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Council eyes strategic plan, hears general plan complaints

By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez City Council told a contracted guide Pat O’Keeffe, and municipal staff what changes they want to see in a draft of a new strategic plan for the community Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015.

At the same meeting, residents who had been hoping for a chance to extend the public comment period for the General Plan learned the window for that change had closed.

The council first addressed the city’s fiscal health, with the plan calling for the development of a reserve policy, a long-range financial forecast, an effort to make sure costs didn’t exceed revenues, and successful completion of labor negotiations, among several goals.

City Manager Rob Braulik said no timeline had been set for those items, although the long range forecast should be presented during the midyear budget review, and the council should see a proposed reserve policy Nov. 18.

To have a high-performing government, the strategic plan draft calls for improved and consistent communication, including the use of social media and news releases.

Qualitative and quantitative measures should be used in making organizational changes, and Martinez should use the National Citizen Survey to track city services and progress, the draft plan said.

Improvements to the city website should be made, and mobile and website portals should be used, the plan said.

More parking meters would be converted to accept electronic payments. The city needs to comply with regulations governing the transfer of state lands to municipalities regarding the Martinez Marina and its longterm debt, and the city should expect to make capital investments to assure its water safety, the plan said.

At the same time, Martinez officials and staff need to look at various ways to pay for public works projects and to bring the city capital improvement plan in on time and on budget.

Braulik said such projects as a dog park and two waterfront baseball fields aren’t yet in the capital improvement plan, although the waterfront park plan is. That plan calls for softball fields, rather than baseball, he said.

Among public safety matters, the plan calls for a 10 percent reduction in collisions involving impaired drivers, and improved crime prevention. Among other proposals are having police regularly visit schools to address classes, start a bicycle patrol of crime “hot spots” as well as foot patrols in commercial areas and motorcycle patrols for traffic enforcement, and take a comprehensive approach to accumulating and using crime statistics.

Martinez Police Department, working with Contra Costa County agencies and other organizations should reduce homelessness, the report said. Volunteer police should increase from 3 to 7.

However, many of those goals have been achieved.

Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal said officers not only respond to calls, they also patrol their assigned neighborhood policing areas. Some incidents can be handled immediately, he said. Others, such as drug houses, take time and investigation to address.

Councilwoman AnaMarie Avila Farias said an earlier strategic plan template had milestones, and Braulik promised that would be included in the future.

Martinez needs to focus on business retention and expansion, and should also recruit new businesses, said another element of the plan.

Councilmember Lara DeLaney said she has heard of some larger companies that are looking to move or close underperforming stores, and urged city officials and staff to develop “a proactive outreach” so the city doesn’t lose those businesses unexpectedly the way it lost the downtown Bank of America, which surprised the city.

Vice Mayor Mark Ross, noticing that the plan recommended “branding” Martinez, suggested one of the city’s business organizations, such as the Martinez Chamber of Commerce or Martinez Main Street, should do that.

O’Keeffe said the city didn’t have to choose a theme right away. “Adopt it as a policy and staff can come back to you.”

Avila Farias said she saw conflicts in the plan’s intentions for greater residential concentration in the downtown area, saying it contradicts with the General Plan’s housing element.

Ross and DeLaney noted other aspects of the plan suggest city involvement in things over which it has no control, such as local hospitals and regional transportation authorities.

“Our role is minimal,” DeLaney said.

However, the city should be “at the table in those discussions,” O’Keeffe said.

DeLaney said the city’s focus shouldn’t just be on bringing visitors to town. The plan should address encouraging Martinez residents to take advantage of what their city has to offer.

Most of the audience came to talk about other matters.

Business owner Mary Jo Rossi said she applauded the city’s goals of retaining and attracting business, and urged the city to make it easier for companies to do business in Martinez.

But others criticized the meetings’ format and setup. The council and staff sat at tables arranged in a horseshoe so they could see O’Keeffe’s lists, but had their backs to the audience, which made them difficult to hear.

Julian Frazer was the first to challenge the council, questioning how the workshop had been posted on the city’s website.

“A number of people are here to talk about extending (public comment) time for the General Plan,” Tim Platt said, adding that they wanted “a better product.”

Attorney Rolf Lindenhayn asked for more time to examine the “voluminous” document. He urged keeping the former golf course, Pine Meadow, as open space, not a housing development.

Cheryll Grover said the General Plan doesn’t protect historic resources.

Frazer urged more open space, not just for recreation uses but as buffers against the city’s railroads, the Shell Refinery and other areas. He urged the city to address vagrants and those digging through garbage cans. He said the community has so many “negatives, it’s keeping the downtown from being vibrant.”

Carol Taylor, an environmental engineer, said the public didn’t have enough time to review either the General Plan or its environmental review. “This is the home of John Muir,” she said. “We need an extension.”

Others told the council the marina is full of silt and that some open spaces should be natural sites to promote native species.

Susan Gustafson said the circulation of the General Plan wasn’t well-publicized.

But Braulik said the city couldn’t comply with the California Brown Act that governs public access to meetings and notification requirements before the public comment period expired at 5 p.m. Oct. 29. Nor could the matter be handled at the Oct. 28 meeting, because it wasn’t on the agenda.

Schroder said the public would get another comment period after the council incorporates past responses in a revision of the General Plan.

Avila Farias said she had hoped other members of the council would extend the deadline or start fresh on the documents. If mistakes in the General Plan or the environmental review are found, they could be corrected and the papers could be circulated again for new comments and observations, she said.

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