State of City Address delivered

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder delivers the State of the City Address during a breakfast Tuesday morning, Feb. 9, 2016, at Creekside Church auditorium. The event was hosted by the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and organized by its Executive Director, Julie Sabbagh. (GERARDO RECINOS / Martinez Tribune)
Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder delivers the State of the City Address during a breakfast Tuesday morning, Feb. 9, 2016, at Creekside Church auditorium. The event was hosted by the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and organized by its Executive Director, Julie Sabbagh. (GERARDO RECINOS / Martinez Tribune)

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Mayor Rob Schroder delivered the annual State of the City Address Tuesday morning, to a crowd of approximately 135 people.

The event, held in the auditorium of Creekside Church, 444 Fig Tree Lane, was hosted by the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Connolly & Taylor Funeral Chapel, Republic Services, Shell Oil Products US, Char’s Flowers, PDQ Printing & Graphics, Security Public Storage, and Eco Services.

Preceding the mayor’s address were remarks by Martinez Chief of Police Manjit Sappal (report forthcoming).

Here’s the 2015 State of the City Address as delivered by the mayor Feb. 9, 2016:

MAYOR SCHRODER: Good morning and thank you for being here today.

I would like to thank Chief Sappal for warming you all up. I think that I can safely say that the state of the Martinez Police Department is very good.

2015 was another good year for our nation, state and city. The economy has been improving steadily for the last few years.

Unemployment keeps dropping, foreclosures have leveled off, the price of homes continues to increasing and consumer confidence is still fairly strong.

The financial picture for the state of California looks good with increasing tax revenue and a surplus of $3.6 billion, with the governor warning legislators that more revenues need to be added to the “rainy day fund” in anticipation of the next economic downturn.

The financial picture of the city also is very good, but also volatile. Property assessed valuation is up to over $5.33 billion – it was $4.8 billion a year ago – which yields $7.37 million in property tax income. This is an increase of $410,000 from last year.

Sales tax has grown slightly to $4.3 million from $4.1 million after a drop of about $1 million the prior year due to the relocation of a large sales tax producer to another nearby city.

The city’s general fund has an operating budget of $20.6 million and an expense budget of $20.6 million. Our budget is balanced.

We ended this last fiscal year with a surplus of over $2.2 million. Most of the surplus was the result of one time revenue, fees, overdue reimbursement payments from the state of California, and salary savings from unfilled positions. We have a healthy unrestricted reserve balance (rainy day fund) of $5.3 million after earmarking $1.4 million of the excess surplus to infrastructure, catastrophe, economic uncertainty, and pension liability funds. And again, as Governor Grown recently said in his State of the State Address, the next recession is just around the corner and we need to be prepared for it.

This reserve has grown over the past few years from $3.3 million in 2012, to $3.9 million in 2013, $4.4 million in 2014, and to its present level of $5.3 million.

Maintaining a healthy fund balance is a high priority for the City Council as shown by our recent adoption of a policy to maintain this fund no lower than 20 percent of general fund revenues.

Martinez is fortunate to have a fairly stable source of revenue in the form of property tax. Although we had experienced a decrease in this revenue source during the recession, it was nothing close to what some of the high growth cities experienced.

The other major form of revenue to cities is sales tax. Martinez has a handful of large sales tax generators and two “big boxes” – Walmart and Home Depot – with the majority of sales tax generated in the regional shopping centers such as Nob Hill and Lucky’s.

Where we are at risk is that only a handful of businesses located in Martinez generate close to 30 percent of the sales tax revenue for the city.

This is why economic development diversity is so critical to the long term health of the city’s financial picture and the quality of life of Martinez residents.

A highlight of 2015 was the hiring of a new city manager after over a year and a half of interim city managers. Rob Braulik, former city manager of Ross (California), took the helm in April and immediately started working with the City Council on their goals and priorities. Rob faced many challenges dealing with difficult situations that had been developing over the past few decades. One major issue was the discovery that the city and its employees would soon have to start paying into the Social Security System, even though city employees are part of the state PERS (Public Employees Retirement System).

Unfortunately, Rob decided to pursue opportunities in the private sector and resigned his position of city manager effective the end of 2015.

We are currently in search of a new city manager. The application period closed at the end of January and the council is scheduled to review resumes on Feb. 15. Interviews will be held in late February or early March.

In the meantime, the city is being run by the very capable Assistant City Manager Alan Shear, with help from Interim City Manager Jim Jakel – it’s “city manager, the sequel!” (Mayor asks Shear to stand.) Poor Jim is not here this morning and is probably just about to board a plane home from Maui.

Martinez residents have amazing people working for them that keep things moving forward. This is just not a job for them, it is their career. They care about this city and its residents. Many are residents themselves. It is their home.

Most of our Measure H park projects have been completed with Susana Street Park and Mountain View Park completed in 2015.

The soccer field at Hidden Lakes Park will be replaced with synthetic turf with the award of the construction contract in the next few weeks, leaving Waterfront Park as the only major Measure H project left.

Last year the City Council held a workshop on Waterfront Park and approved the schematic plan which will provide additional parking, new ballfields with lights, new picnic areas, and a renovation of the meadow area.

The council also agreed to commit all of our remaining Measure WW funding – $1,337,500 – to the active recreational facilities of Waterfront Park.

The council is currently considering amendments to that plan that include additional improvements and converting two of the four softball fields to baseball. The conversions will not displace any of the current usage and should attract a whole new aspect of play in the off-season.

The City Council will consider these amendments on Feb. 17, and if approved, the final design will be developed with construction planned to commence in the fall and continue through the summer of 2017.

Other public works and capital projects coming in the next year include:

• Alhambra Creek Bridge at Berrelessa Street to the north intermodel parking lot. This is a critical second access link to the waterfront and marina.

• Upper pedestrian bridge and entrance road. This work includes realigning the entrance road and constructing a pedestrian bridge connecting the Amtrak station to the parking lot north of the tracks.

• In 2015, over $2.1 million of street and road repair projects were approved. A few of those projects got started before the long awaited rains arrived and others will commence in the spring of 2016. Included on that list is the repaving of Morello and Center avenues at Highway 4.

• A program that I announced last year that was nixed by the new city manager was the purchase or renting of paving equipment to allow city crews to repair streets in a timely manner where water breaks have occurred. City crews would also be able to pave sections of streets not included in the larger annual paving projects. I have spoken to Interim City Manager Jim Jakel about bringing that program back to life. Jim is reviewing the costs and the feasibility of the idea.

With gas tax revenues shrinking due to the falling price of oil, reduction in consumption from more fuel efficient vehicles, and the recent “shift” enacted by the state legislature to allow gas tax dollars to go paying down state transportation debt, we will fall ever more behind in maintaining and improving our roads.

In 2014-2015 Martinez’s gas tax revenue was $1.047 million. In 2015-2016, it is expected to be $771,000.

As reported in a recent pavement management program report developed for the city, Martinez has 121.6 miles of streets made up of 938 pavement sections.

The average overall rating of the city’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI) is 51, or just barely considered “good.” However, without adequate funding for recommended maintenance treatments, the condition will drop to “poor.”

The report set out two scenarios:

1) A five year expenditure total of $69.5 million which would elevate the PCI to 86 and also eliminate the entire deferred maintenance backlog. The first year would require funds of $36.6 million ($16 million more than our annual general fund), making this unrealistic.

2) Over then next five years the PCI will decrease to 44, which indicates the current level of investment in paving has no impact on preventing the deterioration of the current pavement condition.

The percentage of the street network falling in the “very poor” category will increase from the current 22 percent to 41.9 percent in 2019.

The maintenance backlog will increase from $36.6 million to $65.5 million, which glaringly shows that the current funding level for streets is clearly insufficient to maintain the network in “good” condition.

The report concludes that must be increased to $4 million or more annually.

Where is that revenue going to come from? Not from a declining gas tax! Unrestricted reserves – our rainy day fund? Measure J half sales tax funds? Some. Federal and state grants? Some.

I believe that it is time for us to get serious about bringing our streets and roads to an acceptable condition and consider placing a measure on the November ballot for the repair and maintenance of our infrastructure. That measure could take the form of a 1/2 cent sales tax or parcel tax. I am inclined to support a sales tax.

Our current strategy, although aggressive considering the revenues and other funds at our disposal, is not sustainable.

The waterfront and marina continues to be our biggest challenge. Year after year I have been reporting on our plans for reconstruction and negotiations with the State of California.

Discussions with the State on the outstanding debt with the goal of reducing the debt and restructuring the balance have stalled and we are having trouble getting the attention of the Department of Finance, Parks & Recreation and Boating & Waterways to restart those negotiations.

The marina debt to the State is currently $4.2 million for loans that date from 1960 through the 1980s.

And to set the record straight, again, every dime of the loans and grants from the State and other agencies were used to construct and improve the marina, including the more recent construction of the launch ramps, removal of the old pier, and sheet pile and other improvements at Ferry Plaza.

We estimate that a complete re-build of the sea walls, entrance and docks will cost $6 million.

The next step is to master plan the waterfront and marina and secure private partners to build and operate the facilities.

We also have started discussions with the California Maritime Academy regarding the possibility of having a presence on our waterfront.

Vice Mayor AnaMarie Avila Farias and I recently met with Assemblyman Bill Dodd and Cal Maritime President Thomas Cropper.

In conjunction with the marina, Martinez is still a planned ferry landing site, along with Hercules and Antioch.

The ridership numbers presented in a study performed by Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) were not encouraging enough to convince the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) to continue to fund an Environmental Impact Report for Martinez.

But as I reported last year, we continue to work to convince WETA to build a simple landing for emergency purposes that could be used by the sheriff, Office of Emergency Services, and even private operators until we have the critical mass of demand to support regular daily water transit to and from Martinez.

The council will also be considering if we will ask CCTA for a water transit component to be included in our “wish list” of transit projects to be proposed in the extension of Measure J.

In 2009, after many years of development, study, public hearings and refinement, the city adopted the mandatory Unreinforced Masonry Earthquake Retrofitting Ordinance.

This ordinance set standards and target dates for the bracing of the URM buildings in order to save human lives in the case of an inevitable earthquake.

This ordinance requires owners of masonry buildings to meet certain benchmark dates over a period of five years.

Property owners originally had two years from the date of adoption to provide an engineering report to determine the deficiencies of their building.

Construction drawings were required after three years. Repair of deficiencies were required after four years for “high risk” buildings, and five years for medium and low risk buildings.

In 2013, those deadlines were changed to five years for construction drawings and six years for completion of work (by Aug. 15, 2015).

Much progress has been made in the earthquake retrofit of downtown buildings.

The deadline of Aug. 15, 2015, has come and gone with many buildings completed or in the process of retrofit.
Two have been demolished. A handful are awaiting final plans and four are in violation and are about to be cited and fined as outlined in the ordinance. Only recently was it determined that one recently vacated bank building was URM.

The city is serious about protecting human life but also understands that sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances which make if difficult for property owners to meet the required time-lines. We will work with each property owner on a case-by-case basis, but we will not turn our backs to those that are not making a good faith effort to make their buildings safe.

And now to the general plan. Whatever happened to that? Wasn’t that planned to be completed a few years ago?

The answer to that question is … yes. We started the update of the city’s general plan seven years ago.

A task force made up of a broad spectrum of residents and business owners have met over the years and held scores of public outreach meetings.

Challenges with previous staff and consultants had caused the process to stall, but it was put back on track and the many parts that had been completed have been pulled together.

The draft general plan and EIR was released for public comment in the fall, and staff is currently reviewing those comments for possible revisions to the general plan.

Any recommended revisions will go to the Planning Commission for consideration and then on to the City Council. From there, it will then be released for public comment, again, and then back to the Planning Commission and City Council for final approval.

Although the general plan of each individual city is a “general” outline of future growth and sustainability of that individual city, it must also take into account the needs of the surrounding region and the impact of its decisions on its neighbors.

In my role as a LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) commissioner, I am part of a continuing discussion of considering the adoption of a set of policies regarding the protection of prime agricultural and open space lands with the goal of reducing suburban sprawl.

And in order to accommodate orderly growth and reduce suburban sprawl, LAFCO encourages in-fill development on undeveloped interior parcels and re-use of under-utilized parcels and brownfields.

Our discussion is far from over, but one question has been standing out, and without a clear answer: “What is the definition of open space?” Is it merely a vacant piece of property? What attributes make a vacant piece of property valuable enough to save as open space? Size, location, views, flora, fauna?
Prime ag land is easier to determine through testing of soils, etc.

These questions have not yet been definitively answered, but one thing has been made very clear in our deliberations: just because a piece of property is vacant does not mean that it should be designated as open space and never developed.

On a lighter note, Martinez is one of 22 California cities competing in the “Cool California Challenge.” This is an effort to engage our residents and businesses to make improvements to their homes and businesses to save energy and water.

I taped a one-minute video on the competition that I hope you will enjoy.

Households in Martinez can join the Cool California Challenge by registering at cachallenge.org. They can then track energy use and vehicle miles driven, as well as share energy saving tips to earn points for their cities. The city with the highest sustainability points at the end of the challenge will be crowned “Coolest California City.” Two runner-up cities will be named Cool California City, and all participating cities will receive a portion of the $150,000 overall prize to help support local sustainability projects.

Another “cool” event I am again participating in is the 5th annual St. Baldrick’s Martinez Shave-a-thon. The event is sponsored by Creek Monkey and Citrus Salon and will be held March 13 from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. in Main Street Plaza.

You can shave your head with me and Jim Blair from Creek Monkey, volunteer or help spread the word. All money raised goes to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for children’s cancer research.

Jim and I will “go green” on Friday, March 4 at 10 a.m. at Citrus Salon.

And lastly, according to the recently released National Citizens Survey, Martinez residents feel safe, love the natural environment, like the quality of life and would recommend Martinez as a place to live, to others. Safety, economic development, fixing streets and dealing with the homeless were all high priorities. This tool will help guide the strategic plan for the future and deliver city resources where the citizens want to see them used.

My message here is that the city of Martinez is in good financial shape, but we need to continue to develop and take advantage of economic development opportunities for long-term stability and improving quality of life for our residents.

This will allow us to pave the streets and roads, maintain our beautiful renovated parks and recreational facilities, pick up the litter, reduce homelessness, protect our residents, and attract visitors.

I would like to thank the Martinez Chamber of Commerce for again giving me this opportunity to speak to you about the state of your community.

I also thank Creekside Church and Pastor Terry Riley for hosting this event for the last several years.

I appreciate your attention and wish you all good health and a prosperous 2016.

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