FREMONT — The city's chances of luring the Oakland A's may be long gone, but members of a tech-savvy citizens group that rose to fight the team's move to Fremont say they have no plans to lay down their laptops.
Fueled by both Internet acumen and NIMBY ("Not in my backyard") rage, the Fremont Citizens Network rose out of the Weibel/Mission neighborhood late last year to play a major role in killing a proposed major league ballpark that would have been near many of its members' homes.
In less than two months, the group claimed nearly 1,000 members, organized protests that numbered into the hundreds, and butted heads with local politicians.
Mayor Bob Wasserman referred to group members as "a mob." But his predecessor, Gus Morrison, praised their research, which questioned the benefit of bringing the A's to town.
"These guys did a heck of a job," he said.
If history is any guide, the Fremont Citizens Network soon may disappear, just like groups that formed to stop development in the hills and near Coyote Hills Regional Park.
But group leaders, many of whom had never stepped foot inside City Hall until a few months ago, say they aren't going away.
"We hope that we can find a useful role," said Kathy McDonald, who recently was elected the group's president.
The group envisions its Web site, www.fremontcitizensnetwork.org, as an electronic town hall where
The citizens network now has about 1,500 people on its e-mail list and gets about 20 people to its meetings. But to be a citywide force, leaders said, it must expand its ranks into the northern half of Fremont, where only about 30 percent of its members reside.
The group plans to hold meetings across town to learn about issues, said Deepak Alur, an engineering executive who helped start the group.
It also is working to incorporate itself as a nonprofit that would be able to accept donations, but also take stands on political issues.
"I don't think that the level of energy we had two months ago can be sustained," Alur said. "I have a family and a full-time job that's crazy, but we just need sensible people who can engage with the city to be more transparent."
The citizens network formed late last year when it became evident that the A's were abandoning their original plans for a ballpark village near the Pacific Commons shopping center in favor of the future Warm Springs BART site, just across Interstate 680 from the Weibel neighborhood.
The new plan outraged Weibel residents, many of whom had voted for Wasserman only a few weeks earlier, thinking that the stadium he backed wouldn't be so close to their homes.
"They never had one town hall meeting telling anyone what the plan was," Alur said. "They unilaterally tried to push it down everyone's throat."
City leaders have shrugged off the accusations, arguing that members weren't familiar with the process that required a never-completed environmental review of the project.
"What the hell do we do that isn't transparent?" said Wasserman, who found himself on the receiving end of personal attacks and demands for a recall election. "We don't have secret meetings. We can't do anything that's not on an agenda and open to public debate. If that's not transparent, I don't know what is."
The network also took aim at the A's.
While team official Keith Wolff was meeting with South Fremont residents about the ballpark, the citizens network started holding meetings of its own, armed with research that cast doubt on whether the stadium would be an economic boon for Fremont.
The group found that public nuisance complaints and crime around AT&T Park in San Francisco spiked during baseball season. It also presented data that entertainment spending didn't go down in major league cities during the 1994 baseball strike.
"I thought I knew as much about the A's proposal as anyone," Morrison said. "But I learned things when I sat through their presentation."
Politically active citizen groups have come and gone quickly in Fremont, where many residents are too busy working and raising children to keep close tabs on City Hall.
A coalition to stop hillside development didn't survive its victory in the 1980s, and a group that fought to preserve open space near Coyote Hills went silent after its ballot initiative was defeated.
The citizens network faces some significant hurdles.
Without the A's, it lacks a central focus for its members, who include development skeptics and anti-tax fiscal conservatives. Also, it still is seen in some quarters as representing a single neighborhood that is wealthier than the city as a whole.
McDonald said the group doesn't plan to endorse candidates or put out position papers on every issue facing the city. "We don't want to force our opinions down people's throats," she said. "I don't think that people want to be told what to do."
Potential issues for the group to research, McDonald said, include school funding cuts, teacher contracts, crime and development.
Charlotte Allen, a veteran of other Fremont citizen groups, sees great promise in the citizens network. "It's got better organization," she said. "It's a much more high-tech, much more of an Internet-based organization. The others were more personal politics."
Allen said she hasn't attended any citizens network meetings since the A's gave up on Fremont, but still thought the group could play a key role in city affairs.
"I think it will continue in a low-key way until something comes up in Fremont," she said. "Then it will be easy to activate again."
Reach Mathew Artz at 510-353-7002.