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Fremont’s two-week trade mission to India to cost taxpayers $28,500

From our Citywise column that ran Saturday.

Fremont Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan is leading a delegation of elected officials, city employees, and community and business leaders on a two-week trip to India.

The 13-person group includes Councilman Vinnie Bacon, Assistant City Manager Mark Danaj, Deputy City Manager Nadine Nader and Economic Development Director Kelly Kline. Mike Holtzclaw and Bill Sharar, two Ohlone College representatives, as well as officials from Fremont tech companies and the Bay Area chapter of the Center for International Trade Development also joined the trade mission.

From Friday to Nov. 27, the delegation is scheduled to visit the cities of Chennai, Bangalore and Jaipur, said Cheryl Golden, a Fremont city spokeswoman. Chennai, set on the southeastern coast, is a manufacturing hub, while the central city of Bangalore, Natarajan’s hometown, is India’s technology base. Jaipur, one of Fremont’s sister cities, is in north India, near Delhi.

India has more than 1.2 billion residents and the world’s 11th largest economy. In Fremont, nearly 1 in 5 of 217,000 residents are Indian-American, and two serve on the five-member City Council.

The trip’s goals include helping Fremont companies gain a larger market presence in India; establishing partnerships between the city and Indian companies for job creation; making connections with investors seeking construction projects in Fremont and other parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties; and promoting Ohlone College and other educational institutions with overseas companies.

The trip will cost Fremont taxpayers about $28,500, city officials said. City Manager Fred Diaz, who was out of the office Friday, could not be reached for comment about the trade mission.

Chris DeBenedetti

  • Charlie C

    As we continue to search for light in the darkness of insanity it appears we taxpayers will be shelling out about $2,200.00 a delegate to send this baker’s dozen off on a snipe hunt. Remember folks, this probably does not include the bar tab!

  • bbox231

    Thank you, Chris.

    Fremontians now have a place to in which to comment on this boondoggle.
    More importantly, they now have the ability to search a historical record with which to observe the contrast between what is promised and what is actually received.
    For those that missed it – - Earlier today, our Economic Development Director tweeted a lovely picture of Ms. Natarajan seated with other individuals on what is characterized as the “Leadership Innovation” council. . .

  • Bill Spicer

    I can think of a lot of ” Non Profit Org,” that serve the citizens of Fremont, that could put that money to good use

  • Audrey

    Hmm interesting. At that price tag, I hope it is a productive trip… 2 weeks also seems kinda long. Could have saved Fremont tax payers (like myself) money if the trip was only one week?

  • bbox231

    If history of these events is any indicator, you can expect little or nothing in the way of statements of “results”. Please – take a look at Weickowski’s China trip or Natarajan’s previous India trip (this is her second by my count) and answer the question – “What did we get in return?” – one would think such an answer would be made even MORE visible then the announced trip itself. . . but the current record is noticeably absent any substance
    Of course, with all the ruccus that’s been made over THIS trip, maybe we’ll be really lucky and be provided a list of “results” which will be in the form of a list of visits, conversations with people with impressive titles, perhaps an MOU (or the like), and if we’re REALLY lucky – MAYBE even a firm transaction or two – you know, intent to build or move into a facility for instance.
    The problem with the entire list is that it will likely consist predominantly of intangibles, the net-result of which will be impossible to document AND whether tangible or not, we will never know, to what degree, they would have occurred with or without the benefit of our “mission”. . . .
    It’s been my experience that smart folks always have a “result” or two already in the bag BEFORE they depart.

  • Audrey

    Hi bbox321, thanks for the reply & insight. Your comment includes several good points. I recently started following this blog so I actually did not know how many previous trips our city officials have been on. Now that I think about it, too, 13 people is a lot to send on one entire international trip. Well, after re-reading your entire comment for a second time, now I feel kinda sad :( Maybe Chris (Argus reporter) can follow up on the mission and find out what tangible results came from this? i.e. did this investment of 28K benefit the residents of Fremont.. anyway I will check back on this blog after Nov 2 …

  • Charlie C

    Shame,shame,shame…this so called trade mission is nothing more than an absurd charade.Maybe a kind hearted developer or two would be willing to contribute a few bucks towards this bakers dozens Indian snipe hunt so us taxpayers aren’t stuck with paying the entire $28,500!

  • Bill Spicer

    Chris, several people have asked the question,
    ” Take a look at Weickowski’s China trip or Natarajan’s previous India trip (this is her second by my count) and answer the question – “What did we get in return?”
    Chris, I can see a interesting story here.
    What were the results from previous trade missions.?
    I understand that the Bay Area Cities are all competing for Industry to locate at there cities, but….

  • bbox231

    I’ve read this several times now in some variation – “In Jaipur, Rajasthan, Fremont-based Lawrence Berkeley Labs will tie-up with the city’s civic body for the sustainable development of the pink city.”

    The problem I’m having is that the last time I checked, LBNL was based on the Cal campus. I suppose you could stretch the boundaries of reality if there was an office somewhere in Fremont . . the problem is, I’m darned if I can find ANYTHING. . . . can you?

    I’ve found where several Fremont corporations are doing joint research with LBNL but our press release states pretty clearly that they’re based here – - -

  • Bill Spicer

    I hope every one has a nice Thanksgiving

  • bbox231

    Here’s a “result” from our invested time – - an MOU signed between Jaipur and “Fermont” –

    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-11-26/jaipur/44485595_1_pink-city-sister-city-Jaipur

    Here’s the explanation of what this MOU will deliver –

    “In a major boost for Jaipur, vice-mayor of Fermont city (California state), Anu Natarajan and city mayor Jyoti Khandelwal signed a memorandum of understanding to promote tourism, cultural and economic activities between Fermont and Jaipur.

    Mayor Jyoti Khandelwal said that the focus in Jaipur, a sister city of Fermont, would be on creating cultural relationships between the two cities for the next three years. Moreover, both civic bodies will also work together in framing environment friendly policies and treatment of waste water.

    Citing a reason to choose Pink City, while addressing the gathering, Anu Natarajan said, “Fermont is the forth largest city of California state and around 29,000, Indo- American residents live in the city. The city celebrates Holi, Diwali and Independence Day with zest.” She added, “In 1990 at the University of Washington, I wrote my master’s thesis, ‘Jaipur: Indo-Aryan Town Planning in India.”

    . . . because, of course, we don’t have anywhere near enough pre-existing “..cultural relationships..” between Fremont and many locations throughout India.

    It’s a shame we couldn’t at least derive the full benefit of the initial press release . . . but I’m certain Quebec will appreciate our efforts -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermont

  • Audrey

    Fermont?!? That’s hilarious. Hey thanks for posting that link. I guess nothing substantial was really accomplished during this trip. Hmmmm I’m not sure what to think…

  • bbox231

    Yeah – - pretty entertaining but, to your more important point – I think it’s too early to draw conclusions. Wait and see . . .

  • Charlie C

    When in Bangalore one of the 13 had an epiphany that was green, profitable. This shamed him to know that taking taxpayer money to pay for this vacation was much worse than taking campaign donations from developers. http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_24543355/new-49ers-stadium-is-it-really-environmentally-friendly

  • bbox231

    This mornings’ Argus Op-Ed hit the nail on the head –

    “It’s time to rein it in. Elected officials must remember that they’re chosen to manage the public’s money, not to use it as their personal travel budget.”

    http://www.contracostatimes.com/editorial/ci_24703016/contra-costa-times-editorial-time-curb-taxpayer-funded

  • Charlie C

    I agree…elected official who frivolously spend the taxpayers money should be ashamed or better yet resign!

  • bbox231

    Here’s Chris’s summary coverage on the “trade mission”.

    http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_24752548/natarajan-fremont-formed-business-cultural-partnerships-india-trade

    I’ll boil it down to the critical essence of what we are being told (in this article) we have received for our investment.

    We -

    “..forged some important ties..”

    “..exchange(d) ideas…”

    “..sign(ed) … a to become part of the LBNL Sustainable Cities Partnership program..”

    Now, here’s the question you gotta answer – was this the BEST use of our $28k that we could come up with?

    Bill, Anu, Susie, Raj and Vinnie think that it was.

  • bbox231

    From the 1/7/2014 Tri-City Voice –

    Letter to Editor: Was trip to India a political game?

    Fremont Councilmember Natarajan and Vice Mayor Bacon, along with their entourage (Deputy City Manager, Ecomonic Development Director, and Assistant City Manager) recently visited India on a trip paid for out of public funds (Councilmember Natarajan and Fremont’s Assistant City Manager extended their trip).
    The Fremont City Council has indicated that the benefits this trip provided for us, the citizens of Fremont (since you and I did pay for this trip), will be presented to Council in 6-12 months.

    A wise person pointed out that one of the games politicians play is to use public funds to pay a consulting firm to prepare a report, appearing to prove that whatever scheme the politicians are trying to promote, is beneficial to voting citizens.

    This trip to India looks like one of those schemes to me!

    Faye McKay

    Fremont

  • bbox231

    This is my second attempt at the post I originally submitted 8 hours ago and which is – at this moment – STILL being held for moderation presumably because I included a link to a San Jose Merc article entitled “Fremont Council Split 3-2 on $35,000 grant for Niles non-profit LEAF” Google it for yourselves if you need to confirm the quote I’m gonna make reference to – - –

    And, while I’m on it – I dunno who BANG has farmed out their site admin to but my anecdotal sense is that the lethargy in this mechanism is, in part, contributing to this venue’s lack of participation. If you can’t even get a post up in near real-time – people aint gonna play . . .

    But I digress . .. .

    The aforementioned article is quoted as follows –

    “Councilmember Anu Natarajan said she did not feel comfortable giving $35,000 from the general fund without some guidelines or expectations.

    “I also hope that next time we don’t use referrals for pet projects, not just this organization, but a lot of other nonprofits are struggling,” Natarajan said”

    ….to which, all I can think is – What a massive double standard and blatant cop-out.

    COME ON, Natarajan – you were COMPLETELY comfortable taking $28k of the community’s resource for YOUR PET PROJECT – one which didn’t benefit ANY of our local non-profits – - and a trip to your home town I might add – - – which, IMHO, was almost COMPLETELY lacking in any guidelines or expectations!!!!!

    Heck – we wont even know what this little junket produced for several months . . .

    Don’t get me wrong, Anu – you are spot on when it comes to setting expectations where money is being spent. BUT – your willingness to spend on YOUR pet project, absent any significant expectations, belies your own words.

    Gotta wonder – GOTTA WONDER – - had we allocated the $28k that Anu frittered on he boondoggle to this LEAF initiative – would we be better off??

  • Audrey

    hi! sorry i forgot about this thread and am reading this article now… thanks for sharing