We asked her a few questions to see what she prioritize if appointed to the Newark Planning Commission. Here is an unedited transcript of the Q & A:
Patch: What inspired you to apply to join the Planning Commission?
Nikzat: My family and I have lived in Newark and enjoyed this community for 14 years. Now that my children are grown, I have more time to devote to interests beyond those which are family-oriented and one of those interests is this community we call home. To my way of thinking, planning and development set the character for any community; creating an identity, making it welcoming, giving it a sense of place. The General Plan Update describes a Newark filled with challenges and promise. This is an exciting time to work toward the community’s vision of Newark and I’d like to be a part of that.
Have you read the new General Plan update?
What are the issues with the proposed residential development in the Dumbarton TOD area?
The Dumbarton Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a project planned to eventually include housing, retail, and office space in close proximity to the proposed site for a Dumbarton Rail station. Dumbarton Rail is a regional goal that would connect the East Bay to the Peninsula through passenger rail service across the bay; providing a new alternative for commuters and helping the region adhere to the greenhouse gas reduction targets of California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act. I’ve read the comments to the draft EIR and news reports of public comments at the Planning Commission meeting. Basically, it seems the majority of concerns are about possibilities of flooding, potential risks to groundwater, possible impacts to sensitive habitats and species, the project’s density, whether it is a suitable location for housing or a transit station, lack of open space, increases to traffic, and traffic safety. These concerns were raised and addressed.
It’s always challenging to weigh the environmental pros and cons of development, but I support this project because it can bring vitality to the area and is smart infill growth for Newark. It will provide jobs and housing, encourage commuters to stay out of their cars, and is less harmful to the environment than sprawl.
What's your take on Senator Corbett's "Clean Communities" bill?
It’s an interesting question. On its face, Senator Corbett’s bill could be helpful in encouraging smart growth and residential infill, which in turn, should increase pedestrian access, lessen automobile trips and protect pristine undeveloped land from sprawl. I agree that smart growth should be encouraged but I also am concerned about projects that could have a real impact on the environment. What isn’t clear to me is if the exemption proposed in her bill would be subject to the same exceptions of CEQA’s categorical exemptions, including when reasonable possibility of a significant effect on the environment exists due to unusual circumstances. If so, I would be more strongly supportive of her bill.
What are your thoughts on New Park Mall and the upcoming Master Plan?
I must admit to some skepticism. I think most Newark residents are frustrated by the mall and disappointed by the lack of progress over the last seven or eight years. Personally, I’d much rather go to a mall in my own community and get a significant amount of my shopping done in one location than shop at Pacific Commons where stores are separated by streets and the area is not pedestrian friendly. Yet I shop there because it houses the stores I want with the merchandise I seek and offers a wide variety of dining choices.
The Master Plan for the mall is ambitious so I imagine it would be undertaken in phases. The Plan includes residential and office buildings, as well as other amenities. I like that the plan could provide Newark with a badly needed sense of place. With the influx of people from new development, perhaps NewPark Mall will be reinvigorated and able to bring in the retailers and restaurants consumers would like to patronize. Maybe this will provide the necessary boost to allow progress on future phases.
Talk to me about increasing Newark’s population.
Newark’s population is bound to increase as the economy in the region continues to recover.
According to the General Plan, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) projects the number of housing units to grow by 27 percent between 2010 and 2040. An analysis prepared for the General Plan anticipates even more growth, projecting a 46 percent increase in housing units by 2035 and resulting in a citywide population of roughly 60,000 or about a 40% increase over today’s population. The General Plan points out that employment is projected to increase at the same rate as housing but surrounding communities are also planning for large growth in employment. The City will need to plan carefully. Such an influx over just 21 years could stress Newark’s infrastructure and roadways. These increases would also have a significant impact on traffic and housing availability and affordability, as well as increase the need for schooling, public safety, health care, and transit. This will present a challenge for City leaders and City coffers.
Do you think Newark needs to be more bicyclist and pedestrian friendly?
Absolutely, and I think the General Plan recognizes and includes specific goals for promoting bicycling and walking. Most of the city was built out at a time when the automobile was the preferred mode of transportation. Today, as a community concerned with public health, the health of our environment, and traffic congestion, increasing opportunities to travel by bicycle or by foot makes sense and is in keeping with quality of life and smart growth goals. The City Council also recognizes this. In March, 2013, the Council adopted a Complete Streets concept so that roads will be planned to accommodate multiple modes of travel, including pedestrians and bicyclists.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
Like many other people, I put myself through college. At the time, I could not afford to continue to graduate school. Once my children were in high school, I realized a lifelong dream by returning to school and earning my master’s degree.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I enjoy public services. I worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for many years, initiating their Brownfields program in the San Francisco region. I also worked for the City of Newark’s Recreation and Community Services Department from 2005 – 2010. I now work for the City of Palo Alto’s Planning and Community Environment Department.
Mayor Alan Nagy will make the final decision about who gets the open seat on the commission.
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