Antioch Council postpones opening of, will study policy on locations for felons in state’s realignment program
By James Ott
City leaders have decided to restrict the opening of new social service centers in Antioch for recently released criminals until the city can research their potential impacts to nearby businesses and communities.
At the Tuesday, March 26 council meeting city council voted to require a conditional use permit for the social service centers and to restrict them to business and professional services zones in the city for at least the next 45 days.
The so called “community supervision programs” are a product of State Assembly Bill 109’s attempt to transfer the responsibility of supervising recently released low-level criminals from the state to the county. Private, public, non-profit and for-profit organizations can apply for over $4 million in state aid to provide services like employment and housing help, peer mentoring and other services to help recently released non-violent, non-serious offenders re-integrate into society.
Antioch staff brought the item to the attention of city council because it said that at least one such organization has already applied to open in Antioch.
According to Antioch Community Development Director Tina Wehrmeister, because the city does not yet have adequate ordinances and regulations in place to deal with these new centers that application almost went through and would have allowed the social services center to open across the street from the Nick Rodriguez Community Center which is frequented by seniors and children.
While the goal of the service centers is to reduce the odds of these low-level criminals from re-offending the program is brand new and so it’s effectiveness is untested, city council said. The city is worried about these programs concentrating parolees into cities like Antioch who already have a high crime rate and a reduced police force.
According to Antioch Police Captain Steve McConnell, Antioch has had 107 felons, who were released under the program, return to the city since AB 109 took effect – more than any other nearby city. That compares to Richmond who has 90, while Concord has 77, Pittsburg has 72, Martinez has 30 and Brentwood and Oakley both have 14.
“I understand that the horse is already out of the barn, that people are being released and they need help,” said council member Gary Agopian. “So if we’re going to allow these types of facilities in Antioch I think it’s prudent, considering the risk, to study the issue and make sure we’re putting these facilities in places that are not going to create problems.”
Agopian also pointed out that while those that are released from prison are considered non-violent, no-serious, non-sexual offenders that is only based on their most recent conviction so those using the community supervision programs could possibly still have a violent or serious criminal past.
It was information like this that led city council to vote unanimously, (with Mary Rocha abstaining), to enact the emergency ordinance restricting the service centers while city staff research more permanent solutions.
“I think we have a responsibility to allow these individuals to get the services they need to become responsible citizens,” said Mayor Wade Harper. “but I’m leaning toward certain restrictions… not near schools, not near parks, not near senior facilities but in a commercial area or near social service offices.”
Todd Billeci, the Director of Field Services for the Contra Costa County Probation Department said that Antioch has time on their side to make the necessary adjustments because the funding and contracts for East, West and Central county community service programs won’t be awarded until May 14.
According to Dana Simas in the Press Office of the California Department of Corrections, “No one is being released from prison early. They’ve served their full sentence and would be released anyway.”
The only difference under realignment is whether they’re on state parole or county probation,” she added. “That’s determined by their current commitment offense. If they’re non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offenders, as defined by the penal code, then they’re placed on probation not parole.
They must be released back to the community in which they lived when the crime was committed.
“We are still 10,000 short of meeting the federal court order of reducing the prison population,” Simas stated.
That means Antioch and East County can expect more individuals to return to the local communities.
Also At the Meeting
The City of Antioch will conduct a poll to asses what kind of tax measure it’s constituents might vote for in order to provide money to hire more police officers.
The poll will ask voters if they would favor a half-cent or a three-quarter-cent sales tax measure or if they would prefer taxing rental properties $200 to $250 dollars a year to raise the money.
City Manager Jim Jakel said that the poll’s fine details will be decided and it should go out to Antioch homes in about the next 45 days.
Antioch currently has 102 sworn and 26 non-sworn officers on it’s payroll and it’s costing the city just under $24 million a year.
At the Tuesday, March 26 council meeting Jakel said that the city would need at least $6.8 million from the tax measure to reach the 126 sworn officer and 50 non-sworn officers it is aiming for.
That would require voters adopting at least a three-quarter-cent sales tax Jakel said – which would raise just over $7 million to go towards the new police hires.
It looks like city council’s goal of eventually having 144 sworn officers might be a bit of a stretch right now as it would cost an additional $10.7 million to get to that level and even a one-cent sales tax would only generate an extra $9.4 million – a full $1.3 less than needed.
As a matter of fact, Jakel estimated that it would cost the city $34,645,00 for pay and benefits – which would be more than the city’s entire current budget.
It was also estimated that the city would need an additional $240,000 to provide vehicles and safety equipment for 126 sworn and 50 non-sworn officers.
That number would jump to $1.1 million to provide the same equipment for 144 sworn and 55 non-sworn officers.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.