Soil erosion threatening Martinez’s Second Baptist Church

An Army Corps of Engineers wall
An Army Corps of Engineers wall protects one bank of a creek that runs by the Second Baptist Church. The church-side bank is eroding.

MARTINEZ, Calif. – A Martinez church that routinely assists those in need now finds itself asking for help.

The creek that runs next to the Second Baptist Church has been eroding the land underneath its foundation, and during past heavy rains, has even crested its banks to enter the church’s basement.

The Rev. Ray Montgomery wants to expand services the church offers to the surrounding community. It has been operating a scheduled clothes closet and a food pantry for about 10 years, and those items are given to anyone who asks.

“They don’t need an ID,” he said. “We just serve those who need help.” About 200 families each month visit the church for clothing and food, he said.

It makes sure people have turkeys for Thanksgiving, and has a preholiday “Thanksliving” meal as well. It’s a multicultural, multi-ethnic church with the philosophy of “Bring them in, build them up and branch them out.”

Montgomery wants his church to do more. He’s planning after-school programs, including computer training, for children and youth. He wants to offer more help for adults, including mobile bathing and clinics as well as more meals for the homeless, and for adults, counseling and perhaps job training sessions.

“If we didn’t have structure issues, we would do what we need to do,” he said.

But first, the church needs to shore up the ground under its building at 1020 Las Juntas St.

Montgomery pointed to the cladded side of the creek opposite his church. “The Army Corps of Engineers did one side,” he said.

But the creek makes an elbow turn as it approaches Las Juntas Street. Montgomery believes that turn and the Army Corps’ construction cause the water to speed up and wash away the ground under his church building.

He pointed to a tree clinging to the unprotected side, and said that tree soon may lose its grip and fall into the creek.

Then he looked to another spot that once was 25 to 50 feet wider. “I used to walk out there and pray,” he said. “I don’t do that anymore.”

Heavy rains more than a dozen years ago flooded the church’s basement, he said. All the drywall had to be removed, and it took other extensive work to prevent mold from settling in, he said.

But the problems didn’t end after the water receded. The retaining wall on the church’s side was gone.

Erosion under the foundation has cost the church a set of steps that once led to a walkway around the building. The church no longer uses a yard bounded by the creek.

Inside the building, Montgomery cautions people as they enter the nursery and a kitchen area. They’re safe for now, he said but he doesn’t want anyone surprised by the uneven surface.

Montgomery fears this winter may be another heavy rain season that could cause further damage.

He said he’s spoken to the church’s insurance company. He’s spoken with City Engineer Tim Tucker

“There’s nothing the city can do. We own it,” he said.

Just to make sure, he checked with county officials as well as those on the state, including the California Office of Emergency Services, and at the national level, he reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We did our due diligence,” he said.

He had hope after the spring rains of 2016, when Contra Costa County hoped to obtain low-cost loans or other assistance for affected property owners. However, the county didn’t meet the qualifying threshold, Montgomery said. “So no one received any money.”

The church owns its portion of the creek to its center point, Montgomery has learned, and must pick up the tab for the work. He looked at personal financing, but as he suspected, the church was turned down.

Montgomery doesn’t burden his church with a salary. He is a high school teacher in San Jose. His church owes less than $70,000 on its mortgage. No matter how well-managed the church’s money, it didn’t convince the banks. “The operational income isn’t sufficient to cover the loan,” he said.

So the church has decided on a bold fundraising project to raise about $600,000. That amount not only would cover the cost of the first phase – filling in the lost dirt and protecting the creek bank with a retaining wall. It would underwrite the second phase – repairing the foundation and other building damage and be used on the church’s third phase, to make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The last phase “could be done over time,” he said.

Work could start once the church raises $315,000, he said, and he’s hoping the church can raise that in the next six months so fill and the retaining wall construction could be started next June.

The church started a “soft launch” of its fundraising last November, and is stepping up the campaign. Since the church is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, those donations are tax-exempt. And contributions for this campaign are kept in their own account, rather than comingled with the church’s operations budget.

Second Baptist Church is using Pushpay, designed specifically for churches and nonprofit online fundraising.

Donors and contributors may download the Pushpay app to their electronic devices in order to make donations that way. They also may visit for online donations. Donations also can be made through texting 2bcm to 77977 and following the provided links.

And donations also are being accepted by the church at its mailing address, 1020 Las Juntas St., Martinez, Calif., 94553. Those with questions may email the church at

“The time has come to rebuild, repair and restore our church,” Montgomery said.

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