Antioch’s Somersville Towne Center area designated a Federal Opportunity Zone for special investment

Somersville Towne Center mall area in Antioch. Photo courtesy of ABC7 News.

Part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

By Dan Borsuk

In a potential bid to receive federal Treasury Department aid for economically stagnating pockets of the county, Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors added the Somersville Towne Center mall area, Rodeo and tracts in the North Richmond area to the Federal Opportunity Zone program on Tuesday. Without hearing comments from the public, the supervisors unanimously voted to add the three census tracts to the county’s recommendation to the new Federal Opportunity Zone program.

Opportunity Zones are a new community development program established by Congress in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to encourage long-term investments in low-income urban and rural communities nationwide. The program provides a tax incentive for investors to re-invest their unrealized capital gains into Opportunity Funds that are dedicated to investing into Opportunity Zones designated by the governors of every U.S. state and territory. (Read more about how the Opportunity Zones program works, as well as its history and community of supporters.)

Prior to the board’s action, the Contra Costa County Conservation and Development Department said the state had identified 11 tracts in the county that qualified for the Federal Opportunity Zone Program.  Those tracts either have poverty rates of more than 20 percent or median incomes below 80 percent of state or metropolitan areas.  Those areas include the cities of Richmond, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Concord, Antioch and the unincorporated areas of Bay Point and North Richmond.

The county had a deadline of Thursday, March 15 to submit its Opportunity Zone recommendation to the state.

However, there is the possibility the Federal Opportunity Zone Program may not kick into effect in either Contra Costa County or in the Golden State, said Amalia Cunningham of the Contra Costa County Conservation and Development Department.

“Private Investment Opportunity Zones would be eligible for lower federal capital gain tax,” Cunningham informed supervisors. “This is the only identified incentive.  There is no dedicated funding for the program nor has the state announced it will participate by lowering state capital gains tax for investment in Opportunity Zones.”

District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood recommended that the area around the Somersville Towne Center in Antioch be added to the county Opportunity Zone Program based on a decline in economic activity in the area.

“We will be working with the city of Antioch on this proposal to include the Somersville area in the county Opportunity Zone proposal to the state,” said Cunningham.

The recommendation to add Rodeo came from District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg and District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond recommended several tracts in North Richmond.

If the federal requirements are not enough to potentially squash the program, bureaucratic oversight might kill the program.  Cunningham told supervisors the county is under a tight deadline to submit an application, along with public comments.

“States have been given an abbreviated timeline from the federal government to submit their tracts.  The state’s draft list was made public on March 2 and local agencies comments are due by March 15,” she said.

Supervisor Mitchoff Faces June 5 Opponent

Supervisor Karen Mitchoff of Concord will face clinical psychologist Harmesh Kumar, 59, in a June 5 election for the District 4 board seat.

Kumar, who had unsuccessfully run for the Concord City Council in 2012 and recently withdrew plans to run for governor, said he wants to serve on the board of supervisors because “I want the people to win.”  He told the Contra Costa Herald the existing board of supervisors are “against the poor.”  He said Mitchoff and other supervisors represent the interests of the bureaucrats, not those of the people.

“I’m looking forward to a spirited debate on the issues facing District 4,” Mitchoff briefly told the Herald about her opponent and upcoming reelection.

Mitchoff has served on the board of supervisors since January 2011.

District 1 Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond, who is also up for reelection, but will not face an opponent since no one filed papers to run against the attorney on the filing deadline, Friday, March, 9.

Supervisors endorsed on a 5-0 consent action, state Senator Mike McGuire’s (D-North Bay) Senate Bill 833 that would create a red alert emergency system to issue and coordinate alerts following an evacuation order and requires the red alert system to incorporate a variety of notification resources.

Senator McGuire authored the bill in the aftermath of the massive wildfires that killed 40 persons, destroyed 6,000 houses and charred 170,000 acres in Lake, Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Anti-Smoking Ordinance Passes

Supervisors also unanimously approved without public comment an ordinance banning smoking in approximately 10,000 dwelling units in unincorporated Contra Costa County.  The ordinance will go into effect July 1, 2019 when county health officials are expected to have completed an education program informing landlords and tenants about the anti-smoking law.

Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and the Alameda County Emergency Operations Center were selected by the supervisors in a consent action item as alternative temporary county seats for Contra Costa County “in the event of war or enemy caused disaster or the imminence of such disasters.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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