Editor’s Note: Jeremy Martinez is running for the District 5 seat on the Merced City Council in the Nov. 3 election. He is facing candidate Sarah Boyle. The square-shaped District 5 is located in southwest / central Merced, bordered in the north by West Yosemite Avenue, G Street to the east, down south to Bear Creek and across to Highway 59.
For Jeremy Martinez, the city of Merced holds great promise, but it’s also facing unprecedented challenges that require tested leadership.
“I’m inspired every day I work in this community and see the dedicated individuals and organizations working to improve the quality of life for Merced residents,” Martinez says. “Working at the community level, and across sectors, has allowed me a perspective into what drives Merced forward and what holds us back.”
Martinez is a 36-year-old Turlock native who decided to raise his daughter and pursue a professional career right here in Merced. He is the former CEO of the United Way of Merced County, and currently works as the general manager of operations for Merced Business Ventures doing business as Manzanita — a growing cannabis retail operation with a store in Merced and locations opening up in other valley areas, and across the state.
“When I think of Merced,” says Martinez, “I think of our diverse cultures, the open land, economic opportunity, and most importantly, a community vested in seeing our city get better and better. Yet, inspiration still comes from our shortcomings … the overall health conditions of our community, our educational attainment levels, our antiquated infrastructure, the continual increase in homelessness, and the overall lack of opportunity to acquire quality jobs in Merced. …
“Summatively, I’m inspired by both the now and what our future can be, and that’s why I’m running.”
If elected, Martinez wants to 1) Build a stronger bridge between educational institutions and the workforce to stop the brain drain; 2) Make real investments in parks and trails so that they are clean and safe; 3) Enhance bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; 4) Engage our public safety personnel and neighborhoods in a way that builds trust and community; and 5) Adopt a comprehensive economic development strategy that puts meaningful business development first, rather than focusing on franchises.
Martinez believes he can play an important role in leading Merced through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and toward social and economic recovery. He says he’s ready to get to work and effect change on a City Council that in recent years has been more of “consensus council.”
“We’ve gone along with what’s easy and have avoided the tough discussions, policies, and overall engagement with our community members,” he says. “As our community evolves, both residents and industries alike, our ideas, acceptance, and overall ability to actively listen to our constituents must evolve as well. When we engage our community, we need to be clear on the intent of the public participation goal. Are we there to inform, consult, involve, collaborate, or empower? Each of which comes with a promise to the public. Communication is always the first thing to fail during public engagement.”
Martinez is seeking to utilize the experience he obtained from a broad-range career consisting of leadership roles in private, nonprofit, and government settings, and then apply that experience to City Council.
The Turlock High grad was accepted to the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, but he literally commuted to Los Angeles one to two times during the week; dependent on the semester classes afforded to him. He did not move down south, choosing instead to remain in Merced. Some 60,000 to 70,000 commuter miles later, Martinez accomplished his goal of achieving a Master of Public Administration degree, along with a City and County Management Certification.
Martinez started out his professional career in the Merced area in 2013 as the director of Human Resources for West-Mark, a large transportation equipment and ag trailer manufacturing company.
In 2016, he was hired on as the chief operating officer of the United Way of Merced County, and six months later, he became the organization’s chief executive officer. He served in that role for nearly four years.
“This was my first leadership experience within a community/non-profit sector,” he says. “I’ve held leadership roles within the private sector, but to have the opportunity to serve my community in this capacity was something I’ll always hold close to heart.”
The United Way position helped Martinez gain a better understanding of community needs, interests, and just how much residents care about Merced.
“Nonprofits are inherently tasked with addressing the shortcomings associated with government, education, and the economy. It is no easy feat attempting to remedy social inequities resulting from policies associated with these sectors. Lucky for us, we have a lot of passionate individuals building a better Merced everyday. During my time at UWMC, I engaged with some of our most innovative leaders, both in the City of Merced and across the San Joaquin Valley, through a variety of community based initiatives in areas like public health, education, and financial stability.”
The local United Way is a unique nonprofit that serves as a fundraising entity while also offering direct services, grant-funded community-based programming, and grant management services.
“By adhering to a diverse organizational model, we were able to grow programming in areas like access to health food options, in-person, healthcare interpreting services, and emergency good and shelter funding for local community based organizations providing these services.”
Martinez says his largest project undertaking was switching the local United Way from a charitable trust model to that of a philanthropic collective impact model focusing on building capacity within the local nonprofit sector.
“As an organization, we determined the capacity of area nonprofits was the largest hindrance on achieving desired outputs and outcomes within our community. UWMC moved to the Arbor Way building in mid-2017, where we began our efforts establishing a non-profit resource model, providing community-based nonprofits with services like grant-writing workshops, financial management workshops, shared funding opportunities, and a community event space.”
The candidate also served on the City of Merced Planning Commission (2017 to 2019), the board of the Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce (2017- 2020), the Merced County Accountable Communities Health Initiative Planning Committee (2017 – 2019), and as a committee member for the Merced County Association of Governments (2015 – 2017).
He eventually joined the startup Merced Business Ventures / Manzanita as the general manager of operations.
“This is a business affairs job that involves controlling finances. human resource management, and logistics oversight,” he says. “It’s very similar to the work that someone in a comparable position would be doing for a manufacturer or food processor, or even a large ag operation. Importantly, it implicates many of the same areas of expertise that we want to see in our City Council members. It’s critical that our elected officials have a first-hand understanding of the complex aspects of local government, including labor relations, financial stewardship and organizational dynamics.”
Martinez says the District 5 race comes down to knowledge and experience.
“The voters deserve an earnest conversation about public policy, and a representative with the experience necessary to make informed decisions. We are representing constituents within our district, and the city as a whole. Needless to say, these are very important decisions that impact residents across district lines. It’s highly important we are informed and experienced enough to act in this capacity. In District 5, I’m the candidate with the experience necessary to represent our community. …
“Serving as a planning commissioner, executive/director for a large agricultural-government manufacturing operation, and later as the CEO for a major nonprofit, I have brought together diverse stakeholders from across sectors, for candid exchanges about our future — and these efforts have been successful.”