Building for Contra Costa County’s future

Eric Angstadt,  Chief Assistant County Administrator for Capital Projects, was the featured speaker during a recent meeting of the Martinez Rotary club. (PAUL CRAIG / Courtesy)
Eric Angstadt, Chief Assistant County Administrator for Capital Projects, was the featured speaker during a recent meeting of the Martinez Rotary club. (PAUL CRAIG / Courtesy)

The County Building at 651 Pine Street has been an eyesore for over a half century. It’s obsolete and a horrible place to work. It’s scheduled for demolition. Eric Angstadt is in charge of figuring out how to do the job, and of making recommendations to the County Supervisors as to what to put up next.

Angstadt is the Chief Assistant County Administrator for Capital Projects. He reports directly to County Administrator David Twa Eric has a great background for his job. He was trained as an archaeologist and as a planner. He’s worked for the City of Berkeley, where he learned a lot about controversy.

Angstadt explained to Rotary that the structure of Contra Costa County is changing. He thinks of the County in terms of the West (Richmond); the Central Part (I-680) and the Eastern Part.   

The County is divided by two north-south mountain ranges. These  are crossed by just two major east-west links –  Highway 4 and I-580. No wonder we have traffic problems. The Eastern part of the county is huge and growing fast. It needs services.

The County has historically been set up to provide services in Martinez. In the future it needs to provide services near where people live. That means it will have to expand services in the Richmond and East-County areas.

Angstadt focused  much of his talk on the Martinez area. There are two focal regions: downtown, and along Highway 4. Though there will be fewer employees in  downtown Martinez, the County will continue to have a sizable presence here. The Supervisors will decide on the  balance.   

Major retrofit to the Finance Building on Pine Street is almost completed. The building dates back to the early 1900s.  That’s good news in terms of its elegant appearance, but bad news in terms of maintenance. The $20 million rehab program includes a new roof – the old roof leaked like crazy – and major work on the interior.   

Along with the new building or buildings will be new parking lots to ease the lives of employees and the many visitors to the courts and the jail.

This parking will be available in the evenings and on weekends as more visitors come to town.

Emergency operations will continue to be located at Glacier Drive. New construction will accommodate  increased County-wide demand for emergency services. Emergency operations need to be centralized and excellent. The new construction will accomplish this. They’ll be far more earthquake resistant and resilient  than the present buildings.

Estimates of the cost of demolition of 651 Pine St., rehabilitating the old jail, parking structures and new buildings are in the works. These should be available within a few months. There will be opportunities for public input. Then will come recommendations to the Supervisors, and a vote on what is to be done.

Rotarians had many questions. Several related to  the future of the old jail and the abandoned County-owned  boarded-up but once-magnificent mansion at 1226 Escobar. One thought is to move this building next to the old jail, making a coherent complex and allowing use of the present site for parking. Estimates of the cost of saving these buildings is underway. Stay tuned!

Public input matters! What  the County decides to do will have huge impact on the evolution of the east end of Martinez.  It’s important that good decisions be made.

Rotary invited Angstadt to come back and report progress at a later date.

– Paul Craig

***

Anchoring the west end of Main Street

A planner from Washington, D.C., Dr. Steve Rattien,  happened to be in town and gave his reactions to the discussion about the future of  Contra Costa County downtown Martinez planning. Dr. Rattien’s reflections are deeply relevant to the County’s  planning process. He focused on the long-term history of Martinez, and the increasing cultural and economic value of our old buildings:

“The downtown Martinez area, now home to most Contra Costa County offices, remains the best location to best serve most of the future needs of County residents.  An appropriate plan would preserve and highlight the best of historic structures while developing new facilities to replace those that no longer meet current, not to mention future, needs.

“Clearly it makes sense for both efficiency and economics to relocate fire, safety and security functions closer to the freeway network. But for virtually all other County offices, downtown Martinez offers many advantages. To capture downtown Martinez’s advantages, as well as to serve Martinez’s aspirations, it is important to develop a thoughtful, cost-effective plan that balances the preservation of worthy structures with the redevelopment of other sites to serve County government needs.

“Specific historic structures worthy of preservation include the old jail and the vacant Victorian home at 1236 Escobar St. Each  has the potential to serve a high-value future community need, whether for Contra Costa County government, for a nonprofit service agency, or for a private business.

“The Escobar Street building, for example, could well serve the needs of a smaller county service office, house a public or private social service agency, or become the home of, say, a small law firm with a County focus. The jail, specifically the older section now in an extended state of disuse, would make an extraordinary location for an innovative restaurant or other retail facility.

“The key is to make the new County buildings part of an attractive downtown, one that is a coherent whole and not an isolated set of buildings surrounded by soulless parking lots. This can best be achieved with a judicious mix of publicly- and privately-built structures, the protection of buildings with a  history, and careful development of integrated parking facilities.”

– Dr. Steve Rattien

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