For those who believe the phrase “you can’t fight city hall,” take heart. In Martinez, at least, there are forces that city hall apparently can’t fight, either. Though the City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to keep the Martinez Marina open a little while longer, the city now faces pickle weeds and mice as new adversaries in the quest to restore the marina to its former glory.
The issue is muddy—as muddy as the silt that is filling up the facility on a daily basis, and preventing the boats that dock there from entering or leaving except at high tide. The city desperately needs to dredge the marina, but the cost of doing the entire project is far too expensive, since the state Department of Boating and Waterways has refused any new loans to the city, and in fact demanded payment on old outstanding loans. So the city is going to use a one-time $500,000 donation from Shell to dredge the entrance, a couple of docks and the launch ramp, in the hope of bringing back some of the bigger boats that have moved on to other, more usable facilities.
The latest twist is that the dredging project is going to cost an additional $65,000 in permits because when the city dredges, it dumps the mud into onshore ponds. But those ponds have sat unused for several years, and have become the home to pickle weed. That is the favorite habitat for the salt marsh harvest mouse. And, while no one has actually seen a salt marsh harvest mouse in the particular pickle weed in question, the very presence of pickle weed is enough to require mitigation, better known as money, to state and federal agencies.
The irony is that city officials saw the pickle weed and, anticipating this very problem, tried to get rid of it. But state officials would not allow it. So it grew, and became a potential mouse paradise, and a place of misery for city officials already fed up with sinking more money into a dying marina.
Opposed to spending any more money on the marina was councilwoman Lara DeLaney, who urged the council to consider closing the facility.
“This is not just a $65,000 commitment, on top of that there is another $75,000 to $200,000 to do the actual mitigation,” she said. “The $65,000 just buys us the plan. This is all because they’ve discovered that someday a mouse may decide to relocate there. We’ve already dedicated $476,000 of general fund money. In total, over the past decade, we’ve given the marina over $1 million of our general fund money, to a marina that is supposed to be funded by the marina fund. It’s a financial cesspool. We don’t have the money to do another dredge unless Shell gives us another $500,000. We’re throwing money at a losing situation. I think what the community wants is restaurants, things for people to use. We’re subsidizing a losing operation.”
“We don’t want to spend more money on consultants,” said Mayor Rob Schroder. “But we’re being forced into this. We have to follow federal state and regional regulations. We’ve had many problems trying to get to this dredge. If we do not do this dredge, it’s my opinion that it’s the end of the marina. I think it’s a better waterfront because of the marina. We just have to let some of it go. We’re not going to get the loans to build the world class marina we were hoping to.”
“It’s clear that the state and the city formed a partnership, and the city has kept its end of the bargain,” said councilman Mike Menesini, who has overseen many years of the marina management as mayor for nearly twenty years, beginning in 1984. “The state has been remiss in helping the city with respect to managing the marina as the original contracts called for. There is some confusion as to what’s been invested into the marina and by whom. The city has invested many dollars into the marina enterprise, certainly more than the state has put in.”
Councilman Mark Ross, who faces re-election in November, said he favored keeping the marina going, and eventually purchasing the facility from the state, through legislation.
“The time for the marina is not up yet,” he said. “Parks are not generally profitable. They’re an amenity, a community service. We are buying more time. Yes, we have more federal obligations we have to meet. I don’t think the citizens want to see abandoned docks because we walked away. We should be come owners of the marina through legislation Then the moneys we spend are to an asset that we own. It’s a very popular destination and we need to keep it that way.”