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City Council Report

My computer’s WiFi has been down for a couple of weeks, which prevents live blogging council meetings, and to a certain extent, has made it less convenient to blog altogether. Hope to get it fixed this week.

The council rejected a proposal to sell the former corporation yard on Sequoia Road to the city’s Redevelopment Agency. This was the latest in a string of proposals aimed at preserving city redevelopment funds  if/when state-subsidized redevelopment kicks the bucket.

The council had been lapping up all these ideas from city employees to preserve redevelopment funds, but they spit this one out. The city’s five-person affordable housing lobby opposed the sale, and the council wasn’t going to go out on a limb to support affordable housing when affordable housing advocates didn’t like the deal.

The affordable housing advocates argued that the site wasn’t well suited for affordable housing since it’s not near any amenities, and would likely to score poorly when it comes to getting state and federal aid to help fund construction. The city in January 2009 had recommended selling the site to a for-profit developer and using the proceeds to subsidize affordable housing elsewhere.

As expected the council supported a study on banning trucks from Niles Canyon Road. However, Caltrans is scheduled to start construction on the first phase of its safety project in the canyon. That will also include cutting down trees and building retaining walls, and there appears nothing that can be done to stop it. The city is trying to stop Phase II of the project, which would cut down a lot more trees and add many more feet of retaining walls.

The city’s contract for towing illegal vehicles is in for a big change. There’s more back story here than you can imagine. For years and years, the police department divided the city up into three tow zones, which made sense because the city is so darn long, it can be a challenge to respond from the north end of town to the south end in 20 minutes.

But the city is going to get rid of the zones and rotate tow calls among several tow companies. The change stems back to last year when the department recommended keeping the towing zones, but  replacing a long-time tow operator — who had one of the three zones.

That didn’t go over so well.

The tow operator, who is Fremont born and raised, filled the council chamber with supporters. And even two of the other companies that got the tow contract accused the police of playing favorites in replacing the ousted tow company with a company that had recently arrived in town.

There was no definitive evidence that the cops played favorites. But the entire episode created major tension between the cops and several tow companies. It also revealed that there’s been a certain level of fraternizing (dirt biking, anyone? how about a car show?) between traffic cops and several folks in the towing industry. That’s their business, but it can put the cops in an awkward position when it comes to recommending companies for a fairly lucrative contract.

One tow operator critical of last year’s tow contract process not only used to go riding with officers, he had rented a room in his house to a now retired traffic sergeant who served in Fremont and Union City. And one of the Fremont cops helping make the tow company recommendations last year not only is buddies with the manager whose company came into town and got the contract recommendation — he went to the guy’s baby shower.

City records showed that the cop also used his city-issued cell phone to call the manager’s cell phone more than a dozen times — mostly very short calls — in the first part of last year, even though the the manager’s company wasn’t towing for the city. The manager said he was just asking the cop questions.

Several tow folks said that manager had told them that his company was guaranteed the Fremont contract. But the manager, who had worked for years in Fremont for a different tow company, said that was hogwash. Whether the manager said it or not, there was no evidence the police had ever told him that was the case. He could have just been talking trash to competitors.

The whole thing was a mess, and the cops ended up rescinding the recommendations last year and starting from scratch.

Dividing the city into tow zones appears to make the most sense it terms of Fremont geography, but not politics.

The three zones worked well politically when there were only three major towers in town, but now there are several more and they all want a piece of the action. If the police department stuck with three zones, it quite possibly would have put the council once again in the uncomfortable position of being asked to approve a recommendation to replace a popular tow truck operator with a lot of friends around town.

And it would also have required the cops to do a new round of high stakes detailed inspections of local tow companies, several of whose owners have said they didn’t trust the officers to judge them fairly. A tow rotation means that any company that meets some basic requirements can tow for the city. That solves all the political issues.

Matt Artz