- FREMONT, Calif., United States
Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Anu Natarajan kicked off her campaign July 27 to claim this city’s mayoral seat, outlining her vision for creating a healthy, creative community replete with jobs in the information and biotechnology sectors.
The Bangalore native, who has lived in Fremont for 16 years, announced her mayoral bid April 10 (I-W, April 12) and will face off this fall against fellow city councilmember Bill Harrison and former city councilman Steve Cho. Cho ran for mayor in 2008 but lost to incumbent Bob Wasserman, who died late last year. Natarajan briefly held the mayoral seat after Wasserman died, until Mayor Gus Morrison was appointed by the city council.
If elected Nov. 6, Natarajan will become Fremont’s first female mayor and the nation’s first Indian American woman mayor. A large assortment of local luminaries graced her kickoff, held at the home of Fremont’s first mayor, John Stevenson.
The prospective mayor said her number one priority was to attract new jobs to the city. “I want Fremont to be the leader in the (Silicon Valley) region as we attract jobs from around the world,” Natarajan stated, adding that she hoped to create incubators, a novel idea where small start-ups and individuals use tiny office spaces with the aim of sharing creative ideas to launch new businesses.
The city was floored in 2010 when automakers GM and Toyota closed the NUMMI plant, at the south-end of Fremont, leaving an estimated 4,700 residents out of work. A month later, electric car manufacturer Tesla announced that it had bought 55 percent of the old NUMMI plant from GM; the company rolled out its first “Model S” from its Fremont plant in June.
Fremont city council member Dominic Dutra credited Natarajan with the GM/Tesla transaction. “It is no coincidence we have Tesla in our city,” he said, characterizing his vice mayor as a combination of “passion infused with integrity.”
GM had sold the remaining 160 acres around its old plant to Union Pacific, who wanted to build a rail yard there, a move opposed by the city council. Natarajan led a team who met with Union Pacific’s chief executives and outlined the city’s vision of creating a technology hub in the vacant space. Union Pacific agreed and came on board, according to Natarajan.
Eighteen new biotech and green tech 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, Natarajan told India-West in an earlier interview.
The urban planner, who serves as a program director for the American Leadership Forum at its Silicon Valley chapter, said she wants the city to expand its parks and would also include a cricket field, which got a cheer from the audience, including from her young daughter Pranali. Natarajan noted that work on a new downtown had already started that envisioned a pedestrian-friendly walkway from two major arteries replete with restaurants and retail outlets.
Natarajan also wants to create diversified housing, including smaller, eco-friendly spaces. “Fremont should be a place our kids will want to come back to,” she said.