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.