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Perhaps It's Time For The City Council To Lead By Listening

Paving over other points of view is not the way to heal old divisions downtown.

People, including myself, often wonder why there is so much petulance and ill will among the various players in downtown Martinez. One reason is redevelopment – that one issue divided so many for so long that it almost became a habit for one side to mistrust and blame the other for downtown’s woes.

Now that redevelopment is off the table, however, it’s clear that it wasn’t the only culprit in our ongoing argument. There are attitudes that definitely need to be examined.

I would suggest beginning with our leaders, since they are elected to lead. Case it point – the traffic flow issue. This is most certainly a divisive and emotionally charged issue, and one that will affect the primary stakeholders on Main Street and downtown for a long time.

Business owners (also known as merchants) were promised last month that the issue of traffic flow downtown would be the subject of at least one workshop, in which different points of view could be presented, discussed and considered before a final decision was made. That promise, made by the Economic Development subcommittee of councilmembers Lara DeLaney and Janet Kennedy, was nearly broken at the last city council meeting, as Mayor Rob Schroder and Councilman Mike Menesini decided that it would be the subject of one public hearing and a decision at the end. In other words, no workshop.

While two-way traffic downtown might be, in the view of staff, Schroder and Menesini, the best way to go, there are other views. Why don’t they deserve an airing? Why is this such an urgent rush now, when it took 14 years for the city to even notice that a one-year experiment on the 500 block of Main Street was still in place and finally working well? Three votes on the council forced a public workshop tonight on traffic flow. Two hours will be devoted to that issue. Hopefully, the conversation will be just that, and not a mud-slinging episode.

But – and this is almost breathtaking in its political tone-deafness – the council has agendized this very issue for its regular agenda later tonight, with a staff recommendation to return all downtown traffic to two way. By putting this on tonight’s regular council agenda for a decision, the council seems to be saying to its citizens, “we’ll go through the motions of listening to you, but the decision has already been made.”

In other words, this council can’t even pretend to be open-minded. A more politic approach would have been to agendize the issue for the next council meeting, to at least give the appearance of having heard and considered other points of view.

If some members of this council resent the accusation that they are in the pocket of one particular property owner, the actions they are undertaking here are doing nothing but bolstering that particular point of view. This looks very much like the decision is made, the item is done, next. Wielding power with that kind of heavy hand makes for more divisiveness, more ill will, more frustration. Are those the tools we need to reinvent downtown Martinez?

Perhaps leadership should be more politic. Our city has a lot of healing to do, especially downtown. Our leaders should be leading that effort, not throwing gasoline on the fire. Listening is the first step to healing, it seems to me. 

Hope Savage June 06, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Thanks for saying this, Jim. It is abundantly clear that this council does not represent the citizens and does not value any of their opinions. Bought and paid for they are.
Jim Caroompas (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Just to be clear - that is not necessarily my view, but I know you feel that way.
Chris Kapsalis June 06, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Fact is most votes come from South of 4 and most of them could care less about downtown, one way or two way, or anything else really. Most of them don't even go downtown. So why would they care? And the big man downtown can have his way with no political fallout. Perfect!
RP June 06, 2012 at 06:36 PM
The lack of vision and imagination of this council is frustrating. How can they have the answer without hearing the question? The fact that their constituents have so little influence on their decisions is deeply disturbing. This is not new behavior so I shouldn't be surprised. Seemingly, lip-service is the specialty of these "public servants" and they perceive the electorate to be too stupid to deserve an opinion. We'll see what happens when the (really!) BIG money and their 4-color presses no longer care (because of the redevelopment crash-and burn) about Martinez. Our library, parks and pool prove that we can accomplish great things without (in spite of?) these nit-wits and their cronies intervention. I know and really like ALL of these people personally, but as a group, I wouldn't let them run my lemonade stand. By the way, I have some Amphitheater tickets I'd like to sell...
Anne Mobley June 06, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Thanks, Jim, finally the rose colored glasses can come off and be open to the reality of life in Martinez. Out of the five Councilmembers, there is really only one who ever ALWAYS responds to emails and maybe another who is willing to hear from their citizens. Today, I am afraid, is another waste of my precious time sitting in meetings. The workshop was hastily set up and only because Lara and Janet promised we would have one. Menesini and Schroeder wanted to dismiss it all at one of the last meetings and now it is rushed for a decision on the same night as the workshop at the TAIL END of the meeting. There is no rush. There is no dangerous condition to affect public safety. There is a more sinister reason and we should all be privy to it. I say take the time to make a good decision after receiving community input and hearing from a traffic engineer. This matter is also misleading. Are Alhambra, Marina Vista, and Berellessa also going two-way? The Police Chief said "one-way streets" were a problem for the PD. That was pretty general. I am pretty sure he was not just talking about the little 200 feet of the 500 block.
Chris Kapsalis June 06, 2012 at 11:26 PM
That one memeber ( Lara ) does not respond to some peoples emails I have talked to, nor to mine. Rob responds to mine , Mike does not, Mark does, Janet does, and Lara does not. To my emails anyway.
Hope Savage June 07, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I meant abundantly clear to me, of course
Lawrence Risner June 07, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The city officials are safe to do whatever they want as long as the majority of the city voters don't care which is too bad. This is what I call the "paper hat" syndrome. If the voters took away the pay, benefits and perks of those that are elected then maybe the self proclaimed socially elite wouldn't fight so hard to get into these positions that effect so much. Just the idea that they have the power to hire city officials, over pay them and then don't know how to evaluate their job performance should have been a big red flag. Maybe if you find a group of really good people that have the ability to do the job as a team then move to replace the entire council in one fell swoop they would either straighten up and fly right or get out.
Roxanne Cole June 07, 2012 at 02:55 PM
New player here in the matters of our politically challenged town. My biggest concern is that we our are own worst enemy when we argue and do not move forward. We need to be team players, with the same goal. To beautify Main St, stop the Bail Bonds growth and become a dining destination. Where people will stroll our sidewalks and shop before and after breakfast, lunch and dinner! We are on the edge of something great here. Put personal agendas aside, have the vision and run with it folks. I know some people have a lot of money at stake here, including me, we can't let this fail because of bickering and bullying. Everyone knows what is going on and we have the power to change that starting with the Main St. business owners, but only as a united force.
Carolyn Hill June 08, 2012 at 05:11 AM
good thoughts, Roxanne. Would love to see it happen.
Carolyn Hill June 08, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Could possibly be the time to schedule some merchant meetings. MSM will only do what Rob wants, what Dunivan wants. Roxanne and Candice, and others, are new and are willing to step up and do what is right.
Lawrence Risner June 08, 2012 at 05:33 AM
You are so right Roxanne and if you, Anne and the other merchants can get together as a group with doable solutions (other than individuals complaining) I believe the city will have to listen - group can be more convincing than individuals. I too, hope that the downtown will become a very quaint shopping, dining and entertainment center that would attract customers and visitors.

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