‘What is the price of progress?’

There won’t be any Pine Meadow voter referendum before the Martinez electorate this fall. Actually, the vote was envisioned as a cut-and-dried yay or nay vote. Change the existing open space use designation in the (now aging) general plan to allow a proposed housing development to proceed on the Dean’s now defunct golf course property. Or not. A nay vote presumably would have halted the project. At least, that’s what I naively thought. Turns out it was more complicated.

You see, the City had been so busy it needed four new resolutions and an additional ordinance to reverse course. It kinda went like this. Points A through E were considered for adoption. Resolution A rescinded Resolution 031-15 which called for a referendum regarding Resolution 009-15 that amended the General Plan to allow the development. Then Resolution B actually rescinded Resolution 009-15. Then C rescinded Resolution 008-15 that said it was OK to ignore the state Environmental Quality Act and allow the development. Then D rescinded Resolution 010-15 that approved the development map, known as the Vesting Tentative Map. Finally we needed an ordinance E repealing the Ordinance 1383 that rezoned the property to accommodate the development. Of course the prospect of that new ordinance will require a follow up meeting.

You get it? Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s a done deal. We’ve been assured this will wrap it all up neat and tidy, and Pine Meadow will remain a defunct golf course until such time as the developer is able to fashion a new (dissimilar) plan. In the meantime, presumably, many of us will have died off or retreated into the distance mumbling to ourselves while forgetting what all the fuss was about in the first place.

In the end, the council explanations convinced even me that the referendum would not have worked as intended. (Wonder who wrote it?) Only Lara DeLaney and Anamarie Avila Farias voted to retain the referendum (point A). Not sure why.

Of course, there was a lot of public comment from both sides of the issue at the recent City Council special session March 9. The value of open space; once its gone, its gone … the already over crowded schools. A poor history of mitigating the impacts (traffic, parking, safety and such) of other recent development projects in Martinez.

The Dean family vehemently defended private property rights. I kinda scratched my head about that, seeing as they had already sold the property to DeNova Homes, the proposed developer, for a tidy sum. But then it was revealed the deal entailed a Dean/DeNova financial partnership in the development. OK.

Private property rights are themselves a nuanced proposition. It’s not carte blanche. If, for instance, I decided to dabble in a little hydraulic fracking in my back yard, I’d probably have to run it by the neighbors first.

But, in the end, it’s all about money. The Deans hope to cash in. DeNova does also and has scattered money in the form of local campaign contributions to help install the existing City Council.

Dave Sanson, the principal of DeNova Homes, said he wanted to ensure a “good council.” He proudly embraced those political contributions as “The American Way.” He thought he had given money to all the council, but, as it turns out, only Lara DeLaney refused to cash the check and forcefully corrected Mr. Sanson on that point. Councilman Ross jokingly offered to return the $500 check he got. Well, Mr. Ross substantially financed himself from his own real estate coffers, and his $500 check from DeNova was a drop in the bucket compared to what the remaining three council members received.

That’s the point, really. Martinez politics and policies are largely dictated and financed by real estate and building interests. This has been noted before. (Property owners, labor unions shower incumbents with campaign cash in Martinez by Lisa P. White, Contra Costa Times, 10/30/10.) In the last five years (2010-2015), of $256,000 in campaign contributions, about 40 percent have come from developer, building and trade interests, 45 percent of that from just five names. To what extent does that skew the priorities of our community and consume public resources?

Look at all of the recent intrigue and privileged access noted in the press, not to mention the expensive bureaucratic clanking described above. DeNova homes requested this recent process. I assure you public-minded altruism was not the foremost motivation.

Is relentless development the only cogent strategy for the sustainable life of our little town? A friend of mine was recently asked by one of our city officials with property in town how best downtown life might be revived. My friend suggested lowering the commercial rents to attract new business. The reply? “My god. We can’t do that!”

What is progress? Is unrelenting growth, expansion up and in and out, inevitable? Are there no viable alternatives? How do we weigh quantity vs quality of life in our community? Rather than a knee-jerk development/tax base growth strategy, maybe we need to consider other more longterm quality of life aspects. You know. Cover Martinez rooftops with solar. Fill the gaps in the existing transportation infrastructure to provide more alternatives.

Promote and enable more food, music, art, sports and theater. Wean the city off the petroleum teat … and off of developer money.

Food for thought. In the meantime, I suggest we all pay attention to the money now driving local policy initiatives and think about how to reform that process to better promote the longterm vitalization of our town. I have all the campaign funding records, if anyone is interested. Enlightening bedtime reading.

Post script: Council member Anamarie Avila Farias, Mayor Rob Schroder, Dave Sanson of DeNova Homes and his legal counsel, who’s name escapes me at the moment, all got together for cocktails at Barrelista after the meeting.

Excellent cocktails, as always at Arash’s bar, by the way. And congratulations on the new baby girl.

– Guy Cooper

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One comment

  1. Ana Marie is a liar and will undermine anyone at anytime for her own ambitions. She even undermined Lara Delaney with bad campaign lit, even though it was Delaney who helped get the Farias’ legislated low income housing contribution removed. $45,000 forgiven and then Farias got all sort of license on Villa Del Sol with the set back and whatever.

    Ana Maria Farias will hurt anyone in any way she can to get what she wants.

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