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April 8, 2009 > Mayor optimistic about Fremont's future

Mayor optimistic about Fremont's future

By Rhonda Rigenhagen
Photos By Courtesy of Napoleon Batalao

Both the tone and the turnout at last week's State of the City luncheon were better than expected.

"Everyone is focused on declining financial resources, as well as the downward spiral of the national economy," Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said to 240 listeners. "Fremont has been through troubling financial times before. We will persevere."

Wasserman's presentation held no surprises for those who keep up with local headlines. Quickly disposing of the bad news first, he conceded City revenues have been hard hit. Collection of property tax, which makes up 47 percent of the general fund, has been hurt by lower home prices and tax delinquencies.

Sales - especially vehicle sales - have declined, and construction has stalled. Businesses have closed - including auto dealerships, big box retailers and Fremont's only first-run movie theater.

"It means that we are facing a $13.1 million deficit," Wasserman warned. In response, the City plans to:
* use $3.6 million in one-time reserve funds;
* suspend $1 million in capital projects; and
* reduce costs by $8.5 million.

"Some saw the [Oakland] A's as our economic stimulus package," he continued, saying the owner's decision not to pursue a stadium in Fremont may have been "the toughest loss."

The majority of his presentation, hosted by the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, went on to emphasize the positive.

Fremont will apply for all eligible economic stimulus funds, including $1.2 million for eight police officers, the mayor said. "Because of our lean police staffing, we believe we will compete well."

The City is receiving $1.9 million for energy and conservation improvements and $268,000 for public safety technology.

Business assistance
The Council recently approved a Local Business Stimulus Package, which reduced fees and permit costs to help existing businesses and attract new ones. It increased the ability of Fremont businesses to compete for City purchases and exempted clean technology firms from the City's business tax for three years.

Other initiatives will promote job training, employment resources, and industrial development.

Solyndra, a solar manufacturer, received a $533 million federal loan guarantee to build a Fremont factory. It will employ 3,000 people during construction and create 1,000 permanent jobs, Wasserman noted.

Development and planning
The mayor hailed future projects:
* Creekside Landing, a regional retail center in southern Fremont.

* Niles Town Plaza, a two-acre "public space in the heart of one of Fremont's historic areas."

* The long-delayed Central Business District. "We look forward to working with TMG Partners of San Francisco in hopes that we can finally get a significant project done," Wasserman said of the new developer.

He also reported on the City's general plan, housing element, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, boasting of new green-building guidelines and reduced permit fees for residential solar panels.

Warm Springs BART is fully funded and construction will start this summer. Service will begin in mid-2014, the mayor reported, 35 years after the extension was approved.

He provided updates on construction projects on Washington Boulevard, Paseo Padre Parkway, Mission Boulevard, Warren Avenue, and the I-880/Mission Boulevard interchange.

Public safety
In public safety areas, Wasserman reviewed:
* the status of fire department construction funded by the Fire Safety Bond;
* a 38 percent reduction in euthanasia by the Tri-City Animal Shelter; and
* technology improvements allowing Police Dispatch to accept all 911 calls from cell phones and Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VOIP), significantly reducing response time.

A unique playground is being built in Central Park. "All children, including those with a range of physical, developmental, or sensory disabilities, will enjoy the special design of the structures, activities, and playground environment," Wasserman continued. "This is thanks to the Always Dream Foundation, created by Olympic Gold Medalist and Fremont native daughter Kristi Yamaguchi."

He concluded his presentation by inviting the audience to check out Aqua Adventure Waterpark, opening in May. Funded through grants and fees, the park will provide 100 seasonal jobs and sponsorships for families who cannot afford admission.

"Public response continues to be positive with nearly 900 season passes already sold, 53 birthday parties pre-booked, day camps lining up, and even some corporate events already scheduled for September," he beamed.

"Working together, we will get through these challenging times. There is hope around the corner."

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