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October 15, 2008 > Standards of excellence

Standards of excellence

Success can be defined in many ways. One standard measurement is related to the amount of effort expended in relationship to the potential that existed prior to that effort. Coaches of all endeavors of life constantly use this comparison to help individuals and groups achieve the best possible result. Sports teams are urged to excel, the military touts maximized potential with slogans such as "Be All You Can Be," educational and self-help enterprises arrange competitions and businesses use slogans that assure customers that they are buying the best performance, craftsmanship and technology. By extension, this chorus urging the pursuit of excellence should translate to all individual and group efforts. Sadly, this is not always the case; in some instances the opposite can be true.

Why - individually or collectively - would we want to settle for less than our potential can produce? For many individuals, this is a reflection of self-worth, influenced by family, friends, our personal environment and societal responses. When we join together as a group, these factors also come into play, but may be modified by a different dynamic including the leadership qualities of those who assume or are chosen to give meaning and direction to the effort. Parents influence their children but so do teachers and schoolyard friendships.

Communities, cities, states and countries are not immune to this psychological effect. The rise and fall of such entities is based not only on hard data, but perception as well. A prime example of the power of attitude can be found in world financial markets as either depression or euphoria become contagious and influence behavior across continents. It is no wonder that if this can happen in global markets that local behavior can affect the health and direction of our own communities. If a community believes itself to be elite, sophisticated and oriented toward high quality, its actions reflect that belief and radiate to others. Political decisions and economic development respond to this concept and translate into corresponding actions. Even though reality may be different from this perception, a primary focus is placed on people and events that strengthen the preferred image.

Our slice of the San Francisco Bay Area is a cauldron of potential that has just begun to flex its collective muscles. The struggle for recognition is far greater than simply a desire to be seen as just a part of Silicon Valley. The "Southeast Bay" is composed of desirable and vital communities at the nexus of the greater Bay Area. In contrast to sprawling suburbs, nouveau riche enclaves and older, complacent municipalities, our cities are at the cutting edge of new developments in housing and industry. Demographics have changed dramatically with an influx of immigrants adding a tumultuous and complex dimension to the mix. At the same time, residents grapple with the need to reconcile the area's historical context with the emergence of a new identity. Entrenched stereotypes are no longer valid and it is time for the area's citizens and leadership to recognize that we have moved beyond them.

Signals of an attitude change must come from both citizens and leadership. Our area is not a desolate and desperate economic landscape open to exploitation by those who substitute style for substance. Each development that is allowed to proceed serves as a signal of intent and self-image. The Centerville Unified Site has become an exercise of self-discovery. Promises by developers have culminated in similar results; rejection of top quality in favor of the mediocre. Acceptance of this compromise is a tacit acknowledgement of reduced worth and value.

In the latest phase of this saga, Blake Hunt Ventures has returned to Fremont's city council to admit defeat of its intent to develop a retail center on this property. Instead, linking with BRE Properties, a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) specializing in apartments, the swing toward housing is almost a complete reversal. Market conditions have changed dramatically and while housing has remained dominant, the type of preferred housing has shifted from ownership to rentals. Besides, BRE Properties has lots of bucks to bring to the table.

Blake Hunt has taken a back seat and will develop a strip of ground floor retail along Fremont Boulevard. The vast majority of the project will become apartments built to "first class apartment standards." On the face of it, this sounds compelling but when pressed to discuss the difference between this standard and that of condominiums, John Wayland noted that his firm was unwilling to put another $10,000 per unit into meeting those criteria. Live/work units along a connecting street between Fremont Boulevard and Post Street are designed to give the impression of additional retail activity in the complex.

Details have been left to the future and as the Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN) is signed, the quality promised (i.e. potential) and result are uncertain. Are we about to be led down a path of mediocrity again? Our community cannot afford to squander this opportunity. If this turns out to be a smiling salesman selling snake oil and promises, we are better off walking away, preserving potential and looking toward more immediate rewards such as the Center Theater and conversion of the fire station across the street into a jazz club. From these seeds, a remarkable opportunity to develop local potential can be realized.

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