MARTINEZ -- The candidates for two seats on the Martinez City Council talked downtown development and the city's longest running drama: How do you solve the problems at the marina?
Mike Alford, Arsenio Escudero, Anamarie Avila Farias, Dylan Radke and incumbent Mark Ross recently participated in a forum moderated by Contra Costa Times political editor Lisa Vorderbrueggen. The forum is airing on local government television channels.
At the marina, which has been deteriorating for years, more than 100 of the 267 berths sit empty because they are swamped with mud at low tide. This fall, the city plans to use a $500,000 donation from Shell Oil to pay for dredging the entrance and under docks on the western side of the marina. City leaders had planned to use $398,275 from a regional park bond to rebuild 27 berths, but the East Bay Regional Park District denied that funding request.
Further complicating the city's efforts to turn the marina around is the state Department of Boating and Waterways' refusal to lend Martinez more money until the city repays more than $3 million in outstanding loans. All of which begs the question -- is it time for Martinez to pull the plug and return management of the marina to the state?
The five candidates aren't ready to throw in the towel yet, but they say the city may be forced to scale back plans to transform the marina into a first-class destination.
Ross said Martinez may have to develop a business model plan around dry-stack storage of boats. Farias said the city should focus on restructuring the state loans to free up money to cover operating expenses at the marina. If Martinez can't find a third-party lender, the marina may have to become a place to launch boats with fewer docks, Radke said. Although Escudero argued that the city needs a "21st century transportation center" with a marina that can accommodate a ferry, it's unclear if a ferry terminal ever will be built in Martinez.
"We have to do something, take control and stop making excuses," said Alford, who didn't offer any specific ideas.
After years of empty storefronts, there are signs of life downtown -- new restaurants have opened, the outdoor dining patios are popular and 630 Court St. finally will be developed. But the candidates agreed the city needs to do more to draw businesses and visitors downtown. Escudero suggested hiring an economic development director and advertising.
Noting the new eateries and shops, Radke said downtown is doing quite well. "Unfortunately," he said, "some people don't know about it."
Farias said the city should find financing for small businesses and to help property owners seismically retrofit the unreinforced masonry buildings downtown. Alford said city leaders should do more to recruit businesses and stop the aggressive panhandling that may deter visitors.
Ross said families are coming to Martinez for youth sports at the two indoor sports complexes near the Amtrak station and the downtown dining scene is flourishing.
"We've set the table for business to thrive," Ross said.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.
Air dates and times
Channel 28 in Martinez, Pleasant Hill and Clayton: Noon on Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28, Nov. 4 and 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 and Nov. 5. Channel 28 in Concord: 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 6, 13, 20, 26, 27, 28, Nov. 2, 3, 4 and 5.