Archive for June, 2011

Hospital Foundation Brings iL CIRCO

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

There is no need to travel to get the best seat in the house and witness a spectacular Broadway theatrical performance. The Delta Memorial Hospital Foundation proudly presents its annual fundraiser featuring world renowned iL CIRCO to residents here in East Contra Costa County.

iL CIRCO is known for its breath taking acrobatics and choreography, enchanting music, dance and whimsical storyline. According to the company’s website “iL CIRCO has left a trail of standing ovations spanning the globe, after touring more than 14 countries on five continents, since first premiering in 1996.”

The Delta Memorial Hospital Foundation raises monies to help support advancements in services at Sutter Delta Medical Center. Last year the Foundation hosted a sold out fundraiser featuring Beach Blanket Babylon in the city of Antioch’s historical theater El Campanil. The event raised $100,000 for the hospital.

This event is open to the public and is such an opportunity for this area to have Broadway level talent right here to enjoy. The event is followed by a night of dessert, drinks and dancing in beautiful downtown Antioch overlooking the Delta.

WHEN: Saturday, September 17
WHERE: Antioch’s Historical El Campanil Theatre, 602 W Second Street

If you would like to find out more information about the upcoming fundraiser and iL CIRCO, please contact Victoria Calderia by calling 925-628-7284 or by e-mail at caldeiv@sutterhealth.org.

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Council OKs Budget, Faces Future Deficits

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Budget Council OKs Budget, Faces Future DeficitsBy Dave Roberts

The good news is that the Antioch City Council, which not long ago feared the city may be headed for bankruptcy, approved a $34.4 million operating budget Tuesday night that provides a healthy 15 percent reserve fund for the fiscal year starting July 1. The bad news is that the year after that, the budget is facing a $1.8 million deficit as employee pay and benefit concessions expire.

“With minimal revenue increases projected and many of the agreements with our bargaining groups triggering pay increases as well as expiring, we find ourselves with the potential of outpacing our revenues once again,” warned Finance Director Dawn Merchant in her budget report. “The City must begin to face the challenges in 2013 immediately.”

Council members are cautiously optimistic as they prepare for a budget study session on July 19 to begin facing those challenges.

“I feel really good about where we are today,” said Councilman Gary Agopian. ‘We have stability, but it’s momentary stability. What I’m very concerned about is projections for the future. We don’t want to lose the progress we have made on this budget.

“This success did not happen in a bubble. It’s taken hard working, intelligent, creative individuals in the city and every level of the organization from the bottom to the top for being successful in a very, very difficult time.

“If we can navigate through some shoals in the river and get through the next few years with stability we will be able to leverage much better in the future. Revenues are flat. I don’t see how sales or property tax will increase significantly. We are looking at a reserve number that is healthy. It’s not hefty but it’s healthy. We need to stay healthy going forward.”

The budget assumes that there will be a 5.5 percent increase in the sales tax in the coming year but that property tax revenue will not increase. The exact property tax figure will be released by the county assessor next week. The budget also assumes that the employee union wage and benefit concessions will remain in effect for the next year. That includes $501,456 in savings from employees paying a portion of their retirement costs.

One of the unknowns is how the elimination of the city’s redevelopment agency by the state government will affect the city’s finances. It could result in a $600,000 hit to the operating budget for services that have been picked up by the redevelopment agency. That would still leave the budget with a relatively healthy 13 percent reserve for the coming fiscal year. But it would decrease the following year’s already unhealthy reserve of 9 percent down to about 7.5 percent.

Despite Merchant’s warnings and a fiscal situation that has left the city operating with a barebones staff with 145 vacant positions remaining unfilled, reduced services and City Hall closed on Fridays, Councilwoman Mary Rocha was concerned about increasing spending for arts and cultural activities.

The city’s Arts & Cultural Foundation budget has been reduced to $18,000 in the coming year. It traditionally receives 30 percent of the revenue from the hotel occupancy tax, which has been decimated in recent years with the demolition of the Best Western hotel and drop-off in tourism and travel to the city. At one time that tax was bringing in more than $300,000 annually.

The reduced budget has resulted in fewer art shows at the Lynn House Gallery but the city’s summer concert series, which is sponsored by the Lesher Foundation, will go on as scheduled, with the first concert headlined by Vocal-Ease this Saturday at 6 p.m. in Waldie Plaza in downtown Antioch.

‘We are losing who we are,” said Rocha about the reduced arts and cultural activities in the city. “Little by little we are cutting away what Antioch is. If we can keep it going. I know music might not be a lot for people. To have a free concert and enjoy ourselves is an important thing. I’m asking for support on increasing that.”

The other council members were noncommittal but agreed to discuss it at the July 19th study session. Councilman Wade Harper acknowledged the value of the arts, saying, “How important is civic pride and establishing our brand and attracting other people to our city.”

But Councilman Brian Kalinowski, the budget hawk on the council, argued that sacrifices need to be made in tight budgetary times.

“180 days ago we were looking bankruptcy right in the face,” he said. “Although the pressure valve has been released some, it’s no joke. (It) doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But it’s these kinds of exceptions that get made and occur in Sacramento on a grander scale is why the wheels have fallen off.

“How do you take away from the General Fund when we have already done all of the cuts that we have done? How do we fund that group when we have not historically done that for other groups? This is not the place and time to be taking from the General Fund for nonprofit organizations that are not the responsibility for the city proper.”

City Manager Jim Jakel, earlier in the budget discussion, reminded the council of the city’s skeletal staffing situation while acknowledging that things appear to have bottomed out. “I have been able to breathe again for the first time in 18 months,” he said. “We have work to do. I’m unhappy to be where we are right now. We are so far from where we would need to be and the community would like us to be.”

In other business, the council:
• Applauded Jakel’s announcement that he has hired interim Police Chief Allan Cantando to be the city’s new police chief, replacing Jim Hyde, who retired earlier in the year.
• Was informed by Walter Ruehlig, who is leading the planning for the 4th of July celebration, that so far there are about 40 entries in the parade, which will start at 10 a.m. at Second and E streets.
• Watched a demonstration of the police department’s new online crime reporting system that is expected to recoup its $12,000 cost in three to four months and provide timelier and more accurate data.
• Approved the annual landscape and lighting assessments. It includes $713,000 from the city’s operating budget, which has been decreased from the $1.3 million the city was contributing several years ago due to lower maintenance landscaping.
• Approved a request by Meritage Homes to reduce the size of some of the homes that will be built at Hillcrest Avenue and Hidden Glen Drive.

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Highway 4 Ramp at Somersville to Close July 7

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

As part of the Highway 4 construction work, the contractor for the Somersville Road project will be closing the existing eastbound off-ramp to southbound Somersville Road.

Motorists will be directed to the existing eastbound off-ramp for northbound Somersville Road/Auto Center Drive. The ramp has been modified to accommodate both the northbound and southbound Somersville traffic. At the end of the ramp, motorists will turn left to go south on Somersville Road or right to go north on Somersville Road and Auto Center Drive.

This temporary configuration will be in place for several months while crews construct the new permanent eastbound off ramp. The switch will take place on Thursday, July 7 sometime after 10 p.m.

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County Supervisors Play Politics with Redistricting

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

To the editor:

Here we go again with political schemes that created the gerrymandering districts that left Walnut Creek divided amongst three supervisorial districts after the last redistricting ten years ago.

In an eloquent doublespeak, District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff argued that the map she favored is not personal or political, and that Walnut Creek suffered no ill effects as a result of the three-way split. I challenge Ms. Mitchoff to prove she believes her own argument. Show leadership and volunteer the equal division of Concord, your political base, and not some city in East County, which has been the dumping ground and step-child of Contra Costa.

Unbiased redistricting establishes supervisorial districts reasonably equal in population while maintaining neighborhoods and communities of interest. Dividing any town or city is a contradiction to this goal. Please explain, Ms. Mitchoff (or Ms. Piepho), how Walnut Creek can be part of the East County neighborhood when the only land connection is a trek up Mount Diablo?

Something is cooking and East County is on the menu. A supervisor not in favor of Plan 7 (which keeps neighborhoods and all cities intact) is not upholding the intent of the process and must be suspect of political maneuvering.

Cynthia Ruehlig

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eBART Station Without Escalators is a Gyp

Monday, June 27th, 2011

eBART Station 1 eBART Station Without Escalators is a Gyp

The Hillcrest eBART Station will not have escalators, unlike every other BART station.

Watchdog Logo 300x95 eBART Station Without Escalators is a GypThe Antioch City Council, with the exception of Councilman Brian Kalinowski who was out of town, voted in favor of approving the latest design for the planned eBART station at Hillcrest Avenue. Why would the council approve a station, which will be equipped with 38 closed-circuit cameras and provide shaded parking equipped with solar panels but doesn’t include escalators?

BART indicated it’s providing space for future escalators should passenger volumes warrant their inclusion. You’ve got to be kidding. BART’s own website states ALL BART stations have escalators, which generally operate in the direction of passenger flow which varies depending on time of day and location, and when possible escalator service is provided in both directions.

Folks, Antioch’s getting gypped again – a diesel eBART rather than real BART, the need to transfer at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station and NO escalators!

BART, however, finally did agree to provide public restrooms and a station agent during peak hours (6-8 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.). According to City Manager Jim Jakel, BART will also pay for a community service officer in the morning, afternoon and evening hours when no station agent is available.

I need not remind East County residents about BART’s ever increasing fares and service cuts or the years we’ve waited for BART (not eBART) and the taxes we pay to BART, e.g. a half-cent sales tax (2/3 goes for BART operations, 1/3 goes to AC Transit) and the earthquake retrofit assessment. Now BART wants voters in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Francisco to approve a parcel tax to raise $900 million to $1 billion to replace aging train cars!

Frankly, I’m amazed we’re finally getting a BART station at all, after all of the broken promises and inaccurate financial projects and mismanagement on the part of BART – not to mention being put on the back burner while they made plans to expand to Fremont, then Millbrae and on to San Jose. The BART board just approved a $299 million contract for completion of the Warm Springs extension expected to be completed by 2015.

Ironically, the Millbrae deal might cost the agency millions of dollars because, after two years of closed door meetings, the BART board voted to give exclusive negotiation rights for a development project to transform the Millbrae BART station to Lawrence Lui, a close friend and campaign donor of BART director James Fang (the longest serving director – elected in November 1990) who wants to build a hotel on the site.

According to The Bay Citizen, his mom also owns a large office building around the corner from the Millbrae BART station. Lui donated $1,000 to Fang’s campaign in September and helped pay for a $10,000 trip to China for local officials organized by Fang last summer. BART director Joel Keller (elected in 1994) argued against the decision, saying an office complex, proposed by bidder Republic Urban of Washington, D.C. would attract more riders.

Incidentally, BART pay scales have always been far above the national norm and, although the district is reluctant to release salary and benefit info, we know that former BART General Manager Dorothy Dugan’s total cost of employment (salary and benefit package) pay was $482,264 and she received a severance package of nearly $1 million.

Last year the transit agency’s highest paid employee was police Commander Maria White whose total cost of employment was $482,264. In 2009, the average union worker made $114,000 in wages and benefits and the nine elected BART board directors, who meet the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month, were receiving $1,300 a month and most, but not all, of the same generous benefits that workers receive.

Five of the directors will need to run for re-election in 2012 and four in 2014. Recently Director Fang called for a meeting of the Redistricting Ad Hoc committee in regard to a procurement process for proposals for consulting services for assistance in redistricting of election districts. Incidentally, BART’s rules regarding political contributions are less stringent than some local cities. Companies seeking contracts with BART are not barred from making campaign donations, although contributions can’t exceed $1,000.

For the record, I attempted several times without success to obtain more current information regarding director pay and benefits for this column. Ultimately I received an email from Kenneth Duron, District Secretary stating, “Staff have begun the process of reviewing their records of documents that meet the description of your request To the extent the District has the records requested and they are not otherwise exempt from disclosure under the Act, requested records will be made available to you. You will be advised when the records are available.”

Something’s wrong with this picture, folks.

Group Wants to Save the Hard House

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

Hard House Group Wants to Save the Hard HouseThe potential restoration of the Roswell Butler Hard House, a federal and state historical site, may be determined at the Antioch City Council meeting on July 12. “Friends of the Hard House,” a nonprofit group, has requested ownership of the property for restoration to the house’s original beauty.

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Weekend Delays on Pittsburg/Bay Point BART This Summer

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

This summer on the weekend there will be minor delays on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line due to track maintenance.

BART’s best estimate is that passengers traveling northbound on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line will experience a 15-to-20-minute delay during the hours work is being performed. Passengers traveling southbound may experience a 5-minute delay due to single-tracking.

Please see the schedule below for work hours. BART recommend sthat you adjust your travel plans accordingly to take into account these delays.
June 25-27
Start: 7:30 am Saturday
End: 4:00 am Monday

July 01-04, 10-13, 22-25
Start: 9:00 pm Friday
End: 4:00 am Monday

July 29-August 1, August 05-08, 12-15, 19-22, 26-29
Start: 9:00 pm Friday
End: 4:00 am Monday

BART thanks you for your patience during this important maintenance work and apologizes for the inconvenience.

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Students Need Business Skills

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

To the Editor,
Why is it that the state can’t get its’ educational priorities straight, since the “kids” are our future?

It’s simple; over 100 years ago we needed men and women to fill a need in industry. These individuals didn’t have a need to know about money, only what they were getting an hour and how to pay their bills.

School districts all over the country fell prey to the philosophy to push them through school so we can be a powerful economic force. And in the pushing there wasn’t a need to teach them that they could be more than spokes on the wheels of prosperity, but a vital force to expand that success. So the study of money, how it works and how to use it was left out.

Now we are faced with a dilemma, our money is not money any more, (backed with gold). It’s currency floating in value on the world market. Big business has shipped thousands, if not millions, of jobs overseas, or has sold out to foreign concerns that have no interest in supporting U.S. workers. Is there any possible answer to fixing this?

Yes, there is, but it will be a work in progress for several years if we start now, decades if we don’t. We need to not just look at our current system, but at a model that would first create an atmosphere of entrepreneurship. Students who have a vested interest in their own businesses would be able to do many beneficial things, like raise the tax base, contribute to the educational system and lower crime. They would leave a legacy for their posterity to build on instead.

Students who are taught about having their own businesses would need, even want, to know more on how to grow it through an education about what money is and how to use it. Some of these same young business owners would start to fill the empty storefronts in town. They could give back to the school district with donations, mentoring, and time to help others find the “American Dream.” These future business people would able to hire others reducing crime and welfare in our city. And yet we struggle with outdated early 20th Century concepts of money.

We need to revisit the late 19th Century to see that most people had farms and knew enough about money to calculate the worth of their crops. Some farmers had stores in town to feature their specialties so that people wouldn’t have to make the trip out of town. This concept has been the backbone of the successful small business person. Why not let our future generations regain the greatness we have lost?

Jack Yeager
Candidate for Antioch Board of Education

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