The Fine Line
CSUEB Alumni Balance Tough Choices and Community Values
BY KIMBERLY TERE HAWKINS
A two-year-old boy holds tight to his mom’s hand and tests a toe in Lizzie Fountain in downtown Livermore. Other children squeal and dodge the vertical spray outlets that were installed when the fountain was updated in 2010. It’s a 95-degree day in the Tri-Valley and families are flocking to Lizzie Park to cool off. Regardless of California’s extreme drought, the water here will keep running.
“I’ve caught some heat on this,” says Livermore Mayor John Marchand (BS ’76, Biological Sciences). Livermore has shut off three of its six fountains in downtown and cut the hours at Lizzie Fountain in half. The water is recirculated through the iconic fixture, but the city does replenish what is lost to evaporation and splash out.
“If the fountain was shut off, it would be a gesture, but not a meaningful gesture,” Marchand continues. “The children would suffer for it. This is where families come to cool off on hot days.”
Marchand chooses his battles. Despite criticism over keeping the fountain alive, the mayor has been using his 30-plus years of experience as a water chemist to go on a drought offensive. After news in 2014 that Livermore had just a two-year supply of groundwater, Marchand pushed his 85,000 residents to slash usage by 25 percent — a year in advance of state legislation. Marchand then stood at California Governor Jerry Brown’s side while Brown announced new regulations and unprecedented residential penalties for overuse last April. Shortly thereafter, Livermore became the first city in the region to hike rates for daily water usage.
Yet with all the cutbacks, the mayor wants to make sure he’s not cutting the opportunities residents equate with a high quality of life.
The Fine Line: LIVERMORE ON THE RISE
In the mid 1980s, Livermore’s downtown area was in disrepair. Citizens were scattered by suburban sprawl and the city’s largest economic assets — the wineries — were on its fringes. State Route 84 cut through the heart of the town, making a once-historic gathering place undesirable for businesses, shopping, and foot traffic. According to the National Main Street Center, 1985 in Livermore marked an all-time high in vacant storefronts downtown.
Beginning in 2001, local government (Marchand was elected to the City Council in 2005 and became mayor in 2011) began a campaign to reimagine Livermore’s “main drag.” Urban growth boundaries were drawn to protect agriculture from encroaching on housing, and measures were passed to reroute 84, build new homes downtown, and incentivize businesses to take part in the revitalization.
By 2009, Livermore had won a Great American Main Street Award and in 2013, real estate giant Redfin named the city the fifth “Hottest Neighborhood in America.”
FACING THE FUTURE
But the drought could change all that.
In addition to its hard-earned transformation, at stake is Livermore’s historical identity. “The wine industry is a very important part of our agricultural heritage and our local economy,” Marchand says.
“The tourism it generates and the jobs it creates is worth tens of millions of dollars annually. That makes best management practices for farming and good stewardship over the land all the more important when we are dealing with a precious and limited resource like water.”
Water needed to serve the economy but also protect it. The Tesla blaze, named for the road it started on in August, consumed more than 2,500 acres before it was contained.
“We have extended our (reclaimed water) into the northwest part of the city for fire hydrants and sprinklers,” Marchand explains. “To get through the hot summer, we also invited residents to come to our wastewater treatment plant for nonpotable water to haul back to their homes for landscape irrigation.” Livermore’s state-of-the-art plant produces up to six million gallons of treated water per day — the equivalent of about nine Olympic-sized swimming pools.
With fingers crossed for rain, Marchand’s plan is working. The city of Livermore reports a savings of 700 million gallons for off-site irrigation in 2014 alone. And the most recent State Water Board drought report card shows a citywide reduction of 49 percent. “One of my professors taught me that what chemistry and the sciences do is, they teach you how to behave when you don’t know the answer,” Marchand says. “It showed me how to boil very technical things down to their simplest form, something everyone can understand.”
Fortunately, these are two skill sets that are in high demand. While Marchand’s years of science help him make critical decisions about the drought and its implications for his community, it’s a fundamental commitment, whenever possible, to pastimes like visits to Lizzie Fountain that preserve Livermore’s quality of life.
The Fine Line: UNION CITY’S TIPPING POINT
“I work hard every day to provide,” says Taieba Hedary, a single mom and resident of Union City. She lives with her nine-year-old twins in a six-story affordable housing complex called The Station Center, which opened in 2012 across from the local BART station to make commuting easier for low-income families. “For years, we were all stuffed inside a one-bedroom apartment. No room. Now we have three bedrooms and the kids can go swimming and play outside.”
She’s talking to a woman she’s never met before at The Station Center’s park, where parents and neighbors often get to know each other while their kids run around. The woman listening to Hedary agrees that giving children a safe place to play is what all moms want. The night ends with Hedary gathering her twins for the short walk home, unaware she’s just befriended Carol Dutra Vernaci (BA ’76, Psychology), the mayor of Union City.
“It gives parents some peace of mind, a chance to rest from so much worry,” Dutra Vernaci later explains of the park, which is an incremental piece of the larger 105-acre, master-planned Station District. The housing complex opened just a month before she took office and now houses more than 150 families.
However, with 20 years of public service as mayor, vice mayor, council member, and planning commissioner under her belt, Dutra Vernaci knows the demand for affordable housing — and the refuge it provides families and children — still far exceeds the supply.
The Station District is notable for its location — a symbol of transformation in Union City’s historic Decoto neighborhood. “This is where I grew up,” says Dutra Vernaci, a third-generation native. “The area had a bad reputation. I just started kindergarten when the annexation happened. I have certainly seen firsthand the changes over the years.”
She’s referring to the year 1959, when the neighboring towns of Alvarado and Decoto incorporated into a single city. Decoto, a booming farm and railroad hub, drew in large numbers of Latino workers, who still make up the largest segment of the neighborhood’s population — nearly 60 percent according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. In the 1960s, sparked by the Chicano Civil Rights Movement and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers strikes, Decoto became a hotbed for rising ethnic conflict. And in 1974, the shooting of a man named Alberto Terrones snapped the strained police-community relations.
“There was so much tension in town,” Dutra Vernaci recalls. “There was community outrage over the police shooting and killing someone who was stealing a ham.” In an effort to bridge the divide, Union City Police Chief William Cann spoke at a local church where a sniper shot and fatally wounded him.
Although tensions have fluctuated over time, gang violence is deeply embedded in Union City’s past and present. A 2008 study by the Youth Violence Prevention Coalition showed 70 percent of surveyed students at James Logan High School reported they had been personally affected or known someone affected by violence. A staggering 45 percent felt gangs and racial tension were to blame. The survey also determined the average age of new gang members is 13 years old.
TURNING THE TIDE
In 2007, a summer of bloodshed that included the slaying of a 14-year-old in front of a middle school, two other fatal shootings of young men, and a record high in youth violent crime incidents (homicide, rape, and aggravated assault), forced the city to take action. Measure UU was proposed on the November 2008 ballot and allotted $500,000 of a parcel tax to youth-violence prevention services. Dutra Vernaci, a councilmember at the time, was initially uncertain about the bill due to its increased taxation but quickly become one of its biggest proponents. The measure passed by a 46.5 percent margin.
“With the money, we put outreach workers on the streets,” Dutra Vernaci says. “We listen to young people and come up with solutions, whether it’s helping them find a job, giving them counseling, crisis intervention, or getting them involved in a program to improve their situation.”
One of the most popular city-run interventions is the 10th Street Boxing Program, which serves more than 100 teenagers. “It’s a safe haven for the youth to socialize,” coach Johnny Gusman says. “Some come in timid and you can see their confidence build. They are able to use what they’ve learned inside the ring out on the street.”
Since 2007, the Union City Police Department reports a 60 percent drop in youth violent crime. However, the parcel tax is set to expire in 2017, a major cause of concern for the mayor. Without voters supporting a continuation in 2016, she explains, the city will have to make tough decisions about what to cut.
“The state as a whole is realizing the need to spend public dollars on education and rehabilitation, rather than incarceration — like our investment here,” Dutra-Vernaci says as she hangs on the ropes, watching two kids go toe-to-toe. “Of course, I had no idea when I was in college that I would be mayor of Union City someday, but that education in psychology and sociology has helped me get where I am today and see my way through those decisions.
“It’s far from over though when it comes to straightening out people who we’d like to get on a brighter path,” she adds. “But because of our commitment to youth violence prevention, lives have been changed.”
In the crowded and complex Bay Area, city managers seek a balance between business and community — operating efficiently and effectively while fostering collective, positive involvement. Their challenges may be very different, but these leaders all expressed a common goal: to not only live together and meet the basic needs of residents, but to flourish and grow.
1) NELSON FIALHO (BA ’91, POLITICAL SCIENCE; MPA ’96): PLEASANTON
“There are many people commuting to and from the Tri-Valley area along the I-680 and I-580 freeways. Finding ways to address constrained infrastructure is a challenge. We are working to extend BART into Livermore, which someday will encourage more commuting and ease congestion.”
2) PENELOPE LEACH (MPA ’08): ALBANY
“Affordable housing is the biggest challenge. It takes a public/private partnership, the space to do it, and the community buy-in. We’re always pitching affordable housing and mixed-use projects to landowners and developers. The way we go about getting it done at this phase — education, education, education.”
3) MARCIA SOMERS (MPA ’85): LOS ALTOS
“We are focused on maintaining excellent customer service to our population, which is aging as well as becoming more culturally diverse. The police department conducts ongoing training in diversity, mental health, and elderly-related issues. It’s important that all city employees recognize and understand the needs of our residents.”
4) CARL CAHILL (MPA ’00): LOS ALTOS HILLS
“The city is almost entirely residential. We’re largely relegated to property taxes for revenue, which isn’t enough to replace aging infrastructure before it fails. Citizens are reluctant to approve fee or rate increases unless they can see value. Part of the solution is public outreach, explaining why money is needed, while working with other cities and legislators to secure additional funding.”
5) FRAN DAVID (BS ’71, URBAN ECOLOGY): HAYWARD
“Graffiti was a problem. In 2009, we decided to focus on prevention through a Mural Arts Program rather than doing constant and short-term abatement. We started with utility boxes and moved on to an expansive citywide mural effort. The concept has won state awards and has been copied by more than 20 jurisdictions across the United States.”
PAST TO PRESENT
The CSUEB alumni that have gone on to hold positions of civic leadership extend well outside the Bay Area — mayors and city managers are scattered throughout California and beyond. Of the 25 listed below, more than half pursued a Master of Public Administration degree. “The CSUEB MPA program has always been different from other programs because of its normative, interpretive, and critical approaches to the study of public administration,” explains Department Chair Jay Umeh. “In other words, our program infuses everything we do with a deep emphasis on human, social, and organizational realities. We’re a program with soul — always asking critical questions and integrating theory and practice, and persistently asking our students to face the ethical, social equity, and social justice complexities of public administration.”
Steven Baker (MPA ’93): City Manager, Yreka; Former City Manager, Suisun; Oakdale
Yvonne Beals (MPA ’00): Former Mayor, Pittsburg
Gary Broad (MPA ’93): Former City Manager, St. Helena; Town of Ross
August Caires (BS ’71, Business; MPA ’78): Former City Manager, Farmersville; Shafter; Scotts Valley
Richard Cline (BA ’95, Mass Communication): Mayor Pro Tempore, Menlo Park; Former Mayor, Menlo Park
Nora Davis (BA ’76, Sociology; MPA ’77): Vice Mayor, Emeryville; Former Mayor, Emeryville
Paul Eckert (BA ’87, Public Affairs and Administration; BA ’87, Political Science; MPA ’89): City Manager, City of Mt. Shasta; Former City Manager, Sioux City, Iowa
Richard Farrington (BS ’69, Earth Sciences): Former Mayor, Ferndale
Michael Garvey (MPA ’72): Former City Manager, San Carlos
Elihu Harris (BA ’68, Political Science): Former Mayor, Oakland
Gregory Jones (MPA ’97): Former City Manager, Hayward
Elizabeth Kniss (MPA ’85): Former Mayor, Palo Alto
Linda Koelling (BS ’71, Recreation): Former Mayor, Foster City
Patrick Kwok (BS ’70, Biological Sciences; BA ’72, Chemistry; MPA ’80): Former Mayor, Cupertino
Robert Lieber (BA ’79, Special Major): Former Mayor, Albany
Luis Molina (BA ’99, Liberal Studies): Mayor, Patterson
Andrew Moore (BS ’85, Computer Science): Former Mayor, Erie, Colorado
David Norman (MPA ’89): Former City Manager, City of Port Hueneme; Assistant City Manager, Camarillo
Beth Pollard (MPA ’91): Former City Manager, Albany
Karen Smith (MPA ’70): Former City Manager, Union City
Michael Sweeney (BA ’72, Political Science; MA ’74, Political Science): Former Mayor, Hayward
Ignacio Velazquez (MBA ’05): Mayor, Hollister
Allen Warren (BA ’89, Public Affairs and Administration; BA ’89, Political Science): Vice Mayor, Sacramento
Amy Worth (MS ’84, Counseling): Former Mayor, Orinda
William Zaner (MPA ’71): Former City Manager, Palo Alto