Council majority postpones decision on Delta Fair Village apartments indefinitely on a split vote

Rendering of proposed Delta Fair Village apartment complex.

Cite applicant’s history of code enforcement violations at site, and other properties he owns in Antioch; Project can be brought back to council sooner than a year, and as a possible condo project, instead;  Construction unions attempt “greenmail” to pressure developer for PLA

By Allen Payton

During their meeting Tuesday night, the Antioch City Council on a 3-2 vote, postponed indefinitely the proposed 210-unit Delta Fair Village apartment complex, proposed by the owner of commercial property in Antioch, because he has consistently ignored code enforcement issues and been fined for it multiple times. The applicant, Gabriel Chiu, who with his family through their Chiu Family, LLC, owns the property as well as the Deer Valley Plaza, where the former AMC Deer Valley Theaters were located, didn’t participate in the Zoom meeting. Instead, his architect was available to answer questions, but the council members’ questions were for Chiu, not about any features of the project.

Two of the council members mentioned wanting a union-only hire, Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the project.

During public comments, Kyle Jones, who said he was with an organization named Antioch Residents for Responsible Development, read a letter from the group’s attorney outlining a variety of concerns they have with the project, mainly over environmental issues. 2020-06-01-Attorney ltr from Antioch-Residents-for-Responsible-Development

They want an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project, for impacts on air quality and health, he said.

“Impacts to air quality will be significant without mitigation,” Jones said. The greenhouse gas impacts of the project were underestimated.”

During an internet search of the group’s name, a copy of their attorney’s letter was found on the website www.phonyuniontreehuggers.com. It refers to the tactic known as greenmail, which is used by labor unions to in effect blackmail a developer using environmental issues until the developer agrees to a PLA. That’s because the construction unions don’t really oppose the project, as they want it to be built, only as long as their members are the ones who are hired to build it.

According to their attorney’s letter, under the title “Statement of Interest” identifies the group’s membership. It reads, “Antioch Residents for Responsible Development is an unincorporated association of individuals and labor organizations that may be adversely affected by the potential environmental impacts of the Project. The association includes Antioch residents Nathan Deleon, Sunshine Kinder, and Anthony Lundberg- Palacios and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 302, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 159, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 and their members and those members’ families and other individuals that live, recreate, work and raise their families in the City of Antioch (collectively “Antioch Residents’).the Antioch Residents for Responsible Development consists of three Antioch residents.”

One additional item that was mentioned during city staff’s presentation on the project, which wasn’t included in the staff report in the council packet, the conditions of approval “obligate the project to join the pending Contra Costa Fire District’s Community Facilities District (CFD),” to pay for additional fire service needed by the future residents. Other new development projects in the area are being required to be included in the CFD.

Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts was the first council member to speak on the matter, saying the property owner has had “an extensive history” of ignoring code enforcement issues. “In other words, these are impediments to economic development. Based on the lack of maintenance, these issues can dramatically affect surrounding businesses and residents.”

“Please tell me how this…applicant is going to be different,” she asked city staff.

“Our task before you, is to evaluate the project,” responded Forrest Ebbs, Antioch Community Development Director. “We’re sensitive to the fact that there are other issues. But I can’t introduce outside elements to this process.”

“Our analysis of the project is complete, and we can speak to that,” he added.

“Until I can have an answer on this, I don’t feel comfortable. I really don’t,” Motts stated. “We have a responsibility to the residents…we have a history of approving developments haphazardly.”

Thorpe then said, “Thank you for that. I think I share the same concerns.”

He asked if the applicant, Gabriel Chiu was on the line. But only the applicant’s architect was available to answer questions.

“I think we all have the concerns about the applicant,” said Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock. “But we need to move forward. This is an infill project and we’ve been asking for infill projects. The code enforcement issues have to be addressed before the project can move forward.”

“I like this project,” she continued. “We need apartments in the area. It will be nice to see the retail have a facelift.”

She asked that some of the units be reserved for seniors, and for a PLA.

“Will there be a manager on site?” Ogorchock asked.

“There is a condition of approval that there be a 24-hour manager on site of the project,” a city staff member responded.

Councilmember Monica Wilson shared her concerns saying, “although I’d like to see something on that side, I’m with everybody else. I just need some assurances the property will be maintained.”

“It’s already a very dense population in there, with apartments on San Jose Drive,” she continued. “How far back do those code enforcement issues go?”

“I’ve been on staff for over five years,” Ebbs shared. “When I first started with the city, that was one of the stops on a code enforcement tour.”

“I’m just not feeling confident of that applicant maintaining that site,” Wilson continued. “There definitely needs to be a project labor agreement. There just needs to be a lot of things before I can move forward.”

“We have an opportunity to take an area of town and see an investment,” Mayor Sean Wright said, urging the other council members to reconsider their opposition. “If we say no to this project, five years from now, we’re still going to have the same code enforcement issues.”

“We need to bring a project into that area to spur development,” he continued. “This is a crucial opportunity for Antioch. If we say no, tonight, we’re not just saying no to this developer, but to quite a few other developers.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable. If it was any other applicant,” Motts added. “I would need a broader conversation with the applicant before we go forward.”

“If we approve this project, this evening it might give the applicant a quick kick in the rear to fix up his other properties,” said Ogorchock. “All these conditions have to be met before he moves forward. Hopefully the applicant is listening, tonight and hearing the comments.”

Ogorchock made a motion to approve the project and Wright seconded it.

However, Thorpe offered a substitute motion. “My substitute motion is to postpone indefinitely,” he said. Motts seconded it.

“Is there a goal with the postponement?” Wright asked.

“It sounds like there are concerns of our colleagues and the applicant isn’t here to answer them,” Thorpe said. “This is about trust and I don’t trust him.”

“We’ve never had a project come before us in which the applicant wasn’t with us,” Motts said.

“I really think this is a project we need in town,” Wright said.

The council then adopted the motion to postpone on a 3-2 vote with Wright and Ogorchock voting no.

Following the vote, both Motts and Thorpe were asked if they had spoken with Mr. Chiu before the council meeting. Thorpe responded simply, “Nope.” Motts responded that she had not spoken with the applicant before the meeting and that usually developers approach her and other council members with their projects before the meeting, not the other way around.

Had the council voted on Ogorchock’s motion and it failed, the applicant would have had to wait at least one year to bring it back to the council for a vote. Instead, by approving the motion to postpone indefinitely, although unnecessary and a motion to table would have been sufficient and more appropriate, it will allow the applicant to return sooner than a year, and be available to answer questions of council members. It also offers the applicant time to submit a condominium application to convert the project from rental apartments, which both Thorpe and Motts mentioned they were supportive of, following the meeting. That could take four to six weeks according to Antioch Planning Commission member Manny Soliz. (See related article)

 

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2020-06-01-Attorney ltr from Antioch-Residents-for-Responsible-Development


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