Imagine there's no Newark.
It's easy if you try. No Fremont to surround it; kiss Union City goodbye.
It may seem far-fetched, but former Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison is trumpeting a proposal that would disband the city he led for longer than anybody else.
With all three of the Tri-City area cities laying off workers and cutting services, Morrison says it's time to consider consolidation. A single city would save on administrative costs by having only one city manager, police chief, and public works director, among other positions.
"If you cut two managers, you're cutting about $500,000 to $600,000 (a year)," Morrison said. "That's four or five cops on the street."
The new city — Morrison jokingly calls it Econotopia because of the economy's role in forging it — would be home to about 331,000 residents, making it larger than Pittsburgh, Pa.
It still would have fewer people than Oakland, but it would cover nearly twice as many square miles, have higher assessed property values and certainly carry additional political clout throughout the region, Morrison said.
"There's a lot of opportunities, but it takes some boldness and some courage," he said.
Morrison, who drafted the proposal during a long flight, last week e-mailed it to city council members and managers of all three cities.
He's asking them to put an advisory vote on the November ballot. If a majority of the voters in each of the three cities supports it, the cities then could draft a charter for the new city and put it to a vote.
Asking politicians to run with a proposal that could put them out of a job and relegate their cities to the dust bin of history could make it a long shot.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that the plan is coming from a former Fremont mayor, and, with a population of 213,000, Fremont dwarfs its immediate neighbors.
"The fear is that there would be Fremont domination," said Newark Mayor Dave Smith, who opposes the proposal.
Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman also said he opposes consolidation. However, Fremont Councilwoman Anu Natarajan and Newark Councilwoman Ana Apodaca said they were open to studying it.
Money was at the heart of the formation of the three distinct cities in southern Alameda County, and money — or lack of it — would be the driving force to unite them.
When Newark incorporated in 1955 rather than join Fremont, which incorporated in 1956, it envisioned itself as a center of industry, which at that time usually guaranteed strong tax receipts and good schools. Likewise, Union City incorporated in 1959 to prevent Hayward from annexing its industrial areas.
The three cities fared just fine separately, but Morrison says their recent struggles won't go away because of voter-approved Proposition 13 and local resistance to major tax hikes. "We ran out of money," he said. "It just costs more to do things, and revenue keeps dropping."
Newark has struggled the most.
During the past three years, it has had to shed about a quarter of its workforce and make the remaining employees take pay cuts. It's closing its senior center today and is in negotiations to contract out its fire department services to Alameda County.
While Morrison hasn't analyzed how much money could be saved by consolidating the cities, he estimated that they would save 60 percent on administrative costs alone.
Morrison envisions a city with a strong mayor and nine to 11 elected council members representing districts of about 20,000 registered voters. He also wants to merge the water and sewer districts that serve the three cities, but would not combine the school districts.
Of course, consolidation would engender a host of new problems: Where to put City Hall? Which managers should stay? Whether or not to allow fireworks?
Also, the past 50 years haven't always been blissful when it comes to intercity relations. Fremont and Union City have fought over road and train projects, and their experiment a decade ago with a unified fire department ended bitterly.
Union City Councilman Richard Valle noted some of those battles before saying he opposed consolidation. "Union City has created a unique identity and those of us who live here appreciate that uniqueness and "... think it's worth keeping," he said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and State Department of Finance