Now that we’ve all had some time to relax and review the results I thought it a good time to discuss my view of what happened at the meeting. For those who could not make it, it was a pretty amazing evening. The support of the Kimber Park community, Mission Hills Tennis Club members and Tompkins Tennis was truly off the charts. I cannot recall a more electric atmosphere, charged up by an incredibly strong grass-roots Save Kimber Park (SKP) crowd of around 400 SKP supporters, wearing green, confronted by a surprisingly numerous group of development supporters.
The pro-development group had arrived early and brought large numbers of seat fillers, many who were from out-of-town. They wore red t-shirts with the slogan “Jobs for Fremont”. Among their numbers were, as proudly revealed by one of the red shirt speakers, the staff of a Milpitas commercial real estate firm. In fact a number of the red-shirts were realtors and I could not recognize any of them as Kimber Park residents.
The SKP crowd vastly outnumbered the Fremont Mission Hills (FMH) LLC crowd, by about 400 to 100.
To summarize the results, the FMH LLC wanted the new Fremont General Plan 2030 to show the club property as low-density residential. The City Council (less Suzanne Chan, who recused herself because her husband has lots of Fremont patients) and Mayor Wasserman did not allow this and agreed to change the club property as a study item for up to one year. This fell short of what the SKP group and the City Staff wanted, which was to have the new General Plan match the actual zoning for the property. But it was a step in the right direction.
Natarajan, Harrison and Wasserman thought it improper for the new General Plan to be changed to match the actual property zoning, since a housing development plan had been submitted. The decision appears to be largely political. By deferring action until sometime after the Fall 2012 elections (not assured, but quite likely given the typical approval timeline), the City Council members were able to not say no to either side and improve their future political chances. Unfortunately Council Member Dominic Dutra, a local developer who had been appointed to the City Council to fill a vacancy and who slammed the FMH LLC plan as totally inappropriate and based on bad advice, may not have plans to stay in Fremont politics.
To a member, the City Council and Mayor indicated that they will not support the current 26 home development plan, as it was described variously as a non-starter or totally inappropriate for the site. Council Member Anu Natarajan, who has a planning background, recognized that residential development is vastly different from the current zoning and went on to say that as a result approval for residential home construction will be very difficult to come by. Wasserman stated that a small development of a few houses could work on the site, but he expects the issue to be determined in court.
The gathering that evening of development supporters was described by a recent UC Political Science graduate as “astroturfing”. Please see this wikipedia article for a complete definition: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing
Astroturfing, perhaps more clearly defined as “rent-a-crowd”, is a form of propaganda where a few people (in this case the FMH LLC and those standing to gain financially, such as realtors and co-investors) bring employees and hired help to provide the appearance of a grassroots organization. To be fair some of the red-shirted people in attendance were probably not hired consultants or realtors. However, I do not think anyone was fooled by this maneuver and as the evening wore on this became more and more obvious to me. In my opinion this spoke volumes to the desperation that the FMH LLC must be feeling.
They seem to have taken several lines directly from the Wikipedia article reproduced here (I hope you read at least some of the referenced article, as it is really very entertaining):
- Wiki: Astroturfing: In 2003, apparent “grass-roots” letters favouring Republican Party policies appearing in local newspapers around the US were denounced as “astroturf” when Google searches revealed that identical letters were printed with different (local) signatures.
- Wiki: Astroturfing: It has become easier to structure a commercial astroturfing campaign in the electronic era because the cost and effort to send an e-mail (especially a pre-written, sign-your-name-at-the-bottom e-mail) is so low. In our case snailmail was also used.
So when the meeting was scheduled to begin the red-shirts had managed to nearly fill the Fremont Council chambers with their numbers, locking out hundreds of SKP proponents in the overflow rooms and outdoors in the cold evening air. Council Member Dominic Dutra, seeing the unfairness of the situation, urged Mayor Wasserman to equal the chamber numbers, which was seen to.
Christina asked that those outside be allowed to walk through the chambers, as shown here.
Listen to Mayor Wasserman (3:06 in the video), as he is astounded by the number of SKP people there. The FMH LLC lawyer can be seen attempting to convince City Staff that SKP is recirculating people, when in fact some never made it in.
The subsequent SKP speeches were specific and based on tangible facts. They were given by a very diverse group, composed of people of different ethnicities and ages. They asked that the new plan match the actual current zoning, as determined by the Fremont City Staff in their thorough five-year rewrite of the General Plan. Christina brought up the possibility of a land swap, which would be a win-win for all involved, if the City is willing to provide the appropriate land.
By contrast, the FMH LLC speeches seemed to consist nearly entirely of a desire to make money off of the homes that would be built. Multiple realtors indicated that they would make lots of money off of the resulting commissions. How surprising. A report showing that the tax revenue for the City of Fremont would increase was given by a consultant (by 0.018% of the total difference in property taxes). They also openly accused the City Staff of bias and made several accusations about the character of the SKP community. The fact that the property itself is zoned private open space was never addressed.
A review of the letters to the city from both sides reflects similarly on their content. The SKP letters were typically thoughtful, thorough and individually crafted. The FMH LLC letters were nearly all form letters and included out-of-town addresses. Being nearly identical, they all say the same thing: the city will make money and the project will bring jobs and revenue to Fremont. Compelling?
Here is what Dominic Dutra had to say following the speeches from both sides:
Council Member Dutra summarized the facts accurately. His discussion is consistent with a read of the documents, as well as the interpretation of Stuart Flashman, the SKP lawyer. The SKP legal argument is based on very strong, fundamental legal tenants of California law. Whereas the Fremont City Hall can be swayed be upcoming elections, political contributions, etc., the courts are not and any decision will be based on the cold hard facts. As summarized by Dominic, they weight very heavily in our favor.
Be prepared for something on the order of two or more years before a final decision is rendered. This estimate assumes it will take about a year before the City Planning Department is done, followed by zoning change appeals to the Planning Committee, followed by appeals to the City Council. Almost for sure this will not be completed until after the elections in November of 2012. It is very likely that this will be followed by a lawsuit, which will probably take a year or more to resolve. Take heart, as this generally works in our favor. Each month the huge mortgage on the club property plus the property tax amounts to around $35,000, which over two years is $840,000. It would be great, however, if a land swap was possible or if the FMH LLC simply ran out of money and/or interest.
I found it interesting that Mayor Wasserman says that he does not see the purchase of this property as profiteering. It is obviously a very high risk business plan, with little chance of surviving an eventual court battle. The opposition is banking on the Kimber Park and Mission Hills Tennis Club community failing to financially support the legal battle and see it through to the end. Their heavy-handed approach has brought us all closer, more resolved and more willing to dig deeply into our pocketbooks if necessary.
Thanks to all who have already offered to support the Kimber Park Open Space defense with their hard-earned dollars.
Unfortunately this summary is already too long. I hope to dissect this meeting further in another post.
Please take a look at the speeches given by Richard and Sandy Tompkins in Testimonials. What Richard and Sandy had to say took a great deal of courage to present publicly. Given what they said (coupled with the other SKP speeches), I cannot imagine our City Representatives supporting the FMH LLC, as to do so clearly places business interests over that of a long-standing, Historic Fremont Community.
With the widely differing merit and content of the two arguments presented, I personally came to the conclusion that the decision reached was not based on what was said that night, but had effectively been made before the evening began.