Category Archives: Martinez CA

The latest “news desert” – Martinez News-Gazette closes

Martinez News-Gazette to roll out final edition after 161 years of print

Alejandro Serrano, San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 26, 2019
Barbara Cetko, 93, legal section editor at the long-running Martinez News-Gazette, works on her copy.
Barbara Cetko, 93, legal section editor at the long-running Martinez News-Gazette, works on her copy. Photo: Photos by Jessica Christian / The Chronicle [ONE OF SEVEN PHOTOS – FOR MORE, SEE]
Rick Jones anticipated the end, but it still shocked him when it arrived.

After 161 years of publishing, the Martinez News-Gazette — among the longest-running papers in California, if not the longest — plans to print its final edition on Sunday, a painful end for one of the only news agencies committed to covering the city of nearly 40,000, which serves as the seat of Contra Costa County.

“We were told we were losing money, and I don’t doubt that,” said Jones, who has served as the paper’s editor for about five years as one of two full-time employees. “We knew it was coming.”

It’s uncertain whether the news outlet will continue publishing online, Jones said. Owners of the paper, he said, haven’t responded to his requests for more information on what comes next. What is certain, however, is that the journalism industry remains under threat in the Bay Area and across the country.

study published last month by PEN America, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting free expression through the written word, found that total newsroom employment across the country — newspapers, TV, radio and digital — fell roughly 25% from 2008 to 2018, while almost half of all newspaper newsroom jobs, 47%, were eliminated.

Production editor Scott Baba lays out his pages.
Production editor Scott Baba lays out his pages. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle
Edward Wasserman, dean of UC Berkeley’s journalism school, said people can turn to the internet to share and exchange opinions with others who have the same enthusiasm for something, but it’s not the same as looking at the same paper every morning and reading about hyper-local stories on politics and crime, as well as announcements and features specific to life in Martinez.

“There’s not really a replacement institution emerging,” Wasserman said. “It’s not the same thing as having a paper that chronicles a shared reality for a given community.”

The News-Gazette began publishing in September 1858 and is said to have endorsed Abraham Lincoln’s presidential bid. Former state Sen. William Sharkey bought the paper in 1906 and combined it with another local paper, calling it the Contra Costa Gazette, according to the former owner’s 89-year-old grandson, Bill Sharkey III.

In the middle of the 20th century, the paper had about 50 employees and covered the county and city of Martinez, while also offering national and international news through the Associated Press and United Press International wires.

“We were a local newspaper with all the services,” Sharkey III said.

Advertising revenue began to dwindle in the 1960s, so the family sold the newspaper to former state Sen. Luther Gibson in 1963, said Sharkey III, who was managing editor at the time. Since then, the newspaper has continued to reduce its staff.

The News-Gazette, which dates to 1858 and is said to have endorsed Abraham Lincoln, keeps its archives in binders in the newsroom attic.
The News-Gazette, which dates to 1858 and is said to have endorsed Abraham Lincoln, keeps its archives in binders in the newsroom attic. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Sharkey III, who has written a column in recent years and will have penned more than 350 by the end of 2019, saw the decline from a five-day-a-week publication to the more recent twice-a-week schedule.

“I hate to see it,” said Mayor Rob Schroder, who also writes a column for the paper. “We had at least one dedicated reporter all the time, and they’ve gone away in the last five years.”

Journalism serves a watchdog role in any community, Schroder said, but in a city like Martinez the paper also acted as a conduit between residents and their local representatives. The News-Gazette was among the first outlets to report on a man who allegedly attempted a citizen’s arrest on Schroder this month, leading to a kerfuffle with the mayor and another man on Main Street.

“I think we are going to lose some connection to our community,” Schroder said. “Journalism ties us all together a little bit.”

The paper also reported last month on officials green-lighting a recreational marijuana shop near a school, infuriating two school officials.

“Who is going to get those things out to the public?” Jones asked.

Weeks after news of the paper’s demise was announced — in a corner of the front page of a November edition, a small box declared in all caps: “MARTINEZ NEWS-GAZETTE TO CLOSE” — concern has spread among loyal readers.

Production editor Scott Baba leaves for the day.
Production editor Scott Baba leaves for the day. Photo: Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Gibson Publishing, which owns the paper, has not given any details on the future to staff, Jones said.

A relative of David Payne, the chief executive of Gibson Publishing and Westamerica Bancorporation, said the family would not comment on the News-Gazette.

Ramona Lappier, who’s been a reader for about 25 years, recalled yelling in her living room when she read the brief note about the shuttering. She remembered unfurling the paper over the years. Despite a typo or two that would make her and her mother laugh, the paper was still informative.

A newspaper, just like a school, is part of the fabric of a community, Lappier said.

“When those pieces are pulled out, it’s like a house of cards — what do you have left?” she wondered.

One reader, Jennifer Chan, pleaded in a letter to the editor: “Please, what can be done to save this paper?”

Jones said a few people expressed interest in purchasing the paper, but none have been successful in reaching the current owner. Jones said he has not been able to contact the owner, either.

“For the most part, there is no one covering the news in Martinez,” he said. “There is going to be a void there.”

The paper’s staff shrank in recent years, and essential staffers who left, such as an ads salesperson, were never replaced, Jones said.

“We do nothing to gain new subscribers, and we are not selling ads,” he said.

But life in Martinez will continue, even if the paper does not.

“It’s like a member of the family is going to be gone,” Sharkey III said. “After all these years, it’s suddenly not going to be there.”

Area coverage of Martinez News-Gazette announced closure

The Martinez News-Gazette will be shut down on December 29, 2019.

Links to the story on various news outlets:

Martinez News-Gazette To End Publishing

[BenIndy Editor – Question: will Gibson Publishing ALSO shut down the struggling Benicia Herald? No word on this as yet. Will keep you posted… More on the story in area news outlets here.  – R.S.]

The current editor of the 161-year-old newspaper said he isn’t sure whether the paper will continue as an online-only endeavor.

By California News Wire Services, News Partner
Repost from
Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave., Martinez
Martinez News-Gazette, 802 Alhambra Ave., Martinez (Google Maps Street View)
MARTINEZ, CA — The Martinez News-Gazette, which proudly boasts it has been published continuously since September 1858, told its readers Sunday morning that it will cease publishing, at least in print, with its Dec. 29 edition.
The news came in a front-page story Sunday, which also was published on the newspaper’s website and its Facebook page.
Rick Jones, the Gazette’s editor the past six years, said on Sunday that he isn’t sure whether the paper will continue as an online-only endeavor. The Gazette has been sustained largely by paid legal advertising, which Jones said would not carry over to online.”We do have a decent online presence and an active Facebook page,” Jones said. He said it’s hard to find longtime Martinez residents who haven’t either been loyal Gazette readers, or worked as delivery carriers for the paper, which is published twice a week.”This paper means a lot to the community,” Jones said.The Gazette’s closure announcement caused a stir on a local Facebook page called Martinez Rants and Raves. Among many members there, Sunday’s announcement came as a shock.”I am sad to hear the Martinez Gazette will not be there for our city to share local events and for parents to clip out articles and pictures about their kids activities and sports,” Martinez resident Bob DiBetta posted there. “Growing up I remember, I felt proud when my family clipped the article about our second-grade class making puppets for a local show.”The Gazette’s announcement comes after the regional East Bay Times has cut back on coverage in Martinez and other nearby cities, and after at least two upstart local print newspapers have come and gone.The Gazette is owned by Vallejo-based Gibson Radio and Publishing, which also owns newspapers in Benicia and Dixon. Jones said the Gazette has somewhere between 4,000 and 4,500 subscribers. There are only two full-time employees — Jones is one of them — and three part-timers.

Jones said he knows he has local support; “Every person has asked me, ‘What can we do to save it?’

“I’m really trying to get over the emotional part of it and trying to be more pragmatic about it,” he said.

—Bay City News Service

Dredging the Carquinez to Accommodate Oil

[BenIndy Editor: Please come to the Pinole Public library on Nov. 13 at 6pm to protest the plan to increase dredging in the Bay.  More info and sign a petition at Sunflower Alliance.  If you can’t make it, download a comment form – or comment by email to  – RS]

The Army Corps is deepening shipping channels to allow tankers access. The agency says it will clear the air. Environmentalists don’t agree.

The East Bay Express, by Jean Tepperman, Sept 11, 2019
The dredging will deepen a 13-mile stretch from San Pablo Bay to the four refineries along the Carquinez Strait. PHOTO COURTESY USGS

The federal government is preparing to deepen the shipping channels that serve four of the Bay Area’s five oil refineries. Because the channels are too shallow to accommodate fully loaded modern oil tankers, those ships travel to and from refineries only partly loaded, and sometimes wait for high tides before sailing. By reducing the number and duration of those trips, the project is likely to reduce diesel emissions affecting the already-polluted refinery communities along the Carquinez Strait. But environmentalists view it as a move to subsidize and expand oil production at a time when the future depends on ending the use of fossil fuels. And they predict it will actually increase air pollution by enabling an expansion of refinery production.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gearing up to start the project, first authorized by Congress in 1965 and funded in 2012. The Army Corps currently maintains a 35-foot-deep shipping channel down the middle of the strait. The plan is to deepen it to 37 or 38 feet along a 13-mile stretch from the Bay to the refineries, three of which lie in northern Contra Costa County and one across the strait in Benicia.

That the project will primarily benefit the oil industry is not disputed. “The channels in the study area primarily serve crude oil imports and refined product exports to and from several oil refineries and two non-petroleum industries,” according to the Environment Impact Statement issued by the Army Corps in April. “Petroleum is the big economic driver” of the project, agreed project contact person Stu Townsley. Indeed, the Western States Petroleum Association is one partner in the project.

The Army Corps says deepening the channels will save between $7.6 and $11.3 million a year in shipping costs, savings that could be passed on to consumers. A comment letter on the project from the Center for Biological Diversity, Communities for a Better Environment, the Sierra Club, and other environmental organizations says, “In essence, the public is subsidizing the oil industry to ensure greater profit for private corporations.”

However, the Army Corps also argues that the project will provide environmental benefits. Agency economist Caitlin Bryant said her forecast predicts that the same volume of oil will be shipped with or without the project. If the ships involved are fully loaded, it will take fewer vessel trips to handle the same amount of oil, and tankers no longer will have to idle offshore waiting for high tide. Fewer trips and less idling time will mean less diesel pollution.

The project will mainly benefit shipping in a type of vessel called a Panamax. The Army Corps predicts that as the volume of petroleum shipping increases, the number of Panamax “ship calls per year” will increase. But by dredging, they can reduce the size of the increase. The Army Corps projects that the project will result in about 11 percent fewer Panamax trips in the Carquinez Strait in 2023, the first year the project will be completed, 10 percent fewer in 2030, and about 8 percent fewer in 2040, with corresponding decreases in the level of air pollution they contribute to the already-high levels of pollution in refinery communities.

But environmentalists worry that the project will enable greater volumes of oil imports and exports by “debottlenecking” shipping. The environmental groups challenged Bryant’s forecast in their letter. They pointed out that Richmond’s Chevron refinery, the only one now able to handle fully loaded tankers, is operating at 99.7 percent of capacity, while the other refineries operate at only 91.3 percent. Removing the shipping bottleneck would make it easy for the other refineries to step up production, the groups claim. And they argue that increasing oil production will not only worsen climate change but increase local air pollution, outweighing the benefits of reducing the number of tanker trips.

Critics see the project as part of a larger trend to increase oil shipping and refining in the Bay Area. “The refineries are importing more oil to make products for export, polluting all the way,” said Greg Karras of Communities for a Better Environment. Exports from Bay Area oil refineries “have increased in lockstep with the decrease in domestic oil demand,” as refineries seek new markets. The Bay Area, Karras said, is becoming “the gas station of the Pacific Rim.”

Sunflower Alliance, along with, the Rodeo Citizens Association, the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, Idle No More SF Bay, Communities for a Better Environment, and Crockett Rodeo United to Defend the Environment (CRUDE), have launched a petition campaign against the dredging project. They had already joined together as the Protect the Bay Coalition to fight a proposal by Phillips 66, to increase the amount of oil shipped to and from its Rodeo refinery. “It’s troubling that this project, stalled since 1965, is going forward just after P66 requested a permit to triple oil tanker deliveries to its wharf,” said Shoshana Wechsler of the Sunflower Alliance. “Is the Army Corps of Engineers trying to facilitate increased tar sands refining at P66?”

Because it’s likely that future imports will increasingly come from tar sands, oil spills, which inevitably occur, would be more destructive. Tar sands crude oil is so heavy that it sinks when spilled in a body of water. Unlike lighter oil, it can’t be cleaned up by conventional “skimming” methods and remains on the bottom, leaching toxic chemicals. The amount of tar sands crude oil traveling to the west coast of Canada is expected to triple soon. Owners of the planned Trans Mountain Pipeline just announced they’re about to re-start construction on the project, after delays caused by protests from indigenous tribes and environmental organizations. When the tar sands crude arrives at the coast, it will be shipped to refineries in the United States — including California — as well as to Asia. Bay Area refineries have already been gearing up to process this heavier, dirtier crude oil.

Community groups also worry about harm the project could cause to the local marine environment. Even with no increase in the volume of oil shipped, the Army Corps predicts an increase in the use of larger ships. Environmentalists say larger ships go faster, which increases noise in the underwater environment as well as the likelihood of “ship strikes” on marine mammals. An increase in shipping would amplify those problems.

Environmental groups also charge that the Environmental Impact Statement underestimates the harm that would be caused by the dredging itself — both from the initial channel project and the subsequent annual maintenance that will be required. An earlier report from the Army Corps acknowledged that current ship traffic and maintenance dredging already stress the endangered Delta smelt. Noise associated with the dredging would also stress sturgeon, salmon and trout, and marine mammals.

The stirred-up sediment mixes with the water, changing its temperature and chemical makeup in ways that harm fish populations. The Army Corps describes plans to minimize these impacts, including the use of less-damaging dredging equipment and limiting dredging to times of the year when it would cause the least harm to wildlife. The environmental groups say these assurances are not adequate because dredging at the planned times could still harm smelt and salmon, and because the Army Corps says it will use these methods when “practicable” — which environmentalists see as a significant loophole.

And they warn that dredging could stir up heavy metals and other toxic pollutants now settled in the floor of the channel. Townsley of the Army Corps of Engineers responded that the Corps does some routine dredging every year. “The process includes rigorous sediment testing,” he said, and “it has not identified challenges with the cleanliness of the dredged material in the channel.” The environmentalists say they should also test the water before approving the project.

Environmentalists also raise questions about the recent decision to limit the dredging project to a 13-mile stretch mostly west of Martinez, rather than continuing it to the port of Stockton, as originally envisioned. They suspect that the project stops where it does because going farther inland would worsen an already serious environmental problem: increasing the concentration of salt in the Delta. They say the corps is illegally “piecemealing” the project — doing an environmental study of just one part so as not to acknowledge the harm the full project would cause.

Sea-level rise and diversion of water to Central Valley agriculture are already making Delta water saltier. Large amounts of fresh water are being pumped in to keep the salt level down, but if it continues to increase, it will threaten agriculture and every other aspect of the Delta ecosystem. The Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges that this is a serious issue for the dredging project. It will be a factor in the decision about whether to deepen the shipping channel to 37 feet or 38 feet. Deeper dredging would save the oil industry more money but allow more salt upstream.

The Environmental Impact Statement says planners limited the project to the western section because that’s where it’s currently needed. Dredging the first 13-mile stretch is “more appropriate for the immediate problems facing existing vessels.” The dredging is planned to go just past the eastern-most refinery in Martinez.

Townsley of the Army Corps said the “rescoping was based on a number of factors, not just environmental.” A large part of the motivation for the project, he said, is the “national economic interest — why taxpayers in Kansas would find some value in it.” He said planners evaluated whether the stretch farther east has “enough maritime commerce to justify” the expense. He said it was “close to being a positive” but was rejected because of “the complexity of the study — other factors.”

The Port of Stockton is the official “nonfederal sponsor” of the project because the original plan was to deepen the channel all the way to Stockton. Spokesperson Jeff Wingfield said the port hopes the eastern phase will be completed next. That raises another fear in the environmental community. Stockton doesn’t ship petroleum, but it does export coal — and it can’t get big ships fully loaded with coal down the Carquinez Strait. Environmental and community groups fighting coal exports in Richmond — and potential coal exports in Oakland — fear shipments of coal will increase if shipping channels are deepened to Stockton.

Finally, project opponents charge that the Army Corps of Engineers has not consulted enough with the community in developing the project. They say an initial community hearing in June was poorly publicized. They also point out that Corps staff members who wrote the Environmental Impact Statement are based in Florida. They say work on the project should be done by local people who know the area and can consult with the community.

Townsley responded that developing the project was “a team effort” in which “local people were well represented.” It’s Corps policy to “get expertise wherever we can,” he said, “but we make sure we have people who understand the local conditions.”

The public comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement has officially closed, but project opponents attended an Army Corps of Engineering hearing on a related topic in July and demanded more opportunity for public input on the dredging project. Afterwards spokespeople for the project said that although the official public comment period has closed “the Corps maintains an email address at for comments related to this action. Responses to comments received through September 2019 will be included in the Final Report.”

Townsley said the Army Corps “goes through a fairly rigorous process of coordinating with other agencies and collecting comments.” All the comments and letters on this project show “exactly the way the system is supposed to work.” He added that the Army Corps plans to hold another public hearing on the dredging project, probably in late September or early October. The final report is expected after the first of the year.

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