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June 12, 2012 > Petition to protect private open space

Petition to protect private open space

Submitted By Isabelle McAndrews

Spring 2012 will be remembered for the passion with which petitioners greeted local shoppers, readers and park visitors throughout Fremont. In just nine weeks, 170 volunteers collected 13,101 signatures in a Herculean effort to protect private, open space in Fremont. The petition is the first step required to place an initiative on the November 2012 ballot to preserve the verdant open spaces in Fremont.

The initiative proposes preservation of private, open space while protecting the rights of private property owners. If adopted, the initiative will permit private, open space to be re-zoned in only two ways: either by voter approval or, if a "taking" is involved, by unanimous consent of Fremont City Council. Current law permits open space to be re-zoned by just a majority (3-5) of Fremont City Council members.

The Protect Fremont Open Space Committee submitted 10,634 registered-voter signatures to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, 1,268 signatures or 114 percent more than the minimum necessary to qualify for the November 2012 ballot. The next step is for the Registrar of Voters to qualify the petition, which entails checking the signatures against the registered-voter database.

The issue of open space often triggered the public's memories of long-vanished farmlands with flourishing apricot orchards, tomato and cauliflower fields. April Ellebracht, co-President of the Open Space Committee recalls several long-term Fremont residents telling her, "You are 40 years too late!"

The Protect Fremont Open Space Committee originally organized as the "Save Kimber Park" effort in March 2011 to preserve a 13-acre parcel of towering redwoods and majestic oak trees in the Kimber Park neighborhood. The open area contains tennis courts nestled among 612 native trees and is a haven for foxes, hawks, owls, deer and other wildlife. In November 2011, the tennis club closed suddenly and is at risk of being developed into 18-26 new homes.

In February 2012, Save Kimber Park became the Protect Fremont Open Space Committee whose mission expanded to preserve all 860 acres of privately-owned open space in Fremont.

"We are trying to protect the overall quality of life in Fremont, not just 13 acres in Mission," explains Ellebracht. "Our goal is to keep land that is set aside for the public's benefit from being easily replaced with concrete and superfluous buildings," she added.

"Fremont is a general plan city, where open space has been balanced with housing and business areas. Kimber Park is one of the city's planned communities with open space areas that were agreed when the development was approved," said Judy Chong, a 40-year Fremont resident who collected more than 800 petition signatures.

The open-space issue galvanized Fremont residents' support. Neither surgery, disability nor rejection could deter petitioners from raising awareness of the issue.

Dr. Gordon Macleod was eager to become involved with the initiative only to be side-lined because of unexpected knee surgery. Despite the surgery, Dr. Macleod grabbed his crutches and a chair to solicit signatures for a cause that he supported. Macleod has lived in Kimber Park since 1976 and remembers its open space as the centerpiece of the developer's sales campaign.

Volunteers were often asked to move their petitioning efforts to another location or to refrain from approaching patrons near entrances to retail establishments or at public parks. Volunteers' spirits remained high; two Mission San Jose High School seniors were not easily deterred.

Recently registered to vote and eager to collect signatures, Matt Farberov and Michael Kagan headed to Pacific Commons to petition Century Theatre patrons. Their enthusiasm did not wane when security guards tried to evict them.

"I'm protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution," Farberov explained to the guards. Realizing he might get arrested, Farberov turned to Kagan and both agreed to continue working the crowd for a cause in which they believe. Within moments, police officers were seen chatting with the security staff, confirming that the 18-year olds were within their rights to peacefully petition in the public venue. Relieved, the two seniors resumed their work, grateful their constitutional rights had been respected.

Other Fremont residents, including Joe Macari, passionately devoted much time to raising the petition. Despite being legally blind and diabetic, Macari could be counted on to help wherever volunteers were needed. He faithfully attended community meetings and routinely sought out signatures when the petition drive was launched. Conspicuously, Macari was absent from a Kimber Park community meeting which prompted a committee member to check on him at his home. Tragically, diabetes had taken his life and the Protect Fremont Open Space group dedicated future signature-gathering in his honor.

"Preserving open space is clearly important to Fremont residents and the breadth of support we received from all ages and ethnicities was inspiring," stated Christina Broadwin, co-President of the Protect Fremont Open Space Committee. "This effort has reaffirmed my belief that individual community members, by uniting in strong numbers, can truly have a voice and make a difference."

With the petition submitted to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, Broadwin and Ellebracht are cautiously confident that the initiative will qualify for the November 2012 ballot. A decision from the Registrar is expected on or before July 12, 2012.

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