The Herald recommends: Antioch Council Clean Sweep – Makinano for Mayor, Soliz, Barbanica, Webster and White for City Council

All five incumbents have failed our community, over and over

By Allen Payton

After much consideration, thought and prayer, and watching and reporting on the current council members for the past two, four, six and eight years for Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts, Mayor Sean Wright and Councilman Lamar Thorpe, Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock and Councilwoman Monica Wilson, respectively, none of them has earned the right to be re-elected and Thorpe certainly hasn’t earned a promotion to Mayor.

They have all failed in their positions, responsibilities and commitments, except for two: approving needed new housing and police which they have approved the hiring of additional officers. But it took the passage of two tax increases by we the people! One big exception to this one success is for Wilson who overpromised and underdelivered. She’s the last remaining member of the 2013 city council which promised us 22 more police “immediately” if we passed Measure C, the first half-cent sales tax increase. Yet, it took SIX YEARS for that promise to be fulfilled to get us from 89 sworn officers to 111.

In the meantime, she and other councilmembers voted for pay raises both for the police officers and the rest of city staff – twice. That’s wrong. Plus, it took the passage of Measure W and a doubling of the sales tax before the commitment was fulfilled.

Worse, all of them used the false base amount of 82 sworn officers, beginning in the fall of 2013, after Measure C passed that November. By that time the Antioch Police Department had lost seven more officers from the 89 on the force when the measure was put on the ballot in July. That’s playing games with our tax dollars and our safety. Unacceptable. Fail.

Economic Development

Second, they’ve failed us in economic development with only the approval of four cannabis businesses, which only two have so far opened, to show for their efforts. Oh, yeah. A new city logo as part of the $400,000 branding campaign which all five council members undermined when the news of them removing Kenny Turnage from the Planning Commission for his controversial comments about COVID-19, instead of merely censuring him, went not only national, but international, as well.  That was a successful attempt by Wilson to eliminate a competitor for her re-election bid. But she labeled his comments racist which they weren’t. Yet, the other four council members went along with her effort and it resulted in negative national media for our city.

Three of them, Thorpe, Motts and Wilson, recently voted to postpone the mixed use Delta Fair Village project at the old Food Maxx location, which would have provided a needed boost to that part of town, along with 4,000 square feet of new retail space and renovation of the remaining existing 73,535 square feet of retail space. But they wanted a Project Labor Agreement to please their union backers. They said it was about cleaning up the property even though that requirement was in the development agreement and had to be done, first, before construction could begin. They lost any leverage they had over the property owner and developer and delayed the economic improvements for that part of Antioch, by voting to postpone his project indefinitely. Fail.

“Positive News” Propaganda Website

The city hired a Brentwood-based webmaster to develop and operate their own “positive news” website that the East Bay Times labeled “propaganda” because they claimed the local media wasn’t publishing enough positive news about the city. So, using our tax dollars they’ve gone into the news business, competing with local businesses, and worse, undermining their own economic development efforts. How? Because there are no ads for local businesses on their website (which is a good thing), like there are on the local media company websites for people to click and go to those businesses’ websites to shop and see what they have to offer. All the city has to do is send the local media the same articles they’re posting on their site, some of which are being paid to be written by a Brentwood resident, who works with the webmaster, and we will publish them and save the taxpayers’ money. Another failure.

Rivertown

In Rivertown, they’ve dragged their feet for five years on nine city-owned parcels while in exclusive negotiations with one developer, dating back to when Steve Duran was City Manager (whom Wright, in his first few months in office, successfully worked to fire). New state laws passed last year now require city-owned land to be offered for low- to moderate-income housing, first. So, the nice condos or townhomes that the old lumber company lot is zoned for can’t be built.

Why did that happen? Because Motts still wants a park and event center on the property, which the new state laws allow, and is the largest parcel of the nine, even though she and the Save The Yard folks failed to get enough signatures to place an initiative on the ballot to support the proposal, and have never come up with the money to pay for it. Plus, a few years ago, the City changed direction with the downtown park proposed at Waldie Plaza, instead. The mayor and other council members took no action on selling the nine parcels. Wright failed to even place the item on a council agenda, which he has the sole power to do. Fail.

The council members also haven’t done anything to remove the eyesore of that house floating near the piers on Tom Trost’s property, who moved it there years ago to force the city to include his land under the water in their Downtown Specific Plan. That was approved in 2015! As Gabe Makinano’s Vision 2020 states, it’s Rivertown, not shantytown. The city needs to pay to move the house and put a lien on Trost’s property for the costs. That’s how things get done. Fail.

Finally, they’re not dealing with the homeless problem in downtown as they promised property owner and investor Sean McCauley. All they’ve done is string more lights in Waldie Plaza making it difficult to sleep there at night and put some portable toilets in downtown – which is good so the homeless have a place for that. So, far McCauley has purchased six buildings in Rivertown, including both the building and the land for Smith’s Landing Seafood Grill and the Riverview Lodge, which he’s working to improve, right now. He’s also brought three new food and drink establishments, with one more expected to Rivertown. The city needs to work with him to ensure the success of those businesses. Fail.

Homeless

They’ve also failed us on homeless. Last December all five councilmembers voted to spend over $500,000 to help the homeless in Antioch, to get them off the streets, out of the cold and wet of winter, out of the encampments and into transitional housing. All they’ve done so far is pay for some portable toilets in downtown and hired a consultant at $73,000 per year! The 5 FEMA trailers are gathering dust in the city’s maintenance yard. Now three of them, Thorpe, Motts and Wilson want to spend up to $1 million per year of taxpayer money to take over an entire motel on E. 18th Street as transitional housing for the homeless. Fail.

Hiring Staff & Consultants

They’ve hired consultant, after consultant, and a Public Information Officer at a cost of $96,000 per year, based in San Francisco, who so far has sent out less than 12 press releases in over a year! They recently approved the hiring of a new assistant city manager – right before an election. That’s irresponsible. What if the new council members don’t click with her? They also approved hiring a moderator for the community forums, that have yet to be held, at a cost of $100,000! Fail.

Community Forums

The big push to have community forums on police reform and race relations with all five councilmembers participating have gone nowhere. Wright and Thorpe are the subcommittee members. They held one forum to discuss what they were going to do with the rest of the forums. But the council has yet to hold another one, ignoring the input and concerns from over 800 members of the public who took the time to offer their comments. Ultimately, Wright is responsible because as mayor he sets the agenda and calls the council meetings. Fail.

Development, Property Rights, Politics & Waste of Tax Dollars

Instead of letting the voters decide on both The Ranch and the Let Antioch Voters Decide (LAVD) initiatives (rather ironic) in 2018, four of the current council members (except for Motts who wasn’t elected until later that November) decided for us and approved both of them, downzoning and devaluing the land of four adjacent property owners by over 97%! Two of those property owners sued the City costing our tax dollars and they won in court, twice, and both initiatives were tossed out. Then all five council members approved The Ranch project earlier this year, and the council was required by the judge to place the LAVD initiative (Measure T) on the November ballot.

Here’s the worst part. They all know the measure will have no affect because of the signing into law last year by Gov. Newsom of SB330 which prohibits cities from downzoning residential property by council action or initiative. Yet, they all had the gall to endorse Measure T, because they all want to get re-elected and were afraid the majority of people would be against new housing development and would vote against them. They showed a serious lack of leadership. Instead of telling we the people the truth, they all chose to play politics – and with other people’s property. Major failure.

LGBTQ Flag on City Hall Flagpole

Another failure was when the council voted to fly the controversial and divisive LGBTQ rainbow “pride” flag on the city hall flagpole, before establishing a flag policy. Then they adopted a flag policy that is so restrictive it pretty much prevents any other groups from having their flag flown at city hall. Fail.

Cancelling July 4th Fireworks

This year the council failed us, again and on our nation’s and city’s birthday when they allowed the July 4th celebration and fireworks to be cancelled by city staff and the Celebrate Antioch Foundation. They allowed the Juneteenth Celebration to happen just a few weeks before, which was great. But, they wouldn’t let us have the fireworks show, and according to Wright, it was out of fear that it might attract the “wrong element” to our city because of the protests going on, and threats of looting, around that time. It really wasn’t about COVID-19. Instead, fireworks still happened in Antioch causing more calls for service by ConFire than any other city in the county. The people will not be denied. They need to learn that. That’s disappointing and another failure of leadership.

Election Season Antics

During this campaign, all five council members have been playing games with the truth, injecting partisan politics into races for non-partisan office and attacking other candidates – including with false accusations. The worst have been both Wright and Thorpe who have been falsely attacking each other on their voting records and personal lives.

Thorpe’s signs say he’s a “Leader Who Listens” yet he deletes comments he doesn’t like on his social media pages. Wright’s signs say “Uniting Not Dividing Antioch”, yet his nasty campaign tactics have served to divide us further. For that I’m very disappointed in him. Plus, he’s refused to even talk or meet with the protesters – who are his constituents that he also represents. Wright doesn’t have to agree with their positions. But he should at least be willing to listen to anyone in our city.

I’ve lost confidence in all five council members’ ability to lead, solve problems and meet the needs of our community. I endorsed Wright and Thorpe four years ago with the hopes they could get things done. But, they haven’t. I also endorsed Ogorchock both times she’s run, in 2014 and 2018. While she’s the best of the five, I can’t endorse her, again this time. Her endorsement of Diana Becton for District Attorney in 2018 was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, as our DA has been working to undermine our public safety with her radical, criminal justice reform proposals.

Sean needs to go back to focusing on what he’s good at and that’s the Chamber of Commerce, for which he’s continued to serve as the Chief Operating Officer during his term as mayor, and advocating for economic development, from the outside. Motts needs to focus on being president of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation where she does good work with downtown and other community events, like the annual July 4th celebration and fireworks. (When we’re allowed to have them).

Thorpe’s votes for the mixed-use Wildflower Station, the city’s first transit oriented development project and the new homes in the Sand Creek Area are positives and will benefit the city. But, he’s been way too divisive and has coalesced with the side that is pushing their Berkeley and other big city-style progressive politics and protests that don’t belong here. Lamar should spend his time focusing on his career and family.

Lori can continue to focus on her real estate business and be a community volunteer, and share her love for seniors and others, that way.

New Leadership for a New Direction

So, I’m recommending a clean sweep of all five council seats. Although he’s green and raw, and he recognizes it, Gabe Makinano has a heart for Antioch, has served in the trenches working to solve problems and meet needs, and is not afraid to get his hands dirty and do the tough work. Gabe is the only candidate for mayor who has offered a vision for the direction he’d like to see Antioch head in with a variety of positive things he wants to see accomplished for the benefit of the residents. Check out his Vision 2020 plan on his website. Makinano will truly be able to bring our city back together in unity. He’s faced his own challenges in life, but God got ahold of him and changed his heart and his life’s path. I believe he’s the leader Antioch needs at this time. Gabe’s willing to learn but he will have a steep learning curve.

That’s why we need to also elect Manny Soliz to the city council in District 1, because of his previous experience as Mayor Pro Tem and Councilmember, and now on the Planning Commission. The Stanford educated business owner, Soliz can serve in the role of “elder statesman” in effect, showing the others the ropes.

We also need new leadership in District 2 with Mike Barbanica, who has both business experience, owning a real estate brokerage, and law enforcement experience being a former police officer. He’s a take action guy, too. Tony Tiscareno had his time on the council, and I’ll give him credit for voting to approve the Wildflower Station mixed-use project at Hillcrest and Deer Valley Road. But it’s time for new blood and new leadership.

In District 4, the choice was easy. Wilson has been on the council for eight years and really doesn’t have much to show for it. Her claim to fame is the Red Sand Project, which while nice and the issue of human sex trafficking is important, there are more pressing issues that affect most Antioch residents that she should have been focusing her time on. Wilson means well, but when she interjected race, twice in her attempt to get rid of Turnage as a potential campaign opponent, then referring to her three “white” council colleagues, that’s totally inappropriate. I say eight is enough. The clear choice in that district is Sandra White, who has both management experience in her job and community leadership experience as Chair of the Police Crime Prevention Commission. She’ll be able to hit the ground running once elected.

The toughest decision was in District 3. I’ve worked with Lori Ogorchock over the years and she’s been open to other viewpoints. But, she’s had six years and there are just too many votes that she’s taken that I don’t agree with and it’s time for her to step aside and pass the mantle of leadership on to someone else.

While I appreciate Nichole Gardner’s passion and compassion for the homeless in Antioch, we don’t need a single-issue candidate on the council, and her approach in seeking solutions has been disrespectful of both the council members and police. She needs to learn to be much more diplomatic if she wants to get things done.

Finally, I considered Marie Arce who shows a lot of potential, and serves as Chair of the Parks & Recreation Commission. I appreciate her service. But her support of more cannabis businesses in Antioch was a deal breaker. That’s not the kind of economic development that will help our city, but actually hurt our ability to attract businesses to town.

So, I have chosen to endorse Antwon Webster, who is a sharp, young man and has a seriously important job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in logistics. He hasn’t lived in Antioch very long. But, neither did I when I was elected in 1994, just three-and-a-half years after moving to Antioch. (I had actually only lived here a year when I was first asked to run for mayor.) I think he’ll be the youngest member of the new council. But Antwon will do fine in his new role.

One thing I want to add and that’s about candidate for mayor, Rakesh Kumar Christian who has contributed some important issues to the campaign that should be considered by the new mayor and council members. His life experience, as an immigrant from tough beginnings, to success in business and the field of science in America, brings a different perspective that represents a variety of our city’s residents which enriches our community, and I appreciate his willingness to jump into the race, this year.

Please join me in voting for new leadership and new direction for Antioch and create a positive, upward spiral for all of our future.

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Herald endorsement candidate photos 2020


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