MARTINEZ, Calif. – Martinez has $8.1 million in reserves, which Mayor Rob Schroder calls the city’s “rainy day” fund. But that doesn’t mean Martinez is ready for some hefty expenses ahead, he cautioned.
Speaking Wednesday morning at the Martinez Chamber of Commerce’s Mayor’s Breakfast, at which the State of the City is given, he said the city will be spending more and more for the California Public Employees Retirement Service (CalPERS), which rates keep increasing.
While property taxes are producing more revenue, other tax revenues are flat, he said.
On the other hand, during the past year the city reached a settlement concerning the Martinez-Pleasant Hill Joint Facilities Agreement. Dating from the 1970s, the agreement began falling apart soon, with Pleasant Hill dropping out on an unspecified date and employees from the Martinez side not paying into Social Security for years.
CalPERS audited the agreement after questioning the arrangement since 2012, and determined the employees in actuality were city employees, and should have been paying into Social Security all along.
But through extensive negotiations, Martinez reached a settlement that limited the debt to three years of Social Security payments, although employees would receive credit as if they’d been paying into the system for 20 years, Schroder said. Martinez secured a loan to pay its debt off, he said.
Martinez makes its minimum payments to CalPERS and is funded up to 52 percent, he said.
On a stronger financial note, Schroder said residents likely are noticing more roadwork being done throughout the city. That’s because money from the half-cent sales tax approved in 2016 as Measure D finally is accumulating enough funds to underwrite projects.
Along with Senate Bill 1, the gas tax increase, Measure D has tripled the city’s roadway maintenance and repairs budget, and the local sales tax can only be used for such work inside the city limits, Schroder said.
Among other projects, Brown and Green streets have undergone extensive and long-awaited rehabilitation, although Schroder said now that the surfaces are smooth, some motorists are exceeding speed limits.
Measure X money, the half-cent unspecified sales tax approved in 2018, will help the city keep city services at current levels. Among the areas of concern is the city’s water system.
That system, should it become compromised, would impact many citizens, he said. The water treatment plant and the city’s aging water distribution system, which is affected by weather changes, need attention.
The city is gradually wrapping up its Measure H spending, the $30 million earmarked for parks throughout the city.
Of that, $8 million was spent on Martinez Waterfront Park, including the upgrading of all its playing fields. The City Council authorized an extra $400,000 to bring Field 3 up to professional baseball standards.
Last year, the newly formed expansion team of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs, the Martinez Clippers, played its inaugural season.
The team’s owner, Paulette Carpoff, and her husband, Jeff, and their businesses, including DC Solar headquartered in Benicia, were the subject of a raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and their assets either were seized or frozen. The team owner recently said through her attorney she would not be fielding a team this year.
What the future brings for professional baseball in Martinez remains to be seen, but city officials said the field is being used by those 14 and older, and it remains available for professional play, Schroder said.
But Martinez isn’t done with Waterfront Park, he said. Before long, Martinez will have public sessions at which residents can offer proposals for additional amenities and other revitalization at the park and its marina, Schroder said.
For other businesses, Martinez is streamlining its planning process as well as ways to allow accessory dwelling units (ADUs, or “mother -in-law’ or “granny” units) as well as short-term rentals. Its Community and Economic Development Department has additional staff, gradually rebuilding after severe layoffs that happened during the recession.
The city’s commercial cannabis ordinance is being crafted for approval this year, he added.
After the purchase of the sole building in Parking Lot Four, its final tenant, Sal’s Family Kitchen, is moving to Main Street, and the city is actively trying to preserve the historic granite jail that otherwise might be demolished as Contra Costa County replaces its towering administrative building with one more compatible with Martinez’s architecture.
Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal addressed the city’s public safety concerns during the breakfast, saying additional technology has drastically reduced vehicle thefts. License plate readers make it safer for patrol officers to check on a car status, not only for thefts but in cases of Amber alerts for children in danger, Silver alerts, similar notices for the elderly, and Blue alerts, for vehicles associated to attacks on police.
Cameras are helping, and more are needed, particularly at the marina and Waterfront Park, where approaching police can be seen “a mile away,” Sappal said. Residents and businesses with their own cameras can register them with police in a collaboration that can encourage reduction of crime, he said.
Another technological advance is the ability to attach a GPS tracker on vehicles in cases that otherwise might result in a high-speed police chase. Those chases can endanger the lives of suspects, bystanders, other motorists and police themselves, and this system offers a safer way to handle the situation, Sappal said.
His officers are dedicated, Sappal said, mentioning Corporal Ryan Baillie, who listened when a suspected prostitute, who was visited for welfare check after hearing she had four children, described a horrific situation of human trafficking after she was kidnapped at gunpoint and drugged.
This was the beginning of a three-year, multi-agency investigation that led to the arrest of Deandre Lewis, the charismatic mastermind of the prostitute ring who treated his women cruelly. He convinced one to commit suicide, Sappal said. He tried to get his wife to do the same, but the weapon misfired.
Lewis would pick his victims at colleges and malls, targeting women who appeared to have low self-esteem, Sappal said.
Once they were part of his ring, he would cut off their tattoos or slice the webbing between their toes, Sappal said.
Another incident Sappal didn’t mention involved a woman in his ring who was sent to the emergency room, reported to have bruises and scrapes. Instead, she had been scalped and bore cuts all over her body.
It took time to build the case and gain the trust of witnesses, but eventually Lewis was tried and convicted of 37 felonies. And that conclusion was reached “because an officer listened,” Sappal said.
Martinez doesn’t have many robberies, but the AT&T store on Arnold Drive had been hit three times, losing an ever-increasing amount of merchandise.
Detective Miles Williamson worked with the business and used social media sites. Suspects from Solano County were found and taken into custody.
While rewards were offered, one of those who provided assistance declined, Sappal said, explaining that helping “was the right thing to do.”
Sharp police work also has resulted in the confiscation of illegal weapons, he said.
Homelessness is another situation police address. During financial setbacks in the department, Officer Rodney Brinser was taken off his assignment of working with the city’s homeless population, and problems rose, Sappal said.
As staffing has increased after a one-time transfer of reserve funds, Brinser again is working a community service assignment, Sappal said. The city also has invested in a Coordinated Outreach, Referral and Engagement (C.O.R.E) team it shares with Pleasant Hill, which can be called to respond to the homeless.
“The ultimate goal is to get them on the path to help,” Sappal said. But that’s not easy. One individual took 10 years to convince, although it’s considered a success story because the man now has permanent housing.
However, his repeated calls to 9-1-1 in inclement weather and other expenditures, including rehabilitation treatment the man quit right before graduation, reached a total cost of $1.7 million before the man finally reached the point that he would accept help, Sappal said. “He had to relearn how to live.”
Crime prevention can’t be done without help from the community, Sappal said, but he understands the reluctance of those who wonder whether to report a situation.
“The right response is to call dispatch and ask, ‘Can you check it out?’ he said. “If it’s fine, it’s fine. If it’s not fine, this is a chance to stop it before it gets worse.” He said his officers are good at reading situations and people, adding, “Prevention is huge.”