Working for a Cohesive Community

Article from The Tri-City Voice
Published June 2006

Following the announcement of Fremont city councilmember Dominic Dutra not to seek reelection in the November elections, TCV asked him to reflect on his service on the council and future plans.

TCV: What have been the major accomplishments during your service on the council?

Dutra: There have been three that stand out in my mind. One is economic development. When I say economic development, I do not only mean just the projects that have moved forward such as Auto Mall, Pacific Commons, Centerville and downtown but the cultural change at the city from the standpoint of economic development. I believe the city has made a 180 degree turn in terms of being very ‘business friendly.’

Number two, since the very beginning of my time on council, addressing the budget situation has been at the top of my list and third is the professional nature with which the council operates.

TCV: Will you leave a personal legacy with the council and city?

Dutra: I have looked at my term on council as a team effort. If I did anything, hopefully it has been an effort to bring disparate groups to work together; that is what it takes to make a city move forward. When I started on council, there was a big rift between some in the city, business community, historic districts and the chamber. It has always been my goal to try to bring these groups together through appropriate staff and cultural changes to facilitate outreach to these groups.

I am not the only one that worked on this, but that is where it all starts. If business and resident groups are not working effectively with the city then we cannot get anything accomplished since the focus is on differences. We have improved in this area and I feel I had at least some role in this.

I believe my role on the city council will be remembered as someone who always worked very hard to be prepared on council matters and that I am a person of integrity.

TCV: Do you consider your time off council as simply a hiatus or a permanent change? Are you disillusioned with council service?

Dutra: No, I am not disillusioned at all. I have told people this is the hardest, yet easiest decision I have ever made. I have loved my service on council and would like to continue but when weighing my priorities between some very important council decisions to be made in the future and my family – my wife Lisa with whom I just celebrated 20 years of marriage and two beautiful kids, Tricia and Gabriel – it is an easy decision. Life is a function of making decisions based on priorities with implications and consequences.

At this point, I don’t have any plans about reentering public service in the future. I will never say ‘never,’ but at this point, I have no such plans. God has graciously given me an opportunity to step back to appreciate my wife for everything she is and invest my time and life with my kids and, of course, my business.

TCV: When you leave city council, will you spend time on any city commissions or projects?

Dutra: I will be spending my time with my family and business. I think it would be counterproductive to come off council and get involved in something else at the city that quickly. I have at least a year or two to completely invest in my family and my business.

TCV: What do you see as the primary challenges for your successors?

Dutra: I think the biggest for all cities, not just Fremont, is to overcome the cynicism that seems to be inherent in the process. It has been said that while I am not sure how much can be accomplished by faith, one thing I know is that nothing can be done by doubt. Any leader must first look to address this cynicism by bringing credibility to the office and representing themselves as someone who is knowledgeable, works hard and a person of integrity. This can bring back people’s confidence in the leadership of the city. We cannot accomplish anything as just a city council; it will take a collaborative effort with the people.

The budget issue needs to be addressed. All the economic work being done will be for naught if we don’t have a safe, clean place for people to raise their families. From there, the city needs to concentrate on further economic development – downtown, Oakland A’s, expansion of the Auto Mall, Centerville, Irvington, etc. I am excited about the opportunity to pull money out of our transportation projects such as the Mission/I-880 interchange, to try to bring the $16M or so we need to do the Irvington project.

TCV: Will you be heavily involved in the Utility Tax campaign?

Dutra: I don’t know. I will see what develops; I would prefer the spokespeople to be citizens. I have been down that road before and sometimes it is not a smart thing to have a councilmember take the lead. I did my best in the last Utility Tax campaign. It is probably prudent this time to have other citizens take leadership roles.

TCV: Why is the council opposed to a special tax such as safety tax?

Dutra: Special taxes are incredibly hard to pass – you need 66 2/3 voter approval. Traditionally there is a large constituency that will vote “no” on a tax. It is not necessarily a healthy thing to allow a group of 32 percent to control the city. A vote of 50 percent is more representative of the city’s will.

TCV: Do you believe downtown planning is moving ahead at an acceptable pace?

Dutra: At a council meeting a couple of years ago, I made it clear that I had the sense that the developer was not moving forward as productively as they should. Since that point, I believe they have received enough council direction to move toward a development agreement with the city. This takes time – it is a very complex agreement – but once that is done, you will see progress. It is a big, complex development and market forces change over time adding to the complexity.

TCV: The Centerville Unified Project received only one construction bid. Since you are in this business, what do you think has happened?

Dutra: The costs of materials – concrete, copper, steel – have escalated at a phenomenal rate. This is not only due to the rebuilding from Katrina, but the expansion of third-world countries. The mixed use nature of the project also narrows the number of interested contractors. Developers are either residential builders or retail builders; there are not many who do mixed use. This is beginning to change now because mixed use is more prevalent. The risk inherent to a mixed use construction project is very high so, combined with the high cost of materials and the fact that these contractors are very busy the number of contractors interested in the project is diminished.

Hopefully in the next round, there will be more people competing. Materials will not become cheaper over time nor will construction be less complex, so what this says is the sooner the city gets into a deal, the better.

TCV: There is also an issue of trouble leasing the required retail space in the Centerville Market Place prior to construction. How do you see this problem?

Dutra: The leasing is the least of their problems. There is not a lot of good retail space available, so I don’t think that will pose a big problem. The real risk is delay and the costs associated with that.

I have communicated with our staff that we have to take a hard look at all pending construction projects and look at the contingency funds set aside to see if they accurately reflect changing costs. Otherwise, we will have the constant scenario where projects are coming back to the council with cost escalations when, in fact, they are simply reflecting market conditions. Whether the project is the swim facility, Centerville, grade separation, or whatever, this is what is happening in the construction industry right now. You can just anticipate significant cost increases. All these projects should be reviewed and updated so we don’t have this one-at-a-time situation occurring.

TCV: Any other comments you would like to make?

Dutra: I would close by saying that I love this city and looking forward to remaining here as a resident and business owner. I am hopeful that the community and city will move forward together to solve our important issues. Have faith in people whether they work in the city, on the city council, planning commission or not – it is so easy to question people’s abilities. We can get so much accomplished when people have faith in others to try to do the right thing.

The Tri-City Voice