MARTINEZ -- After nearly a decade on the City Council, Janet Kennedy has decided to leave politics behind to focus on a new job and community service.
"It's been a positive experience overall because you really get to meet a good cross-section of the folks that live here, way more than you would otherwise," said Kennedy, who has lived in Martinez for 26 years.
Kennedy was appointed to the council in December 2002 to serve the two years remaining on Rob Schroder's term when he was elected mayor. She said she began thinking about stepping down this year after her re-election to a second full term in 2008.
"It is a lot of work and you have to raise a lot of money and that's difficult," she said. "And you have to knock on a lot of doors and you have to formulate an articulate opinion on a lot of subjects."
The housing market crash and recession led to a few years of tight budgets in Martinez. Still, Kennedy says there have been bright spots, including the council's selection of two good police chiefs and two city managers and voters' passage in 2008 of a $30 million bond to build a new swimming pool, renovate the library and upgrade the parks.
As a longtime advocate of affordable housing, Kennedy also counts approval of an apartment complex for low-income seniors as an achievement.
Holding political office in Martinez comes with a great deal of scrutiny from residents who hold strong opinions -- and aren't shy about expressing them -- on development, zoning, housing and many other issues. So far this year, the City Council has waded into pitched battles over a proposed lice removal salon and reinstating two-way traffic downtown. And the Martinez rumor mill doesn't make governing any easier.
"I think one of the big challenges has been having to deal with some of the information that gets out there that isn't true and having to play catch up," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said she enjoyed working with Main Street Martinez, serving on the board of the Martinez Chamber of Commerce and getting involved with the school district. She's disappointed, though, that it's been many years since the district sponsored an "Every 15 Minutes" event, which simulates the tragic consequences of alcohol-related car accidents for high school students.
Schroder said that Kennedy, who lives on the outskirts of town, served as a reminder that there's more to Martinez than the downtown, which tends to receive most of the council's attention.
"Janet's been a very valuable council member and a real asset, I think, for the city of Martinez," he said. "We don't have districts per se, but I think Janet living out of the downtown area has given the council a valuable perspective."
Since Kennedy isn't running, there will be at least one new face on the council for the first time since 2006, when Councilman Mike Menesini rejoined the body. Councilman Mark Ross is also up for re-election this year.
Schroder said the new configuration will have to deal with the ailing marina, which he described as being at a "make or break" point. He also said the council should reach out to the Virginia Hills area and other residents who live closer to the Pleasant Hill border.
"I think we need to pay a little more attention to some of the outlying neighborhoods and find out what their needs are," Schroder said.
Kennedy wishes her colleagues well and said she's excited about a new position in the housing field and working on service projects with the Rotary Club. Her advice to her successor?
"Do your homework and be open to new ideas, be open to suggestions, be open to your fellow council members and don't be shy about speaking your mind."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.