City in good financial condition; road improvements underway, marina open to progress

Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder delivers the State of the City address, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, at Creekside Church. The Martinez Chamber of Commerce hosted the breakfast event, with Chamber CEO John Stevens as Master of Ceremonies, and Martinez Unified School District Superintendent Rami Muth as the guest speaker. (ERIC BURK / Martinez News-Gazette)

MARTINEZ, Calif. – At Tuesday’s State of the City address, Mayor Rob Schroder focused on positive 2014 economic improvements for the city and the need for more.

Schroder said the city’s general fund has an operating budget of $19.5 million and an expense budget of $19 million. The “rainy day fund” (unrestricted reserve) is expected to be at an estimated $4.5 million by the end of this fiscal year. Representing 23 percent of the general fund Schroder said that “is a sign of a very healthy financial position for the city.”

The City Council is beginning to discuss an appropriate level of reserve funds and how the city will spend the $4.4 million in reserves. Schroder stated his belief is the funds should be directed to one-time capital improvement projects such as road paving and repairing sidewalks.

Schroder highlighted the changes at City Hall with the hiring of a new city manager, Rob Braulik, who is expected to start at the beginning of April, and the search for a permanent police chief to replace Gary Peterson.

Preceding Schroder to the podium was Martinez Unified School District Superintendent Rami Muth.

Muth told the audience of the challenges facing the district with the implementation of Common Core standards.

Muth explained California’s new school funding law, called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). The LCFF requires school districts to involve parents in planning and decision making as well as in developing Local Control and Accountability Plans (LCAPs).

Muth stated the district is ahead of the curve in implementing the use of 1:1 computing strategies that increase student engagement and prepare students to be college and career ready.

The State of the City Breakfast was held at Creekside Church and presented by the Martinez Area Chamber of Commerce. John Stevens, Chamber CEO, served as the morning’s host.

The State of the City address was delivered Feb. 17, 2015, as follows:

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

If you attended the State of the City Breakfast last year, you might remember I followed a magician. That was a tough act to follow!

[The year] 2014 has been a much better year for our nation, state and city. The economy has been improving steadily for the last few years.

In just the last year the stock market has continued to rise to historical levels. One year ago it was at 15,600. On Friday it closed at 18,019!

Unemployment keeps dropping, foreclosures have leveled off, the price of homes [is] increasing and consumer confidence is growing.

The financial picture for the state of California looks good with increasing tax income and funding for many programs that had been cut or eliminated during the recession.

The financial picture of the city is very good. Property assessed valuation is up to over $4.8 billion (it was $4.4 billion a year ago), which yields $6.963 million in property tax income. This is an increase of $360,000 from last year, and $760,000 from two years ago.

Sales tax is down about $1 million from last year to the exit of a large sales tax producer and currently sits at $4.1 million for this fiscal year ending June 31.

The city’s general fund has an operating budget of $19.5 million and an expense budget of $19 million. (with a $500,000 cushion).

Our “rainy day fund” (unrestricted reserve) is expected to be at an estimated $4.5 million by the end of this fiscal year.

This is 23 percent of our general fund, which is a sign of a very healthy financial position.

This reserve has grown over the past few years from $3.3 million (2012) to $3.9 million (2013) and $4.4 million (2014).

Maintaining a healthy fund balance is a high priority for the City Council and we will be keeping a close eye on revenue and expenditures.

During the next several months of developing the 2015-2017 two-year budget, the City Council will be discussing what is an appropriate level of reserve funds, and if we have excess, what to do with those funds.

It is my opinion that any “excess” funds be used on one time capital improvements such as paving roads and repairing sidewalks.

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.

Martinez does not have large malls and car dealers as our neighbors in Concord and Walnut Creek [have]. Those facilities generate tremendous amounts of income when the economy is good.

But when the economy is bad, they create huge deficits in city budgets that require layoffs, cutting of programs and deferring capital improvement projects.

Because we do not have this type of lucrative sales tax income, it was not ours to lose during the recession.

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.

We experienced the loss of a large sales tax producer just this last year, which was responsible for the reduction in our sales tax of almost $1 million.

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

Last year, the City Council adopted an economic stimulus program with the goal of stimulating the attraction of new business and expansion of existing businesses, resulting in growth and diversification to the city’s tax base.

The program is open to “business-to-business” operations – those that deliver and warehouse supplies and equipment used in business operations and construction activities. (Retail operations are not eligible.)

To qualify for the program, businesses must generate at least $200,000 per fiscal year of sales and use tax, have their point of sale in Martinez, and agree to operate continuously in Martinez for five years.

As you all know, a major change at the top of city administration occurred with the departure of the city manager, Phil Vince, in October of 2013.

Over the past 16 months, Martinez has been managed by a group of very talented individuals that have done much more than just keep the doors to City Hall open.

Martinez Chamber of Commerce CEO John Stevens welcomes guests to the State of the City Breakfast before introducing speakers, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, at Creekside Church. (ERIC BURK / Martinez News-Gazette)

They have moved this city forward under some very difficult political times, including a rather contentious election.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking Assistant City Manager (and current Interim City Manager) and Deputy Director of Strategic Planning and Economic Development, Anna Gwyn Simpson, for their efforts during the last 16 months.

I would also like to thank a gentleman that I have known and worked with for many years. Jim Jakel worked for Martinez very early in his career, was the city manager prior to my tenure on the City Council, ran the Contra Costa Council for many years, and most recently retired as city manager in the City of Antioch.

Martinez was fortunate to have him act as interim manager from late July to mid November. Jim’s presence did much to “calm the waters” in and out of City Hall.

As was announced last week, after an extensive search and interview process, the City Council voted unanimously to hire Robert “Rob” Braulik as Martinez’ new city manager.

Rob comes to us most recently from Ross, and has held various management positions in Palo Alto, Rocklin, Fairfield, and Benicia (where he resides).

Rob has extensive experience in economic development, budget and finance, and land use.

He has a very detailed plan for “the first 100 days” as city manager in Martinez. I am confident that he is an excellent fit for this community.

Due to his contractual obligations with Ross, Rob will not be able to take the helm until early April.

We have amazing people working for us 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.

This includes the men and women of the Martinez Police Department who enforce our laws and keep our families, homes and businesses safe 24 hours a day.

For almost a year the PD has been operating without a permanent police chief with the retirement of Chief Gary Peterson.

Since that time, Captain Eric Ghisletta has been leading the PD as interim chief. Eric is well respected in the community, by his fellow officers, and by me.

Unlike most cities where the city manager hires the chief of police, this power is vested in the City Council. I would like to change that.

Up until last August, the chief also reported to the council. Now the chief reports to the city manager.

The selection of a new chief will be deliberated by the City Council in the next few months.

Most of our Measure H park projects have been completed with only Susana Street Park, Mt. View Park and Waterfront Park yet to be started.

Just a few weeks ago 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 not allocated to the acquisition of the West Hills property through the Muir Heritage Land Trust) to the active recreational facilities of Waterfront Park.

Construction is planned to commence in the fall and continue through the summer of 2016.

Susana Street and Mt. View parks both have completed designs. The projects will be advertised for bidding next month with the awarding of a construction contract by the end of March.

Susana Street Park will be completed by mid July.

Mt. View Park construction will commence in late June in order to avoid conflicts with Little League.

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

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

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

• Marina Vista bike/ped project. [This] will improve pedestrian and bicycle access for eastbound travelers from Shell Avenue to the Martinez/Benicia Bridge Trail.

• Shell Avenue and Alhambra Valley Road sidewalk improvements – two projects that will construct sidewalks on Shell Avenue between Pine Street and Harbor View Drive. Another sidewalk is being constructed on Alhambra Valley Road in front of John Swett Elementary School.

In our water department we have three large projects either under construction or close to construction:

The Harbor View Reservoir Replacement is getting close to completion. It is a larger reservoir at a lower elevation. It will provide additional water capacity in case of a fire in the lower areas of town.

Because it is so visible from Alhambra High School, I understand there are secret plans to paint a large Alhambra “A” on the side of the tank facing the school.

The next water project is the repair and upgrades of the electrical system throughout the water plant. This will significantly increase the reliability of the plant.

And the final water system project is the seismic upgrade of the 1969 portion of the water plant to meet current seismic standards.

Street resurfacing – this is always a top priority for residents and for the City Council.

Last year both Reliez Valley Road and portions of Arnold Drive were repaved. In 2015, the paving program includes Pine/Center Avenue at Highway 4 and Morello at Highway 4. These projects will commence when Caltrans completes their current on-ramp metering projects.

Also included in the program are C Street, Allen Street, Haag Road, and pothole repairs all over the city. Bids will go out in March.

The 2015 Pavement Rehabilitation Program is planned for several streets around the city. This includes a slurry seal as preventative maintenance. Certain streets in poorer condition will receive a fiber reinforced single or double slurry coat.

The purchase of paving equipment is planned for our next budget to allow city crews to repair streets in a timely manner where water breaks have occurred. City crews will also be able to pave small streets not included in the larger annual paving projects.

We are projecting to invest over $2 million in street repairs this summer, and may commit even more after analyzing the unrestricted fund balance ($4.5 million).

Economic development continues to be the point of our focus for success in the future.

I have already mentioned the economic stimulus program the council adopted last year to attract and expand business-to-business operations.

With City Manager Rob Braulik and his extensive experience in economic development, I expect we will double our efforts to improve the business climate in Martinez.

Martinez made great strides in improving the environment this last year with the adoption and implementation of the single use plastic bag ban. This ordinance was adopted last summer and took effect on Jan. 1. Early indications are that it is a success.

In conjunction with this new ordinance, the city announced it would start enforcing the already-in-place ban on polystyrene (styrofoam) materials for food take-out.

The city partnered with Republic Services, Main Street Martinez, and the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and conducted an extensive public outreach and education program which included door-to-door contacts, press releases, email blasts, signage materials, and a website dedicated to both materials.

On Jan. 2, I was in line at Safeway (with my reusable bag provided by the City at no charge to residents) and observed for a time the customers in the checkout line. No longer were they hearing that familiar phrase, “Paper or plastic?” The new line was: “Did you bring your reusable bag or would you like to buy one for 10 cents?”

I questioned the clerk about how his customers were handling the change. He said that about 2/3rds of people were aware of the bag ban and thought it was a good idea.

One-third knew nothing about it; with only a handful of that 1/3rd angry, expressing that it was a violation of their free choice or a scheme for the grocery stores to make money, or both.

His final comment to me was: “In three months everyone will be used to the ban and bringing in your reusable bag will be second nature.”

The arts have always been an important component to the quality of life and vibrancy in the Martinez community.

This includeds celebrations such as Art in the Park, the Martinez Arts Association’s gallery, performances at Alhambra’s Performing Arts Building, and OnStage Performing Arts Building, and productions at the Campbell Theatre in downtown Martinez.

The city’s lease on the Campbell Theatre will expire at the end of June and we will be faced with the decision of whether to continue our support of local theatre in Martinez.

I support continuation of performances at the Campbell Theatre with OnStage Theatre productions and will work with the owner of the building to purchase the property to ensure that downtown Martinez has a permanent performing arts venue.

There are just a few more areas that I would like to cover this morning before we leave: the Martinez waterfront, the looming unreinforced masonry deadline of Aug. 15, 2015, homelessness, and the general plan update.

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.

This last year we experienced the most progress at the waterfront than has been seen for decades.

The passage of SB 1424, authored by Senator Lois Wolk and co-sponsored by Assembly­member Susan Bonilla, was passed through the Senate and Assembly and signed by Governor Brown.

This bill cancelled the waterfront lease with the State Lands Commission and granted the lands at the marina to the City under the public trust doctrine, in perpetuity (forever).

This gives us the stability and certainty of control of these lands that will allow for public/private investment in improvements such as hotel, restaurant, educational, and recreational/boating/water related commercial businesses.

Permanent housing is not allowed under the land grant.

We continue to have discussions with the State on the outstanding debt with the goal of reducing the debt and restructuring the balance.

The marina debt to the State is currently $4.2 million for loans (the first was a partnership agreement) going back to 1960 through 1980.

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.

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

WETA (the Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority) funded and completed a study to site the ferry landing and the preferred site is Ferry Point just to the west of the marina.

CCTA (Contra Costa Transportation Authority) recently conducted a study looking at ridership to include a route for all three cities on the San Francisco, Hercules, Martinez, Antioch route, and the numbers were not especially positive.

Martinez Unified School District Superintendent Rami Muth addresses attendees at the State of the City Breakfast at Creekside Church, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015. Muth spoke of the importance of offering students 1:1 computing, and the challenges the district faces in the implementation of Common Core standards. (ERIC BURK / Martinez News-Gazette)

In a recent meeting with City representatives (myself, Alan (Sheer), and Michael Bernick), Antioch City Manager Steve Duran, and Randy Iwasaki (CCTA executive director), it became apparent that we might need to consider a different water transit model than the traditional WETA system.

Because the “emergency” part of WETA is important to the county with Martinez being the county seat, site of the county hospital, jail, court system, sherriff and office of emergency services, the building of a ferry landing site is critical.

The operation of a daily ferry in Martinez may not make economic sense unless we have the “rooftops” in the downtown area to support the system.

In the meantime, we were urged to contact the private ferry operators (Blue & Gold/Red & White) to start discussions about providing excursion/commute service.

We will also be looking at a water transit component in the reauthorization of Measure J to help fund the operations of a ferry system in Martinez.

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

In looking back over my URM file, I have emails that go back to 2004 when June Catalano was our city manager.

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 (none on the list) 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.

As of today, there are 20 buildings technically out of compliance to one degree or another, with only a handful of those completely out of compliance. The vast majority of property owners have complied with the ordinance and now have much safer buildings.

Recently, the City sent certified letters to all of the building owners out of compliance, and their tenants, and a bit of panic has started to spread downtown.

Tenants are beginning to be concerned, and rightly so, about how the retrofit of their building (or the lack of) will affect their business. We want commerce to continue and businesses to remain viable during this period of retrofit.

The City will continue to work with property owners, and their tenants, that are making a good faith effort to comply with the ordinance, but we will not allow others to ignore it.

This is not only about economics, but also about human life, which is priceless.

Homelessness is a problem that plagues cities all over the world. It is a problem that is much bigger than the city of Martinez and it is a problem that we will never solve on our own.

The Martinez PD has been working with county mental health, Contra Costa Homeless Outreach and Main Street Martinez to help stem this problem in Martinez.

Being the county seat with the jail, county hospital, and social services attracts some homelessness to the city. We also have broad expanses of open space and parks that provide places for people to camp and park their vehicles.

We need to do more to help the homeless to obtain the services they need to get out of this vicious cycle. We also need to provide a safe and attractive environment for our businesses, residents and visitors.

Over this next year Martinez needs to develop an aggressive, copassionate and effective, comprehensive program that respects individual rights and also the rights of the community at large.

We need to review our ordinances that deal with pan handling, camping, and parking.

We need provide more resources to the police department and to homeless support groups such as those provided by Doug Stewart and Contra Costa Homeless Outreach.

And finally, the General Plan. Whatever happened to that? Wasn’t that planned to be completed a few year ago?

The answer to that question is … yes. We started the update of the city’s General Plan six 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 task force has reviewed all of the completed elements and the final elements are being completed now along with the EIR (Environmental Impact Report).

The final draft will go to the task force for review in the spring and summer and the public comment period will follow for 60 days.

The next stop will be the Planning Commission and then the City Council.

Expect final adoption of the General Plan before the end of this year.

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 an 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 would also like to 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 2015.

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