Martinez building economic foundation with action plan, council hears

Martinez City Hall

MARTINEZ, Calif. – When Community and Economic Development Director Christina Ratcliffe spoke to Martinez City Council last June about the city’s efforts to improve its economic development efforts, she described the work at the time as riding a bicycle while simultaneously riding it.

A citywide organization scan outlined recommendations for building that portion of Ratcliffe’s department to greater strength after the recession forced the city to cut jobs.

Staff is being added, from Economic Development Coordinator Zach Seal to the newly-hired City Planner Margaret Kavanaugh-Lynch. Intern Zach Matera starts Monday.

Meanwhile, the staff also has been crafting the Economic Development Action Plan, which Ratcliffe and Seale described to the Council Wednesday night.

Building a solid foundation for the city, the department is taking a two-pronged approach, Ratcliffe said. One part consist of economic development core services, retaining and encouraging growth in existing businesses, building relationships with them, improving communication and even recovering misallocated sales tax and introducing those who are looking to move businesses here to brokers who can help them find sites.

The first phase of the Economic Development Action Plan is the other prong, identifying the city’s 12 economic centers, looking at the taxes they generate, determining available real estate, looking at other assets, encouraging community engagement, examining the city’s demographics and market review, among other tasks.

But encouraging economic development in Martinez isn’t just one department’s job, Ratcliffe said. Every department of the city has some part to play, she said. Nor can the city accomplish this alone. Martinez is cooperating with local businesses, residents, visitors, property owners, such organizations as Main Street Martinez and the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, professional organizations and other governmental agencies.

The city’s economic drivers come from businesses that provide goods and services outside the region, those that are patronized by residents and commerce that is supported by visitors and tourists. Where they overlap is “the sweet spot” – economic prosperity, Ratcliffe said.

Among the points she made, Ratcliffe said Martinez needs to be “agile and nimble” in addressing economic development, because situations change. Not only is economic development far different now than it was in the 1950s, more changes are coming, “sooner than we know,” she said.

Utilities and infrastructure need to keep up, she said, as illustrated by transitions to digital, and retailers now have both online and brick and mortar options. In the latter case, customers don’t just want to go buy something at a store; they also want to have experiences that are positive and interesting.

Martinez is ideal for “solopreneurs,” a term describing small businesses of five employees or fewer that intend to remain small, she said.

Seal divided the city’s 12 economic centers into three types, starting with retail and commercial areas on Alhambra Avenue, the downtown, California Highway 4’s corridor, Virginia Hills Center and the waterfront and Martinez Marina. These cover 640 acres and generate $3.78 million in tax revenue.

Industrial and highway commercial areas are on the Howe-Pacheco industrial corridor, the Pacheco-Arnold corridor and two areas of Pacheco in unincorporated Contra Costa County. These cover 142 acres and generate $569,000 in tax revenue.

Refineries – Mococo, Shell North and Shell South in unincorporated Contra Costa County – cover 742 acres and generate $3 million in tax revenue, he said.

Additional housing likely would spur demand for more retail goods and services, he said. There also is a likely demand for casual dining, hotel rooms, visitor amenities, and the city has a potential for increasing its attractiveness to visitors and take advantage of infill development.

The industrial and highway commercial areas make up “an important sector,” Seal said, noting they provide good-paying jobs. Nearby residential areas can limit this type of business expansion, and appearances can be improved with landscaping, gateways and signage.

The local refineries “are good corporate citizens,” Seal said. “There’s a lot of civic pride at Shell and Eco Services.

Those companies want to buy supplies from Martinez, as do other businesses, he said. When a purchaser is forced to go elsewhere, it’s called leakage, and that’s an economic development area in Martinez that needs improving.

One tool commercial areas themselves can use for funding improvements, especially in downtown or retail sites, is forming a Business Improvement District (BID), which taxes the area’s members and spends the money only within the district, he said.

Often those districts use the money for targeted services, such as maintenance, physical improvements, homeless outreach and “ambassadors,” or area representatives who provide information and guidance to shoppers and visitors.

This portion of the Economic Development Action Plan gives the city an idea of where it is now, Ratcliffe said, calling it the foundation that needs to be strong, or else the rest falls over.

The next phase will look at where Martinez wants to be, and the third phase will examine ways to get there, she said. That will go on through 2019.

If the downtown is the heart of the city, the Highway 4 corridor and the refineries are areas producing tax income, and improvements are needed there, City Manager Brad Kilger said.

“I think this is an excellent report,” Mayor Rob Schroder said, but he acknowledges there’s work to be done in the various economic areas.

In the past, the city has struggled to find a direction, Councilmember Mark Ross said. It’s experimented with things other cities have done to encourage economic development, and that hasn’t worked.

“I think we need to think outside the box,” Ross said. In addition, the city needs to think differently from its neighbors. It needs to explain what Martinez is, with its history and artists.

“We don’t need a lot of big retail space,” he said.

But Martinez could get a boon from residential projects proposed in the nearby former weapons station. “We could be their front doorstep,” he said.

Another report to the Council Wednesday showed that despite changes in how information is gathered and recorded, Martinez is making strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Deputy Director of Administrative Services Michael Chandler said the key projects in the city’s current and future accomplishments are transitioning from Pacific Gas and Electric as the supplier of electricity to most households and businesses to Marin Clean Energy, also known as MCE Clean Energy, since so many of its members are outside that county; the Martinez Unified School District (MUSD) recycling project, the California Youth Energy Services Program; the Greenhouse Gas Emissions process review, Martinez City Hall’s energy efficiency upgrades, special compost and recycling events and partnerships with area sustainability organizations.

When the city switched to MCE, the Martinez opt-out rate, or numbers of PG&E customers who chose to stay with that investor-owned utility, was 8.25 percent, lower than Contra Costa County’s rate of 9.23 percent, Chandler said.

The MUSD recycling project focuses on teaching students in kindergarten through fifth grades, in partnership with New Leaf Collaborative, Republic Services and the city, with partial funding from CalRecycle.

Volunteers, including student “green teams,” teachers and administrators as well as custodial staff, guide the children in taking lunch waste items and sorting them for recycling or discarding in trash.

Chandler played a short video featuring students who challenged viewers to pick which school lunch item packaging could be recycled as green waste or as recyclable products and which items would end up in the landfill. One student bragged that since all of his packed lunch items were in reusable containers, nothing needed to be discarded.

New Leaf Collaborative provides classroom education which goes beyond picking the correct bin for an item. The children also learn about greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental concerns.

Martinez is ending its participation in the California Youth Energy Services Program as it existed in the past, because that program is changing to regional sites, Chandler said. But in the past five years, trained students have visited 950 homes to perform analyses of household use of power and water, advising how residents can cut back on their consumption and at times installing devices that would help them reach those goals.

The new focus will be on larger customers and low-income clients, Chandler said.

Greenhouse gas emissions are declining in the city, and appear to be on track to be below target numbers for 2020, Chandler said. But some details are missing; some data can’t be provided because of privacy rulings, he said.

But a succession of three temporary workers, have developed a process review on tracking and calculating greenhouse gas emissions that that document will guide the preparation for the next inventory, planned for 2020, he said.

CivicSpark Fellow Natalie Mezaki and two sustainability programs assistants, Kieran Parhar and Isabell Angel have been instrumental in the city’s greenhouse gas reduction achievements, he said.

A project under consideration for funding next year would replace City Hall’s single-pane windows and the building’s climate control equipment. Chandler said Martinez received $20,000 of free technical assistance from East Bay Energy Watch, and completing the scope of work and evaluating funding are the next tasks.

With the help of Republic Services, the city has had several special compost and recycling events, including collections of plastic foam (Styrofoam), compost giveaways and the sixth annual Reuse Roundup at Alhambra High School that will help those attending Christmas for Everyone later this year. By making clothing, housewares, toys, bicycles and scooters available for them.

Martinez participated in Sustainable Contra Costa’s 2018 Community Resilience Challenge East Bay, and the city’s 897 logged sustainable actions were second-most among participating agencies, he said.

Contra Costa Climate Leaders have put on local workshops, provided resources and distributed information, and Contra Costa Sustainability Exchange, led by the county’s Department of Conservation and Development, has been another partner with the city.

No action was needed for either report.

The Council confirmed Mayor Rob Schroder’s appointment of Jason Martin from alternate to regular member of the Planning Commission and reappointment of Daniel Pellegrini to the Board of Trustees for the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District.

On the Consent Calendar, the Council approved City Engineer Tim Tucker’s request to accept Ross Recreation Equipment’s $61,569.81 proposal for installing a protective surface to a rubber surfaces at several municipal playgrounds and allocating $70,000 from unallocated Park and Recreation impact fees for the work.

It authorized a construction maintenance agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for the Ferry Street-Union Pacific Railroad Access Project improvements. The project’s cope of work and estimates to improve and update the pedestrian access at the location is complete, and the CalTrans Division of Railroad and Mass Transportation approved a contract that provides $542,700 for those improvements.

After a closed session that took place Wednesday before the regular meeting, Schroder announced the Council unanimously agreed that its legal staff and consultants should develop a response to a suit filed by Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman for his clients Felix Sanchez and Nancy Noonan challenging the city’s voting district maps; voted three favoring, with two Councilmembers abstaining, to defend the city against a suit filed by Gary R. Freitas; and gave its staff direction in continuing labor negotiations with the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 324, Martinez Police Officers Association, Martinez Police Non-Sworn Employees Association and unrepresented employees.

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