General Plan and Niles

I should really write about Fremont’s work on a new General Plan that will guide development through 2030. But I can’t seem to buckle down and write something. During my research/paralysis, I started looking at the city’s concept plans for its old-time neighborhoods.

My hesitation is partly because I’m afraid I’ll end up writing an optimistic story about all their lofty goals, and 20 years later someone in Fremont will read it and think we were all on drugs.

How much of the council’s vision ever becomes clear-eyed reality? Let’s look at the Niles Concept Plan from 2001.

Here’s the vision:

1) Create a diverse retail mix — Failure. No hardware store, no drug store, too many antique shops.

2) Incorporate a daytime population — Nope. Unless you count the inebriated masses at The Florence.

3) Create a Central Gathering Place or Plaza — Success. One is scheduled to open this fall, although it’s about half the size as the one they were planning to build.

4) Establish Niles as a Regional Destination — Only for guys in overalls, who have model train sets in their living rooms.

5) Re-establish a Passenger Railroad Depot Downtown — Kinda yes, kinda no. The historic rail service now stops in Niles, but the downtown depot isn’t really a train station, it’s just a home for a couple of nonprofits.

6) Improve Place-finding Ability — ???

7) Preserve Historic Niles — Success

8) Improve the Character of Mission Boulevard —- Failure

9) Improve Transportation Connections — Double Failure.  Fremont opposed the original plans for Route 84 and Dumbarton Rail, which would have left Niles a little less isolated.

10) Enhance Alleyways — I don’t think so.

11) Ensure Niles is a Safe, Comfortable Place — I think it is.

To read the plan click here.

Matt Artz


  1. Good blog, Matt. Looking at the General Plan from 2001 is like reading those old assignments from elementary school where you had to write about what you’d like to be when you grow up.

    For the record, I believe that there is a significant portion of the Niles population that would prefer to remain blissfully isolated. They probably caught that attitude from Sunol. Preservation and isolation can be pretty sweet.

  2. OK, I meant “. . . looking at the Niles Concept Plan” not “General Plan”. My bad.

  3. I can understand why Niles lacks general retail like that of the other districts. Mainly poor access and the well healed antique culture. But I think some interesting possibilities can complement the vibe, and draw from the quaintness and charm of Niles.

    A few things I think would benefit the town:

    1. Resurfacing of the many neglected streets in Old Niles, Hillview on south (this is in addition to the planned resurfacing of Niles Blvd and ‘letter streets’ to 3rd). Nothing could turn a neighborhood “in transition” into a proud kempt district than fresh black pavement.

    2. Diverse retail is a pipe dream, IMHO. But businesses that support the antique and tea culture may thrive. Wine tasting rooms, a real cafe and a casual diner come to mind. The Essanay Cafe is brilliant execution of this idea.

    Regarding hardware and drug stores, Dale has hardware pegged and nobody is going to do it better. And, perhaps a drug store would be profitable, but this will be a Rite Aid or Walgreens, not the quaint little independent pharmacy fairytale that I’m sure most in Niles feel they’re entitled to. I’d welcome a chain, and I bet the daily rush hour through-traffic headed toward Mission would provide many new customers that would otherwise have no reason to stop in town.

    3. A commuter train depot, yes this includes the Dumbarton rail corridor.

    4. Heavier exploitation of the railroad history. I think Niles is a regional destination (BA Backroads considers it one of the 50 places to visit in the BA), and even while my personal shock and dismay tells me otherwise, people actually come to Niles to ride trains. It’s evident every Saturday. I hope the town plaza facilitates this aspect by providing an even more inviting place to visit.

    5. And, we can all agree – a Whole Foods and a performing arts center on every block.

  4. 10) Enhance Alleyways :

    (what a Joke) The city’s position as of 2009:
    Ownership of the alleys in Niles has not been resolved at this time.

    I wonder how many hours of the City Attorney’s time has been wasted scrambling to assert that the city doesn’t own the alleys, all of those internally billed hours that we the taxpayers ultimately pay.

    City records show a variety of contradictions on the subject and until the issue of ownership is established nothing will be done with the alleys. It’s very frustrating to see so many things happen in Niles and this issue continually skirted.

    I think one of the Niles residents did a series of articles called, “Alley Talk” that was enlightening.

  5. There used to be more diverse retail in Niles 25-30 years ago. There was a health food store/deli, I think a pharmacy, etc. Then the antique freaks took over – they even got the beloved “Flea Market” re-commissioned as the Niles “Antique Fair”.

    I would be fine with a chain store going into Niles – and I am a lifelong resident. I think there should be some historical building requirements to keep the same “feel” of the old downtown, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a Peet’s where the old Joe’s Corner used to be,for example. If the independent stores/restaurants are of a quality that will draw people and keep them coming back, great! If not, find something other than an antique store (aka – someone’s grandmother’s old crap store) to put there.

    Most of Niles WOULD prefer to remain isolated – if you want to call it that. Better access? What, Mission Blvd isn’t a enough of thoroughfare for you? Union City BART is less than 5 minutes away.

    And the alleys? Really? Geez – didn’t realize it was such an issue…

  6. Not so fast on making #3 a “success” Matt:

    First, it’s not done – is it?

    Second, when was it suppose to be done? Hint, a long time ago!

  7. FYI: Niles itself probably doesn’t have the number of residents to support many of the businesses discussed like a drug store. However, the traffic on Mission certainly does!

  8. Jen, I’m referring to the likelihood of Fremont residents coming into Niles for retail use. Niles is an island.

  9. You can ignore the vision part of the General Plan. What counts are the land use categories and where they’re applied. These have a real effect on development in Fremont, since it’s not easy to get the General Plan modified. From what I’ve heard so far, the new General Plan will make very high density development a lot easier in many parts of the city. The other big change will be the abolition of the agricultural land use category. Not sure what the practical effect of this will be, but I suspect it will make new commercial agriculture, including nurseries, impossible in Fremont. The interesting parts to come will be the way the General Plan deals with Central Park and the current NUMMI property, and to see how much industrial land gets reclassified as residential.

  10. Matt,
    Cheap shot at the Florence, have you ever been there, ate there famous linguica sandwich, hung out there.
    The Florence is one of Niles longest running business’s,
    Despite, all the ole ladies complaining and, oh you to Matt

  11. Bill,
    I’m not complaining about the Florence. Just saying that if I’m in Niles and need a quote during the day, that’s where I go, because that’s where the people are. I’ve been there several times, usually for work, a couple of times to drink with co-workers. It was fine except for the time when a particularly salty drunk accused me of misquoting him … five years ago. He wouldn’t let it go. But hey, it was already about 2 p.m. so I couldn’t fault him for being a little buzzed.

    I really do like Niles. I’ve taken friends there when I show them where I work.

  12. Does anyone know if the rumor of a mixed use development which will flank the eventual train depot/plaza area is actually verifiable?

    I have heard that the city has plans to buy (or the redevelopment agency does) the parking lots on both sides of the plaza and turn them into retail below/residential above developments.

  13. I’ve heard nothing, Jen. What do you think of that idea? I think it would make main street more appealing (I like bustling places) and probably bring more useful businesses to the area (I hate antiques, and am adverse to old people shopping for antiques).

    And, as as long as the elementary school could support the flux of students… which is not likely.

  14. Yes, that will be a good idea. Niles right now really does look antique (antiquated).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *