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Active, Adventurous, Civic Minded, Navy Mom

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Development should follow a Blueprint

Originally printed in the Martinez News-Gazette Thursday, July 31, 2008

Word on the street is we’re once again raising the specter of redevelopment as the end-all-be-all solution for what ails downtown Martinez. Never mind redevelopment’s other name.

Corporate welfare is defined as: government programs that provide unique benefits or advantages to specific companies or industries. Redevelopment, in this context, burdens taxpayers with the costs of building retrofits and special projects but absolves landowners of their fiscal obligations while protecting their financial interests. Pretty sweet deal if you can get it. That’s like buying a historic landmark for half the price of a modest home then getting money to fix it up. Wait, I forgot…

Redevelopment is also touted as a revitalization tool, dressed up, trotted out and fed to citizens as a way to grow personal income. Yet when the census bureau compiled figures from a ten-year study (1979-1989) two bay area cities lend an interesting perspective; Benicia, which had no redevelopment agency, saw its citizens’ personal income grow 122 percent versus 114 percent in Alameda, which did have an RDA.

Lastly, redevelopment is looked upon as Ivory Soap’s answer to cleaning up blight. But what is blight, exactly? Ask ten different cities to define it and you’re likely to get ten different answers. Is it accurate to say our downtown retail district falls into the category of blight? Maybe, or just maybe the empty storefronts would be thriving businesses if the buildings themselves were modernized and up to code. However, should that financial burden be borne by the very same taxpayers likely to become patrons? I remember something about a tea party held for similar reasons.

Interestingly enough, I am not saying that change or growth should be summarily dismissed. If the city was considering creating a walkable community like those highlighted in a July 7 Wall Street Journal article, we could on to something. The headline read: “Sacramento’s ‘Blueprint’ for Growth Draws National Attention” and spoke to the issue of smart growth.

This so-called ‘Blueprint’ is a computer-based model that allows ordinary citizens, city officials and developers alike the hands-on experience of designing a community, then seeing the results specific buildings have on issues Martinez is already talking about.

In addition to the other drawbacks redevelopment presents there are solid concerns about the impacts to traffic, pollution and job growth Martinez’s current specific plan could impose. But imagine having a tool that allows the common man about town the ability to see fifty years into the future and see the impacts these decisions will have on our city. Well, according to the creators of the software Sacramento is using to plan for their growth, we can.

In my opinion it would be prudent of our new city manager to look into hosting town hall type events utilizing the Blueprint model to either make a case for Martinez’s specific plan or conclude the plan is flawed and make the necessary modifications.

Finally, and this is more a pet peeve than a final point: this referring to the downtown retail district as a town, while pitting the residents against the rest of the city needs to cease. Martinez is not a splintered, backwater town amidst an otherwise jewel of a city. But I appreciate the clout this message affords those who benefit most by perpetuating it. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Creative Bent

Joyce Bier, Knotts Berry Farm circ '70s
It was Halloween in the early 70's, I was nine or ten and my best friend Heidi G. invited me to a party. I don't remember when I'd asked permission to go, what I do remember was the day of the party my mom took a pair of white leotards, top and bottoms, and tie-dyed them forest green. She colored and cut leaves from construction paper to affix to the 'stalks' and fashioned a big yellow, tissue paper, flower for my head. By the time my mom was done, I was a sunflower. That's who she was.

I'd love to regale you, dear reader, with warm stories such as this but growing up I felt separate and apart, like Marilyn from the Munsters.  There was a dark side to all of this creativity, and I'm an expert at compartmentalizing. It wasn't until my mom was forty-five, I was twenty-five and a single mother of three children, when that dark side had a name, bipolar disorder.

In the 90's, I moved my family to the bay area, armed myself with my first computer, an eMachine, the internet, and found Patty Duke Austin's book, A Brilliant Madness. I finally began to piece together my personal history.

If you haven't gotten it yet books are my constant companion; they've been my refuge, my safe haven. Even at the point of sitting vigil as my mother lay dying; I allowed myself to be transported from her room at the Brun's House, to a land of furry footed little people, stout and hardy dwarves, elves and their envious oneness with the natural world. My love of reading is just one gift my mother passed on.

I don't know if my mom's creative bent was a byproduct of her illness, what I do know is whether she was; repainting furniture, macraming plant hangers, tie dying clothes, drawing in pastels, stringing sinew over metal hoops to create dreamcatchers, or doing hair, my mom was the epitome of artistic expression.

Maybe my finding the Creative Placemaking whitepaper was kismet. Today, on the eve of my mom's birthday, helping young people express their creative talents feels like the right way to honor her. Maybe by helping others express their potential I can pay tribute to a potential unrealized.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Martinez: A Tale of Two Cities, with apologies to Charles Dickens

It's been two months since the abrupt ending to my happily ever after fairy-tale. The pain is still fresh; I expect it will be for a long time. But causes keep me going and here in Martinez, I don't have to look too hard to find them.

If you haven't heard AOL has a hyper-local on-line presence dedicated to providing topical news top tier news outlets tend to ignore. That's an over-simplification but hey, this is my blog. Here in the City of Martinez you can find them at www.martinez.patch.com, my friend Jim Caroompas is the editor.

Ya I know, I work for the hometown print paper, shouldn't I feel threatened? No, each offers something unique but I digress. On January 30th a member of our community, Pat Keeble, posed this question on Patch, "Why don't we have a dog park in Martinez?" I responded by pointing to an op-ed I'd written for the Martinez News-Gazette August 28, 2008 and saved to my blog.  

One of the comments I captured in my dog park post highlighted a disturbing schism, half our residents don't consider themselves part of Martinez. It was local historian, Harriett Burt, who told me our city has tried to overcome the idea of two Martinez's for decades. Another comment touched on political obstacles residents seemingly face.

Everyone reading this blog (all five of you) know I extol the virtues of social media and the Internet. I imagine the idea of unfettered access to the world's information as the inspiration for the Library of Alexandria. Romantic fancy, maybe, but again this is my blog.

Another author/friend I've made as a result of Twitter, Storm Cunningham may have nailed the generational issues Martinez faces. Storm is part of the TED community; "TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading."



Again maybe it's the romantic in me but the notion of the world's thinkers freely sharing their ideas, best practices, experiences, I imagine how it must have been to sit at the feet of philosophers like Plato, Aristotle.

The answers to healing our schisms and revitalizing our community will not be found in the individual silos (historical society, arts association, chamber of commerce, downtown association, merchant groups) we seem so fond of. Nor will they be found in the one-off (white linen eatery, marina, streetscape, low-income senior housing, cannabis dispensary) projects Martinez is famous for.

The answers to revitalizing the City of Martinez will come when people divorce themselves from their preconceptions and egos. The answers are out there, we just have to be willing to look. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Storm's talk but more than that I hope you're inspired to take meaningful action like spearheading the creation of a dog park.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Perfect Pitch, by Steven Tomlinson

I found this dramatic reading in Richard Florida's, The Rise of the Creative Class. It is reprinted here, with permission, and offered in tribute to a life cut short. Steven Phillips you were much more valuable than a website. I was looking forward to spending the rest of my life with you. I love you.


Perfect Pitch
© 2000 by Steven Tomlinson

The Pitch

For almost a decade, we’ve been offering our customers a deal that’s literally too good to be true. “If you’ve got one brilliant idea, you can roll the dice for a shot at immortality.” For almost a decade, we’ve been talking to talented, driven people. We’ve been talking big money, fast, with no sweat. Limitless, exponential growth. Perfect security. And the envy and admiration of the Big Boys and all the lesser mortals who don’t have the guts or the brains to play. We’ve been talking about our satisfied customers – start-up stars and dot.Commandants – and millions of the best and the brightest have been listening. They’ve seen the vision, they’ve caught the fever and they’ve bought into our non-diversified Deferred-Life Plan.

We’ve got great brand recognition. [Projected slide: IPO] Read Upside. Red Herring. Pick up anything at the airport. Our message is everywhere [Slide: Improved Professional Outlook] – “if you’re not rich by now, you must be dumb or lazy. Or maybe you don’t know the right people. Because once you’re on the right team, it’s just a matter of catching the money as it falls from Heaven.”

We’ve got buzz. [Slide: Impress Peers Overnight] Almost everyone knows someone who knows someone who’s hit the jackpot. And the stories of instant wealth are always streaming through our wireless broadband peer-to-peer network, gathering decimal places along the way.

And we’ve got soul. In fact we’ve got hundreds of thousands of souls. We’ve got the souls of people who put their lives on hold to pursue a dream. [Slide: Instant Permanent Optimism] We’re holding their souls in escrow while they chase after sparkling visions of pure happiness. Because what we’re really selling is fantasy. And the great thing about fantasy is the customer does all the work. The customer designs it. The customer builds it. We’re just the ASP. In fact, the customer is the product. That’s why fantasy is good business.

And that’s why we have to do whatever it takes to defend our market share in the face of recent developments. People won’t buy into the Deferred-Life Plan unless they see the payoff – and suddenly it’s a tough sell. We’re having trouble closing deals – and unless we adapt our pitch, some of our best customers may pull out and go with the competition. Now no one’s forecasting an epidemic of intellectual honesty, but the customers are asking questions – [Slide: Is The Party Over?] – so we need to have answers.

The Market

Remember, we can divide the market into three segments. [Slide: Spectrum graph] Over here we’ve got people with passion. People on a mission from God. People who actually believe in what they’re doing because they love it. People curing diseases and fighting injustice and writing poetry and making the world a better place, even if it means working for free. Forget these people. We can’t afford them.

Over here we’ve got people with drive. Greedy people – people who wouldn’t know passion if it crashed their server – mercenaries, chasing the herd from one gold rush to another, trampling each other on the way. Forget these people. We’ve got them locked up.

I want to talk about these people. [Points to middle of the graph] Reasonable people. People with passion and drive. Here’s a guy who starts with passion – an idea, something useful and beautiful. It comes to him late one night and fills him with joy, because it’s cool. And he’s sure that other people will want this cool thing – so he starts a little business – and sure enough some people want it. So the business grows, and that means more people and investors and the market. And when the herd gets involved – cool isn’t enough. It’s got to be hot. It’s got to be The Next Big Thing. And so our guy with the cool idea is suddenly riding the buzz of the next big, hot, scalable thing and people he’s seen in magazines are talking to him – promising fame and more money than he and his family could ever spend. And surely the prospect of that security is worth some overtime.

So he’s ready to sacrifice. We offer him stock in Deferred-Life, and he makes a rational calculation, and as long as his upside fantasy covers the costs, he buys in – he outsources his fulfillment, and he shifts from cool to hot. And from here on, he’s driven. His vital signs follow the NASDAQ, his vision clouds, and before long he’s making bets with his life that even the craziest VCs wouldn’t touch. And we’ve got him. So we focus our efforts right here. On this calculation. Ignore the bears. We simply put the costs and benefits in perspective, and the customer sees that he needs us now more than ever.

The Plan

Strategy 1. Denial. The simplest strategy is to focus on the fundamentals. Shine the spotlight on some hot prospects and watch the soul-searching evaporate. So what if the market’s moody. Blame it on the Fed. Blame it on sunspots. Blame it on Florida. Nothing’s really changed. Technology rules. So e-commerce is having a rough adolescence. Why worry? Biotech and soft cells and code-morphing optical microsystems are just around the corner. [Slide: Nanotechnology] Miniaturization is the next big thing – and you can’t win if you don’t keep playing. Keep in mind, we’re talking about desperate customers who can barely afford the minimum monthly payments on their maxed-out self-delusion. We’re offering to bump up the limit. And they’ll buy it, because they can’t afford the alternative.

Strategy 2. Sunk Costs. They’re having unauthorized fantasies about a simpler life, but we’re going to remind them what’s at stake. We’re going to rattle their golden handcuffs until we’ve dispelled all doubt. There is no exit strategy. They’ve invested too many sleepless nights and frayed nerves and lost opportunities. They’ve sold their friends and family on Deferred-Life. And they’re fully vested in our definition of success. “If you crap out now, you lose everything – money, respect, and your Elite Status in our Preferred-Customer program. Of course, the successful people may still be polite to you, but they won’t pay quite so much attention – they’ll always be looking over your shoulder.” We have to remind our customers of the penalty for early withdrawal. They’ll conclude for themselves that [Slide: Survival] is the next big thing. And here’s the secret to our success: If fear is your dividend, your shareholders always reinvest.

Strategy 3. Speed. Fear’s great, but frenzy is better. And that’s the real problem with this slump. No frenzy. When the market cools, our customers have time on their hands. Real time. And real time means real reflection. What am I doing? Am I crazy? What does it all mean? And believe me, reflection is the last thing we want. People reflecting in real time recover their passions. They look around and see – real people, real needs – and they may do something surprising. Real time is bad, bad for business. So we’re going to punch the accelerator. Get the wheels spinning again. Fast. Get people back on autopilot. Always on. 24/7. Focused on success, filtering out irrelevant information, impervious to surprise. Deferred-Life customers like speed, because the less they think, the better they feel.

The Payoff

So, the NASDAQ’s down, everyone’s holding their breath, and our competition smells blood. They’re betting that our customers are ready to switch back to reality. They’re going to start phoning at dinner time with their best pitch. [Slide: Important Personal Opportunity] “Do you remember how it all started? How exciting it is to have a good idea? Something cool? Purpose, meaning, a mission that your idea could make someone’s life better? Now that the fog has lifted, do you see where you are? How far you’ve drifted from where you started? Well, for a limited time only, you can come back. Back to passion. Back to people and balance. Back to your life. It’s just as good as you remember.” It’s great marketing – it’s retro, it appeals to self-doubt. It’s good. So we’ve got to be better.

I’d say it’s time to pay some big dividends. Let’s bundle our services and offer our customers a new package deal of fear and fantasy. They’ll double down because they’re in too deep – and we’ll pack up their loyal souls and their frozen assets and ride the bear to the Next Big Thing. And what might that be? Does it matter? As long as it’s not REALITY, we’ll be just fine.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thoughts on Creative Placemaking for the City of Martinez

M.C. Escher Relativity 1953 Lithograph

When I first considered what a Creative Placemaking plan for the City of Martinez could look like, I began seeing synergy throughout our downtown. And in a random stream of consciousness I threw ideas into an e-mail and hit the send button.



The bottom floor of the Sharkey building hosts the Martinez Arts Association. There is an entire upstairs floor that I see housing our In Motion dance instructors.

Some see the cement quonset hut structures behind the Amtrak Intermodal Station as a sports complex, I see a fully functioning sound stage where environment focused programing is produced.

I see our nascent film festival growing and including an environmental theme to be judged and awarded the John Muir award for best...

Where some fear the exodus of county jobs, I see an opportunity to repurpose the spaces and create affordable living space for creative/artistic people. Where there are tan and bland building walls, I see murals.

I see the City of Martinez radiating with creative talents, and like the sun radiates and all of creation strains to feel it's warmth, I see people being drawn, naturally, to our Downtown Historic District without the need for gimmick or guile.

Like the lithograph depicts, it's all in the way you see things.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Creative Placemaking: A Vision for the City of Martinez Part 2

California's political landscape has changed, dramatically, with the swearing in of Governor Brown. Suddenly the smoldering embers of battles fifty years in the fighting have engulfed the Golden State quicker than the Station Fire of August '09. The question of embracing a "financing tool" that has turned neighbor against neighbor, stymied growth and according to one property owner, put off erstwhile investors, a Martinez Redevelopment Agency, could be settled once and for all with the stroke of a gubernatorial pen.

It's been a busy news cycle.

Meanwhile back to my reading list (have I mentioned just how much my kids hated moving because it meant small U-Haul boxes weighted with books?) I'm really enjoying Richard Florida's, The Rise of the Creative Class. Much of what I've read thus far resonates, i.e., in the chapter on The Power of Place, I ran across a 'manifesto' written by people working in the creative fields, the Creative Class, as Richard has coined. A quick google search led me to an article written about the group so I posted a link to my FaceBook profile. Immediately a young woman in my community, Candice Ferrogiaro (who epitomizes the Creative Class) owner of Citrus Salon, commented we should do that here. I think so too that's why I forwarded the Creative Placemaking white paper to our city manager, Phil Vince and Council Member Lara DeLaney.

Added to the books and reports I'm reading is the Downtown Specific Plan for the City of Martinez. It is in Appendix B - Existing Conditions that further bolsters my position and, in my opinion, behooves our elected officials to revisit in light of the case studies presented in Creative Placemaking. Even though my role as General Plan Update Task Force member is to think more broadly, our Historic Downtown remains a constant theme of our meetings.

As noted in my first paragraph the specter of a Redevelopment Agency in the City of Martinez is looming once again. Emotions run high on both sides of the issue. And a quick search of my name on the Gazette's website will show I've had a hand in that debate. Yet this was before I actually worked for the newspaper and spent my hours downtown listening to merchants and looking at the decline.

Last summer, armed with my BlackBerry and Mino HD, I began chronicling instances of musical involvement in community events and posted many facebook updates and tweets. The most telling comment was from a friend who used to live in Martinez, 'when did Martinez become so cool?' Sure Martinez has been called quaint, but cool?

So to wrap up a post that took too long to write, my vision for the downtown Historic District of Martinez is to transition from a Culture of Quaint to a Culture of Cool. Between Florida's book and the National Endowment for the Arts I am convinced the answer to our economic malaise rests on adopting a Creative Placemaking plan. The fact that grant monies are currently available to communities who encourage and adopt  creative placemaking means no matter where the redevelopment conversation goes, change and growth aren't dependent on the outcome.

I'll go into specifics next.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Creative Placemaking: A Vision for the City of Martinez Part 1

In November the Martinez Arts Association asked to speak before the Economic Revitalization subcommittee, of which I'm part, to pitch the idea of turning the Sharkey Building into a center for the arts. The building, registered on California's Register of Historical Resources, has proven to be a challenge for the City of Martinez.

Also in November a Contra Costa Times print headline "Downtown Martinez Suffers Another Blow" ran.

Months back I mentioned being on the General Plan Update Task force for the City of Martinez and I envisioned using this space to chronicle the process. Lots has happened since that I wont get into, the most significant was a hospice referral for my mother in July and her death in October. Life has a way of interfering. But I'm more than three quarters of the way back in the saddle with a brain no longer looking for ways to fix my mom. Because that's who I am at my core, a problem solver.

In my last post I mention two of David Meerman Scott's books, it was in The New Rules of Marketing & PR that I was introduced to National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). I looked them up on Twitter and Facebook and added them to my information network. That's how I ran across Kaid Benfield's blog post, Arts-driven revitalization in Kentucky and as I read through it and Kiad's links to the National Endowment for the Arts and The Mayors’ Institute on Community Design , synapses began firing.

The City of Martinez already has a diverse artistic community; actors, filmmakers, writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers, graphic designers, glass blowers and the list goes on. If I'm reading this correctly, and my intiution tells me I am, the City of Martinez is already positioned for it's long over due renaissance.

I'll sign off for now with this last bit: there are a whole lot of but fors in this story; I don't believe in coincidence...