Old rail car, cannabis and postal problems made headlines in 2018

Part 2 of the Gazette’s 2018 Year in Review, recapping Martinez’s news from the previous year.

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The Martinez Unified School District’s capital improvement ballot measure passed in 2016 has been accumulating revenues, and before the end of 2018, the Board of Education awarded a contract for the complete overhaul of John Muir Elementary School’s campus.

Major construction projects underwritten by that bond measure will be governed by a Project Labor Agreement that prevents work stoppages but requires non-union companies to pay union dues.

The school district also became the first in Contra Costa County to enter a partnership with Sandy Hook Promise, a multi-faceted safety program that intends to reduce school violence.

The John Muir National Historic Site, it was expanded by 44 acres through a new law that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. However, the site itself is shuttered during the partial government shutdown.

State Senator Bill Dodd and others representing Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta districts convinced the federal government not to issue a start-up loan for the two large tunnels that would convey Sacramento River water south through the proposed California WaterFix proposed project, formerly called the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Martinez City Council closed in on crafting its commercial cannabis ordinance and refining its personal-use cultivation law, loosening how it would regulate household accessory buildings where the six allowable plants might be grown. Work on both laws will continue in 2019.

An old rail car that became part of the award-winning Walnut Creek steakhouse, Vic Stewart’s, was donated to the Martinez Historical Society, which had the rail car moved after the steakhouse’s closure and now has the rolling stock in storage until a permanent site can be chosen.

The Historical Society also was host in June of a reading and book signing by Betty Reid Soskin, the nation’s oldest park ranger who influenced the “Rosie the Riveter” museum in Richmond.

Martinez residents agreed passively to the Council’s decision to change the city’s power source from PG&E to MCE Energy, the Marin-based community aggregate that obtains electricity primarily from renewable sources and transmits the power through PG&E lines.

Several Martinez residents achieved accomplishments in 2018.

Richard Cheney, who has spearheaded the creation of a granite memorial with the names of Martinez war dead engraved on its surface, saw that monument installed in June at Martinez Veterans Park.

Alhambra High School graduate Julia Coyne became the first from that school to receive a gold medal at the national level of the SkillsUSA competition.

Longtime Shell employee Cathy Ivers, the local refinery’s community liaison, retired in 2018. Her association with the company predates her employment, and she also is known for being instrumental in developing the Shell/Martinez Education Fund Run For Education and other partnerships.

Artist John Kleber closed his popular studio, ArtU4ia, when he and his wife decided to move out of state.

Tony Jetland launched his largest illuminated kite, “Trilobite,” a 450 square foot creation he designed.

Designer, author and television star Nathan Turner returned to his hometown in June for a signing of his “I Love California” book, that blends a tour of the state with related recipes and photographs.

But not everyone liked the attention they received in 2018.

After a springtime City Council meeting appearance that didn’t satisfy some residents, Martinez Postmaster Jeanette Davis joined Martinez’s two U.S. Representatives, Mike Thompson and Mark DeSaulnier, in a town hall meeting, during which residents reiterated their frustrations with their mail service.

One attorney brought a folder of mail that had been sent from June to October of 2017, but which she didn’t receive until May 2018, a situation she called “egregious.”

Some business owners said the poor service was affecting their billing, and others said they’ve been forced to use post offices elsewhere.

Residents complained again that sometimes mail isn’t delivered for days or weeks.

Postal Service employees said part of the problem is trouble recruiting and keeping employees – a situation that not only has caused problems keeping Martinez Police fully staffed, but has affected the city’s garbage franchise contractor, Republic.

Martinez Chamber of Commerce’s summer fundraiser, the King of the County Barbecue, which takes place Father’s Day weekend at Waterfront Park, also got unwanted attention from protesters from Direct Action Everywhere.”

Organization members entered the festival area, mounted the stage and began shouting objections to barbecued meats, “It’s not food, it’s violence.”

Others went toe to toe with festival-goers, and during one incident, a festival participant’s trophies were damaged. One person was arrested, and the protesters left the grounds.

An anonymous letter sent to Contra Costa Community College Chancellor Dr. Fred Wood, to the college district’s Governing Board and its Human Resources department may have precipitated Tim Farley’s resignation from the Board effective Feb. 26. Farley cited a pressing personal family member, but the letter-writer, who claimed to be a District employee, said a behavior that occurred some time ago at a conference needed investigating in light of the growing “#metoo” movement. Officials declined to comment.

Residents were disappointed when the annual ice rink was canceled in 2018, not because sponsors DC Solar and Shell didn’t pony up for their share of the costs, but because of parking that has been reduced critically by several downtown Martinez projects, including the ongoing erection of a new county administration building.

On the other hand, the Recreation Department’s annual Holiday Frolic expanded to two days.

Martinez City Hall received “historical” status, but also has been used as collateral as the city settled its debt to federal and state agencies stemming from the dissolution of the Martinez-Pleasant Hill Joint Facilities Agreement that dated from the 1970s.

The Second Baptist Church’s struggles continued against creek erosion that continues to threaten the building’s foundation.

Five people died at the Martinez Detention Facility. One 26-year-old inmate died Nov. 3 after what a Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office announcement called “a medical situation” in a holding room.

That was the most recent reported jail death in 2018, which started Jan. 24, when James Darryl Cooper, 45, Vallejo, died of medical-related causes. He was found unresponsive in his bed that day and could not be revived, according to sheriff’s statements.

David Hubbard, 46, of San Pablo, also was found unresponsive Feb. 7 by employees who were serving meals. Hubbard’s death was attributed to health problems.

Phillip Andrew Jacobson, 52, of Antioch, was found dead June 12 in the jail’s shower and according to reports the man hanged himself.

Dwight Dunn, 61, a transient from Concord, was found unresponsive Sept. 15 during a routine room check at the jail and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Among Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton’s legal filings were four felony accusations of kidnapping during robberies against Joseph DeAngelo, 72, called the “Golden State Killer,” who was arrested in August on charges related to crimes that date to the late 1970s.

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Special Investigation Unit shut down what it called an illegal casino operating in the 5000 block of Pacheco Boulevard near Arnold Drive and Blum Road. Vinson Anies, 48, of San Mateo, was arrested and 37 computer terminals and cash were seized.

In other refinery news in 2018, a mechanical failure July 6 at Shell Martinez Refinery released thousands of pounds of uncombusted gases, and Golden Eagle Refinery was ordered to pay more than $915,000 to settle air quality violations.

Martinez lost some familiar names in 2018, including former city councilmembers Bill Wainwright and John Sparacino. Also passing away was beloved educator Claudia Whitnah.

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