Martinez is truly a small town. It's population is 36,000, but sometimes it feels as if it's a town of 3,600 people. It seems as if everyone is related in one way or the other.

Little did I know that my move to Martinez would eventually weave my family and me into the fabric of the community to a degree that I could not understand at the time.

I was born at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley and was raised in Walnut Creek. After a short stint in Chicago after graduating from Cal, I bought a home in Walnut Creek and went to work for the family insurance business my grandfather founded in 1933.

Not too many years later, my wife and I divorced, sold the Walnut Creek home, and I moved into what was my great-grandfather's home in Lafayette.

I spent seven years there, remarried and had my daughter Sarah.

When it was time to find a home, we moved to Martinez from Lafayette in 1992, and bought a cute little bungalow on the corner of Green and Arlington. One of the first couples to welcome us to the neighborhood was Bob and Mary Hatch. Little did I know that 20 years later they would become Uncle Bob and Aunt Mary Hatch!

My father, Bob Schroder, and his father, Ted Schroder, spent many years serving their communities, primarily Walnut Creek.

My grandfather was the first fire marshal of the Central Fire District in Walnut Creek. My father was the mayor of Walnut Creek three times and spent 16 years on the Walnut Creek City Council and 16 years on the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.

I have been fortunate to serve my community of Martinez for the last 18 years as a member of the City Council and as mayor. I guess you could say that it is "in my blood."

Growing up in Walnut Creek in the 1950s and 1960s was like growing up in a small town very much like Martinez. My best friend and I would walk downtown and check out the animals at the Diamond Pet Shop, listen to the harvested walnuts rushing from the processing plant to the warehouse on the converyor belt over Civic Drive and then catch the Three Stooges at a matinee at the El Rey Theatre.

Over time, Walnut Creek changed and now it has become a very different place.

Not that it is a bad place, just different. I am there everyday, but it is not the Walnut Creek that I grew up with.

On the other hand, Martinez has changed too, but not in the same way. Martinez was once the epicenter of commerce in Contra Costa County.

If you wanted to shop, bank, get a driver's license, travel by train, or take care of legal issues, you came to Martinez. Over time, that changed.

But in some ways the exoudus of the department stores and banks to other parts of the county has saved Martinez.

It is a time capsule that many seek out in this world of everything digitized.

It is the "Mayberry" that we long for. It is a place where everyone knows you and cares about you.

The recent Fourth of July parade hammered this home for me. The streets were lined with thousands of people the likes of which I have not seen before. Everyone was excited and cheered as the procession passed by.

Antique cars, floats, bands, tractors, unicyclists, and yes, even public officials, were cheered as they passed through the the parade route. My family and I waved and tossed candy to the kids lining the street.

It was a wonderful day for Martinez.

What a place! We are so lucky!

But nothing stays the same forever: either you move forward and improve or you deteriorate. Martinez has been moving forward for the last several years with a solid financial base and physical improvements throughout the community.

Most of our parks have been improved, with the rebuilding of Waterfront Park to commence later this year.

We are working toward opening day for the Martinez Clippers baseball team next June.

We are in the midst of working with the state on the outstanding loans that were used to build the marina 40-50 years ago. With that debt restructured and the pending SB 1424 approved, we will be ready to develop and execute a solid plan for the marina and the Martinez waterfront.

As the economy improves, now is the time for us to move forward and take advantage of the bright future ahead. This window of opportunity will not be open forever.

Rob Schroder is the mayor of Martinez. Email him at rschroder@cityofmartinez.org.