MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez Parks, Recreation, Marina and Cultural Commission has seen how the grieving family of a 14-year-old girl killed last year when she was struck by a train wants to thank their community for its support during their darkest hours.
At the commission’s meeting Tuesday, Dena Betti, mother of the late Jenna Betti, and artist Colleen Gianatiempo showed the panel their design for a mural they want to place on Main Street wallspace between Starbucks and the former Bank of America building.
Gianatiempo based her design on suggestions made during a public workshop in April. Residents wanted something bright and cheerful to reflect Jenna’s life, rather than her death. The mural would depict the many sides of Martinez, too.
During an April 20 workshop, they suggested daisies and sunflowers, dragonflies and angels, Martinez’s rolling hills and waterfront and a dozen more elements.
Gianatiempo incorporated those suggestions, anchoring them with a Tree of Life and a dramatic rainbow. Underneath an angel that flies over the city sits another Martinez icon, a beaver.
Then she added hearts – lots and lots of hearts; so many that they could be “sold” as a fundraiser by those who want to add names to the memorial. The hearts also would be a way the public could interact with the mural, by counting their number and giving children a chance to master arithmetic skills.
When Gianatiempo showed a slide of her vision of the mural, the commission’s audience gasped. They applauded their approval of her presentation.
The imagery of the mural is in stark contrast with what motivated its design.
Jenna, a Martinez Junior High School eighth-grader, and a friend were at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks between Howe and Old Orchard roads March 2, 2014, when an eastbound train rounded the corner.
A railroad company spokesperson said three members of the crew saw two people jump off the tracks as the train approached. But one returned to the tracks. Later, Dena would say her daughter went back to retrieve her cell phone and misjudged the distance from the oncoming train.
The tragedy inspired Dena and Paul Betti, Amber Cole and Suzy Hammond to start “#Hersmile.org,” a nonprofit organization that remembers Jenna by making donations to others who are trying to overcome their own losses.
But beyond starting their organization, the Betti’s wanted to do more. Gianatiempo offered to help, and the concept of a mural as public art was born.
“We learned something so very special,” Dena said. She discovered that her community was ready to help her family “in the worst of times.” She and Gianatiempo saw the mural as a way to say “thank you.”
“Martinez is a small town with a big heart,” Dena said, and that became the theme of the mural.
Ultimately, the project must get Martinez City Council approval before the mural can be installed.
Gianatiempo said Hersmile would fund the project, and that the final public art piece would receive a special coating that would prevent its being damaged by vandals.
Linda Meza, who attended the meeting to speak on a different topic, said she was touched by Jenna’s story, especially since she is the mother of three adult children serving in the Navy.
“This is a fabulous project,” she said. “We should embrace it and support it.”
The commission ultimately agreed, unanimously approving the project so it could be placed on the council’s Nov. 17 meeting.
The panel has referred to a subcommittee the topic of a local dog park so that new proposals suggested by park supporters could be evaluated.
Most of those attending Tuesday’s meeting were dog park advocates who held up their signs and united in the same “Who let the dogs out?” rally chant they have employed at City Council meetings.
They told the commission how dog parks provide opportunities for socialization, not only for dogs but also for people, including those who don’t own dogs but enjoy watching them play.
Dog parks also help pet owners give their dogs exercise even if their own mobility has been compromised so they can’t take their animals on long or vigorous walks, they said.
This is the most recent time the commission has heard residents ask for a dog park, a project that has been viewed as something for the city’s future but not one included among upcoming capital projects.
In the past, the city has suggested a retention basin as a potential site, but commissioner Ingemar Olsson pointed out that portions of the site could flood in heavy rains.
Others noticed this latest approach by residents is more enthusiastic, organized and united than in the past.
Rick Marazzani urged a downtown site for the dog park.
He told the commission that statistics indicate about 44 percent of Martinez residents, or about 6,500 households, have dogs.
A park not only would accommodate those who don’t have yards or open spaces of their own, it also would keep dogs out of wildlife areas, he said.
Park supporters have looked at three potential sites that range from a half acre to two acres, he said.
Advocates have said they would be willing to help with labor or funding to get a park built. However, he urged the panel to consider recommending spending some of Martinez’s $1.4 million in Measure WW funds and modifying the city’s Waterfront Park Renovation Project to accommodate a dog park.
Proponents are suggesting a .4-acre section of the Cannery Sports Complex across from the Amtrak station.
Another site they favor is up to two acres of land next to the Yacht Club that currently has garbage bins and has been used illegally for dumping rubbish, and other activities.
A third place is a half-acre triangular “people’s park” at Alhambra Way and Marina Vista that has desired amenities and simply needs fencing and signage.
A subcommittee also will get a chance to examine options for a memorial pathway that could be built at an existing park or possibly in conjunction with the public art mural.
City Engineer Tim Tucker, in his report on Measure H expenditures for parks, said Susana and Mountain View parks are complete.
While the council has approved a schematic plan for the Hidden Lakes Soccer Field, decisions on such details as striping and synthetic and in-fill materials would be made with input from a parks subcommittee, he said.
Construction plans and an environmental review of proposed changes to Waterfront Park are nearly complete, and city employees have been asked about upgrading a ball field for non-professional use.
In addition, Tucker said a newly-planted tree at Mountain View Park had been destroyed just before a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and other trees in the city had been damaged by those ripping off their bark. Some valve box lids have been stolen, and some swing seats at Holiday Hills were vandalized.
Other park maintenance included tree pruning, a leak repair at the swimming pool, replacement of information signs and the start of making some ditches in some open areas.