By Nick Goodrich
On Tuesday, October 11th, the Antioch City Council heard a report on the city’s ongoing efforts to combat blight and homelessness, and also oversaw a public hearing concerning the proposed financing of the Delta Pines Apartments.
During public comments at the beginning of the meeting, and the Council once again heard from Save the Yard supporters, as well as a few Antioch business owners.
Joy Motts, a leader in the Save the Yard effort, read aloud from the city’s General Plan, which presented Antioch’s waterfront as a possible “major attraction.” She and several others expressed their frustration that the city had decided to build townhomes on the property, rather than a park and event center.
“The Beede Lumber Yard is a perfect place for a park,” Motts said. “Houses are not a legacy that anyone will remember you for. It’s time that you incorporate a public discussion into the decision of the Beede Lumber Yard.”
Two business owners in downtown Antioch also spoke before the Council on the state of the city.
Antioch resident Jim Lanter, a 12-year downtown business owner, listed several concerns, including the state of downtown at night, and blight affecting much of the surrounding area. He suggested installing better lighting to make people feel safer in downtown Antioch at night, and encourage businesses to stay open later.
Nicholas Olivier, owner of Urban Jumble in downtown Antioch, agreed with Lanter. He asked for increased police presence downtown, especially at night.
“Downtown is beginning to grow, but we definitely need help,” he said.
Efforts to Eradicate Blight & Homelessness
Ron Bernal, Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works for the city, was on hand to give the report on blight and homelessness to the Council. He noted that the 2008 recession had contributed greatly to the blight problem by leaving behind a number of neglected residential properties and vacant buildings of businesses that were forced to close their doors.
The city was forced to shut down its Code Enforcement department and let go several park and street workers who had previously helped keep Antioch clean.
Since that time, the city has gradually built up the department, including the hiring of three new Code Enforcement Officers, one technician, and two laborers. The city has also reinstated the 40-hour work week, allowing Code Enforcement to do more each week.
In addition, Bernal reported that the Antioch Police Department’s hiring of an outside company – SP Plus Corp. – to ticket and tow vehicles, has seen great success. In the past six months, 528 unregistered, inoperable, or illegally parked vehicles were removed from Antioch’s streets.
The Council recently approved a three-year extension of the contract with SP Plus Corp. Bernal cited several other successes, such as the restriping of streets and curbs, and a new shopping cart ordinance slated to go into effect on November 1st, as signs that the city is making strides in combating blight.
“We’re trying to be very responsive to things that are offensive in our community, we’re making every effort to do that,” he told the audience at Tuesday’s meeting.
Bernal then addressed the homelessness problem in Antioch. In the last year, the city has seen a 33% increase in its homeless population, from 122 to 164. That increase paces East County’s 33% raise, while West County actually saw a 45% decrease.
The closure of the Don Brown Center earlier this year, which had provided services and resources for many of the East Bay’s homeless, and of Shelter Inc.’s transitional housing on Delta Fair Boulevard, created problems, Bernal said.
The city currently has budgeted $50,000 for the funding of homeless services, and the Antioch Shelter Project, which aims to replace the closed Don Brown Center, is in the process of finding a new location.
But Bernal emphasized the importance of the community in fighting the city’s homelessness problem, noting that faith-based institutions and individual citizens continue to do their part.
“Everybody needs to get involved,” he said. “We all need to try to work together.”
Delta Pines Apartments
Council also oversaw a public hearing on the proposed financing of the Delta Pines Apartments, on Sycamore Drive.
Delta Pines was constructed in the 1970’s and consists of 186 units on 7 acres, and is part of Antioch’s affordable housing stock. The Council voted 5-0 to approve a $35 million bond issued by the California Statewide Communities Development Authority for real estate investment firm Levy Affiliated to finance the complex.
The proposed financing will include its purchase and renovation by Levy Affiliated, which aims to provide energy upgrades, handicap accessibility, and new kitchens, energy-efficient appliances, and floors to the units.
No representatives of Levy Affiliated spoke on behalf of the project during the hearing, and no opponents spoke against it.
“I’m grateful that this is happening,” said Councilmember Monica Wilson, “That we have organizations coming in to rehab some of our older buildings, to make them handicap accessible, and for our low income and affordable housing. So hopefully we see some more of these come up.”
Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock agreed, citing recent rent increases.
“I’m just happy that they’re doing them, and that they’re making them ADA compliant,” she said. “We have several people with disabilities that were forced out of their rentals because their rents were increasing. So we need more of these.”