FREMONT -- If there is one issue on which all five mayoral candidates and six council candidates agree, it's that economic development is the medicine for Fremont's budget ills.

But some disagree over the tonic's recipe, as differing opinions over how and where to spur economic growth have made the city's two largest proposed developments a key election-year issue.

"If we don't get the economy going, none of the ideas we're talking about will happen," City Council candidate Vinnie Bacon said Friday at City Hall, where candidates met for an election forum.

Most council candidates at the forum said Fremont can bolster its tax revenue coffers by developing both transit-oriented plans: a 110-acre downtown project in the city center and an 850-acre parcel situated five miles south, around the Warm Springs BART station scheduled to open in 2015.

The Warm Springs plan near the Tesla factory on the city's southern edge still is at an early stage. Some candidates, such as Bacon, propose retaining its industrial jobs and uses. Still others want to mix commercial and research-and-development uses at the site, creating a regional destination that includes high-density residential neighborhoods that may offer restaurants and bars.

Meanwhile, council members last week unanimously approved the downtown plan, which calls for a pedestrian-friendly mix of high-density housing, office space, public parks and art, and retail near City Hall and the Fremont BART station.

Council incumbent Sue Chan and challengers Mark Wadley, John J. Dutra and Rick Jones support both plans, saying the pair of projects can provide a financial boost as long as they are sensibly planned.


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"We need destination points and revenue makers, yet we need to balance it with open space," Dutra said.

Chan said the downtown plan can create a vibrant city center while still benefiting merchants in the city's historic districts. "It's something that will put the there there in Fremont," she said.

But council candidate Rakesh Sharma strongly disagrees, saying the idea of developing both projects is not economically feasible.

"The downtown idea too expensive; it's not going to happen," he said.

For Sharma, the city's resources would be better spent on augmenting areas where some development has already started. He said the city instead should focus on the Warm Springs BART development, the Pacific Commons shopping center and Centerville, an original Fremont district that could use the venerable Centerville Theater as a springboard for other development.

Bacon, meanwhile, supports both projects but with major reservations. He wants only a few hundred housing units near Warm Springs BART, while some have called for a few thousand homes. And Bacon said the downtown plans are a "nice idea, but I think Centerville would be more a realistic, transit-oriented area with mixed uses."

Fremont's five mayoral candidates had similar differences of opinion.

Councilwoman Anu Natarajan -- Fremont's current vice mayor -- and Councilman Bill Harrison favor both plans.

Natarajan said she would use the future Warm Springs BART station to attract high-tech and innovative companies, while she sees "downtown as a place that comes alive after 5 p.m., a place for empty-nesters and youth to mix together."

Harrison said the downtown project often gets overshadowed by the Warm Springs one.

"I'm passionate about downtown," he said. "We can do both."

Mayoral candidate Linda Susoev, a frequent candidate for Fremont political office, said she has not decided. "I'd have to look at it and ask the community," Susoev said. "I say it should be up to the public."

Aziz Akbari, a college student running for mayor, said he supports the dual projects but would scale back the amount of housing for the downtown plan. "I definitely would like to see an increase in retail and entertainment, but I wouldn't put homes in downtown," he said. "We just don't have the resources."

Mayoral candidate Steve Cho, a former councilman, agreed that Fremont needs a destination point to attract shoppers and businesses and that a thriving downtown could be such a place. But he said the idea's obstacles have lingered for decades because of a lack of political leadership.

"Downtown -- boy, we've been talking about that for how many years?" Cho said. "We've done so much planning and talking. Where's the action?

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.