By NORALEA GIPNER
Martinez City Council
Today I would like to talk about two hot items being discussed on social media: 1) the lack of a School Resource Officer (SRO) at our high school, and 2) why and how the baseball team was funded.
I will start with the SRO, which was discussed under Item #18 on the City Council’s 6/20/18 agenda last week. You can go to the City website and view it under “agenda”. You will note that one of the attachments to the FY 18-19 Budget adjustments is the City Council’s Strategic Action Items List. The list contains the priorities the Council has set for the coming fiscal year. Tier 1 priorities are those that have been selected because they are “mandated” (e.g. required by State law) and/or are key to implementing the Council’s Strategic Plan vision, mission and goals for Martinez and the organization. The Council’s Strategic Plan can also be seen on the Council’s web page.
In reading the Action Item List, you will see that the filing of an SRO position is a Tier 1 priority. The item also says the position is “funded”. So if it is funded, why hasn’t the position been filed? The reason is that over the last year the City’s police department has seen several retirements and a large number of resignations. The City has also had great difficulty in hiring officers to replace them. This has been caused by the high demand for qualified police officers in cities and counties throughout the State.
Martinez is known for being a good community to work in with a relatively low crime rate for the East Bay. Therefore, while our salaries for sworn officers has tended to be on the low end, we usually have been able to fill positions. With the significant competition among cities and counties to fill police positions since the end of the recession, salaries for police officers have soared. The end result, Martinez has fallen far behind and is having difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified officers.
Though the City is facing some serious fiscal challenges in the coming months, the Council recently took steps to address the salary disparity and our Police Chief is working to fill positions as quickly as he can with capable individuals. However, it will take time as the first priority is to ensure we have sufficient officers to properly patrol our City for the safety of our overall public. Once these positions are filled, then the Chief will fill the SRO, Homeless Coordinator and Traffic positions.
Chief Sappal was hired to do a very difficult job. He is very aware of the needs in our community, and I feel confident that he is making the right decisions.
Now let’s talk about baseball. When Measure H was passed years ago, a citizens’ subcommittee was given the responsibility of determining what projects were needed at each park. The Measure H budget was based on their findings. One of the projects on the list was a major renovation of the Waterfront Park, including the four baseball fields, which were in poor condition due to the many years of use. After several years of planning and community meetings the City Council approved a design concept for the park in November of 2016. After bidding out the project, the construction phase was approved by the Council at a cost $8,939,831. The project is being funded through a combination of Measure H Bond proceeds ($5,498,354) and a Measure WW grant, City Park-in-Lieu fees, and a Contra Costa County Park Impact/Park Dedication grant. No General Fund reserve dollars were used.
The renovation project includes ADA, pathway, safety lighting, parking and field improvements. Specifically, the event meadow area is being enlarged with new pathways and lighting. A small restroom will be constructed adjacent to the play area and the Group Picnic area will be reconstructed with new surfacing, tables, shade cover and barbeque. Additionally, a new parking lot will be constructed along Joe DiMaggio Drive, south of the bocce courts. The four ball fields are being improved with new backstops, grading, fencing, turf and irrigation improvements.
Additional improvements were also made to Field 3 to accommodate a “championship” level field. This included baseball-level lighting, seating that can be expanded to up to 700 spectators, maximum field distances, larger dugouts, bullpen areas and irrigation provisions for a future turf infield. These improvements were included because in 2015/16 the City had been approached during the design phase of the project by individuals interested to bring professional level teams to Martinez. Though nothing was finalized during those talks, the City Council directed staff to include those improvements in the final design.
In May of last year, the City Council was given a presentation from representatives of the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs regarding establishing an independent professional baseball team on Field #3. Given the input from our citizens, the Council voted in favor of the item and gave the go ahead to form an ad-hoc committee and bring back the details to them.
During that process it was determined that in order to have the proper upgrades required for that level of baseball, we would need to spend an additional $400,000. Almost a quarter of that was needed for engineering reports alone. After the design of the upgrades was completed. It was brought back to City Council, and the Council approved the funding. We decided to move the money from the unrestricted fund reserves with the intention to replace it with special sponsoring opportunities as they arise. At present time, we have a verbal agreement of $100,000.
I voted in favor of this project for two reasons. I believe opportunity seldom knocks twice. Not many years ago, when the City was approached with this same opportunity, the whole town seemed excited about the idea. It did not happen because our field was not adequate for a semi-pro level of play. The second reason I voted in favor of these upgrades is I knew that we could make money on this field. We can rent it out to other baseball leagues ages 14 and older. It’s a win/win for the city. If for some unfortunate reason the Clippers were to leave Martinez, the City would have a first class stadium available to Martinez residents, as well as, for renting out.
As of this writing the Clippers have won 3 games. This can be expected with a new team, manager and owners. If you have been to a game you can see we have talent on our team that will continue to develop. The same can be said for the owners. They have proven to our community what top notch events happen under their sponsorship. Our ice skating rink is a great example. In order for them to grow they need our support. So please lend them yours. They are on Facebook and have a web site www.Mtzclippers.com.
Martinez is a baseball town, and we can thank Joe DiMaggio, also known as the “Yankee Clipper”, for providing us a name for our hometown team.
Noralea Gipner is a Martinez City Councilmember and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.