By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – If Martinez is to see where it’s going, it needs to understand where it’s been.
That’s the thought behind a community survey that provides the Martinez City Council– both the current panel and those elected in the future – a look at residents’ opinions of their city.
This year’s survey is the beginning. It’s the benchmark by which future surveys, to be undertaken every two years, will be measured, said Assistant City Manager Alan Shear and Damema Mann, National Research Center’s senior survey associate.
Mann’s company developed the survey in partnership with city staff and officials, and made inquiries of 1,400 Martinez households. That provided the firm with 391 completed surveys.
Martinez residents in general are happy with their city, but expressed concerns about safety and the local economy, especially that of the downtown shopping area.
They also want improvement to the condition of streets and roads, Mann said, but residents aren’t sure they want to pay more taxes or assessments to pay for their repairs.
“Residents enjoy a high quality of life in Martinez,” Mann said the survey showed. Nearly 80 percent would agree, and almost 90 percent of those surveyed said they would recommend Martinez as a place to live.
Most saw Martinez as a good place to raise children and retire, and most like their neighborhoods too. But those surveyed split nearly 50-50 in their opinion about the appearance of the city.
Mann said 89 percent expect to remain in Martinez, and even more of those who have lived here at least 20 years said they had no expectations of moving.
Safety is residents’ top priority, but only 54 percent thought the city met their expectations in that area. That number is below the national average of cities surveyed by Mann’s company, but it is on par with reports from other California cities, she said.
Fire services got a 94 percent approval rating. Residents said they were 92 percent satisfied with ambulance and medical emergency services. That was followed by approval ratings of 80 percent for police, 67 percent for fire prevention and 54 percent for crime prevention.
But four of every five residents said they feel safe in their own neighborhoods or in the downtown shopping area, and that’s comparable to national and state figures, Mann said.
The economy got a 55 percent approval rating, and Martinez as a visitors’ destination received a 50 percent endorsement from residents, the survey said.
Those numbers were similar to national and state figures, as was the 41 percent approval of the Martinez cost of living and the 22 percent who said Martinez was a good place for employment.
Below state and national percentages were the residents who approved of the business services Martinez supplies, 46 percent; its economic health, 37 percent; its shopping opportunities, 31 percent; and the vibrancy of its downtown, 23 percent.
A third of those surveyed said they work in Martinez, and that number is lower than state and national statistics.
City employees suggested other questions the surveyors asked, Mann said.
One question asked residents about the best use of the former railroad depot that is next to the Martinez Amtrak Station.
Mann said 24 percent wanted it used by retail stores or a restaurant; 16 percent suggested it hold historic artifacts; 16 percent wanted it used for community arts; 14 percent said it should be a toy train museum; 12 percent said it should be used by the Martinez Museum; 10 percent said its use should be tied to Martinez native son and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, possibly a shelter for his former boat, the Joltin Joe; and 3 percent suggested it could be an Italian heritage site.
Deborah Zamaria said she sided with those who wanted the museum to use the building.
The museum has no more room in the house that contains its displays, so it is having to turn down offers of artifacts. She asked the City Council to visualize the depot as a museum destination for visitors arriving by train.
Marcia Hetzler suggested that since many responders wanted it for various historical uses, the building could become a multipurpose history building.
The surveyed Martinez residents also asked where they learned about city-related matters. Mann said 91 percent use the city website; 83 percent read the city’s newsletter, and 82 percent rely on word of mouth.
Local media sources provide information to 72 percent, social communication methods supply the data to 66 percent. Residents also get community news from multiple other sources, including attending city panel meetings.
While residents told Mann’s surveyors they were concerned about economic development, public safety and roads and traffic, they also said they were reluctant to take on additional taxes or assessments. Should they have to pay more for road repairs, most indicated they would be less resistant to a sales tax than to other assessments.
They told Mann’s surveyors they want more businesses and restaurants and a revitalized downtown shopping district. They asked that streets and roads be repaired, parking be increased and downtown traffic lights be synchronized.
Their public safety concerns centered on the homeless population in the downtown area and the need for more police officers on patrol.
“I appreciate the new tool we have,” Mayor Rob Schroder said of the survey. “I’m not surprised at the conclusions.”
He said he has heard similar comments from residents, especially those who have told him about street and road conditions, and he understands their distaste for added taxes.
The current Vice Mayor, Mark Ross, called it “a good metric to base future performance on.”
But Councilmember Lara DeLaney said she wasn’t sure the city should have spent $25,000 on this survey that arrived at conclusions members of the council had already reached. Nor should the city spend $25,000 on subsequent surveys, she said.
Pointing out that only 3 percent of households contributed to the information, she said she also heard from residents who received the survey several times.
“I don’t know how valid this information is,” she said.