Prior to every election, the Martinez News-Gazette asks local candidates a series of questions to inform voters about how those candidates stand on select issues.
Below are the responses to three of seven questions submitted to Councilmember Debbie McKillop and challenger John Stevens. The pair are facing off for the District 4 seat on the city council.
Measure X, if it passes, would give the city some financial breathing room to address services and other needs. How do you feel about Measure X, what it would mean if it passes and what it would mean if it were to fail?
McKillop: Measure X touches the lives of every resident in Martinez. I believe it will improve quality of life and ensure we retain our critical services. I support Measure X – the Martinez Quality of Life and Essential Services Measure and hope you will too. Perhaps you were one of the numerous residents that participated in the quality of life survey conducted early this summer that solicited public opinion on forming a revenue measure. The feedback supported a general-purpose measure allowing a funding mechanism to address multiple quality of life issues, including our police department to improve public safety, maintain our 911 system, improve emergency response times, school safety, address homelessness and enable more neighborhood patrols. As the Sheriff’s Crime Lab Manager, I understand the importance of our police officers to ensure all manners of public safety and prevent violent crime. The feedback further supported the Public Works Department and their efforts to maintain our aging infrastructure, water distribution system, storm drains and water mains. Martinez loves its parks and citizens asked to prioritize park maintenance, as well as youth, recreation and senior programs. Martinez is truly a community that cares, and Measure X is a reflection of that spirit. Measure X is a proposed ½ cent sales tax that will generate $3.2 million annually and sunset in 15 years. The funds are subject to community-based spending priorities and includes strict accountability provisions such as an independent citizen’s oversight of spending, public spending reports, and annual independent financial audits. Measure X is not a blank check, it is a defined list of identified priorities having strict citizen oversight. Without the financial support Measure X provides, the city will be facing cuts to essential services jeopardizing the protections and amenities we all have come to expect. With your support, Measure X will ensure community safety and improve infrastructure integrity, while preparing ourselves for the future.
Stevens: First let us begin with what we can expect if measure X fails. Our City Manager has been frank in telling us that without the tax, the City will be facing “draconian cuts” in city personnel and services. In voting on this, the public must decide what that they want, maintaining and some possible increase in services or a dramatic reduction.
In talking to a number of professional people, bankers, mortgage lenders, lawyers and Realtors alike, they fear having such cuts. Once services are reduced we can expect less attention to our parks, streets, code enforcement and policing. With that happening our city would be a less desirable place to live and could face stagnant or decreases in home values. Thus, we would have even less revenue to run the city. It could be the beginning of a downward spiral. Should Measure X pass, we are told that we can expect services at the current plus some increase.
However, I warn that if Measure X passes, we must not suddenly spend recklessly. The City should be judicious in spending so as not to again get into the current financial position. We should first determine a plan that we can realistically honor to pay the $4,000,000 debt which that council borrowed this year to pay our past due social security bill. Next, we must be sure to maintain and increase our reserve. Some funds should be dedicated to lowering our unfunded pension liability. Only after that should we look at increasing services.
If elected, what issues unique to District 4 would you like to see addressed through City Council?
McKillop: District 4 has several unique attributes that I have had the privilege to address while serving of your Martinez City Councilwoman. The list below highlights a few of the on-going projects unique to District 4:
Aging Infrastructure – As a City Councilwoman, I have been an advocate supporting the approval of a database inventory system of the entire water distribution network to proactively address maintenance needs and prevent unintended disruptions of services, ensuring the delivery of safe drinking water. In July 2018, District 4 suffered multiple incidents of water main breaks causing repetitive service disruption, thousands of gallons of water waisted and residential flooding. The dedicated and skilled union workers of the Public Works Department were able to restore service as quickly as possible.
Open Space Preservation of Alhambra Highlands – As a City Councilwoman, I’ve had the privilege of participating and directing staff working on the process of acquiring these lands. The goal is to determine a mutually agreed upon price that is reasonable in order for the city to collaborate other entities dedicated to preservation.
City Park Renovation – The renovation of Golden Hills Park is scheduled for 2019 as part of the Measure H funding. This park is in desperate need of renovation and some areas are unsafe for use. This project received unanimous city council support and is expected to begin soon.
City Park Maintenance – Nancy Boyd and Golden Hills Park are both in District 4. The concern is that once the Measure H funds have been used for renovation, the parks will not receive adequate city funds for on-going maintenance. These concerns have been made in the past and at council I’ve approved modifications of staffing/positions to ensure resources are dedicated to this project. If Measure X passes in November, the city will have sufficient funds to adequately maintain all of our beautiful parks.
School Safety/Traffic – District 4 is home to Alhambra High School and John Swett Elementary School. The long-term goal is to have a dedicated school resource officer to interact with students and school administration. In addition, the traffic congestion around the schools needs to be better monitored and improved. Suggestions from the police department can be provided to assist the school district.
Wastewater System Upgrade – The wastewater system mechanical equipment in Contra Costa County Sanitary District 6 (SD6), in the Stonehurst Subdivision, has deficiencies that need to be addressed to prevent system failures.
Public Safety – The need to recruit qualified police officers with specialized training to address public health and quality of life issues, such as homelessness, drug use, property crime, investigations and 911 response time is critical for the quality of life of District 4 residents.
Stevens: As a community activist, I have worked hard to improve District 4. In particular, streets and parks. As many know, I have led and been successful in my efforts.
However, there is still work to do. Many streets such as Blueridge Dr., Macalvey Dr., and Virginia Hills Dr. have significant traffic problems. “Traffic Calming” is low on the City’s list of priorities, but it is high for those living on such streets. I will keep this issue in front of staff and council to work on a resolution.
Macalvey Dr. is at risk of an increased traffic problem with the potential development of Pine Meadows. In conjunction with any development there, the City should have a plan in place to assure that nearby neighborhoods are minimally impacted and potentially improved.
I have been strongly in favor of saving Alhambra Hills from development and will work with the council find ways to purchase that land. We will need to look at sources such as East Bay Park WW funds and other such resources to prevent the development of this land.
District 4 includes not only south of Highway 4 but also the downtown area. I have expressed a number of ways to improve the business district downtown in an effort to increase and enhance the services offered. Two of those have been for the City to create a stronger marketing plan to bring foot traffic to the businesses to help them not to just survive, but to thrive.
Additionally, I want to see the waterfront developed in a thoughtful approach to the land. Making it a destination will increase business for downtown, part of which is in District 4, and provide a much esired community space for our citizens. Talking about it will not get the job done. It is well past time that we begin developing a plan.
Automobile theft have been on the rise in Martinez, especially in some of the southernmost neighborhoods. I want to see license plate readers in the area as has already been instituted downtown so that we can retrieve and preferably deter these thefts.
All of Martinez is important. We must endeavor to make sure that all parts of the city have an equal voice and I will help to balance that by representing District 4.
How much growth do you think is appropriate for Martinez? What kind of growth and where should it take place?
McKillop: “Growth” either residential or commercial can be one of the most controversial subjects for any community to navigate and Martinez is not immune. Growth and land use are related and at times there are struggles finding a balance between the two. One of the biggest growth-related issues facing our community is housing. California is facing a housing crisis and the state has instituted housing mandates for cities to implement which define the number of units each community must add by 2025. Despite the state’s efforts, there is still a lack of affordable housing available to the gamut of buyers ranging from young families and seniors. Many people today are struggling to afford rising rents and purchasing a home has become even more financially challenging for our first-time buyers.
Martinez is mostly a built-out city, with limited land opportunities for development. However, there are areas where in-fill housing opportunities should be considered and encouraged. Many small vacant or underutilized parcels are scattered throughout the city, which are opportunities for future housing. Although the best way to combat the housing crisis is to incorporate both market-rate (privately produced housing) in addition to more affordable housing options. Both are essential and necessary to address the needs of middle and low-income residents. However, housing cannot go unchecked and must be tailored to meet the needs of the community.
The historic downtown area would greatly benefit from housing to ensure the viability of the businesses that invested in our community. To sustain our downtown commercial core, we need to explore developing more dense infill housing around our transportation hubs and Amtrak Station. These targeted areas are ideal for higher density housing which meets the needs of resident commuters that rely on rail and bus service. This prospect will also combat our climate goals, so we are not pushing people into “sprawl” housing, where they must rely exclusively on cars and face long commutes.
In addition, options to modify existing homes with in-law units or other expansion designs are helpful to keep multi-generational families together. Many seniors that are downsizing are looking for a single level home or townhome and condo style living with amenities and limited yards to keep up, which again are usually a higher density housing development. Having the opportunity to consider these housing challenges and developing a plan to assist in relieving the pressures associated with housing is significant. Housing issues and policy choices can be very controversial, but necessary to ensure the quality of life for all residents is properly recognized and addressed in the most sensible manner. Continuing to address these challenges in Martinez is my goal, and I hope to continue to work for a reasonable outcome.
Stevens: Martinez is nearly built-out, leaving little space for development.
First, I do not want to see Alhambra Highlands developed. Its highly visible nature, beauty and historical significance having once being owned by John Muir, are all causes for its preservation.
There are still some infill locations appropriate for development, many are single lots. In the downtown “core” area I would like to see architecturally appropriate infill. By that I mean architecture that fits in with the existing buildings and of the time period from which they were built.
Currently, the Downtown Specific Plan limits building to 2 stories. We have and have had many beautiful buildings that are and were taller. I would like to see the ordnance changed to allow for 3 and 4 story buildings with a setback from the street on the top level. By allowing a slight height increase and require underground parking it would provide the opportunity for builders to create living spaces with more modest rent and sale prices and limit more parking problems. This is most important as the cost of housing is constraining people from buying homes in our area. More housing in the “core” would create more foot traffic and help sustain and bring in more business to the area.