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Duncans: Stop the demolition of old jail, historic homes

Dear Mayor Schroder and City Council Members,

Late last year it was rumored that the County was investigating demolishing several County-owned buildings in the downtown area which are no longer needed. This past February it was revealed that this proposal included the old Historic County Jail, the newer Jail Annex and two single family residential properties on the north side of Escobar Street.

An internal County staff report specifically identified the two Escobar Street residential properties as not needed by the County and were deemed a liability due to vandalism, etc. It further suggested that these properties were in very poor condition and not suitable for restoration as single family residential units. It was further commented that there would be no public concern over demolishing the buildings as they had no historic context. Yet, the historic nature of the Old Jail was identified and acknowledged in their report. We believe the buildings do have historic context and that there is public concern.

As a Martinez resident and property owner (including neighboring property on Escobar Street), I am concerned that while this proposed course of action seems relatively insignificant at the County level, it is, or should be very much a concern to the City of Martinez. We are concerned that the County will destroy buildings that the City can and should be protecting.

Several thoughts come to mind:

1) If the two residential properties are of no value or use to the County, then they should be put to the highest and best use of the community at large, which would be the City of Martinez.

2) Rather than spending tax payer money to demolish the residential structures, they should be offered for sale to the public to be renovated for residential use. The two houses can both be renovated and put to use as residential property, either owner occupied or rental. While they have suffered from neglect and lack of maintenance they are not beyond repair. Instead of the County paying $50,000 for the demolition of the houses, the County could make $100,000-plus on the sale of the homes.

3) The City of Martinez has stated its commitment to infill housing development and retention of existing housing stock as a priority in terms of providing needed housing and improving the economic vitality of the downtown area, so, retaining homes in the downtown core would be in the City’s best interest.

4) The Escobar Street neighborhood already suffers from the negative impact of County owned vacant lots not being maintained and inappropriately used for trash storage and collection.

5) Demolition of the two residential homes sets the stage for the demolition of the Historic Old Jail and the period correct Morrow House, both of which are not only historically significant to Martinez, but could be used to fuel the economic vitality of the downtown.

It is time for the City to demonstrate leadership, stand up to the County and push for action that would satisfy both the County’s concerns and benefit the City of Martinez. Our city has been the proud host of the county for over 100 years, it is time the County took the historic and residential needs of our city into consideration. Please use your creativity and leadership to stop the demolition of the Historic County Jail and the homes on Escobar Street.

– Dick and Carolyn Duncan

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