Martinez and Pleasant Hill: Year in Review
12/30/2013 12:32:03 PM PST
12/30/2013 12:32:04 PM PST
In 2013, transportation was a focus for Bay Area residents. They watched as the decades-long planning and construction of the new Bay Bridge was completed, the fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel opened, and also dealt with BART strikes.
Closer to home in the East Bay, the demolition of the dome theater in Pleasant Hill, and the recovery of Martinez boy Aaron Hern, who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, were in the spotlight in our communities.
Nearby, residents watched the Morgan Fire on Mount Diablo, and the relocation of the 225-ton Masonic Temple in Concord, and learned about child sex abuse allegations at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek.
As the new year starts, the Record looks back at the stories and photos that impacted residents in Pleasant Hill and Martinez last year.
January Deidre Siguenza is appointed to the Martinez school board to finish the two years left on the term of Vicki Gordon, who resigned because she had won a seat on the Contra Costa Community College District governing board. Pleasant Hill recognizes outstanding residents and businesses at its 42nd annual Community Awards Night, including Citizen of the Year, Leanne Hamaji. The Contra Costa County Historical Society moves its 5,000 square feet of archival materials -- spanning 162 years -- from Main Street to its new location at 724 Escobar St. in Martinez. John Stevens, the new executive officer of the Martinez Chamber of Commerce, anticipates focusing on business, housing and strategic marketing for the organization. The Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District appoints Zachary Shess, from seven applicants, to the board to finish the two years left of the term of Cecile Shepard, who resigned. The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District votes to study a proposal to lease 33 acres of district-owned property for a sustainable farm, soccer fields and possible other offers.
February The Pleasant Hill City Council OKs a zoning ordinance creating a streamlined process for opening a homeless shelter in the eastern part of the city. The first of a series of events celebrating the centennial of the Contra Costa County Library -- Bringing People and Ideas Together -- is held in Martinez. In his State of the City address, Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder pointed to turnarounds in the national economy, and noted that it was time for the city to lay the groundwork for growth. The local chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence holds a candlelight vigil in Pleasant Hill to honor the victims of the Newtown school massacre, and to show support for the president's gun control proposals. The Martinez City Council may have the city foot the bill to find out how much the Alhambra Highlands property is worth, as the clock continues to click on the possible purchase of the land as open space. Pleasant Hill sales tax collections are up about 9 percent in the second quarter of the fiscal year, over the same quarter in the previous year. Sales tax revenues make up more than a third of the city's general fund revenue.
March State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson stops by Morello Park Elementary School in Martinez to read to third-graders gathered for Read Across America Day. A League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley forum in Pleasant Hill address safety nets for children and families, and notes the county's biggest problem is hunger. The Martinez and Pleasant Hill youth baseball and softball associations hold their annual opening day parades, with teams marching through the downtowns, followed by team photos, picnic and games. Free Wi-Fi will expand in Martinez, covering Hidden Lakes Park, the Waterfront Park ball fields and the amphitheater. In Martinez, upgrades are planned for Nancy Boyd, Cappy Ricks and Hidden Valley parks as party of the city's ongoing effort to revitalize recreational amenities.
April Pleasant Hill Mayor Michael Harris withdraws a proposal for a new ad hoc subcommittee to address public safety, public health and benefits for elected officials. Council colleagues and members of the public raise concerns about its purpose and compliance with the state open meetings law. The Martinez Unified School District is cutting costs and capturing income thanks to solar investment. PG&E is expected to give the district $1 million in rebates over the next five years. The Diablo Valley Lodge of the Order of the Sons of Italy in America holds a fundraiser to benefit ongoing restoration of the Joltin' Joe, the 22-foot Cris Craft boat presented by fans to baseball hall-of-famer Joe DiMaggio -- a Martinez native. Pleasant Hill kids and
teens are in the spotlight at Star Quest, the annual youth talent show. The theme for this year's 21st installment is Cruising with the Stars. The John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez holds double activities in honor of the naturalist's birthday and Earth Day. Muir was born 175 years ago on April 21, and the first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970. The Pleasant Hill City Council and the Mt. Diablo school board hold a joint meeting and discuss student transfers from poorly performing schools, and the ban on fees for educational activities, among other topics. Members of the Oakland As visit 11-year-old Aaron Hern of Martinez, in his hospital room as he recuperates from injuries suffered in the Boston Marathon bombing.
May Work is scheduled to begin on the Buskirk Avenue widening project in Pleasant Hill, which calls for adding two lanes and straightening the existing bend in the road, and making the area behind the Crossroads Shopping Center more pedestrian friendly. The National Park Service is collecting input on managing the grave site of John Muir and his family, buried alongside Alhambra Creek at the rear of a pear orchard his father-in-law planted in the 1800s. The Martinez City Council moves to replace the city's 1,100 parking meters with those that accept credit and debit cards, and also ends the long-standing practice of free juror parking. The 46-year-old dome movie theater in Pleasant Hill is demolished amid public outcry to make way for a Dick's Sporting Goods store in the Crossroads Shopping Center. Concerned parents ask the Martinez school district to reduce the use of pesticides on school grounds, and the superintendent and two board members recommend the board develop an advisory committee. Pleasant Hill residents start cleaning their closets and garages, getting ready for the for the city's first citywide garage sale. The Martinez City Council wants more information before approving or denying a proposed housing project, even though the developer of Laurel Knolls has reduced the number of units, added parking and agreed to put in a pedestrian walkway.
June Construction on the last of the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District's bond projects -- the $3.6 million Pleasant Oaks Park plan -- gets underway with five softball fields, full-size soccer field, ADA-compliant pathways, new turf, new dugouts and backstops, and paved parking lot. Though Martinez is in better financial shape than it was two years ago, things are still tight for the 2013-2015 budget. Projected revenues exceed expenditures by only $1,909 in the first year, and just over $4,000 in the second year. Martinez considers charging a fee to recover a portion of costs the city incurs from hosting large events, such as processing permits, providing police protection and cleaning up. High schools in Pleasant Hill and Martinez hold commencement ceremonies, and graduating seniors in home-school and independent study programs and on campuses, receive their diplomas. In the wake of the dome theater demolition, Pleasant Hill leaders want to revisit guidelines for protecting cultural and historic sites, and directs the Planning Commission to gather public input on how to tackle historic preservation. Plans move ahead in Martinez to stage a concert at the John Muir Amphitheatre in the fall, so the City Council can gauge interest for a potential summer concert series.
July The Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District board agrees to give employees an additional 2 percent cost-of-living increase on top of the 3 percent raise included in the fiscal year 2013-2014 budget. The extra pay will cost the district $47,102, which will come from a surplus in the budget. The Pleasant Hill Library is the location for the county library system's 100th birthday party with entertainment and special commemorative image and postage stamp. A joint meeting of the Pleasant Hill City Council and the Recreation and Park District, discussion centered on the plan to review the city guidelines for protecting cultural and historic sites, and the fall launch of the Pleasant Hill Education Initiative. Cardboard and duct tape are the go-to items for participants in the sixth annual Derby Day at Pleasant Hill Aquatic Park, It's a race to find out which craft can make across the pool before becoming waterlogged. Family Fun Days at the John Muir National Historic Site include storybook readings, playing horseshoes and croquet, and practicing calligraphy with quills and ink. Pleasant Hill burglaries fall sharply in the first six months of the year, due to the arrest of two suspects believed to be responsible for a rash of break-ins. Overall, there was a 20 percent drop in the category of crimes that include homicide, rape, robbery, assault and domestic violence.
August Martinez is looking for a promoter to manage the Campbell Theatre, which has been dark since the Willows Theatre Company folded a year previously. Pleasant Hill Mayor Michael Harris and Councilman David Durant present a draft ordinance requiring a police permit for firearms and ammunition dealer in the city. Gun shops could not locate within 150 feet of a residence, 500 feet of parks, another gun dealer, massage parlor or adult entertainment venue, or within 1,000 feet of a day care or school. Beaver Festival VI attracts visitors from across the region to downtown Martinez to try and get a glimpse of the family of beavers that have been living in Alhambra Creek since 2006. New kits were seen just a week before the festival. Bay Area FamilyFest debuts at Waterfront Park in Martinez over Labor Day weekend, with rides, games, zip line and petting zoo. The Martinez school board votes 3-2 to build a new 12,000-square-foot campus for Vicente Martinez High School and Briones School, rather than fix up the decrepit buildings.
September A flag-raising is held at the Martinez Police Department on Sept. 6, in honor of Sgt. Paul A. Starzyk, who was killed in the line of duty in 2008. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor. The Martinez City Council extends for six months a 35 percent reduction in development impact fees for long-delayed residential projects The Village at Arnold, and The Paseos. Digital scanning captures the 1883 Victorian mansion in Martinez that was the home of naturalist John Muir, and a nonprofit team is also scanning his childhood home in Dunbar, Scotland so visitors at either site can take a virtual tour of the residences. A thousand Pleasant Hill residents turn out for the annual Community Service Day, in which neighbors help neighbors and fix up and beautify all areas of the city, including buildings, creeks, schools, senior residences and more. Martinez is encouraged by a first joint meeting between the state Department of Finance, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Boating and Waterways and State Lands Commission to discuss a way to save the marina, which is burdened with debt, and plagued by decay. A lease sign in front of the Pleasant Hill post office causes concern for residents who fear the facility might close. It will remain open, though the space is being downsized by half. Chalk artists turn Martinez sidewalks into an avenue of color with a variety of drawings during the annual Italian Street Painting Festival downtown. Alhambra High School in Martinez seeks creative ways to raise money in the wake of budget cuts, declining donations and a ban on mandatory student fees. Following hours of debate, the Pleasant Hill City Council delays a decision on an ordinance regulating the sales of firearms and ammunition on a 4-1 vote. They request more information and are to reconsider the issue in October.
October Martinez signs Onstage Repertory Theater to manage the Campbell Theatre through the end of 2014. The Pleasant Hill Library's Teen Advisory Group and the Teen Center collaborate on an anti-bullying event with the showing of a documentary and discussion session. Pleasant Hill leaders reject a proposal to extend the ban on smoking to the downtown and other shopping areas. In 2006, the city banned smoking in and near city-owned facilities and in most workplaces, and in 2010, added bus stops, ATMs, and ticket lines and at outdoor events on city property, except where designated. Smoking is also prohibited in indoor and outdoor common areas in housing with four or more units. Valhalla Elementary School student chef Joshua Nieman takes the grand champion prize for Josh's Italian Vegetable Soup at the Cooking with Kids culinary competition.
November Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, faces constituents' pointed questions at a town hall session in Pleasant Hill in which the audience makes the hot topic the Affordable Care Act, and a man is removed from the packed house after yelling and disturbing the meeting. Eight bus stops in Martinez will get new benches, sidewalks, curbs and trash cans as part of a collaboration between the city and County Connection. The Pleasant Hill City Council approves an ordinance requiring a police permit for gun dealers, which also prohibits gun stores from locating certain distances from residences, parks, other gun dealers, massage parlor or adult entertainment venue, day care center or school. Existing dealers are exempt, but must submit employees' background information to the Police Department. The National Shooting Sports Foundation subsequently sues the city, alleging the ordinance was improperly approved, duplicates or conflicts with existing law, and violates the Constitution. Martinez city leaders are concerned about the possibility of more rail cars carrying explosive gas through downtown, and may challenge a propane recovery project at the Phillips 66 oil refinery in Rodeo.
December Martinez and Pleasant Hill ring in the holiday season with their annual events -- Holiday Frolic and Light up the Night. The Pleasant Hill City Council breaks with tradition in the annual selection of the mayor by naming Councilman Tim Flaherty to the top post, rather than elevating Vice Mayor Jack Weir to the position. A stunned Weir and his family file out of the chamber. City Attorney Janet Coleson says she will not investigate whether Councilmen Ken Carlson, Flaherty and Michael Harris violated the state open meeting law. Martinez will try again at annexing a 111-acre area of North Pacheco, and possibly 530 acres around Vine Hill and Arthur Road, the 185-acre Mountain View neighborhood, and 110 acres along Blum Road. Residents rejected the city's proposal the previous year by one vote. The Pleasant Hill City Council wants a broad review of the city's approach to cultural and historic preservation, but do not form a cultural resource management commission, which would have had wide-ranging responsibilities, including advising the council on designating historic districts. Two lanes of Buskirk Avenue in Pleasant Hill reopen with the completion of the first phase of the project to widen the roadway.