FREMONT — For the first time since Fremont switched to district elections in 2018, an open seat is up for grabs in City Council District 6, representing the city’s historic Irvington district and surrounding areas.
And in the broad District 5, which includes Mission San Jose, Warm Springs, and much of the city’s industrial areas where Tesla is located, an aerospace engineering student is going up against an incumbent in the Nov. 3 election.
The five hopefuls running for the District 6 seat are: Yogi Chugh, 55, a corporate real estate adviser and current economic development commissioner in the city; Teresa Cox, no age given, a senior procurement executive for Santa Clara County and a 12-year Ohlone College board member; Charles Liu, 52, who runs his own solar installation business and is a current planning commissioner, Andrew Nguyen, 50, a database engineer for a local government; and Roman Reed, 45, who founded and runs an organization that raises funds for stem cell research.
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
(Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)
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In District 5, incumbent Raj Salwan, 46, a veterinarian, is seeking his second consecutive term on the council, and he’s being opposed by Dolev Gandler, 20, an aerospace engineering student whose long had a passion for volunteering.
All of the District 6 candidates said the city should do more to support small businesses, as well as those who run them and work for them, especially during the pandemic, though they differ on how to best do so.
Reed, if elected, said he’d use city reserves to immediately fund a $5 million COVID-19 relief fund for anyone in the city who needs help because of the pandemic, including businesses owners, renters, and homeowners.
Cox said she’d push the city to establish a requirement that Fremont look to local companies first for all of its contracting needs, and require that all businesses in the city give first hiring priority to Fremont residents, especially major operations such as Tesla, Lam Research, and Facebook. To that end, she wants the city to create a job-employee matching service.
Liu said he wants to eliminate red tape in the city’s business permitting process to encourage more entrepreneurs to create startups in Fremont, and wants to lower business taxes and fees, as does Nguyen.
Nguyen also wants to institute a waiver on sales tax for a few months to encourage more patronage of local businesses.
Chugh thinks the city should continue emergency support funding to businesses during the pandemic, and expand city efforts like “Pop-up patio” which streamlined the ability for businesses to use outdoor space.
Salwan wants to build on a commercial study he previously requested on the historic Mission San Jose area, and work up a specific plan for business and property owners to follow in an effort to boost the dining and entertainment options in the area.
On the issue of homelessness, Liu said he thinks “where we are is a fairly decent situation right now,” and while he’s not opposed to spending more on solving the problem, he would like to see how well the recently opened homeless navigation center works first.
The council’s discussions on where to locate the center last year sparked protests and fierce debate among hundreds of residents from different neighborhoods who pushed against it.
The center is located behind city hall, and is expected to cost the city almost $9.5 million over the next three years with a mix of state, city, and county funds. The center aims to help connect up to 50 people a year during the pandemic with permanent housing, and up to 90 per year outside of the pandemic, the city said. The last point-in-time survey in January 2019 showed the city had 608 homeless people, mostly unsheltered.
Cox said the navigation center was “too big of a project” for the council to decide and they should have asked voters whether or not to build it. She said she needs more data about the current homeless population, such as “understanding if they have been under meth use for 15 years,” before pushing for other homeless solutions.
Reed said the city should use $1 million from city reserves to give housing or hotel vouchers to a significant number of the city’s hundreds of homeless people for the short term, while working to help them find more permanent housing situations.
Chugh said the navigation center is a step in the right direction, and while waiting to see the outcomes from that, the city should expand its current efforts by opening another winter warming shelter, and investing in another mobile hygiene unit for homeless people to use.
Nguyen said one area of the city shouldn’t bear the burden of the navigation center alone, so the city should consider opening “a couple more” of them, and placing them in other parts of the city.
Salwan, who voted with the rest of the council to approve the navigation center, said he’d like the city to offer more hotel or housing vouchers to homeless people in the short term, and would like to expand rental assistance for those on the edge of losing their homes to help stem the rising tide of homelessness.
The council has called twice for a safe parking program to be created for those living in RVs and cars to use since July 2018, but the project has yet to materialize and Salwan said he’s not sure why.
Gandler said the city’s navigation center effort to help dozens find housing annually is admirable, but it falls short of what’s needed.
“That’s simply not a number that’s going to cut it if we actually want to help shelter a majority of Fremont’s homeless residents,” he said.
He proposes a three-month commission be formed to explore cheaper homebuilding options and materials, such as prefabricated panels and hollow-block concrete structures, and thinks voters should be asked in 2022 if they would support a bond measure to build hundreds of lower-cost structures on open city land in District 5 to house homeless people.
None of the candidates supported the idea of “defunding the police,” a call heard in the city during protests against police brutality and during council meetings in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Nguyen wants to hire more police for city patrols and schools.
Salwan and Liu both received Fremont’s police union endorsements. Salwan said while eventually he thinks the police department budget should be reduced, that can’t be done until other resources such as a separate department for mental health responses can be established.
“We need a transition,” he said.
Liu said in his conversations with residents, people are mostly satisfied with the job police are doing in the city, and said he’s in favor of keeping the status quo.
“I’m not in here to really shake things up dramatically,” he said.
Gandler said the police department’s $96.5 million annual budget, which accounts for nearly 48% of the city’s general fund, shouldn’t be allowed to exceed 50 percent of the budget over the coming years.
Both Chugh and Cox said the recent “Engage Fremont” discussions the city held about policing were a positive step, though Cox said the department also needs better training “on how to deal with people of color, how to deal with people of diverse groups.”
In recent years, the city has seen an increase in the number of affordable housing units going up or getting city building permits, but Fremont is still nearly 3,000 units short of its regional housing needs for affordable homes, and the average home sale price is still about $1 million. Most candidates agreed the city should plan with developers early on, and offer a mix of incentives to get them to build more affordable units, but offered no concrete plans.
Reed, Liu, Salwan, and Gandler all suggested the city’s current affordable housing ordinance — which allows developers to pay in-lieu fees to make up for not building affordable units into their projects — should be made less permissive to increase the number of guaranteed affordable units built among the city.
Candidate Jhansi R. Kalapala will appear on the District 6 ballot, but is instead running for Fremont school board and not campaigning for council, she said. Fremont District 1 City Councilwoman Teresa Keng is running unopposed.