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September 24, 2008 > Editorial: Goodbye to Newark

Editorial: Goodbye to Newark

The Argonauts have moved into town and they are not of Greek mythology fame with Jason in the lead, sailing to find a golden fleece. This group, called Argonaut Holdings, is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors and is in the process of negotiating with Fremont to locate several dealerships from Newark's Auto Row on Ballentine Drive to a location near Fremont's Auto Mall.

The major hurdle to making this move is changing the zoning of land near Auto Mall Parkway from "Industrial" to "High Volume Retail." Fremont's Planning Commission had no problem with this and the same can be expected from the city council. With only a week separating a warning to the council by a planning consultant of hasty conversion of industrial land to retail space, the lure of tax dollars will be too much to cause any hesitation.

Industrial uses of land have changed as the national focus moves toward clean energy and "green" products and services. Solar cells, wind power and energy derived from alternative sources will be at the center of a new wave of technology that needs industrial land to fabricate products. Companies will require industrial space for highly paid employees. No longer will "industrial" mean smokestacks and grimy conditions; instead the label will indicate profitable and highly sought-after employment.

Beside the drain of car dealership tax dollars from Newark, this move represents a role reversal from over a decade ago. At that time, Newark profited from car dealership dollars previously destined for Fremont coffers. Even though car sales are not what they used to be - gas-guzzling behemoths are rapidly disappearing as $4 per gallon gas pumps appear - there is still plenty of dough to be made from sales of smaller, gas efficient automobiles and hybrids. This pot of gold may, however, be illusionary. The automobile industry is not what it used to be.

At a meeting of the Fremont Planning Commission, David Frederickson, Regional Manager of General Motors Worldwide Real Estate (West Region) noted that although details were "confidential," a Saturn dealership is planned at the new location. It doesn't take much of a sleuth to figure out what other dealerships may be included; look for the GM label. GM products are represented by Chevrolet, Saturn, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac and GMC. Those located in Fremont (Central Chevrolet?) that relocate within the same city will not result in an increase of tax revenue and may even represent a decline if less space is used and inventory reduced. The net result will be a gain for Fremont, but the amount of that gain is speculative.

Although it was noted in the Planning Commission discussion that a "10-mile" rule forbids new car dealerships of the same brand within that radius, relocation of a dealership is permissible. It appears that the lone opponent to the relocation plan is Don Signer (Signer Buick/Cadillac) who has been in litigation with GM. Although an early proponent of Fremont's Auto Mall, he has been unable to take advantage of that location. Now it appears Signer is about to be isolated as other GM dealerships move. This may be a death knell for his franchise.

The result of this proposal is already predetermined and may be a harbinger for the automobile industry in general. As Bob Dylan sang in 1964, "The Times They Are A'Changin" and no one is immune to the effects. As entrepreneurs struggle to survive in a climate of turmoil created by crass profiteering of mega-corporations, relatively minor decisions such as this determine the viability of local small businesses. The financial world has been rocked by decisions that, while insulating top corporate moguls, have wreaked havoc on the rest of us. When local government makes decisions that serve only an immediate purpose and are fatal to small, local business, they may very well be writing their own epitaph as well.

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters Around you have grown
And accept it that soon You'll be drenched to the bone."
-Bob Dylan

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