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Centerville development back to the drawing board

The big vacant city-owned lot at Thronton Avenue and Fremont Boulevard is going to stay that way for awhile longer. What was going to be a Ralphs and then a mix of housing and retail (twice), and then an unnamed supermarket and then a bunch of live-work units is once again a blank slate.

BRE Properties, which was part of a development partnership seeking to build 300 units of housing and some storeson the site that also borders Bonde Way and Post Street, bailed out of the project recently. City folks say the economy did them in.

 Now the council will decide if it wants to continue with BRE’s partner Blake Hunt, which would have to find a new housing developer, probably with a new plan. If not, they can find a new developer or wait out the economy.

That means

Matt Artz

  • Anon

    Gosh, what a surprise! (NOT!)

  • Coyote_Bill

    And to think they are just starting on the new downtown plan. I am sorry but, looking at the track record of the Mayor and City Councils makes me weep. I remember when Fremont was run by people of vision, not petty politicians.
    The Centerville Project is a Example of our Mayor, City Council, Redevelopment Agency run by the same characters. If they worked in the private sector they would have all been fired, long ago.
    I just hope that Fremont voters educate themselves better before the 2010 elections.

  • AMacRae

    Coyote_Bill – So, how would you have done things differently? I’ve watched as plan after plan has been developed and debated for that location. Some were pretty good, some were (in my opinion) pretty awful. But all were giving extensive scrutiny in public. The last plan approved (again, in my opinion) was very good. It’s a shame the economy soured enough that it was no longer viable.

    Anyway, there seem to be quite a few self-styled experts on city planning hanging about. What (practical) suggestions have people to offer?

    Think of this as an opportunity to get some ideas heard.

  • Anon

    Ok, AMacRae: for starters, about four plans ago, the Council went AGAINST staff recommendations and chose a developer for POLITICAL reasons. If you know so much, did you know that?

    And, are you aware that three ALL Project Managers quit over the incompetence of the Director? OR, did you know that City Manager Fred Diaz negociates with Blake Hunt in Private, often not even including RDA staff?

  • Anon

    Furthermore, City Manager Fred Diaz often says to staff who have had vision for what could have happened at the Centerville site – “it’s only Centerville – we can’t expect to get much.” Which is pure – you know what!

  • Ashley Butler

    I think that one of the things the City could do would be to leave existing businesses in place, generating tax revenue and providing goods and services to residents, until it is necessary for those businesses to relocate.

    The City forced Nob Hill out of their location because they wanted the land to build a City Hall. It’s still vacant.

    The City forced all of the businesses out of the Centerville location so they could knock all of the old buildings down, and it’s still vacant.

    The City forced the Fremont Grocery Outlet out of Irvington because they were going to redevelop the area. It was vacant for a long time, and now there’s a different business in the same location and no redevelopment has been done.

    Vacant lots and empty buildings do not add to our quality of living and do not generate revenue.

    I don’t know what they have in mind for the Centerville location, but I know from experience that the City has a positive penchant for “low income”, high-density housing – it’s my bet that’s what we’ll end up with.

    Also, I see that Tesla ended up in southern California. Another opportunity missed. At least we got Solyndra.

    By the way, AM, we may not all be experts on city planning, but if we live here, run businesses here, pay taxes here, and vote here, I hope that you will agree that we have a right to our opinions on how the City is run, and City management have an obligation to take those opinions into consideration.

    I’m weepin’ with ya’, Coyote. 2010 will be here before we know it, and it’s not too early to educate ourselves about the track records of those currently in office.

  • Lou Vandelay

    Anon, if your statement about what Fred Diaz said about Centerville is correct (and I have no reason to believe that it is not), it clearly illustrates his contempt for the City that he is paid by us to manage. Paid handsomely, I might add.

    If he is not willing to allow his reach to exceed his grasp, to strive for higher goals even when it is unlikely that they will be fully realized in serving this City, we clearly need a new City Manager.

  • Coyote_Bill

    How about turning into a Park, a city park with benches, a fountain.
    Then some time down the road a developer and perhaps city leaders, with a vision, will be in place to properly develop this site, but until then land bank it into a park!

  • Doug

    The park idea is nice thinking CB, but the city is bare bones when it comes to maintenance staff. They simply would not be able to take on maintaining another location.

    Plus, I hate saying this, but a park would just give the down-and-outs another venue in which to exist, not to mention the gangs.

    In the original redevelopment plan large letters were going to spell out “Centerville” backwards on the side of one of the buildings so people would be able to read it in their car’s rear view mirror. Gosh, that seems so long ago.

  • AMacRae

    Well, so far, the only suggestion has been to turn it into a park for a while and then develop it. Unfortunately, as Doug rightly says, the park maintenance budget is already way underfunded, so that’s not likely.

    Personally I like the ‘urban village’ approach with retail below and housing above and pedestrian friendly enough that it encourages people to walk down the sidewalk to the rest of Centerville. Of course, if I had my way I would put money into the Center Theater and try for the same results that Redwood City saw in their downtown when the Little Fox reopened. A few years ago I counted seven restaurants within close walking distance of the Center Theater.

    And yes, I do remember when the council choose one developer over another. I was at that meeting and heard the arguments on both sides. It certainly didn’t strike me as a ‘political’ decision, but then I suppose any decision by an elected body with which one disagrees is going to be labeled ‘political,’ isn’t it?

  • Gus Morrison

    A few responses to Ashley in number 6 above.

    “I think that one of the things the City could do would be to leave existing businesses in place, generating tax revenue and providing goods and services to residents, until it is necessary for those businesses to relocate.”

    Everyone thinks the same way as you do, but in reality it takes a long time to gain control of a property, provide relocation assistance to the businesses, negotiate severence agreements, etc. One tries to time it so properties are vacant for as short a time as possible before the new development happens. The new guy wants a clean slate and wants to be ready to start as soon as he has paid for the site.

    “The City forced Nob Hill out of their location because they wanted the land to build a City Hall. It’s still vacant.”

    Nob Hill was long gone before the city bought the property. It had stayed vacant and the city competed with an ethnic grocery store to buy it to preserve it for a future city hall site.

    “The City forced all of the businesses out of the Centerville location so they could knock all of the old buildings down, and it’s still vacant.”

    The city worked to relocate the businesses, paid them for their interests, for their loss of business, their loss of “good will” and acquired the sites in good faith so we could remove blight and redevelop the site. All of that was before any of the problems of developers came up.

    “The City forced the Fremont Grocery Outlet out of Irvington because they were going to redevelop the area. It was vacant for a long time, and now there’s a different business in the same location and no redevelopment has been done.”

    The city had begu to implement a plan to redevelop Irvington and in the early 2000′s. We actually had a deal with Whole Foods to be the anchor to the replacement of that center where Kragen’s is now. Coincident with the state budget crisis which prompted the recall of Gray Davis, redevelopment funding was a strong target for takeaway by the state. Then Whole Foods backed away from the deal and the decision was made to halt the redevelopment project. Funny, most of the businesses rejected our offers to buy them out, but pursued legal action when we did not continue.

    “Vacant lots and empty buildings do not add to our quality of living and do not generate revenue.”

    Whole heartedly agree.

    “I don’t know what they have in mind for the
    Centerville location, but I know from experience that the City has a positive penchant for “low income”, high-density housing – it’s my bet that’s what we’ll end up with.”

    There are state laws requiring cities to accommodate their fair share of the housing need of the region, both market rate housing and housing for low and moderate income people. Low income in Fremont is defined as a family of four making $66,250 (COF web site) or a family of two making $53,000. These are not people in povery or people on welfare. These are working people, often in entry level jobs, many of whom we depend on to provide services to all of us.

    “Also, I see that Tesla ended up in southern California. Another opportunity missed. At least we got Solyndra.”

    More correctly Solyndra got us. They found an appropriate facility to start and an accommodating city staff which is working diligently to help them succeed. We will see good jobs at Solyndra long before we see Tesla beginning production. And, at $50K a copy, I wonder at how successful they will be in the beginning.

    Thank goodness we are all blessed with 20/20 hindsight.

  • Anon

    AM (#10): From what I was told by senior staff, it was Political in a payback sense. Having said that, I agree with your vision on the Centerville site; done in the original scale from Fremont Blvd., with mixed use.

    Lou; thank you for giving me the benefit of doubt on what I said; I personally heard the City Manager Fred Diaz say such; and I agree that the City needs a new city manager!

  • Anon

    For the record; does anyone remember how long the Centerville site has been waiting?

  • AMacRae

    Well, Centerville was founded about 150 years ago…

  • Anon

    AM: I mean the Centerville unified site – that the City cleared for redevelopment?

    However AM, your point on the age of Centerville is exactly the point; Centerville is a very important historic area for Fremont, the Bay Area, as well as for California history. If I remember correctly, it has the second oldest school district in California!

  • AMacRae

    Anon: I mean the Centerville unified site – that the City cleared for redevelopment?

    But that was my point. Centerville has been around for 150 years and will be around for another 150 years. Whatever is built on that site is going be there until at least the middle of this century. It’s a real shame the economy tanked to the point that very attractive plans have to be shelved. But the economy will swing back up again and there will a demand for such a development. In the meantime, there’s no need to rush to fill the space with a slap-dash building frenzy. I mean, if you want a copy of Union Landing, that’s the way to go about it. Just open the doors and let businesses build whatever and wherever they like.

    Personally, I would much rather see the city planning for the long haul. How long does it take to see a quality development go in there? It takes as long as it takes.

    Unless, of course, you know an easier way to convince a developer to build a quality site?

  • Ashley Butler

    Thanks, Gus, for the info. I always enjoy your comments.

    It seems to me that, while I’m sure your comments are true, they illustrate to me the disconnect between common sense and how things are done in the City. I realize that “The new guy wants a clean slate and wants to be ready to start as soon as he has paid for the site.” but, call me a cockeyed optimist, I thought it was the City’s job to look out for the interests of existing residents and businesses first. The “new guy” doesn’t have any skin in the game if he hasn’t even paid for the site yet.

    It sounds to me as if the City is absorbing demolition costs in order to sweeten the deal for new businesses coming to town. Is this correct and, if so, why? Seems to me that, if a business really had a fire in the belly to be here, they would do the demo after the deal was closed. If I buy an old broken-down house and want to raze it and build new on the lot, I don’t expect the seller to do the job for me.

    Don’t have the time to go into this further just now but I do enjoy your posts and, again, thanks for them. Don’t even get me started on Whole Foods. I can’t help wondering, though, how come our accommodating City staff wasn’t working diligently to get Tesla in the bag. Because they were too upscale or because the City felt that their business plan wouldn’t pan out? If we learned nothing else from the stadium fiasco, I thought it showed us that the City isn’t exactly the best judge of which businesses will benefit the City.

  • Andy

    We have trouble filling up the “To Lease” signs in centerville, just next to that vacant lot. Forget about that vacant lot. Its better left empty. PLease lets not pretend every parcel of land in fremont is prime real estate :D

  • Doug

    Sometimes we lose perspective. If you want to see vacant and deteriorating lots check out this Time story. You can click on the picture to enlarge the view.http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1887864,00.html

    Some homes in Detroit can be picked up for under $10,000. No, I didn’t forget a zero. But, I like our climate just fine.

  • Lou Vandelay

    Realistically, I know that not every parcel of land in Fremont is prime real estate. However, I would like to think that we have people in the City (in elected and hired positions) who treat each parcel of land as if it does have added value because it is here. If we get in the habit of selling ourselves short, nobody else will value what we have either. Maybe we’re not “all that”, but we’re not nothing either, and if we hope to become something better, we need to be selective about how we grow. That requires a plan, not the haphazard development that we’re seeing now.

    Developers are going to try to get the best deal they can. Residents should be able to count on City staff to be just as aggressive on our behalf.

  • bbox231

    Let’s see was it Lou or Ashley . . . I got lost – but whoever it was thanks for making the point that we’ve got something of value. Dropping a steaming hot load of MLB stadium in the middle of our city is an interesting definition of “planning”.

    Whoever keeps grinding the “we’re not Palo Alto” theme is spot on is also. And we dont want to be. At the same time, somebody please let me know why we can’t attract something a notch better than Safeway ?

    Is there any place in Fremont where one can go and acquire produce, meats and other groceries that are anything other than in direct price competition with Safeway ? (Andy – I’m not asking for one on every street corner – THAT would be Palo Alto).

  • Lou Vandelay

    You know, I object to the “Palo Alto-ization” thing too, largely because it implies to me that, if you want better for Fremont you must be some kind of pretentious snob who wants Fremont to be exactly like Palo Alto. When somebody tosses that comment into the mix, it registers to me as a way of marginalizing the expectation that we can do and be better; a way of saying “just shut up and take whatever happens, whatever City management thinks is best for the town”. It’s about one step away from saying “if you like Palo Alto so much, why don’t you move there?”

    I definitely don’t want Fremont to be Palo Alto, but I think we should be able to learn from the decisions that they and other successful cities have made and make them work in our situation. Sure, we’ll never have a word-famous university, but certainly we can do better than freeways, Safeways and high-delsity dwelling units. I don’t have a degree in city planning, but with the economy the way it is, the woods must be pretty thick with unemployed grads. We’re lucky to have one who appears to have more than a passing interest in running for City office.

    I know what you mean, B – I’d pay good money to be able to go to a good old fashioned butcher shop again – one that’s not attached to a mega-super store. All of the “mom and pop” groceries have gone away. I guess the farmer’s market is the only place to get produce that isn’t corporate.