenge we face is similar to that of other communities: sustaining economic development. A major factor that impacts this is transportation and how we solve the problem of traffic - in our area, traffic coming off of Highway 92, Interstate 880, Highway 238 and Interstate 580. Without a good solution, Hayward will continue to feel pressure in terms of through traffic.

This was an issue discussed many years ago and a reason to build what was called the Foothill Freeway. I actually served on a city task force ten years ago that studied this. Well we all know, and certainly I know, that it's not going to happen. So the question still remains, how do we work on improving access?

One of the historical facts that people tend to forget is that Cal State Hayward [East Bay] (CSUEB) is located in the Hayward Hills because the state chose two sites: Hayward and Pleasanton. The key factor in favor of Hayward was the solution to traffic issues and access. Although the campus and university have done well, they have had to deal with that barrier to access.

That is a similar problem we face in health care. At St. Rose Hospital, we share medical staff with Eden Hospital in Castro Valley and Washington Hospital in Fremont. Even though the distance is almost double than from here to Eden Medical Center, it is much quicker for a doctor to travel between St. Rose and Washington because of traffic issues.

If we are going to look at sustaining economic development, then that whole issue of transportation and solutions in downtown Hayward need to be addressed and investments in our infrastructure need to occur. So I think a big issue for us in sustaining economic development is how we solve this long term problem that impacts our automobile dealers, Moreau Catholic High School, the hospital and every aspect of our community.

TCV: Any other critical factors?

Mahoney: In order to attract new companies and different types of organizations, a critical factor is substantial improvement in the performance of our elementary and high schools. While we have tremendously dedicated teachers and people committed to that goal from the chamber, we have not seen the results that we would like to see. And we know that for a new company to move here, one of the issues they look at is, "Where can you go in the Bay Area to get affordable housing and access to education for your children?"

We have good housing in Hayward, more marketable in some respects than other areas of our immediate vicinity but we lack a good focus in our schools. Some program services are outstanding, but generally speaking, out test scores and the image of our school district needs substantial improvement. There has been change at the school district, but from the chamber, we would really like to see substantial improvement in test scores, an improvement in facilities and a financially smooth operation. We have a declining number of students, although we have a number of new housing developments. There needs to be a balance between what the district can do and available resources.

TCV: How do Chabot Community College and CSUEB fit into the picture?

Mahoney: Many people are attracted to living in a college town. One doesn't think of Hayward as a college town and yet we have more resources than any other city of similar size in the Bay Area. So why aren't we taking more advantage of that? I think that is a unique issue. We have made progress, but are dependent on leadership from our mayor, our city council and our city manager. So as we look at it from a chamber's perspective, I think it is time and a good opportunity for vigorous debate about what direction our city needs to take. How do we do things in an inclusive way? How do we take advantage of the tremendous diversity that we have in our area?

The chamber has taken a lead in this, working with our business leaders to start up the Latino business roundtable. We need to do more of that; the city needs to take a new direction at such an exciting time with our coming election. I hope that we can have a dialogue that will make people stop, look and listen. When people vote, they can have a clear understanding of the mayoral candidate positions and make sure that elected representatives to the city council reflect the desires of the community. In that way, the community can continue to see improvement.


TCV: How will the chamber address these problems?

Mahoney: We are talking about a community-wide summit and how the chamber might partner with other community organizations and focus on specific plans for economic development. We do have our vision; the 2010 initiative outlines some of our expectations and what we would like to see to move forward. We need to be a catalyst through community-wide forums such as an economic summit, maybe with Cal State East Bay and others. The chamber's role is to be part of the process that develops position statements related to public policy questions and community development strategies.

We are there at city council meetings; we are there at staff development meetings, we are providing input and our government relations council meets two times a month and gets into some of the details that you can't get into at the chamber board meetings. If I had to think of a single word to describe what our focus is, it would be "catalyst" to promote discussions that lead to results. The Foothill Freeway is a good example. We are not interested in more discussions about public policy questions that don't ever get to the result stage.

When you're running an enterprise, you have to have a result. The chamber looks at all the opportunities we have and quoting Robert Kennedy, "I see how much we've done, but I see how much more we have to do." I believe the chamber must focus on what we have to do.


TCV: Do you see different challenges or solutions for different parts of Hayward?

Mahoney: Yes. I live and work in Hayward; I live near CSUEB and there are issues that we face on the hill that are different than some other parts of Hayward. There are also pockets of poverty in Hayward that need special attention. The chamber believes that we can help the city; work together to get more resources for some of these areas.

Public health issues are county issues, but I think you would find agreement that we are short changed in terms of county resources. We need the city, the chamber and other organizations working together to lobby Oakland. We are lucky with the Supervisor [Gail] Steele because she has a strong voice, but when you go to Oakland you really need to have three out of five votes for action.

Health care and public safety issues in some of the areas are much different than other areas so we do need to look at our community and understand everything neighborhood by neighborhood. One of the issues is how to get involved and look at every kind of development. The Tennyson area is where county demographics indicate a high poverty level; a high level of resources is needed there. But there is also an opportunity to look at economic development in that area too. We need to look at things from a residential, public safety, health and economic development standpoint. Clearly there are some neighborhoods in Hayward that need more help from the city than others. The Chamber along with neighborhood organizations and others such as the Hayward Rotary club is looking at how we can jointly find solutions and get them implemented in a relatively short time.


TCV: Affordable housing seems to be a big problem in many parts of California. In many cases, this translates to what has been termed "smart growth," to put people close to public transportation. Along with it has come much higher density. How does the chamber view this trend?

Mahoney: The idea of transit related housing developments makes a lot of sense. It does increase density, but you just have to balance it out. Density is not a bad thing, but too much density can lead to other problems. One frustration has been housing around our downtown area, especially the downtown BART Station. There have been very nice developments, both residents and rental opportunities. The problem we have is from a business standpoint; downtown Hayward lacks development. We haven't finished our theater project and there's some question about it. We need to develop Hayward so it is not just a place for people to come to sleep and then take BART into San Francisco or Oakland to work and spend their money; we need economic development that keeps them here.

Personally, I have not bought the plan that some people are promoting that would have five to six, seven story buildings on Mission and around the South Hayward BART station. I'm not sure it makes sense to me, but I think that we have to examine it. Everyone understands that we need affordable housing, but we can't have it all in one area. That has been proven in city after city, not to be a good strategy. We want to make and create communities where people want to stay, not see it as temporary.


TCV: Within Hayward, it is difficult to navigate because many streets meet at odd angles. Are there any plans to simplify the traffic flow?

Mahoney: We do have a lot of planning going on. One area of importance is the corridor south of Jackson Street and Foothill Boulevard that we call the five flags intersection. Better traffic flow would improve impact of Cal State Hayward and for Moreau and certainly for the automobile dealers that are an important economic source for the city. The chamber is very supportive of that.

Some strategies we're not so certain about. One is a grade separation between streets of the five corners area. Our concern is that it appears that once you do that, you have no options of modifying it besides ripping it down and doing it again. It will also take many years, approximately three years for construction, alone. This would have considerable impact for Cal State East Bay and the automobile dealers.

That plan is coupled with what we call the "Mini-Loop," an odd plan of one-way streets that doesn't make sense to us. For example, if you are going east on A Street, once you got to Foothill, you would be forced to turn right or left. The mini-loop concept requires serious review. We see merit in an approach that will solve traffic problems regionally. All neighboring cities are connected; not enough effort is put into that aspect. The chamber is supportive of the Phase 3 Corridor, but we are not supportive of either the Mini-Loop or the Grade Separations.


TCV: How does the chamber stand on construction of peak demand power stations in Hayward?

Mahoney: We are generally supportive of the Calpine Project and the Tier Energy Project. Both projects have merits. There are issues debated at the state level but we, the chamber, tend to have a little better memory than some other organizations. We recognize that for economic development, there is a need for infrastructure including power plants. I know some people located nearby are not happy with these plants, but I think most of those can be mitigated. If you remember a few years ago, we had rolling blackouts and other problems. So, the byproduct of developing the economy is coming up with solutions including power plants.

TCV: Any closing remarks?

Mahoney: There are four things in life that are constant: death, taxes, change and resistance to change. One area that we [the chamber] can have an impact is getting over people's resistance to change. You do that by setting a plan in place that has a clearly understood objective that people can "buy." The important thing for us to accomplish is to continue to be a catalyst and say, "Here is where we want to go and this is what we want to accomplish. Now let's get to the business of making it happen."

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