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On Apr. 10, Fremont Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan launched her campaign to become the nation’s first Indian American woman mayor.
Natarajan has served two terms on Fremont’s city council, and briefly served as Mayor Pro Tem following the Dec. 29, 2011 death of long-time Mayor Bob Wasserman.
“I’m excited about Fremont’s potential and want to be part of the effort of getting it where it needs to be for the future,” Natarajan told India-West April 6, before announcing her mayoral campaign.
The Bangalore native, who has lived in this suburban town for 16 years, said her top priority for her community is job creation, especially in the green technology and biotechnology sectors. The city council recently reduced business taxes for both those industries by 25 percent, and recently extended that reduction to the next five years.
Eighteen new biotech and greentech companies have set up operations in Fremont over the past three years, including Solaria, GreenVolt and Tesla, among others. The city has the highest amount of venture capital funding of any city in the East Bay, and also holds the title of “most creative city” for its large number of patents, according to Natarajan.
“Fremont has a really highly-educated workforce which attracts new and innovative businesses. The entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley is very much a part of Fremont,” she stated, adding that three local technical schools – Unitek, Ohlone, and DeVry University – are all focused on training for jobs in the biotech and greentech industries.
Fremont is also booming in the retail sector, said Natarajan, noting the success of the Pacific Commons Mall at the southern end of the city, which has produced $2.4 million in tax revenues. The sprawling mall has spawned a new Target, and a 16-screen movie theater will open there April 20.
Noting a more than $1 billion “retail leakage” to neighboring cities, Natarajan said the city council has been aggressive about bringing in high-end retail shops, which she believes residents in this area are looking for, creating additional opportunities for generating city revenue.
The urban planner and architect is also passionate about developing a pedestrian-friendly downtown, replete with restaurants, small shops and coffee houses, and clustering housing around transportation hubs, such as the Warm Springs BART extension, which is expected to be completed in late 2015.
In his “State of the City” address Mar. 30, Fremont Interim Mayor Gus Morrison said the township had survived its worst depression since the 1930s and has come out stronger. Morrison pointed out the city’s balanced budget, a consistent flow of revenue from property taxes, and a remodel of 10 Fremont fire stations.
But the city will have to reduce services to its citizens following a December 2011 California Supreme Court decision which effectively shut down redevelopment agencies across the state, leaving cities and towns with significant shortfalls in their budgets.
Natarajan said the city council has looked at city services under a microscope and already cut to the bone. But further cuts will be made by outsourcing landscaping services and perhaps joining forces with nearby Newark and Union City to provide safety services to the Tri-City area.
Lara York, a member of the Fremont Unified School District board, told India-West, “Anu embodies what Fremont is today and absolutely understands the needs of its residents.” York and Natarajan have worked together on a subcommittee of school board and city council members and – most significantly – have created better communication between the two entities, said York, adding that she was excited to see Natarajan running for mayor.
“Anu has always known that schools are important to the economic health of a community,” she said. “Our great schools are one of the reasons people move to Fremont and stay in Fremont,” she said.
At press time April 10, no other candidate had yet announced their intent to run for the Fremont mayor’s seat. But Natarajan is widely expected to face fellow City Councilmember Bill Harrison and former Fremont City Councilmember Steve Cho in the Nov. 6 election.