City Manager Rob Braulik working ‘full steam ahead’ for City of Martinez

MARTINEZ, Calif. – He may be new to the city, but he’s no stranger to challenges facing Martinez. A mere four months on the job and new City Manager Rob Braulik is already working his way through numerous projects that could affect the city for years to come.

New City Manager Rob Braulik, during a recent meeting of the Martinez City Council. (Martinez Tribune)
New City Manager Rob Braulik, during a recent meeting of the Martinez City Council. (Martinez Tribune)

Braulik, selected from a pool of 40 candidates after an extensive recruitment process, began his career with the City of Martinez on April 6. The former manager of Ross, California, Braulik has held management positions in Palo Alto, Fairfield and Rocklin, and has a B.A. in Political Science from California State University-Fullerton, a masters degree in Public Policy from Rutgers, and an MBA from New Hampshire College. He’s also highly decorated in the field of city leadership, having been awarded the John H. Nail Award by the League of California Cities, and having completed the International City/County Management Association Senior Leadership Program, the Senior Executive Institute at the University of Virginia, and Harvard University Kennedy School of Government programs.

Braulik recently sat down with the Martinez Tribune to tell us about some of the projects he’s working on, and how he plans to achieve the goals he and the City have set thus far, during his short tenure in Martinez.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

In layman’s terms, what does a city manager do on a daily basis?
If you liken it to a private sector job, I’m the Chief Executive Officer of the City. So my job is to report to the mayor and the four other council members – they’re my “board of directors.” Those are my bosses and they set forth key policies and priorities of the city. My job is to make sure those things get done, as best I can, with the resource allocations that we have and the staff that we have.

What are some of the things you’ve accomplished during your time as City Manager for Martinez?
We just finished getting the budget adopted, but I have to give credit to the staff because they started the budget long before I got here. They were already down the road in getting it prepared. I actually have to give a lot of credit to the Assistant City Manager, Alan Shear, and Finance Manager Cathy Spinella. There’s a lot of staff that work on the budget, and they kind of kept it going.

But we just finished getting the budget adopted, and it includes the operating budget and the capitol budget. So now that we have those dollars allocated, we can move forward.

One of the things we’re working on now is redoing the Amtrak Station. There’s a lot of deferred maintenance on that building, so we’re going to hopefully start that project this summer and have the entire exterior repainted and retrofit some of the spaces on the inside to bring it up to current quality standards.

We’re also designing a new soccer field in the city, and the plan is to redo the soccer field with a synthetic field – it’s always been a turf field.

We’re working on implementing the final design of Waterfront Park … a lot of leftover Measure H projects.

We’re going to be doing a major seismic upgrade of the water treatment plant, and about $2 million of road-related pavement projects in the next 12 months, between July and June of next year, which is a lot of projects. That’s a big priority to the residents. They really want to see that because there’s a lot of deferred maintenance. It’s not just in Martinez, by the way. Every city has a lot of issues with their streets. We don’t get enough money from gas taxes to pay for the annual maintenance that’s needed, but we’re going to be putting money into that.

We’re implementing the drought management requirement that the governor signed. By the end of the summer, residents have to keep their usage of water below 200 gallons a day, based on their 2013 water usage. That’s a big issue, obviously, and we’re already working to get more information out to residents about that.

One of the interesting things, I think, that we’re working on since I got here is implementing better use of technology. I really believe in using technology in better ways to provide information to residents, and also to enable them to get services when they want to get services, not necessarily when City Hall is open. So we got approved in the budget a two-phase project to implement mobile applications in the city where someone can use their smart phone … if they see a pothole, they can take a picture of it and it’ll automatically come into our system as a work order – from their smart phone. We don’t have that capability right now, but other cities do have that capability, so we’re working toward implementing that.

I think the overall design of our website looks good, but for the last several years the information has just been loaded and loaded and loaded, and not necessarily coordinated, so now we’ve formed an internal website team to regularly look at the website and we’re upgrading the regular information that we’re providing there.

I said to the staff, “Most of you have been on Amazon’s website, so you know how easy it is to use as a consumer. I want our website to be as easy to use, for residents and businesses, as Amazon.

We’re also looking at automating our performance review system.

We’re going to be working on a longterm financial plan for the city going out five years. Right now what we have is a two-year budget, which is great, but we’re going to go out to five years because that’ll help us. It’ll give us a better idea of where our city’s fiscal position is going to be, not just in the next two years but down the road, so that we can do better planning in advance. Right now we’re not in a recession, but we all know we will be in a recession again – it’s just the way the economy works. Hopefully the up-tick will be a long time, as long as possible, but sometime, it’s going to go the other direction, so by doing a long term financial forecast, that will help us plan for the next possible downturn.

Another big focus is we’re trying to revitalize the city, so we’re working on a variety of initiatives to do that – one of the things is we’re providing much more current information for businesses and what businesses use for their location. Since I got here we’ve updated our community and demographic information, so it’s very current. We uploaded to the website a community report card to show how the city is performing in various measures. We also created a one-page FAQ about what the advantages are of being in Martinez versus other places.

I’ve also been talking with various property owners this side of town (downtown). I’ve encouraged all of them to look at putting housing in the second and third floors of some of these older buildings, either rental housing or for-sale housing. And this isn’t rocket science, this isn’t something that I came up with, it’s just fundamentals of economic development, that in an older city like Martinez, this is what you need. There are some very nice houses in the area and you can tell people take pride in their houses. But the challenge is that the housing stock, not all of it, but a good portion of it, is low density housing – single family homes – and what we need more of in the downtown is people living in the second, third, fourth floors of these buildings, all while keeping the first floor retail. People can live in the space, walk downstairs, walk to the coffee place. They can walk to the sports/fitness place, or walk to a restaurant. And if we get enough of that type of housing downtown, we’ll get those other kinds of economic development in the area.

We have an owner, a property owner here that owns that vacant lot just a couple blocks north [of Ward Street] and it was approved right before the recession hit for 12 units of housing. So I talked to the property owner three times since I’ve been here to say, “Hey, come in, we want you to build it, so build it, you know?”

And then we’re having some inspections with the county with some of their properties that they want to work on. There are two old houses they have over here that are boarded up, so they’re looking to take those boarded up houses and clear and clean that up … maybe look at putting housing opportunities or office building opportunities over there.

So economic development is obviously what we’re looking for and want to focus on.

We’re updating our General Plan. It’s a big, big thing we’re working on right now. We have one of the oldest general plans out there. Our target goal is to get the General Plan ready for the council’s review by January. I’ve made that, in terms of planning, a huge priority for us, and it’s the City Manager’s duty to make sure we hit that target date. I meet weekly with staff about that, to hit that target date. That’s a big focus of ours, to get that done, because then once that’s completed we need to start working on the zoning ordinance and zoning ordinance compliance to be approved in the plan. The zoning ordinance that we have is out of date in many ways, so we need to get that addressed as well.

We’re seeing some good responses to the council’s incentive program for residents to fix their sidewalks, which is great. You have one person trip, it’s a lot of liability, so that’s a real positive thing.

So I think there’s a number of really positive things that the city’s working on, and my job is to make sure the staff is aligned, and the staff will need help in various areas to help keep moving these things forward.

Not to say that we’re not buried in various hurdles because you know we always are, whether it’s from our own hurdles or regulatory hurdles from the state or other government entities – or residents saying, “Hey, we have questions about this,” but we’re going to try to keep all these projects moving and achieve the priorities that the council wants.

I told the council when I’d been hired, jut because of the timing when I’d been hired, that I would be going back to them sometime in the fall. I’m putting together a big strategic planning document for them. We’ve got some of that in the budget document, but I’ve put together a strategic planning document that takes the one that we’ve had in the past and I’m redoing it, so when I can present it to the council, we’ll have a new strategic planning document with the council’s input. Then what we do is go back to council, and say, “OK, here’s what your strategic priorities have been, here’s where we are in achieving those, here’s the ones that are moving along fine.”

I like to look at it like a green light, yellow light and red light – here are the ones that are green, here are the ones that are in yellow for these reasons, and here are the ones that are on red for these reasons. Hopefully, we get very few red. We might have a few yellow though, and my plan is to get that document to them this fall.

And also, as a new city manager here, I’m still assessing the structure of the organization. This organization is very lean as an overall government because when the recession hit, they needed to balance the budget, and so they cut out a whole layer of staff. So we’re pretty lean … in a lot of departments we’re only one person deep or two people deep.

We hear you’re getting a new assistant. Could you tell us about that?
That’s always been in the budget, it’s just been filled by the one full-time equivalent person that was budgeted for before I got here. In the interim period, until the new city manager was hired, they backfilled that with two part-time contract staff. And I have a full-time interim person. Just having someone on full time has been a big help to me because we have all these initiatives.

Will you be taking any steps to increase transparency between the City and its residents?
One of the things that creates transparency for the city is, most residents, not all, but most residents aren’t going to read our budget document. This is not unique to Martinez – I would not expect them to. The document is pretty dense, it’s a lot, it can be hard to understand. So one of the things council wants is they want to get all the information out in a better way, amongst other things. So one of the things we’re working on creating is a budget-in-brief document that’s written in layman’s terms and it will be much smaller than the budget document, but it’ll be really transparent – where do our revenues come from, what are the expenditures – that kind of information will be provided to the public in a much more digestible format.

The long-reach financial forecast is also part of that transparency, so the other thing that we’re doing, for example, is we had a whole list of capital projects that we put together, and in the past what we’d do is, our staff would just upload a word document to the website. Well, that’s not very interesting, so I had staff – nothing special – but I had staff create photos and graphics to break up the document so that originally, it looks kind of interesting, and upload that. That’s just the basic start. Eventually what we’ll do is, people will be able to tap on the project and see in the city where it’s located and things like that, so we’re making much better use of our Facebook and Twitter accounts. And we’re also going to start doing more video clips. We don’t really have any video clips right now, but we have a YouTube channel, that, well, we’re not using, and we’re going to start using that channel in a better way. We’re in the process of retaining a couple of contracts with communications people to get information out to the residents. We’ve got a lot of initiatives we’re working on.

Homelessness is an issue, especially downtown. Do you have a plan to abate homelessness within the city?
When I worked for the city of Palo Alto, one of the things I noticed when I first started working there were all these people near the university, downtown. They were wearing these green shirts or bright orange shirts that said “Palo Alto Streets Team.” I said, “What is that Palo Alto Streets Team?” I mean, you see all these people and they’re sweeping and they’re picking up trash, they’re cleaning up graffiti in the downtown corridor, and so there was this Palo Alto Streets Team. It is a nonprofit and supported by a combination of funding sources from the county, the city, private donors, foundation money – a variety of sources – and it’s been a very successful program in helping to ameliorate homelessness issues in Palo Alto, so much so that while there’s still homeless issues downtown in Palo Alto, they are considerably less than before the Palo Alto Streets Team came about.

When I went from Palo Alto to Marin County, the city that has more homelessness issues than most of the cities in Marin is San Rafael. At a Mayor’s Conference in San Rafael, one of the presentations was the San Rafael Streets Team. It was on a three-year test, and the first year of the program had been a success. It helped to alleviate their issues, not only to get homeless people into homes, but also giving them something useful to do during the day. Also, these people eventually get placed in jobs and get placed in real housing. So it’s just one solution. It’s not the only solution, but it is a successful solution, a successful model.

In dealing with homelessness, you have to take a comprehensive approach. You have to work with the county, you have to work with homeless non-profit providers, you have to work with the police department, you have to work with county health and human services, social services … so it’s a multi-agency approach and it’s not just government that can solve it. It has to work with non-profits and NGOs and so-forth. So when I came on board, I suggested to our police department that they take a look at Palo Alto Streets Team and see if they think it might have some components of a program, or the program itself might have some merit for use here. And since I know Pete Burns, Chief of Police in Palo Alto, I suggested to our interim police chief that he make a connection with Chief Burns and ideally, that he’d go down there with some of his staff and go down there and talk to him. At the same time, I asked him to go over to Concord and talk to Concord because they seem to have done a pretty good job at coming up with some strategies over there.

Have you had any resistance, in your new position, from the community?
In every community there are residents that participate in the process more actively than other residents. I think that’s great. That’s one of the reasons local government works, frankly. It’s still one of the places the residents, and by extension the voters, can actually meet with their elected officials very easily. Their elected officials live in the same community they live in. It’s challenging to drive up to Sacramento to testify before a legislative community, and it’s certainly more challenging for them to fly to D.C. to testify on elections in D.C., but here, whether it’s Martinez, Concord or Walnut Creek residents, if they have an issue with what the City Council is doing, they certainly have a means to voice that, either directly to the council members or to the press, and say, “You know, we like or don’t like this particular issue or how it’s being handled.”

Certainly as City Manager, I talk to residents every day about some matter, either via email or they call me or they’ll call their council member, who by extension will contact me and say, “Hey can you look into this,” and then we follow up with the resident or residents.

My goal as City Manager is to try to get back to them (the residents) the same day. I’m not saying we’ll have solutions same day, but I try to instill and hold myself to this standard, and I talk to staff about this standard. We try to at least acknowledge their issue the same day, or certainly within 24 hours and say, we have the answer, or we’ll have to research the matter, but will keep you apprised and get back to you, and residents appreciate that. My style is, I prefer to either meet with the resident or talk to them on the phone as opposed to doing it via email because I think email is good for certain things and not good for other things.

One of things I conveyed to the council as part of my first 100 days on the job was that I was going to do my best to go out and meet with Main Street, meet with the Chamber, meet with media, meet with the union representatives, meet with various people, meet with the fire district, sanitary district, and various people in the community, that we can reach out to them to kind of put a face with a name so I can learn a lot more about the community.

No matter what the residents may be concerned about, I try to at a minimum, get them the factual information. Now, they can come to their own conclusion of those facts, but my job is to give them the facts that I have and then they can make their own judgement about what those facts provide to them or don’t provide to them.

Kind of like a reporter.

Have you dipped a toe into marina issues yet?
The operative phrase is “dip a toe!”

One of the things I’m in the process of doing now is we’re planning to hopefully get a trip up to Sacramento to meet with the Department of Finance to continue the dialogue that has been started over the years, but actually really get to it now with this new legislation – to get to a place with the outstanding debt that’s on the marina and really get that addressed one way or another. If we cannot make any headway with the Department of Finance, then we may need to talk to the governor’s office and see what we can do there. But initially, we’re going to talk to the Department of Finance, that’s one component of that.

Another component of that is the legislation that passed last year. The governor just signed the budget, but he hasn’t signed all the bills that are going through yet. The EIFD (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District) legislation that passed last year was a good start to providing a concept of a mechanism of finance for infrastructure improvements, but the way they wrote the legislation did not constitutionally allow this to issue debt. So this legislative session, there was legislation in the hopper to clean up that bill, that law, so that agencies could use the mechanism to issue debt. Right now, we’re still waiting to see if those bills passed or not. But that’s certainly something that we are doing some preliminary analysis and review of.

We had a meeting with the Infrastructure Committee about 6-7 weeks ago, and I brought in experts from  economic planning and fiscal impact analysis for cities that I’ve worked with in the past, and I also brought in a bond counsel. Bond counsels give legal authorization to issue that debt.

It’s great that EIFD was passed, but you cannot issue any debt with it right now, the way it’s structured right now. We’re hoping if the cleanup legislation passes, we can look at that and have some discussions, possibly with (Contra Costa) County and talk about some projects the City and County might be able to do together. One that has been discussed is a parking garage in the downtown to serve both the county and the city, if the EIFD is going to happen. Schools aren’t part of those by the way. When they got rid of Redevelopment, one of the components to getting the new legislation passed was agencies wouldn’t be able to tap into school revenue streams, so schools weren’t part of that. We’re hopeful we can have some discussions about that and infrastructure.

A week before I was hired there was a council workshop, and one of the things talked about among many was the proposed Maritime Museum and restaurant, and dealing with the marina dredging and additional development around the marina. The Coast Guard apparently is looking for a new location somewhere in the bay because the location they had over in Vallejo is no longer available or too small, so there was a variety of things discussed, but there was no consensus by the council, at least at that meeting, on where to land one way or the other.

What we need to do is really to address the issue of debt over the marina, and we also need to figure out how we’re going to get the marina dredged, because the cost just to get a permit is $250,000. The cost to dredge, just for a nominal amount of dredging, is $500,000, and we don’t have $750,000 lying around in the marina fund to pay for that, so that’s another challenge. That’s the short version of the answer.

Would you like to share anything, personally, with the community?
Personal wise, I’m really glad to be working here. There’s never a dull day. I’m enjoying getting to know the community and I think there’s a lot of exciting things here. I think it’s a really nice community. Now, I’ve seen more of Martinez than I ever had before, even though I’d visited Martinez many times because I use the open space quite a bit, hiking in Briones, along the waterfront trail here. My son’s gymnastics gym is over in Concord, so when I lived in Marin I would take Highway 4 and come into Martinez over that way.

I’m enjoying the job and the community and working with the council and the people in the community. I think this is a great time to be in Martinez because of the things that are happening here, and it’s nice that the economy has turned around, so it’s a good time to get things done. It’s not without challenges, like every other city. Every other city I’ve worked in has had challenges – Palo Alto had challenges, even though it’s a very different environment economically than the East Bay, but I like challenges. I enjoy that.

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