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April 30, 2008 > Letter to the Editor: Vargas Plateau comments

Letter to the Editor: Vargas Plateau comments

A letter to East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors

My fellow "Citizens for Safe Parks" and I were disappointed but not surprised with the outcome of the Board of Directors meeting held April 1, 2008, at the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRD) headquarters in Oakland.

We were surprised, however, that the board chose not to consider the written input submitted by the public prior to voting on the approval of the Vargas Plateau Plan and the negative impact study. The public notice for the meeting encouraged written and oral participation by the public.

The board allowed the park staff an unlimited amount of time to present its plan but denied the public the opportunity to question the speaker on what was clearly an incomplete and badly flawed plan. The board then refused to consider the written input of citizens prior to taking a vote. The reason given was that the board did not have time to read the input.

EBRPD acquired the concerned property 20 years ago and has denied access to the public while the land was held in a land bank for the entire period. The board then denied the public sufficient time to make its oral views known and refused to take time to read the written input of the public prior to the vote. The board stated that it had an obligation to its constituency to open the park and was in danger of losing grant money if the park was not opened by the fall.

The board was willing to yield to political expediency but unwilling to allow sufficient time for public input on safety issues. The board then invited a private representative from an engineering company, which was hired by the board, to give his opinion on the road safety issues. He was allowed as much time as he wanted to assure all present of his convictions related to his study. The board asked several questions of their vendor; however when the public attempted to ask questions which related to the errors and omissions of the presented material, the public was again denied the opportunity. The chairperson stated, "She did not want to have a dialogue".

We were disappointed, but not surprised by the vote to adopt the two above-mentioned motions for it had become obvious that the board was going to do what it wanted regardless of the input of the public.

We, as a group, took your advice and attended the meeting of the Fremont City Council held April 1, 2008, at Fremont Council Chambers. At the public comment session, we reported on the results of your meeting. We were granted sufficient time to make our concerns clear to the Mayor, Council, city manager and city attorney. A productive discussion was held.

Mr. Diaz. (City manager) was asked by the mayor if there was an agreed upon plan between the City of Fremont and the Park District concerning the public safety issues including roads, fire and police protection. The City Manager stated that no such plan exists. The mayor asked the city attorney about the city's legal position if the park decided to open without city approval. The city attorney stated that several alternatives exist for the city and would do further investigation before recommending a plan of action.

The mayor directed the city manager to put maximum effort into resolving the city and public's concerns on public safety issues with the East Bay Regional Park. The meeting was then adjourned.

It is a sad state of affairs when the staff and board of directors of the East Bay Regional Park find themselves in controversy with the City of Fremont and with "Citizens for Safe Parks" considering that all parties have the same objective of providing a safe recreational opportunity to all citizens ASAP.

It was interesting to observe the board approval of $800K for the acquisition of 1.2 acres of land that the park doesn't truly need on one hand and it's inability to provide adequate funds to address public safety issues on a soon to open park.

We are all aware of the difference between capital and operating funds. We are also aware that if insufficient operating funds are available to provide its customer a safe product, an entity should be denied additional capital until it has successfully learned to manage its existing business.

The park board seems to have forgotten that the park system belongs to the public and the board serves temporarily at the discretion of the public. In addition, the original charter of the district was to develop regional parks for the enjoyment of the public. The Ridge Trail Project, as attractive as it may be, is depriving the public of the timely development of parks to a standard of completion that the public expects. The Vargas Plateau Project is a glaring example of the above.

In good faith we attended the parks public meetings and provided the district with written input. From the start, there was resistance by the staff to any input that varied from the presented plan. In no case was the park represented by an individual who could make a decision. Everything required a decision by the board. This was our first meeting with the board so you may understand our frustration when we were not allowed firsthand input.

The opportunity for cooperation still exists, however now that you have had time to read our input you know that serious legal problems may exist.

We will continue to work cooperatively with the City of Fremont towards the resolution of all issues. We will keep the general public informed through the use of the mass media.

As you know, a 66-2/3 vote is required to pass the desired fall bond measure. The last bond measure passed with a good margin however a recent survey indicates a declining public interest in funding additional park programs. I believe that with the declining economy the public's appetite for funding parks will continue to erode.

Dedicated effort by concerned citizens to defeat the fall bond ballot would be a shame, however, if the board continues in it's arrogance toward the City of Fremont and its citizens, such an effort will be made.

Arthur A. Noeth
Citizens for Safe Parks

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