Letter to the Editor: Sporting goods store plans should move forward

Every now and then, a municipal issue arises that becomes a potential watershed moment for the city council and the community. It seems that one has arisen in Martinez with the proposed downtown development of an ambitious outdoor sporting goods store in the mold of Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops, which would occupy a large space on Ferry Street between Main Street and Escobar Street. The apparent controversy comes from a planned underground shooting range attached to the store.

The city council will no doubt have the last word on whether this enterprise is permitted to go forward. This presents the council with an unenviable conundrum. Should they act in the best fiscal interest of the city, or should they cave to the ideological and emotional objections of opponents. I believe they should act in the best interests of the city’s future and approve this venture. It won’t be easy. Leadership never is.

There will be many heartfelt entreaties to deny the development of the underground shooting range. It is my hope that the council will rightfully sympathize with those emotional, ideological pleas but demonstrate leadership by disregarding them in their decision. The fiscal health of our city requires a welcoming environment for entrepreneurial investment. Denying any such endeavor requires good reason. In the case of this proposal, there is none.

The fear or disdain of gun owners coming to our downtown is nothing short of ideological bigotry. Whoever reads this letter has law-abiding gun owners living within 500 feet of them. Can you tell who they are? Likely not. But they are just like you. They include every demographic. They serve you coffee. They clean your teeth. They mow your lawns. They sit next to you in church. They work with you. You pass them on the street every day and smile at them. They are just plain folks like you. Their mere existence protects you in your sleep, because like you, bad guys are uncertain which households can and cannot defend themselves with lawful deadly force. Why would you shun your neighbors and friends just because they assume a protective responsibility you demur?

There is no safety issue. The very purpose and effect of such a facility will be to promote safe, lawful compliance with strict California laws regarding the use, transport, and handling of lawfully owned firearms. Would we deny an application for a driving academy? If the council is concerned about firearm safety, they must approve the application.

There is no noise issue. Even those inside the new store during a firing session will never hear a sound from the range. There is an existing indoor firing range on Howe Road, at Canyon Sports. It is non-public and is used only to test firearms serviced by the in-house gunsmith. I once brought my own handgun to be serviced. The gunsmith went into the adjacent range to test fire my handgun. He fired a full magazine of .45 ACP (very loud) and I heard no sound from my location in the store a mere 40 feet away. Their test range is not underground and is simply sound insulated. The proposed gun range downtown will be equally sound insulated, and underground.

There will be objections that begin with language like “I have nothing against guns. In fact, one of my best friends is a gun owner. We just don’t want them in ‘our’ downtown.” Here we get to the heart of the bigotry. Mind you, it is a soft bigotry. It is soft because it is commonly accepted, promoted, and shared. That makes it especially challenging for the city council to reject and rise above. If this were 1919 instead of 2019, we could be talking openly about keeping a negro jazz club from “our” downtown. But this is 2019, and we are more evolved now. So instead, we talk openly about keeping today’s “others” from our downtown. Those others are all around you. We have raised the rainbow flag at city hall. Now we get a chance to see whether we deserved it.

There will be pleas to foster the dream of eventual inclusion into the family of modern, advanced cities like Walnut Creek: urban enclaves of chic prosperity with prestigious retailers and culinary destinations. Surely, such progressed communities would never accept lowbrow activities like gun stores. But downtown Walnut Creek has two gun stores. One is right across the street from the new library, 50 feet from the Walnut Creek Police Department, and 350 feet from frolicking river otters enjoyed by families visiting Civic Park’s river walk. The other gun store is across the street from Century Theaters, Kacha Thai Bistro, Kinsley James, and Veggie Grill. Have those gun stores sabotaged the prosperity and reputation of Walnut Creek? No they have not.

Apparently Walnut Creek’s “River Otters and Bullets” are able to peacefully coexist more harmoniously than Martinez’ divisive placards and memes give our beavers credit for. Perhaps Walnut Creek’s “Courageous Council” deserves accolades for that.

What the Martinez City Council must gird themselves for is a choice between continued fiscal decline and progress toward fiscal stability. It may not seem like one small application for a sporting goods store and firing range can be so important, but it is. What Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Lafayette, and all the other communities so envied by the insecure have in common is decisiveness in the face of NIMBY opposition. Those councils recognized long ago that ideological bigotry, unwarranted pretentiousness, and undaunted negativity in pursuit of quiet, quaint mediocrity was undeserving of council servitude. It takes real leadership to withstand sincere, heartfelt pleas from friends, and move forward. Many of us who are as fervently in favor of this project may have no desire to subject ourselves to invective and ridicule at a public forum, but we are all taking note of council’s courage to do the right thing, or lack thereof.

Many will feebly try to make the case that approving a gun store and below-ground shooting range on Ferry Street will dissuade other entrepreneurs from investing in Martinez. Poppycock! Just more pretentious bigotry. Don’t fall for it. What will prevent other entrepreneurs from investing in Martinez is what has always prevented such risk-taking: a planning commission and council lacking courage, who cave to NIMBY activists that chant with sympathetic, heartfelt, bigoted agony.

The City of Martinez is approaching a fiscal turning point. The Shell Refinery has been sold to PBF Energy for a price far below the tax-assessed value of the Shell Refinery. Tax revenue will precipitously decline. Not only will new management be potentially less generous to the city for public relations purposes, but the reduced property tax revenue will create a fiscal shortfall to city coffers and MUSD revenue. Now is the time for aggressive fiscal leadership. Now is the time for entrepreneurial open arms. The time for spine is now!

I strongly support and wholeheartedly recommend approval of the proposed development on Ferry Street. The project owner deserves a chance to succeed or fail on the merits of his own vision. Reject the NIMBY’s. Reject the soft bigots. Don’t embrace divisiveness. Instead, embrace inclusion and prosperity. Bring us together. Prove that the rainbow flag hoisted above city hall meant something real.

– Patrick J. McNamara


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