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Letter to the Editor: A Tale Of Two Cities

Martinez Patch user Brian Walker notes how long it can take a government agency to do seemingly simple things.

The Martinez we live in is not one but many towns.  It is an old town, a newer town; it is a rich town and a poorer town; mostly though it is a town that we live in, and the county seat - the town the County works out of.  In this way, Martinez is a tale of two cities, both who’ve seen the best of times, both who’ve gone through the worst of times.

For the County, these may be the worst of times.  With revenues from property tax assessments way down the last few years, due to the biggest decline in property values in history, the County is definitely squeezed.  This was never more apparent to me than one day when I was walking by the corner of Pine St. / Center Avenue and Douglass Drive.  On one corner, the Mission Pines apartment complex: lushly landscaped, beautifully maintained, and inviting.  On the opposite corner, the County’s Douglass Drive property: overgrown to the point where both a bus stop and the sidewalk were severely impacted, shabby looking, and, to me, inviting to the wrong kind of activities.

I contacted County facilities maintenance to discuss.  I provided pictures, and explanations of why I felt this is not only an aesthetic issue, but one of public safety – the sidewalk is used by a large number of wheelchair-bound citizens to get to the local shopping.  After a few attempts, I received a reply several weeks later.  I was informed that due to budget cuts, the work could not be done at the time, but assured that “We are in the process of allocating funds to address your concerns and manicure the entrance to our Douglas Dr. facilities.”

OK, I get it.  I responded back that I understood, but it seemed like two guys and a truck with hedge clippers and a rake or two could do a lot in a couple of hours.  Oh, and that I also objected to the word “manicure” in this context.  After all, it won’t cite “lack of manicuring” on the lawsuit if anything ever happens.  Also discovered during this exercise is that quite a bit of the corner at the Westbound 4 entrance is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans.

Flash forward to a month or so later.  I meet Stewart (sp?), out of the Caltrans Walnut Creek office.  He and his boys are on the opposite side of the freeway (John Muir Inn side).  They are cleaning up like crazy.  I mention the other side of the freeway and he promises to go look at it.  About an hour later I drive back by… what the??  It’s all done.  Two guys and a truck, hedge clippers, rakes and a chain saw and… presto!  It’s all done real nice (Shout out to Stewart and crew for being willing to cross the line to make things right).

 I recently sent word to the County to let them know that they could stop stressing out about not getting to this; it’s done.  This experience brings up larger issues to me.  What are the minimum responsibilities of our public sector, whether times are good, or times are lean?  I believe that, as property owners, they have the same responsibilities as private property owners to not create blight, to not create an attractive nuisance that invites illegal activities, and to just plain be good neighbors.  The Tea Party claims that there is just too much government, and that tax dollars are being wasted.  Each of us has an opinion on that, but it should be less debatable that government has a responsibility to protect assets that are held in public trust.  If they cannot do that, maybe the property should be released (sold) to the private sector who, hopefully, can afford to hire landscapers.

Brian Walker October 08, 2011 at 01:31 AM
Chris - thanks for keeping Shell Ave. clean!
Chris Kapsalis October 08, 2011 at 02:57 AM
Thanks Brian and thank you. And I think we should do that, get some gorilla suits and hedgers and rakes and go to town.
Lisa Gorrell October 09, 2011 at 02:27 AM
Great job, Brian. Now if we could get Caltrans to fix the pavement between Douglas Drive and Muir Road. It's too rough for my bike!
Hope Savage October 13, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Good job Brian! If every citizen took a moment every day to personally address a little bit of the mess in our community it would improve everyone's lives. Just picking up a bit of garbage that didn't make it to the can or picking up the phone to call the city or county to alert them to a problem. How about covering a new bit of graffiti before more gets added? I takes only a moment of one's time but, with enough people doing it, makes a BIG difference.
Patrick J. McNamara December 28, 2011 at 02:47 PM
Our company maintained the landscaping on this property for the developer, Douglas Associates, before Robert Cass sold the property to the county. There had been persistent erosion from the slope, that shows on Brian's photo, with weathered sandstone creeping onto the sidewalk. My foreman and I planted the iceplant from cuttings. This was in the late 80's or early 90's. Sometimes a broken sprinkler up the slope will break and cause a muddy washout onto the sidewalk, creating a hazard. The Acacia shown invading the public walkway requires approximately two man/hours per year to control. With all due respect to the county public works, the "funding" to pay for those two man/hours per year could easily be found by furloughing the supervisor whose job it is to prioritize the efforts of the crews and supervise/maximize their efficient use of precious time, ensuring that every man/minute is well-spent. I don't know about anyone else, but I grow weary of public agencies blaming "funding" for every little incident of exposed slacking. Tax revenue is down, granted. But, when our company maintained this property, the cost to remedy the conditions in Brian's photo would have been approximately $50, and would have been included in the cost of monthly maintenance, and thus performed at no extra charge. In maintenance, "funding" is most often realized by efficient and preventive practices.

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