MARTINEZ -- In Martinez, where five candidates are vying for two City Council seats, voters will elect at least one new council member in November to replace incumbent Janet Kennedy, who is stepping down.
We asked incumbent Mark Ross and challengers Michael Alford, Anamarie Avila Farias, Arsenio Escudero and Dylan Radke to answer six questions about the marina, the Alhambra Valley annexation and other issues. Despite several requests, Alford did not respond by deadline.
Q: Martinez will spend more than $500,000 to dredge part of the marina this fall, but city leaders acknowledge this is a band-aid, not a solution to the ongoing problems with siltation. Also, it appears unlikely the state will give the city more money for the long-term fixes. Is it time the city gives up and turns the marina back over to the state? If not, what are your specific ideas for saving the marina?
Avila Farias: Martinez should not give up on the marina; it is an asset that few communities in California enjoy. However, the city must develop a financially feasible and sustainable plan that can be implemented. This plan must address the $ 4.5 million owed to the state. The city needs to work with the state to restructure its loans because no viable plan can be implemented until the loan situation is addressed. The city needs to update the marina master plan to develop more revenue opportunities on the land side of the marina property that could result in the investment needed to rebuild the marina and create sustainable revenue streams.
Escudero: It is out of the question to hand over the marina to the state. We have a gem in our city and we have done very little to cultivate and nurture it, and I am sure the state would appreciate taking the amazing landmark that we have so that they can use it for their own purposes. I think the state has already taken enough, including our redevelopment funding. What I plan is to circumvent the state and to request (U.S. Department of Transportation) TIGER funding from the federal government in order to create a ferry/commercial port at our marina.
Radke: I do not support giving up on the marina yet. A marina revitalization plan needs to be realistic, affordable and long term. It should also not impact the general fund. The city should dredge with the $500,000 from Shell, create a continual maintenance dredge program and hold community forums to discuss what, if any, land side development may help finance a long-term reconstruction project.
Ross: Giving the marina "back" to the state is not an option I would favor. The current plan, favored by the state, is to reduce the scope of restoration of the marina to a more sustainable plan. In this version, the city maintains access to the Carquinez Strait by keeping the fairway and mouth of the marina open and dredged. The number of berths are reduced to two dock fingers, with the lucrative implementation of "dry-stack" storage on land. In addition, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, a possible new restaurant will all help the marina create not just revenue, but the recreational jewel we want. This allows for a more viable business plan, and opens the door to the loan modifications we need for long-term improvements and maintenance to the marina.
Q: What is the most pressing issue facing Martinez in the coming year and what would you do to address it if you are elected?
Avila Farias: As a resident south of Highway 4, the most pressing issue I see facing the city in the coming year is maintaining our quality of life and the quality of our city services through this slow economic recovery. This can be achieved by delivering Measure H projects on-time and on-budget, stimulating our economic development, providing good code enforcement and ensuring that our public safety remains at the highest levels.
Escudero: The economy. It is evident that current leadership places more emphasis on special interests rather than the needs of Martinez. The emphasis should be on advertising our town and hiring an economic development director so we can stimulate our economy.
Radke: Making sure Martinez maintains a balanced budget, while still being able to support essential services like police and fire protection. This can be done by controlling costs and encouraging economic development.
Ross: The relocation of the courts from Walnut Creek and elsewhere will bring hundreds of cars to downtown Martinez. If re-elected, I will continue my outreach to the courts to coordinate and manage the potential daily deluge of hundreds of more cars to the downtown.
Q: Since Martinez has to pay the lease on the Campbell Theatre for two more years, what should the city do with the space?
Avila Farias: The city needs to explore opportunities to re-lease the Campbell Theatre to another entity, if the city is unable to negotiate an early release from the lease. The space could be utilized for a variety of arts aside from theater. The city should attempt to find a tenant that could pay rent which would result in rental income for the city.
Escudero: I plan to make the theater into a visitor and advertising center, the whole purpose being to show our city off to visitors and to create different types of media that would be distributed to the rest of our county and beyond about our great city.
Radke: Now that the Willows has vacated, the city should send out request for proposals to venue operators to get a new company to manage productions.
Ross: The Campbell Theatre has been the subject of great attention since its availability came about from the troubles of the Willows Theatre. Several potential theatrical groups, musical, and other artistic groups have expressed interest. And they have even suggested paying rent or fees for the use of this great theater space.
Q: The Local Agency Formation Commission approved the city's proposal to annex part of the Alhambra Valley despite strong opposition from residents. The city drew the boundaries of the annexation area to minimize the possibility that residents can force a vote on the plan. Do you believe this is the right approach? Should Martinez seek to annex the entire valley and allow all the residents to vote?
Avila Farias: I understand why the city took the approach that they did, as it was an expedient path to enforcing annexation agreements. There is long-standing opposition by many residents in the valley to the prospect of incorporation; and the likelihood of the city prevailing in a valley-wide annexation effort is probably negligible at best. Nevertheless, creating patchwork communities with arbitrary boundaries does not seem reasonable either, and I support the right of people to vote on these critical matters of community identity.
Escudero: This is completely undemocratic and I would fight the annexation from day one. It is obvious that our current leaders have been bought off by real estate special interests because several independent studies have already stated that the annexation will create a fiscal burden on the city. Vote or no vote, the annexation is wrong for our city.
Radke: I do not support the annexation of the Alhambra Valley because annexation of the proposed area will result in a negative impact on the city's budget, and a substantial number of people in the area to be annexed will not be able to vote on the annexation. To the extent that the city is interested in annexing the Alhambra Valley, it should include all the residential areas in the valley and allow all residents in the area to vote.
Ross: I strongly believe the whole valley should vote on annexation. As someone with the great luck to have been raised in the valley, I view the area as part of Martinez; but it is the opinion of all those folks today that matters. The current plan, if successful, still leaves an odd governance in play for police and other public services due to the gerrymandered boundaries.
Q: Three years after the council adopted an ordinance requiring that owners of unreinforced masonry buildings seismically retrofit their properties by 2015, only five of 27 buildings have been completed, creating a potentially dangerous situation. Now, the council is exploring creating a nonprofit economic development corporation that could use public and private funds for loans to business and property owners, as well as more traditional marketing activities. Do you support this idea? Are there other incentives the city can provide property owners to help them retrofit their buildings?
Avila Farias: This city needs to create a loan program that is administered by the city of Martinez for property owners of unreinforced masonry buildings. The financing for the program should be created through public and private partnerships. This city should create a partnership with local community banks that would be interested in structuring an affordable loan program that would make retrofitting buildings financially feasible for property owners. I do not support the establishment of a nonprofit economic development corporation that would manage this program because of the financial sensitivities.
Escudero: I believe that we should hold the landlord accountable not only for the retrofitting but also for the refitting of the facades of our old buildings. I would pass an ordinance that makes this mandatory. If the landlords cannot meet their obligations, then we should use eminent domain and seize control of the property and use general funds to retrofit the property and to fix the facades of the old buildings so that we emphasize the quaintness of our city.
Radke: I support the continued investigation regarding the feasibility of creating an economic development corporation. Before I could support the creation of the corporation, I would need to know what the city's investment would be and what the city's and/or the corporation's responsibility would be in the event of a default on a loan.
Ross: The economic development corporation plan could be a valuable tool for the city to use in gaining compliance from the owners that have yet to reinforce their buildings. Many of the buildings owned by the traditional downtown interests have already been retrofitted. The majority of the buildings that remain noncompliant are in the hands of owners that are not well-resourced.
Q: The installation of outdoor dining platforms has breathed new life into the downtown, new restaurants have opened and 630 Court Street finally will be developed. What more can the city do to draw businesses and visitors downtown?
Avila Farias: Until the unreinforced masonry program along with various economic development tools for small business owners are created, the long-term vitality of our downtown is not sustainable. A sustainable and viable plan needs to be developed which factors in all the economic development elements needed to create a vibrant and sustainable downtown. In addition, the city needs to hire an economic development director whose job is to focus exclusively on these issues.
Escudero: Create an advertising campaign that shows off our unique location by focusing on our history, family-oriented atmosphere, our marina, and our kind people. If we develop the transportation center and ferry, this will also be a boon for our city.
Radke: The city can do a better job promoting some of the exceptional community assets that the city has to offer. We now boast a fantastic new swimming pool, rebuilt parks, a remodeled library, indoor sports facilities, shoreline and ridgeline trails, and open space. We also have a thriving art community and music scene. These types of activities can be a regional draw to bring people into town.
Ross: The downtown restaurants are experiencing a renaissance in business with the outdoor dining platforms. I pushed for a more reasonable charge to these business owners so as to make these platforms more popular, and economically justifiable. The buildings at 610 and 630 Court St. will soon add to the mini-boom downtown, as will the new hardware store. The city should continue its inventive and diligent use of the infrastructure to set the table for success.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.