Archive for the ‘Growth & Development’ Category

Governor signs tax credit bill to promote historic preservation, affordable housing

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Will create $800 million in economic activity and 1,300 construction jobs; Antioch city staff checking to see if program can benefit the Hard House, home of the city’s first mayor.

Sacramento, CA: On Tuesday, October 9th, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 451, the California Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, adding California to the list of more than 35 states that have passed such incentives. The bill, which passed both the Senate and the Assembly with unanimous approval, will enable the renewal of aging structures and communities throughout the state, and promote the development of affordable housing.

The bill will create a 20% state tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic structures listed on the California Register of Historic Places.  An additional 5% bonus can be granted for certain projects, such as affordable housing for lower-income households and projects in transit-oriented developments or regions with high unemployment and poverty rates. All projects must be approved by the California Office of Historic Preservation and the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee to determine if a project qualifies. The tax credit goes into effect on January 1, 2021.

“The California State Historic Tax Credit is an important tool that we can use to revitalize communities throughout California,” said Cindy Heitzman, Executive Director, California Preservation Foundation. “This is a major victory for every Californian who believes that our architectural and cultural heritage is worth protecting.”

The State Historic Tax Credit will help to address the critical need for affordable housing in underutilized historic buildings by providing an important financial incentive. Between 2007 and 2017 over 38% of all federal historic tax credit projects in California created new housing units or improved existing units. Of that amount over half were affordable housing projects, and SB 451 will make even more of these projects feasible.

Since February, the California Preservation Foundation (CPF) and the American Institute of Architects, California Council have led a major coalition to shepherd the bill through the legislature, working directly with California Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins. The bill received broad support from organized labor, affordable housing groups, historic preservation organizations and local governments.  This effort built on the work CPF did in 2014 to pass AB 1999, the first version of this legislation. While it passed both houses of the California legislature, it was ultimately vetoed by then Governor Jerry Brown.

“This legislation will breathe new life into the buildings that give our cities and communities character and charm…Further, the Historic Tax Credit will increase the supply of affordable housing, support growth through infill development and encourage property rehabilitation and maintenance in economically depressed areas,” said Senator Atkins.

The Cannery Lady statue across W. First Street from the Roswell Butler Hard House. Photo courtesy of NoeHill Travels in California.

When asked if this is something that could benefit Antioch’s Roswell Butler Hard House, the home of the city’s first mayor, located at 815 West First Street, City Manager Ron Bernal asked Community Development Director Forrest Ebbs to look into it. The home is #93001020 on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information about the Hard House, visit the Wikipedia page or the Facebook page.

About the Federal Tax Credit

Since 1976, the Federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC) has offered tax credits equal to 20 percent of the qualified rehabilitation expenditures (QRE) for the rehabilitation of certified historic buildings, such as those listed on the National Register of Historic Places or architecturally contributing to a National Register district. Over the last 4 decades, more than 35 states have passed their own bills to boost this tax credit, making thousands of projects financially feasible.

From 2002 to 2016, $468.1 million in Federal Historic Tax Credits catalyzed 169 projects in California, totaling $2.8 billion in qualifying rehabilitation expenditures. This activity has generated:

  • 39,279 jobs
  • $2.8 billion in Gross State Product
  • $160 million in state and local taxes
  • $493.3 million in federal taxes
  • $468.1 million in federal tax credits

SB 451 will provide further incentive for historic rehabilitation, increase the supply of affordable housing, support growth through infill development, and encourage property rehabilitation and maintenance in economically depressed areas. Below are a few examples of the types of projects that will benefit from SB 451, but there are hundreds more stories just like these throughout California. The tax credit will make these kinds of projects more feasible, and will encourage meaningful investments in communities across the state.

For more information:

Bill Text:

Images and additional information:

Press Release from Senator Toni Atkins on the passage of SB 451:

Preservation & State Historic Tax Credits overview from the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

2017 Report from the National Park Service on the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit’s impact:

Case Statement:

Allen Payton contributed to this report. 

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On split vote by Supervisors county to temporarily stop collecting “discriminatory” adult criminal justice fees

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

At former Antioch Councilman’s urging, Supervisors direct DA’s office to reopen 2005 Lafayette murder case; approve new land development fees

By Daniel Borsuk

On a thin 3-2 vote, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday slapped a temporary moratorium on the County’s collection and assessment of 14 Adult Criminal Justice Fees that will cost the county $1.8 million in revenue a year should the moratorium become permanent.

During Public Safety Committee meetings, Chairperson John Gioia of Richmond and Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg agreed with citizen committee members the fees are discriminatory to persons of color and likely result in longtime economic or financial hardship for persons who had a criminal record.

An “aye” vote from District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood meant the county will temporarily stop the collection of fees, including the Sheriff Central Administration’s Booking Fee that will generate about $40,000 in 2019/2020, and the Adult Probation Supervision Fee that potentially could have generated nearly $1.8 million in 2019/2020 revenue.

The temporary moratorium will be effective immediately with the Board expecting to reevaluate the moratorium’s progress no later than Dec. 31, 2019. Supervisors will reassess the value of the moratorium at a December meeting.

Even though the county’s coffers are plentiful, with supervisors also officially adopting on a 5-0 vote the county’s $3.6 billion 2019-2020 final budget, the county is spending funds at a rapid pace through newly inked employee-union labor agreements like a 3.44 percent pay hike for social workers, an 8 percent salary raise for county supervisors that went into effect in July, and tacking on an additional $7.5 million in costs to the new Administration Building and new Emergency Operations Center/Public Safety Building to improve the security and communication capabilities during emergencies.

During a three-hour discussion on the item, Board Vice Chair Candace Andersen consistently opposed the moratorium on grounds that by dropping the fees for all persons, individual with the financial resources will benefit the most. “There are a lot of people who are committing these crimes who have the ability to pay these fees,” said the supervisor from Danville. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t be assessing these fees.”

In arguing against the proposal, District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said the elimination of $1.8 million of criminal justice fees could financially impact social and health programs such as drug diversion programs that assist persons with criminal records. “I cannot support the moratorium at this time,” the supervisor from Pleasant Hill declared.

But there were a number of citizens in support of the proposal to eliminate the fees.

“There are many people I have represented who 15 to 20 years later did not know that they’d have their wages garnished or face the ongoing inability to pay even though they have jobs and families,” said Mary Sylla, an attorney at Rubicon Programs.

“We urge you to do the right thing,” pleaded Ali Saidi, head of the Contra Costa Public Defenders Association, “These fees impact people of color.”

Request to Reopen Lafayette Murder Case Referred to DA’s Unit

Antioch private investigator and former Antioch Councilman Ralph Hernandez’s pitch, to have the 2005 murder case of Pamela Vitale of Lafayette reopened, got the thumbs up from the board of supervisors. The case was referred to Contra Costa District Attorney’s newly created conviction integrity unit. In this instance, Scott Dyleski, who Hernandez represents, was convicted for the October 2005 murder of Vitale.

“Your assistance in directing such from your two agencies (D.A.’s Office and Public Defender’s Office) is more than warranted,” Hernandez said. “Fourteen years of Scott’s youth has already been denied him and he still faces many more if this very serious matter is just ignored by all. Pamela Vitale’s memory deserves that the truth be determined, not ignored.”

Supervisors did not comment openly about the case, but Gioia consented that at least the DA’s new conviction integrity unit review the case.

New Land Development Fees Approved

Without opposition from either supervisors or the public, supervisors unanimously approved new land development fees charged for services performed by the Department of Conservation and Development and the Public Works Department starting March 1, 2020.

Some fees like encroachment fees have not been adjusted since 1995 and in many instances, rates are decreasing “due to economy of scale,” John Kopchik, director of the Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development told the Contra Costa Herald.

Supervisors withheld action on a proposal to charge a $1,000 fee for the time and materials needed to submit and process applications for nomination of a building or cultural resource for consideration before the Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee.

“The Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee believes that the current and proposed fees of $1,000 deposit and time and materials required to submit and process applications to nominate historical and cultural resources to the County’s Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) are a deterrent to public participation in the program.

“The HLAC voted at their meeting held on August 8, 2019 to make a formal recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to reduce these fees to encourage organizations or individuals to nominate potential resources to be designated to the HRI,” Historic Landmark Advisory Committee staff member Dominique Vogelpohl wrote on August 26.

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Judge tosses out Antioch Council’s adoption of environmental group’s Sand Creek initiative and The Ranch development agreement

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Herald file graphic.

Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative must go to Nov. 2020 ballot; Richland must produce new Environmental Impact Report

By Allen Payton

On May 31, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Edward Weil tossed out the Antioch City Council’s adoption of the initiative sponsored by environmental groups to limit growth in the Sand Creek Focus Area, as well as the development agreement for The Ranch project, contained in the competing initiative sponsored by Richland Communities. That agreement approved 1,177 homes on their property. (See related articles, here and here.) See judge’s ruling, here: Judge’s Order on initiatives lawsuits 05-31-19

As a result of the adoption by the Antioch Council of the two initiatives, last year, four lawsuits were filed against the City of Antioch, two each by The Zeka Group and Oak Hill Park Company, challenging both initiatives. The Zeka Group owns the 640-acre Zeka Ranch property on Old Empire Mine Road at the west end of the Sand Creek Focus Area, and according to the court documents, “which Zeka Group purchased in 1989. Prior to purchase, the City’s planning development manager, Raymond Vignola, assured Zeka Group that the property was and would continue to be designated for residential development of 1000+ units. The City’s 2003 General Plan called for 4,000+ units in the Sand Creek Focus Area, and Zeka Ranch was to develop the executive housing stock.” That resulted in a reduction of the number of housing units on the property that can be built. Zeka’s plans are to build 340 homes on their property.

Oak Hill “owns roughly 419 acres in three parcels” directly south of The Ranch project, “designated for a golf course and senior housing in the 2003 General Plan.”

The city council adopted both initiatives instead of placing either on the ballot, as the council had the option of doing. First, they adopted the one sponsored by Richland on July 11, 2018, which also resulted in the adoption of the development agreement 30 days later. The other initiative, entitled Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative (LAVD) sponsored by Save Mount Diablo and other environmental groups in the county, was adopted by the council on August 28, after the council had sent it back for more study and a report by city staff, which was also one of the options the council had.

Both initiatives downgraded the development potential on the Zeka Ranch, Oak Hill and other properties in the Sand Creek area west of Deer Valley Road to just one home per 80 acres, the same level as land outside the city’s and county’s Urban Limit Lines. The entire Sand Creek area is inside the city’s voter approved ULL. That would allow only eight homes on Zeka’s property and only five homes on the Oak Hill property.

The Ranch Development Agreement Unlawfully Included In Initiative, Requires EIR

In the decision, “the Court finds that the Richland Initiative unlawfully includes the Development Agreement between Richland and the City…but it may be severed from the remainder of the Richland Initiative.” The court also found that “The Development Agreement cannot be approved by initiative and requires compliance with CEQA” (the California Environmental Quality Act).

The decision means the development agreement is invalid and Richland must go through CEQA’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process in order to obtain approval of their development agreement. Whether or not the development agreement can be separated from the initiative has yet to be determined. If the judge finds that it can’t be, that will result in the entire initiative being invalidated.

Voids Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative

In addition, the court found, “The LAVD Initiative is void as an improperly-adopted amendment to the Richland Initiative. The…question is whether the LAVD Initiative improperly amended the Richland Initiative. The Court concludes that it did. Under Elections Code section 9217, the City could not adopt the LAVD Initiative on its own. A vote of the people was required. This renders the LAVD Initiative void.”

The Council Must Place the LAVD Initiative On The Ballot

The court further finds, “Since the LAVD Initiative amends the Richland Initiative, the City had no choice but to put the LAVD Initiative before the voters. It would be manifestly unfair to the supporters of the LAVD Initiative to start the process over because the City instead adopted it. So, the Court is inclined to order the LAVD Initiative to a vote. The Court is unconvinced that the Richland Initiative is somehow immune from challenge by initiative amendment.”

The court prohibits “the City from enforcing the LAVD Initiative.” The judge then ordered the city council to place the environmental groups’ initiative on the November 2020 ballot. City Clerk Arne Simonsen said he has sufficient funds to include the ballot measure on the November 2020 election ballot.

Zoning For Zeka Ranch’s Property Couldn’t Be Changed By Initiative

In an additional decision, the judge ruled that the city council couldn’t change the designation of executive housing for the Zeka Ranch property.

“A city may not adopt ordinances and regulations which conflict with the state Planning and Zoning Law,” the ruling quoted from a previous court case. The judge further wrote, “Government Code section 65913.1 provides that a city ‘shall designate and zone sufficient vacant land for residential use with appropriate standards, in relation to zoning for nonresidential use, and in relation to growth projections of the general plan to meet housing needs for all income categories as identified in the housing element of the general plan.’

Zeka Ranch claims…that the Richland Initiative violated the code by restricting development in a manner that makes it impossible to meet the City’s housing needs allocation, particularly for the kind of executive housing Zeka Ranch was to build.

In fact, Zeka Ranch pleads that the General Plan called for allocation of one-to-two units per developable acre and contained a housing element specifically calling for residential development appropriate for executives of businesses seeking relocation to the City. Accepting this as true, Zeka Ranch properly pleads this claim.”

Legal Process Continues

The legal process continues over the two initiatives. To conclude his ruling the judge wrote, “The remaining challenges to the Richland Initiative will be resolved in a further phase.” Furthermore, the judge wrote, “Parties shall appear to discuss the proper remedy as to the LAVD Initiative and any further orders that may be necessary, as well as a schedule for briefing the remaining matters related to the Richland Initiative.”

In addition, the judge gave the parties in the lawsuits until June 24 to file amended pleadings. Both Zeka and Oak Hill submitted them by the deadline.

The case numbers are MSN-18-2228, 2229, 2231 and 2232.

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Antioch Council adopts environmental groups’ Sand Creek initiative on 3-1 vote

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Map of the area included in the environmental groups’ initiative showing projects already approved and The Ranch and Zeka Ranch projects they were working to stop.

Publisher’s Note: This article was published in the September 2018 issue of the Herald but, was not posted on this website, until now. Apologies for the oversight.

By Allen Payton

After sending to staff to study for 30 days and return with a report on the “Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative”, the Antioch City Council on a 3-1 vote chose instead to adopt the initiative. Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock voted no, preferring to send it to the ballot, and Councilman Tony Tiscareno was out of town on vacation. The initiative was backed by Save Mount Diablo, and other environmental groups in the county. (See related article)

The council had already adopted the West Sand Creek Initiative backed by landowner and developer Richland Communities on July 24. Conflicting language between it and what is in the environmental groups’ initiative will have to be worked out, later by council. Both restrict growth in the Sand Creek Area west of Deer Valley Road.

The staff report said the environmental groups’ initiative limited the total number of housing units to 2,100 in the entire Sand Creek Area. Since the past and current councils had already approved more than 2,300 homes, then no more homes could be built, including the proposed 301-unit, gated senior home community east of Deer Valley Road, known as The Olive Groves on the Albers Ranch property. However, both Seth Adams of Save Mount Diablo and the attorney for Richland said that the intent of each initiative was to only affect property on the west side of Deer Valley Road.

Both initiatives directly impact the proposed Zeka Ranch project (see related article), west of Richland’s The Ranch project, on the west side of Empire Mine Road, as well as three other properties directly south of Richland property. Each of the owners of those properties can either appeal to the city council for a finding of “takings” of their property and still be allowed to build some homes on their property. They can also sue the city within 90 days of the July 24th adoption of Richland’s initiative or possibly pursue their own initiatives to obtain voter approvals.


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Antioch Council to consider staff report on environmental groups’ Sand Creek initiative

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

If adopted would cost $65.4 million in fees, and $2.4 million in future annual, net city tax revenue; prohibit any more homes in Sand Creek Focus Area, eliminating proposed gated, senior home community

By Allen Payton

At a previously scheduled, special meeting on Tuesday, August 21, the Antioch City Council will consider the staff report on the Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative, put forward by a variety of environmental groups in the county in coordination with Antioch residents. The initiative effort gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. City Staff Report on Sand Creek Initiative

As a result, the council had three choices at their July 24th meeting, to either adopt the initiative, place it on the November 2018 ballot, or send it to staff to study for up to 30 days and return with a report. They chose the last option, with the result that if they don’t adopt the initiative, places it on the March 2020 ballot, at the soonest.

The council, instead chose to adopt the competing West Sand Creek Initiative, known as The Ranch Initiative, put forward by Richland Communities, which owns the land where the 1,177-home project was proposed. The council’s action approved the Development Agreement, which by law, goes into effect next Thursday, August 23, the 30-day mark following their vote on July 24. (See related article)

The council will have the option, at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, August 28, to either adopt the environmental groups’ initiative (The Sand Creek Initiative), including those provisions which don’t conflict with The Ranch Initiative, or place it on the ballot in 2020 for the voters to decide. According to the report, “only those provisions (of the General Plan) outside of The Ranch Development Agreement area would be amended.”

Loss of 1,900 Units

The report states, “The Sand Creek Initiative imposes severe land use restrictions throughout the western portion of the Sand Creek Focus Area and also reduces the overall development capacity of the Sand Creek Focus Area from 4,000 units to 2,100 units. This change along with the differing language regarding constitutionality are the most prominent elements of The Sand Creek Initiative. If adopted, the Sand Creek Initiative would have a profound effect on the Sand Creek Focus Area and would halt all future residential development. Other non-residential uses may still be feasible.”

Loss of Fees and Future City Tax Revenue

In addition, adopting The Sand Creek Inititiative would have future, negative financial impacts on the city, with “a loss of 1,900 units and all of the associated costs and revenues” including, “property tax, sales tax, property transfer tax, property tax in lieu of vehicle license fee, and the Citywide Police Services Community Facilities District.”

“The effect of this action is a reduction in annual ongoing revenue of $3,160,315,” the report states. “The value of this revenue would be offset by the costs of $740,289 to provide increased services to the new development. In total, the net annual ongoing benefit (and net loss) would be $2,420,026 or $1,274 per unit.”

If The Sand Creek Initiative is adopted, it would also mean a loss of pass through and regional fees of $65,411,015 or $34,427 per unit, including $18 million less for Antioch schools and almost $36 million less for regional roads, according to the report.

The report further states that, “alternate sources or increased fees elsewhere may be required.”

Proposed Albers Ranch Site Plan located east of Deer Valley Road and south of Sand Creek.

Prohibits Senior Home Community

Furthermore, the report states, “The City of Antioch previously approved two residential projects in the Sand Creek Focus Area – Vineyards at Sand Creek with 641 units and Aviano with 533 units. With the recent approval of The Ranch with 1,177 units, the current number of approved units in the Sand Creek Focus Area is 2,351. Since The Sand Creek Initiative would limit the total number of residential units to 2,100, any future development anywhere in the Sand Creek Focus Area, including east of Deer Valley Road, would be absolutely prohibited.”

The result of that would mean the proposed 301-unit, gated, senior home community, known as The Olive Groves as well as Albers Ranch, planned for east of Deer Valley Road, south of the Kaiser medical center, Dozier-Libbey Medical High School and the actual Sand Creek, could not be built. (See related article). It is the only other project on the east side of Deer Valley Road currently proposed that has not been approved.

Proposed Zeka Ranch Site Plan located west of The Ranch project.

Also Reduces Zeka Ranch from 256 Units to 8

The report also addresses the effect on the proposed Zeka Ranch project, west of The Ranch and Empire Mine Road, stating, “The General Plan Land Use Designation for Zeka Ranch was approximately 40% Hillside and Estate Residential (256 acres) and 60% Open Space (384 acres). The Hillside Estate Housing designation in the General Plan Land Use Element allows development at a rate of one dwelling unit per gross developable acre…this would allow an absolute maximum of 256 single family homes on the Zeka Ranch property.”

However, some of the land in the Zeka Ranch is not on hillsides and the proposed project includes between 320 and 400 units, which was reduced from the original plan for over 1,100 homes. (See related article).

The report concludes, that, “with the passage of The Ranch Initiative, the development potential of Zeka Ranch was reduced to one unit per eighty acres, which results in a maximum development potential of eight homes. The Sand Creek Initiative applies an identical density and would result in a maximum of eight homes as well.”

Takings Provisions Allow Legal Challenges

However, both initiatives have provisions which allow for a challenge by a landowner who believes their rights were violated due to a “taking” of their property.

The report states that, “Under State and Federal laws, a government agency may not simply ‘take’ a person’s private property and the down-zoning of property has been, and may be, interpreted by courts to constitute a form of unlawful ‘taking’. Presumably, a landowner would need to prove with substantial evidence that the initiative had the unintended effect of unconstitutionally taking their property through the diminishment of development rights, etc.”

The difference between the initiatives is who gets to decide what constitutes a “taking”.

The report states, “Whereas, The Ranch initiative allowed the City Council to determine the validity of a takings grievance and take proper steps towards restitution, The Sand Creek Initiative would require that courts determine that the terms of the initiative violate the law. The Sand Creek Initiative would impose a higher and costlier standard to resolve a takings dispute, should one arise.”

The council meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 W. Third Street. It can also be viewed via livestream on the city’s website at Since it’s a special meeting, it will not be televised live on local cable access channels.

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Antioch Council approves nine-home in-fill project

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Rendering of one of the three elevation choices for the split-level home design at Black Diamond Ranch Unit 4.

By Allen Payton

At their July 24 meeting, the Antioch City Council approved a nine-lot neighborhood by Discovery Builders. It is located in the Black Diamond Ranch subdivision, on Torgensen Court off Markley Creek Drive, near the south end of Somersville Road, on the western-most edge of the city.

There will be three sizes of homes of one-story to split-level three-stories, with three different designs, which is unusual for a project with so few units. Homes will range in size from 2,074 to 3,122 square feet.

There were no speakers on the agenda item and following some discussion, the council approved the project.

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Environmental groups claim “major victory” with Antioch Council’s approval of 1,177-home development, deny deal was cut

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

Map of the area included in the environmental groups’ initiative showing projects already approved and The Ranch and Zeka Ranch projects they’ were working to stop.

Claim the two initiatives were the same; defend providing false information to voters; want council to adopt not “Let Antioch Voters Decide” their initiative

Following is an email message sent out Thursday by the Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek whose “Let Antioch Voters Decide: the Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative”, backed by environmental groups, was not placed on the November 2018 ballot by the Antioch City Council as the backers wanted. Instead, the council voted unanimously to adopt the competing initiative by Richland Communities which approved their 1,177-home development, known as “The Ranch” and postponed dealing with the environmental groups’ initiative for 30 days, delaying its appearance on the ballot until March 2020. (See related article).

Email message:

City Council Adopts Richland Developer Initiative, Orders 30-day Study on Our Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative

Council Can Adopt Our Initiative on Tuesday August 28th (7pm; 200 H St)

This past Tuesday night, with many members of Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek, in attendance, the City Council adopted the initiative backed by Richland developers and ordered a 30-day study on ours.

What Does This Mean? 

In short, three things:

1) more than 1,200 acres of beautiful Antioch scenery, endangered species habitat and creek corridor west of Deer Valley Rd have increased protection,

2) ‘The Ranch’ project (about 1,200 units) is now approved, unless challenged in the next 30 days, and

3) Antioch voters will get to decide if they want any more development west of Deer Valley Rd besides the development envelope associated with ‘The Ranch’. 

This Is A Major Indirect Victory! But How, if the Developers Got Their Initiative Adopted? 

To understand that, first know that the developers would never have done their initiative if we had not drafted, filed, and collected signatures for our own initiative. 

Recognizing they had made a major blunder in not taking us seriously and realizing they had to make some major changes, they basically copied our initiative with one major change: allow an improved version of their project. 

They changed their project to reduce the number of units, provide a wide creek-corridor buffer around Sand Creek, leave the hills alone and buffer Empire Mine Rd so their project doesn’t lead to more development further west. 

So right now, an improved (as described above) ‘The Ranch’ project has been approved, and about 70% of the Sand Creek area west of Deer Valley Rd has development restricted on it. That includes the Zeka Ranch, which is more than 640 acres west of Empire Mine Rd that is surrounded on three sides by East Bay Regional Park District land, the southern hills and Sand Creek. 

What Happens With Our Initiative?  

On Tuesday the Council ordered a 30-day report, also known as a 9212 Report (from the Elections Code) on our Initiative. It’s a purely informational report that basically describes how our Initiative would affect the City’s General Plan, if at all.

Our Let Antioch Voters Decide: the Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative, will be taken up again by the City Council on Tuesday August 28th. 

They will have two options: 1) Adopt it, or 2) put it on the 2020 ballot. 

Since the Richland initiative has a built-in development agreement that takes effect after 30 days, and it was adopted on Tuesday, the Council adopting our Initiative on August 28th wouldn’t affect the approval of ‘The Ranch’.
We want them to adopt our Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative. It would save the City the expense of having to put it on the ballot and add protections to the Sand Creek Area.

Addressing Council’s Criticism of Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek Member Organizations  
During the discussion of our Initiative by the Council on Tuesday there was a lot of criticism lobbed at Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek members, specifically Save Mount Diablo. Much was made of Councilmembers’ experience that signature gatherers told Antioch residents that there could be 4,000-8,000+ houses approved in the Sand Creek area, and in some cases 50,000 new houses in Antioch overall. The Council thought these were false and misleading claims. There was also criticism related to a member organization, Greenbelt Alliance, not sending a representative to the meeting that night. 

We want to address these claims directly. The below paragraph is from our Frequently Asked Questions sheet, which from the very beginning we made available digitally and in hard-copy. 

Amount of Possible Housing Stated To Public – 4,000-8,000 Units

Before our Initiative, more recent planning attempts and the City’s current General Plan suggested 4,000 units in the Sand Creek Area. But, for each project so far, the city council has amended the General Plan to allow even more houses. The Sand Creek Focus Area includes 2,783 acres. The approved Aviano and Promenade projects east of Deer Valley Rd include 1,183 houses on 281 acres east of Kaiser. There are two other active development applications: At the time, ‘The Ranch’ proposed 1,307 on 552 acres.  ‘Olive Grove’ east of Deer Valley Rd proposes 301 units on 97 acres. In total that’s 2,791 units on 930 acres, just a third of the total acreage. If the city continued to ignore the General Plan at the same pace, that equals 8,352 units on 2,783 acres. So we used a range of 4,000 units suggested in the General Plan and 8,000, suggested by what’s actually taking place.

Paid Signature Gatherers – 50,000 Houses?

As for the 50,000 house claim, Tuesday was the first we’ve heard of it. This is a good point to bring up the fact that about 85% of the official signatures we collected to qualify our Initiative for the ballot were collected by volunteers and staff from member organizations. They were informed about 4,000-8,000 range and communicated this to the public. Towards the end of the signature drive, it became necessary to use paid signature gatherers to get over the last signature hurdle. It’s possible that some of these individuals inflated numbers in the hopes it would yield more signatures, but we hope this was not the case.
Richland’s 50+ Paid Signature Gatherers Confused The Situation

We noted that on Tuesday the Council publicly criticized what they called the misleading claims of some of our signature gatherers, while saying nothing about the Richland initiative, which unlike us, relied entirely on paid signature gatherers. We agree that we witnessed paid signature gatherers saying whatever they thought would get someone to stop and sign. 

Deal Between Save Mount Diablo and Richland?

One Councilmember suggested there was a deal between Save Mount Diablo and Richland. In fact, the Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative is sponsored by a coalition of organizations and individuals. Save Mount Diablo is one member of the coalition, but certainly a significant one.  We have had discussions, tours and all kinds of conversations with Richland for over 3 years before we drafted our initiative, in hopes they would make their project better. By the same token, we’ve had conversations about the same issues with every city council member.  In our opinion, they didn’t make their project better and so we drafted our initiative.
After our initiative was filed we continued meeting with Richland (and separately with every city council member), hoping at the simplest to keep them from going nuclear on our volunteer signature gatherers for as long as possible.  Our efforts are always toward the best conservation outcome we can achieve. During the signature drive, we submitted comments on Richland’s The Ranch project Environmental Impact Report—and the city slowed down the environmental review. When Richland began qualifying a competing initiative, they clearly copied much of the substance of our own initiative, hoping we would not oppose theirs. They also changed their project, making it smaller and including many of the suggestions the public and Save Mount Diablo had made over the previous 3 years. That made things a lot more complicated.
We had plenty of discussions with Richland, but the only deal we had was that neither of us would legally challenge the others’ initiative. Each initiative sponsor would continue pursuing their initiative’s qualification and attempts at getting the City Council to adopt our measures.

Greenbelt Alliance

And finally, regarding the absence of a Greenbelt Alliance representative at the meeting on Tuesday, Greenbelt Alliance is a highly valued partner. The East Bay Field Representative position is currently vacant. Greenbelt Alliance is facing a very high workload with less staff than they normally would have available. Having communicated directly with Greenbelt Alliance, we can confirm that their absence on Tuesday was simply a bandwidth issue and in no way related to any disagreement or controversy related to the Initiative.
Moving On

We hope this puts to rest any questions, concerns or accusations that the Council or anyone in the Antioch community has regarding Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek member organizations, specifically Greenbelt Alliance and Save Mount Diablo. We look forward to constructive relationships in the future with not just the City Council, but all people in Antioch. After all, we still have work to do next month.

Our Next Step Is…Ask Council to Adopt Our Initiative on Tuesday August 28 (7pm; 200 H St)

Please come to the meeting, fill out a speaker card and ask the Council to adopt the ‘Let Antioch Voters Decide: Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative’. If you can’t be there in person, call or email the City Council (list below) and ask them to adopt the Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative.

Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of Antioch residents who signed helped us get this far. Let’s make the next step a reality!

Antioch City Council Contact Info:
Mayor Sean Wright
(925) 757-3309 –
Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe
(925) 978-4663 –
Council Member Lori Ogorchock
(925) 628-7764 –
Council Member Monica E. Wilson
(925) 628-0749 –
Council Member Tony G. Tiscareno
(925) 234-3639 – 

Who We Are

A coalition of Antioch residents and environmental groups, including Save Mount Diablo, California Native Plant Society, Greenbelt Alliance and Sierra Club. We want to keep our community informed about what’s going on. You can unsubscribe from these messages at any time (below). But if you want to influence things and take action, you should join us. Thanks!

— End of email message.

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Antioch Council adopts developer’s initiative approving 1,177-home project in Sand Creek area

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Map of area covered by the Richland Communities’ alternative initiative, and The Ranch 1,177-home project.

Sends environmental group’s initiative to staff to study for 30 days

By Alexandra Riva

During their meeting on Tuesday, July 24, the Antioch City Council adopted the initiative sponsored by Richland Communities, approving their 1,177-home project in the Sand Creek area, while sending the competing Let The Voters Decide initiative, sponsored by environmental groups, to city staff to study for 30 days.  City staff report on West Sand Creek initiative 072418

The council had three options for each initiative that had garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. They could have either adopted one or both of them, sent them to the November ballot, or send them to staff to study for 30 days and return with a report. Then within 10 days they would still have the options of adopting or sending to the ballot. City staff report on Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative 072418

The first initiative discussed was for ‘The Ranch’ project in the Sand Creek area, that scales back the proposed project by 10% from 1,307 to 1,177 homes and requires the developer to donate $1.2 million to Deer Valley High School for their sports programs. The item was passed unanimously by the council.

Discussed second was an initiative to restrict development in portions of the area which, with five affirmative votes by the council, was sent to staff who must return with a report at a special meeting on August 21. They will then decide at their regular meeting on August 28 whether to adopt it or send it to the ballot for the March 2020 election. Richland’s development agreement will be effective on August 23, 30 days after Tuesday night’s council action. So, if the council adopts the other initiative, although it has conflicting language, it will have no effect on and cannot stop The Ranch project from being built.

Both initiatives restricted development on neighboring Zeka Ranch project, which included between 300-400 homes on 200 of their 640 acres. That has been the target of the environmental groups since the beginning of the planning for the Sand Creek Focus Area, formerly known as Future Urban Area-1.

Both of the issues were hotly debated at the meeting by members of the public who packed the council chambers, for a standing room only audience.

A presentation made by Craig Christina, Richland’s vice president, urged the council to approve the development plan for ‘The Ranch’ project, based on the fact that this would ensure balanced development of the West Sand Creek area. Additionally, he explained that the development of ‘The Ranch’ would create hundreds of local construction jobs and would create a surplus of funds, around half a million dollars or more, for the city.

Many members of the public agreed with what he had to say, including representatives of construction trades unions, the Antioch Chamber of Commerce and the Delta Association of Realtors, citing a need for more housing options in Antioch and how this project will help the city grow, and create local jobs.

However, others asked to have both initiatives sent to staff to study for 30 days, to avoid having them on the November 2018 ballot. One of those was Louisa Zee Kao, president of the Zeka Group, which bought their land located to the west of old Empire Mine Road and The Ranch project, in 1992, saying they had spent millions of dollars and worked with the city in the years, since.

Lawyers representing The Zeka Group has submitted a letter challenging the legality of both initiatives, pointing out flaws in each, to the city and each council member on Monday. Andrew Bassak of the Mannat law firm in San Francisco, spoke to the council expressing his client’s concerns. In addition, former Antioch Council Member and Herald publisher Allen Payton challenged the council about the private property rights of Mrs. Zee Kao. Manatt Letter to Council

In response, Council Member Tony Tiscareno asked Acting City Attorney Derek Cole about the impact on The Zeka Ranch if they adopted Richland’s initiative.

Cole explained that the initiative has a takings exemption clause, stating that if one of the four neighboring property owners feels their property has been devalued, thus taken, they have the opportunity to challenge that and the council will decide. The other initiative has a similar clause, but that one leaves it up to a judge to decide. That satisfied the councilman’s concerns.

Antioch Mayor Sean Wright expressed sentiments about the voting process and how long this issue has been up for debate.

“This has been a frustrating process,” he said. “I think this process stinks. We talk about it going to the voters and that’s where it’s gone. What I’ve learned through this is that ultimately a referendum can stop anything and it’s frustrating. How many times do we have to vote about this land?”

In response to the impending approval of the development plan, which would result in 1,177 more homes for the city, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe expressed discontent with the decision.

“I’ve been kind of turned off by all of this…One of the things that I think my friends in the environmental community have always made an issue of are concerns about the environmental sensitivities on [the] property,” he said. “I’ve found it disingenuous the way signatures have been gathered to make this ranch project the focal point, when that was never the intent. And I also found it disheartening that in my discussions leading up to this with Save Mount Diablo, that they didn’t come up here and share their vantage point.”

The leaders of the environmental groups’ initiative, including Seth Adams of Save Mount Diablo, were not in attendance at the meeting, leading some to speculate that a deal had been cut between Richland and the environmental groups. Thorpe specifically mentioned their absence in his comments.

The “Let Antioch Voters Decide” initiative to restrict development in the Sand Creek area west of Deer Valley Road and make the city’s Urban Limit Line permanent. If the council adopted that initiative, it would essentially undo the development of ‘The Ranch’, which had just been approved in the meeting. It was decided that would be sent back to staff for review for 30 days.

One of the three local proponents of that initiative, Michael Amorosa was in attendance at the meeting, but did not speak on either issue.

Many community members against the urban development of the Sand Creek area still came out to share their disapproval and asked the council to adopt the initiative to restrict development.

“We are very proud that together with hundreds of supporters in Antioch and our allies at Greenbelt Alliance, California Native Plant Society, and Sierra Club, we are able to form the Antioch community to save Sand Creek and collect nearly ten thousand signatures, almost 6,000 of which were officially submitted to the city and county to qualify our ‘Let Antioch Voters Decide: Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative’ for the ballot,” said Juan Pablo Galvan, from Save Mount Diablo.

Further, Galvan asserted that by rejecting the development plan, and adopting their initiative, Antioch’s natural resources and scenery would be protected, as well as reducing traffic in the area.

Tiscareno spoke out against the initiative to restrict development in the Sand Creek area, after public comment ended.

“I am, to be honest with you, most angry about this particular one,” he said. “And, it’s not the citizens of Antioch, I truly believe that they are trying to do good things and try to preserve some of the beautiful hills out there but what I’ve heard and what I’ve experienced in the last several months has really disturbed me.”

Tiscareno continued, “…I did come across some of the petitioners. Some of them were good, but a lot of them were misinforming the public. I personally was approached and asked, ‘do you want to see 50 thousand homes built in the city of Antioch’ and I asked them were they got the information.”

He went on to explain that none of the petitioners he encountered could tell him where they got their information, but simply urged him to sign the petition. But, Tiscareno then clarified that not all of the petitioners he spoke with did this.

Council Members Monica Wilson and Ogorchock also shared similar stories, commenting that they had heard that anywhere between four to fifty thousand homes were to be developed in the Sand Creek area, which is false. Ogorchock then called some of the efforts to thwart development by the petitioners ‘deceiving’.

Ultimately, the major decision at the meeting was to go the adoption of ‘The Ranch’ initiative and approval of their project, and to prevent the environmental groups’ initiative from appearing on the November 2018 ballot. It will return to the council for their August 21 and 28 meetings for a final decision.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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