Mark Green needs a job.
After 19 years as mayor, Green, 59, will be termed out following tonight’s City Council meeting, where he will pass the torch to mayor-elect Carol Dutra-Vernaci.
Union City’s third elected mayor and the longest serving mayor in the city’s 53-year history, Green has played a critical role in the city’s evolution. What were gladiola fields when he moved to Union City from Peoria, Ill. in the 70s are now commercial centers. What were toxic fields, now a bustling transit-oriented community.
Patch recently sat down with the hard-lined leader and looked back at Union City’s transformation, his career — the proud moments and the regrets — what still needs to be done, and where he’s headed.
How has Union City changed since you first moved here?
It’s been a big transformation. I moved to Union City in 1976. The city was much smaller. At that time, it was probably around 25,000. Now we’re nearly triple that size.
What changes have you seen since you became mayor in 1993?
In terms of the physical transformation, you’ll have to go west to east.
One of the things we did on the southwestern part of town was annex land that wasn’t part of Union City. We did that in the late 90s. The land off of Lowry Road west of the railroad tracks — that was actually the City of Fremont at the time. We worked out an arrangement where we annexed where right now Accinelli Park is, the Talavera development and also where Eastin School is, as well as the fire station down by the bridge. All that was not part of Union City when I first became mayor. We ended up getting a school, a fire station and parks out of it. In addition, much improved housing stock in both of those locations. Also, because of the deal we worked with the developer, we were able to get another $2 million to finish off the Sports Center. Of course, that came later but it all came down to us having that land in our city boundary. That whole southwestern area of town up to the Sports Center, all of that was based on the annexation.
You also see transformation up here on Union City Boulevard. That was a much different look … We didn’t have Sea Breeze Park. That whole development came in while I was mayor.
And I mention the Sports Center. I go there several times a week myself. A lot of people think it’s is the greatest thing that happened to Union City because it provides a great location for people to keep healthy…
Of course the whole Union Landing development switched over from a hodgepodge of different types of businesses. We were able to get for the first time a true shopping center, I don’t mean just a strip mall, but a true shopping center, which we never had access to without having to go outside the city limits.
Going on the other side of the freeway, I think we made a great transformation in helping the Tropics Mobile Home Park become more stable in their rent situation. It really stabilized the whole Tropics and the anxiety of the residents…
Our first major expenditure of redevelopment dollars was on E Street, taking a lot of rundown dilapidated housing and questionable businesses and transforming that into single-family detached housing, which really started to transform the whole social aspect of that part of town … It was a huge impact in lowering crime. That started a process where we started improving Decoto in spots here and there.
On the southern side of Decoto Road of course we had the entire Pacific States Steel saga, the PG&E site, transforming all those gladiola fields off of Mission into a real tax increment producer for the city as a redevelopment agency … It’s still not a finished product but compared to what it was in 1993 when I took office, it has been dramatic. Hopefully the city can keep plugging away at that.
What would you say is your greatest contributions to Union City?
It’s tough to single one thing out. I think it all ties together. It’s more of a concept, an image of how this city has improved. It’s really how people perceive the city, how the assessed value goes up, how it helps bring in quality families — all that helps feed each other.
Do you have any regrets looking back?
Oh yeah. This is where the next council members have to follow through.
The East-West Connector hasn’t been finished yet — the road from Mission Boulevard ideally to Paseo Padre Parkway. Some of that had to do with the City of Fremont and their obstinance and reluctance to see anything built in that area. We finally worked out a deal and it took us a long time to do that. You can see where the road should go, it’s just a matter of pounding that funding through.
Two: getting Dumbarton Rail from Union City to Redwood City. That’s why this last measure (Measure B1) in our own county failing is a heartbreaker in that, among other reasons, if we had had that money it would have tipped the see-saw in our favor of having money allocated to see that come into fruition … We need to get that connection there. That’s going to be a huge plus for us down the road. It isn’t just this station but every station up and down the line. When we get into San Jose, every station is going to increase in value. It won’t be just a one-way ticket. For somebody wanting to live in that part of Union City, you could work in Santa Clara County, San Mateo County, San Francisco County or northern Alameda County. It doesn’t make a difference. You get to all places. No driving. Boom, you’re gone!
On the west side of town, it’s smaller things … Old Alvarado is under-actualized. There’s more potential here than is being tapped. I think the city can do a few things: Cul-de-saccing Horner, getting some signage in here announcing that this is a place, getting some sidewalks and curbs on Horner Street, plan and facilitate a merchant’s associate. We’ve been jump-starting some of these ideas recently, but they need to be followed through.
And of course, we need an aquatic center somewhere in town. That’s the thing that’s pissed me off the most over the last two years, which was losing that vote. When you have the opportunity to go big, you’ve gotta take it. Here we had the opportunity to do something big and actually get an aquatic center owned by the city and to get it done. “No, we want to spend money on new urinals at name-your-favorite-park.” That’ll be memorable, you know, put your nameplate above each urinal. Yeah, that’s good. Restripe a few courts here or there. They (the city council) had a chance to do something powerful, something big, something lasting, something healthy for the community and they blew it.
You’ve had this position for nearly 20 years, the leader of Union City. And now you have to give it up. How does it feel? Is it hard to let go?
In many ways, yeah, it is. I really think it’s the combination of having been there and enjoying it and knowing that there’s a number of things that I still think need to be done. I realize there are ways to affect public policy without being in public office but the reality of it is it’s still the best way — to be there. So, yeah, I’ll miss it.
What will you miss most?
The meetings. That’s where the action is. The main reason that I wanted to be in office — and it should be everybody’s reason, in my opinion — is the power. You should be wanting to be there for the power. You are the ones casting votes. It isn’t the staff making the vote, it isn’t the reporters, it isn’t the citizens coming before us, it isn’t the developers — it’s you. You should be wanting to be in office so you can change something. The parties, the receptions, the grand openings, the ribbon cuttings — all that is part of the job, but it’s secondary. It’s really the meetings. That’s where the game is.
What’s next for you? You tried for supervisor and assembly. Are you going to have a run at any public positions in the future?
You never say never on the political side of things. Any of those seats are still two years away. In the meantime, I’m looking for a job. Politically, I wouldn’t say that I have anything specifically in mind, nor am I excluding anything for that matter.
I’d like to stay involved at some level in the government and political side of things, whether working for an advocacy group, working for an agency, working as a staff member for some other politician, working on the private side of housing and transportation, government affairs — all those spots have an appeal to me. There’s a number of things out there.
I’m not financially in a position where I can throw my hands up and say, “That’s it.” Nor mentally do I feel like I’m out of gas. I feel like I’ve got all kinds of gas in the tank.