Archive for the ‘Legal’ Category

Antioch Council approves $326K for outside law firms, personnel investigation since Dec. 1

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

Largest amount spent to defend city against lawsuit by natural gas pipeline companies

By Allen D. Payton

In an attempt to determine the reason the Antioch City Council voted to place City Manager Con Johnson on paid administrative leave during their meeting Tuesday night, March 14, 2023, a review of the past three months of Council Warrants, which are the City’s expenses per department the council votes on was conducted. Between Dec. 1, 2022 and March 2, 2023, almost $321,000 was spent on outside legal counsel and over $5,000 on a personnel investigation. Antioch City Attorney Warrants 12-01 thru 12-29-22     Antioch City Attorney Warrants 12-30 thru 01-12-23    Antioch City Attorney Warrants 1-13 thru 2-2-23    Antioch City Attorney & Human Resources Warrants 2-2 thru 3-2-23

Antioch City Attorney & Human Resources Warrants 02-02 thru 03-02-23. Source: City of Antioch

On Tuesday’s meeting agenda it shows in the Council Warrants report Feb. 2-March 2, 2023 under the City Attorney category, $96,252.37 was paid for Legal Services Rendered to 11 law firms, and under the Human Resources category $5,166.25 for Investigative Fees paid to Barry Aninag Investigations. Mr. Aninag’s LinkedIn profile shows his company “offers independent, impartial, and thorough investigations into allegations of employee misconduct, harassment, and hostile work environments.”

Antioch City Attorney Warrants 01-13 thru 02-02-23

The Council Warrants on the Feb. 14, 2023 agenda for Jan. 13-Feb. 2, 2023 show $41,118.43 for legal services; the Jan. 24th council meeting agenda shows $41,930.76 in legal services for Dec. 30, 2022-Jan. 12, 2023 and the Jan. 10th council meeting agenda shows $141,472.97 paid for legal services incurred Dec. 1-29, 2022.

That’s a total of $320,774.53 in legal services plus the cost of the personnel investigation in the past three months for a grand total of $325,940.78.

Antioch City Attorney Warrants 12-30 thru 01-12-23

Questions for City Attorney, Acting City Manager

That information and questions were sent Wednesday to City Attorney Smith and Acting City Manager Cortez, and copied to the council members, City Finance Director Dawn Merchant and City Treasurer Lauren Posada asking for what cases are the expenses and if any of them or the investigation is related to Johnson. Smith and Cortez were also asked if it is normal for the City to spend over $100,000 per month on average for outside legal counsel.

Councilman Barbanica, who said he spoke with City Attorney Smith who said, “the bulk of this ($108,248.82) is to Meyers Nave to defend the City against the litigation on the CRC natural gas pipeline from the 3-2 council vote to deny the renewal of the franchise agreement.”

“Which I voted against, by the way,” the councilman added.

Antioch City Attorney Warrants 12-01 thru 12-29-22

“The payments to Hanson Bridgett are for ongoing labor and employment investigations and the Telecom Law Firm is for dealing with leases related to cell towers and other telecommunications in the city,” Barbanica continued.

The total over the past three months paid to Hanson Bridgett LLP was $74,132.59 and $9,101.50 to Telecom Law Firm PC. In addition, $64,362.70 was paid to Liebert Cassidy Whitmore. According to their website the firm “provides unparalleled education, training, litigation and advisory services to California’s public agencies, educational institutions and nonprofits.”

Smith was asked which of those services they are providing to the City of Antioch.

“A city our size has an understaffed attorney’s office with two attorneys and one assistant. So, a lot of this has to be farmed out because of that. If you look at Vallejo and Richmond, they have more than double the number of attorneys and assistants than we do,” he added. “It’s a lot of money.”

Smith did not respond by publication time. Please check back for any updates to this report.



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Antioch Council places city manager on administrative leave, mayor calls special Friday meeting to “correct this action”

Wednesday, March 15th, 2023

Councilmembers Barbanica, Wilson and Ogorchock made the decision during closesd session Tuesday night, March 14, 2023. Video screenshot

Thorpe claims council members were “procedurally wrong”

Torres-Walker says council needs to have nationwide search for new city manager, assistant city manager ; APOA President issues statement in support of police chief

By Allen D. Payton

Cornelius “Con” Johnson.

The Antioch City Council placed City Manager Cornelius “Con” Johnson on administrative leave, immediately it was reported by City Attorney Thomas L. Smith following the closed session meeting, Tuesday night. He said the council met to discuss one case of “anticipated litigation, significant exposure to litigation”. The vote was 3-0 on a motion by District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica, seconded by District 3 Councilman Lori Ogorchock and passed with the vote of District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson. (See beginning of council meeting video)

Johnson was absent from the meeting because he was ill according to Barbanica, who also left shortly after the beginning of the regular meeting due to having a medical procedure earlier in the day.

Both Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker and Mayor Lamar Thorpe were absent from the closed session. Without explanation for her absence, she later apologized for being late, having arrived just as the regular meeting was beginning. Thorpe, who was traveling back from a transportation conference in Washington, D.C. and his flight was delayed, also apologized for his tardiness. At the end of the meeting he said, “I ran out of the plane” with a laugh. He arrived about 7:55 p.m. wearing a hoody.

Wilson, the council’s longest serving member, led the meeting until Thorpe arrived, because Torres-Walker, whose responsibility it was, said she hadn’t been feeling well. Wilson pointed out the fact that it was an all-woman council during Women’s History Month

Regarding Johnson being placed on paid leave Thorpe said, “I know that some changes occurred, today at closed session. I do trust my colleagues in whatever action that they took, and I’ll try to support as best as possible, and I’ll get caught up on what’s going on. Change happens. You have to embrace it and massage it and try to get the best possible outcome.”

The City’s Human Resources Director Ana Cortez will serve as the acting city manager in Johnson’s absence until the council can appoint an interim city manager. She fulfilled that role last week when Johnson appointed her to it while he was out on bereavement leave.

Because it is a personnel matter neither the council members nor city staff can provide any details. However, and although Johnson is still in his position, during Tuesday’s meeting Torres-Walker twice called for a nationwide search for a new city manager as well as a new assistant city manager.

Speculation by Antioch residents in comments on social media were that the council’s action was related to the recent firestorm between Police Chief Steve Ford, the City’s former PIO, Rolando Bonilla and his issuing a press release with comments by the chief taking a swipe at his own officers which he never made. As previously reported Bonilla claims Johnson authorized the press release. The PIO’s contract was later terminated by Johnson. (See related articles here and here)

APOA President Issues Statement

Antioch Police Officers Association President Rick Hoffman issued the following statement about the matter Tuesday night out of concern that Ford may be the city council’s next target for termination: “While the dismissal of the CM (city manager) comes as a surprise to us, our main concern is whether council has any intention of replacing Chief Ford. We want the council to know that we fully support Chief Ford and his vision for the department.”

Thorpe Says Council Action “Procedurally Wrong”, Calls Special Meeting Friday to Correct It, Possibly Hire Interim City Manager

In a post on his official Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon, Thorpe issued the following statement about the matter: “At the Tuesday, March 15, 2023, City Council Meeting, the City Manager was placed on paid administrative leave. Vice Mayor (Mayor Pro Tem) Tamisha Torres-Walker and I were not present for the vote as my flight from Washington, DC was delayed for several hours.

I know my colleagues intended to proceed in the best interest of the City of Antioch and within their authority. However, while they may have believed their actions were correct, legally they were procedurally wrong.

In an effort to allow the Council to express its will, I’ll be calling a special meeting for Friday, March 17, 2023, at 10:00 am to correct this action and, if needed, potentially appoint an Acting City Manager.

To that end, I want to assure Antioch residents, city employees, and partners that the City remains focused on our top priority of increasing our overall quality of life and ensuring public safety.”

Barbanica responded to Thorpe’s claims saying, “We had the city attorney in the room, who attends all meetings, and he made the announcement at the end. It’s unfortunate the mayor wasn’t at the meeting. If there was anything procedurally incorrect that needs clarifying, I’m willing to consider it. But I think all of us on council need to focus on during the right thing for the city.”

“I believe that the council, when presented with certain information, has a duty to act,” he added. “If it’s a matter of the item not being agendized properly the mayor needs to remember he sets the agenda as he has reminded the public time and time again.”

City Attorney Smith and Thorpe were then sent via email the mayor’s announcement, copying the other council members and City Clerk Ellie Householder, asking them what the procedural error was and if it’s the fact the agenda item didn’t mention a possible discipline of a public employee. In addition, they were asked who decided on that terminology for the agenda item and who normally decides on the terminology used for closed session agenda items.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.


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Glazer, coalition oppose legal challenge to his bill limiting special interest contributions to local candidates

Tuesday, March 7th, 2023

State Senator Steve Glazer speaks on the legal challenge to SB1349 during a virtual media briefing on Monday, March 6, 2023. Video screenshot

Joined by Common Cause, Consumer Watchdog for media briefing on “what’s at stake if big money wins lawsuit to terminate anti-corruption law”

On Monday, March 6, 2023, a coalition of policy experts, including representatives from Common Cause and Consumer Watchdog, joined State Senator Steve Glazer (SD7, D-Contra Costa) held a briefing on the special interest lawsuit to terminate SB 1439, what they refer to as “a common sense anti-corruption law that would help end the cycle of scandals caused by special interests’ massive campaign contributions to the local officials they have business before.”

Authored by Contra Costa State Senator Steve Glazer and signed into last year, SB1439 prohibits a local elected official from voting on a matter if they have received a contribution from the party to the matter or their agent of more than $250 during the 12 months prior to the date a final decision is made on the matter. It also prohibits local officials from receiving a contribution of more than $250 in the 12 months after the proceeding from party to the matter or the party’s agent. But the bill also allows an official to return a contribution to avoid violating the new law and still vote on the matter.

According to Common Cause which proposed the bill, California law prohibited anyone seeking a contract, permit, or license from the government from making a campaign contribution of more than $250 to the officials responsible for decisions about that contract, permit, or license. The limitation applied while the contract, permit, or license was pending and for three months after. But local elected officials were exempted from the law. The bill extended the prohibitions from three to 12 months and included local elected officials.

The panel of policy and democracy experts warned the public of the high-stakes consequences of the special interest lawsuit, by eight trade associations and two Sacramento area local elected officials, to terminate SB 1439 at a virtual press conference. The legislation, signed into law last year, is a common-sense, anti-corruption law that would help end the cycle of scandals caused by special interests’ massive campaign contributions to local officials they have business before.

The panel discussed the urgent need to uphold the lawful, long-overdue legislation that holds local leaders accountable to the people they serve, not to special interests. Local stakeholders illustrated how special interests meddling in local politics hinders democracy and harms our communities.

“We have become numb to the legal corruption that has enveloped our democracy. Pay-to-play is antithetical to an honest and ethical government, and it should be rooted out and killed like a cancer that has affected the body politic,” said Glazer.

Regarding the importance of expanding our anti-corruption laws: 

“California’s local governments have been plagued by scandals in which special interest entities pump campaign cash to the local government officials who determine their fate on licenses, permits, and contracts. The examples are endless – SB 1439 is a common sense, narrowly tailored solution to an acute and documented problem to protect our communities,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “It has been tried in other states and in a long list of California cities, and it has never been knocked down because of legal challenges. We trust SB 1439 will succeed in the courts.” 

Regarding how SB 1439 expands the Political Reform Act: 

“SB 1439 is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the last 10 years. It gets right to the heart of the corruption problem – people think that elected officials are acting in the best interest of their contributors, not in the public interest. This law expands the purposes of the Political Reform Act and is a major effort to correct this problem and public perception, thus the law should be upheld by the courts,” said Bob Stern, policy expert and principal co-author of the Political Reform Act of 1974.

Regarding how big money in our local politics hurts our communities: 

“Supporting SB 1439 as a bill was an easy choice for us – we see and feel regularly the impact of corporate money in the Inland Empire. Increasingly, it’s felt that regardless of how loudly residents and voters push back against certain kinds of local projects, developer money will always drown out our voice,” said Sky Allen, Executive Director of Inland Empire United. “Over the past 20 years, the Inland Empire has become the largest logistics hub in the world – so instead of green space and local businesses, we’re surrounded by massive warehouses and, as a result, we breathe some of the worst air and are offered fewer quality jobs. Laws like AB 1439 give us hope that moving forward, the scales will be more balanced.” 

Regarding how big money in our local politics hurts consumers: 

“Local politicians have tremendous influence and direct impact on the policies that impact consumers the most, like zoning laws, environmental regulations, and business licensing. When corporations and wealthy individuals use their financial resources to influence local elections and create favor with local elected officials, they successfully steer public policy in ways that are sympathetic to their own interests at the expense of consumers as a whole,” said Ben Powell, Staff Attorney for Consumer Watchdog. “Laws like SB 1439 address this by ensuring that local politicians are working in favor of the public interest, not bids for re-election or trading favors with wealthy donors.”

“It’s imperative that we ensure local elections stay equitable for everyone. When big money comes into play, socioeconomic barriers are strengthened and the community is ultimately the one who loses,” said Emmanuel Estrada, Mayor of Baldwin Park. “In Baldwin Park, we enacted a local ordinance barring city contractors from directly donating to candidates and adding stricter contribution limits. When we sent it to the voters to reinforce the ordinance, over 80 percent were in favor, illustrating the massive desire to remove the influence of big money from our local politics.”

California Fair Political Practices Commission Chair, Richard C. Miadich, who was unable to attend the briefing said, “We’re disappointed to learn a lawsuit has been filed regarding SB 1439 after the Commission voted unanimously to support it and months after it unanimously passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor.”

“It also comes months after we’ve begun issuing guidance, gathering public input and crafting regulations to implement the law. We’ll continue doing just that and will continue to enforce the law unless and until a court ruling says otherwise,” he added.

To watch the full briefing, click here

Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.



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Antioch resident demands city council rescind approval of redistricting maps

Friday, March 18th, 2022

Approval by a majority of Antioch City Councilmembers of redistricting Draft Map A – Modified is being challenged by an Antioch resident.

Sends Notice of Potential Litigation including a Demand of Action

Wants process sent to Superior Court; not on Tuesday council meeting agenda

By Allen D. Payton

Following the Antioch City Council finalizing their redistricting process on Friday, March 11, with a majority of members voting to adopt a politically drawn, gerrymandered map of council districts, Antioch resident and business owner Mark Jordan sent a letter to the council members demanding they rescind their decisions and send the process to the Superior Court and threatening a lawsuit if they don’t. (See related article)

Following is a copy of Jordan’s letter:

March 15, 2022

City of Antioch

Mayor and Council Members

200 H Street

Antioch, CA  94509


Redistricting / Map Selection / City of Antioch

Mayor and Council Members,

This NOTICE will serve to inform you that as a resident and citizen of the City of Antioch I challenge the process you have conducted to select the Redistricting Map for the City of Antioch in 2022.

I challenge Maps selected by the Council commonly known as; Map A Draft and Map A Draft Modified.  I state and claim you are in violation of your Oaths of Office, the California Government Code and the California Elections Code.


  1. You AGENDA the Rescission of both selections of Map A Draft and Map A Draft Modified at the next Council meeting not later than March 22, 2022.
  2. VOTE to rescind approval of both gerrymandered maps which you have selected, which exist approved by the Council in conflict with each other.
  3. You MOVE to deliver the entire process of the selection of the Antioch Redistricting Map to the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Contra Costa notifying the Court that the City of Antioch is unable to complete the process of redistricting in a manner that is not gerrymandered. This DEMAND of delivery to the Superior Court is made pursuant to Elections Code Section 21609.


  1. On January 25, 2022 the Council decided on two final maps (Map B and Map 91) stating to the public that one of the two would be the Final Redistricting Map.
  2. On February 8, 2022 the Council rejected both Maps they had decided were the two final Maps and there was no vote to rescind the previous selection of the final maps.
  3. On February 22, 2022 the Council returned Map A Draft to consideration without a motion.
  4. On February 22, 2022 members of the Council including the Mayor actively modified Map A Draft in a gerrymandered manner to create Map A Draft Modified.
  5. On March 8, 2022 the Council selected Map A Draft, a gerrymandered map.
  6. On March 11, 2022 the Council selected Map A Draft Modified without a motion to rescind Map A Draft. Map A Draft Modified is a gerrymandered map.

You have moved off the two final maps selected January 25, 2022 without properly voting to reconsider rejected maps.  You have currently approved two conflicting Maps without rescinding a previous action; the selection of Map A Draft on March 8, 2022.

The Council has and remains in violation of Elections Code Section 21601, subsections 1 through 4 inclusive, by selections of both Map A Draft and Map A Draft Modified because neither map meets the requirements of the Elections Code and both are gerrymandered.

If you fail to take the aforementioned DEMANDED ACTIONS I will move to seek immediate judicial relief including but not limited to a stay of your decisions concerning redistricting, a revocation of any Map you have selected along with seeking any attorney’s fees and costs for your violations of the Government Code and Elections Code.  I will further request any other relief the Court may choose to award.

Your immediate attention to this MATTER and DEMAND of action is required.


Mark Jordan

Cc:  City Attorney, City Clerk

Via:  USPS and email


Next Tuesday’s council meeting agenda released on Friday, March 18 does not include the action demanded by Jordan.

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Los Medanos Healthcare District dissolved as of Wednesday eliminating Antioch mayor’s $150K job

Friday, March 11th, 2022

The Los Medanos Community Healthcare District building, formerly Los Medanos Hospital. Photo from the LMCHD Facebook page.

State Supreme Court denies district’s appeal, finalizes Supervisors’ 2017 unanimous vote and LAFCO’s 2018 dissolution decision; county will now receive the funds; Glover believes employees being paid through end of March

By Allen D. Payton

According to a Thursday, March 10, 2022, press release from Contra Costa County, the California Supreme Court denied an appeal by the Los Medanos Community Healthcare District (District), which resulted in the dissolution of the District effective Wednesday afternoon, March 9. The court decision does not affect the operation of the Pittsburg Health Center, which is operated by the Contra Costa County Health Services department and remains open with no changes to regular, ongoing services for patient care.

The County’s efforts to dissolve the district have been ongoing since November 2017 when the Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 in favor of dissolution. (See related article)

Then in 2018, following Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury recommendations, the Supervisors requested the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which is responsible, in part, for evaluating ways to reorganize, simplify and streamline the structure of governmental entities in California, to dissolve the District and transfer all of its assets and liabilities to the County. The court decision finalizes LAFCO’s dissolution decision that was originally approved in September 2018.

“The court action means we can lower overhead costs significantly and increase grant funding for the benefit of residents’ healthcare priorities and needs in the former District area,” said Supervisor Federal Glover, whose District 5 represents the communities. “We will be able to make a bigger difference for our residents.”

“This has been a thoughtful process to ensure that the community’s needs and concerns are addressed. The County will allocate 90% of funds to health-related programs and establish a reserve fund to help ensure that programs are sustainable moving forward,” stated Board Chair, Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.

The Board of Supervisors has established the Los Medanos Healthcare Advisory Committee in July 2018, as part of the plan to dissolve the District, increasing funding available for healthcare programming in the Pittsburg/Bay Point areas. The Committee has been charged with development of an area health plan to determine specific health needs of the community, identify priorities to address those needs and facilitate a request for proposals process to make funding recommendations for health programs in the community to the Board of Supervisors. The Committee includes representatives from the local community and medical practitioners, making this a unique opportunity for collaboration. It is anticipated that the Committee will hold its inaugural meeting in late Spring 2022.

The committee is responsible for making recommendations for grant funding to meet healthcare priorities of residents in the former District area.

The Advisory Committee will be composed of seven (7) members, with the majority being community members (5) who work or live in the Los Medanos area and two (2) healthcare professionals. As appointed by the Board of Supervisors, the Committee includes:

  • (2) Representatives recommended by the City of Pittsburg;
  • (2) Representatives recommended by the Bay Point Municipal Advisory Committee;
  • Representative from the County’s Public Health Division;
  • Representative from the County’s Behavioral Health Division; and
  • At-Large representative who lives or works in the Pittsburg/Bay Point area as recommended by the Board’s Internal Operations Committee.

The benefits of including medical professionals on the Committee are to support impactful grant-making, collaboration, and leveraging of efforts with other healthcare programs and services in the County. An area health plan will be developed that will identify major health disparities to inform funding priorities for consideration by the Board of Supervisors.

“The targeted, coordinated approach to how we focus funding will help us do more for residents in the former District area to improve their health and how they receive healthcare,” added Glover.

No Impact to Pittsburg Health Center Services

Patient care and services at the Pittsburg Health Center are not impacted. Patients should continue to schedule their medical appointments and seek services at the Pittsburg Health Center as they normally do.

The Pittsburg Health Center is the largest clinic in the County’s 10 clinic healthcare delivery system. The County has operated the health center for over 20 years since the bankruptcy of the District in the 1990s and has been responsible for capital improvements since that time. The County most recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation of the Adult Primary Care area within the facility as well as a comprehensive elevator replacement project.

District Spent $1.3 Million on Staff, Community Garden, Reading Program, Grants

As previously reported by the Herald, the Los Medanos Hospital closed in 1994 but the district, covering Pittsburg and Bay Point, had continued to exist, collecting property tax dollars and using the funds to pay for staff and provide grants to local organizations, direct service programs including a community garden and district sponsored programs including REading ADvantage for early literacy. The district’s 2020-21 Fiscal Year budget projects $1.13 million in tax revenue and $1.3 million in expenses.

Jobs of Antioch Mayor, 2020 Antioch Council Candidate Eliminated, Can’t Talk About It

Former LMCHD executive director and Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe.

The result of the dissolution of the district eliminated the executive director job of Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe, who was given a pay raise last July, from $96,000 to $150,000 per year. In addition, another Antioch resident, homeless advocate and 2020 District 3 council candidate Nichole Gardner, had been his administrative assistant, and may have also lost her job. But she said she could not speak about it.

An attempt last year by former State Assemblyman Jim Frazier to eliminate the healthcare district through a bill co-sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Grayson (D-Concord) was unsuccessful. While it passed the Assembly on a 70-0 vote, it failed to pass out of the State Senate Governance and Finance Committee. (See related articles here, here and here)

Questions were emailed to Thorpe late Thursday night, asking, “What are your plans as a result of the district being dissolved and your job being eliminated? Have you been offered another position within the county government? Did the county give you a severance package or a month or more of compensation to give you time to find another position? Or have you already been pursuing something else and the Supreme Court’s decision was expected?

Also, what about the rest of your staff, including Nichole Gardner? Have they been offered other positions within the county government? How many staff were employed by the district?

Do you have any other comments as the outgoing executive director of the district?”

Website Removed, Phone Number Still Works, Questions Left on Voicemail

A search on Thursday for the hospital district’s website, resulted in the message, “Unrecognized domain name”. However, the phone number, (925) 432-2200 still works and a message was left with questions about staff still being paid and for any other details that can be shared about the dissolution. No response was received as of Friday morning at 10:45 a.m.

Questions for Glover, County Staff

Questions were also emailed late Thursday night to Susan Shiu the county’s Public Information Officer and Director of the Office of Communications and Media for Contra Costa County, who issued the press release, asking, “What is happening with the district’s staff, including former executive director Lamar Thorpe? Have they been offered other positions within the county government? Were they offered severance packages, or a month or two of compensation to give them time to find other jobs?” But her automatic response message shows she’s out of the office on Friday, March 11.

Efforts to obtain answers from the County Office of Communications and County Health Department’s communications staff about the district’s former employees, Friday were unsuccessful prior to publication time. They and Glover were also asked, “now that the LMCHD website has been taken down, what happened to all the board meeting agendas, related documents and minutes? Who took the website down and why? Shouldn’t it have been archived?”

County Health Department spokesman Karl Fischer responded, “The County Administrator’s Office is the one handling that situation. The CAO said they would get in touch with their PIO to coordinate. They should be able to help.”

Glover Responds, Believes Employees Being Paid Through End of March

Glover responded, “The healthcare district is paying them through the month of March. But I’m not sure about all the details. This had been an active thing. The panel of judges made a decision and the district appealed it to the Supreme Court which denied even hearing it.”

Asked about the website and records of meetings, agendas and minutes he replied, “those are the things we need to see what’s going on. Because that’s all information and documentation that the county has to have. It’s all public records and we will have to make sure they’re available.”

Please check back later for any updates to this report, once Shiu has returned to her office on Monday.

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Seeno’s attorneys request new trial following Save Mount Diablo legal victory against Faria project in Pittsburg hills

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

The now named Thurgood Marshall Regional Park is directly adjacent to the Pittsburg City Council approved Faria project. Herald file graphic. Credit: Save Mount Diablo/Google Earth.

607-acre, 1,650-home development next to planned Thurgood Marshall Regional Park

SMD leader says motion for new trial “should be denied”

By Allen D. Payton

Last Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, attorneys representing Discovery Builders and their Faria new home development requested a new trial for the lawsuit by Save Mount Diablo, following a judge’s decision in favor of the environmental group to stop the project. As previously reported, on March 30, 2021, Save Mount Diablo filed a lawsuit challenging the City of Pittsburg’s approval of the 1,650-unit Faria project, on the ridgeline between Pittsburg and Concord. According to the agenda item documents, the master plan overlay district encompasses approximately 607 acres of land. (See related article)

The motion for a new trial was filed “on the basis that the Court’s decision is not supported by the evidence and controlling legal authorities. Specifically…that there were several portions of this Court’s February 10, 2022 Statement of Decision that may not have fully considered evidence in the administrative record.” In addition, the motion asks that the “Court vacate its Statement of Decision and enter a new decision denying SMD’s motion” and “conduct a new hearing”.  Faria project Motion for New Trial    Parsons Dec. ISO Mot for New Trial    Raskin Dec. ISO Mot for New Trial    Faria project new trial Proof of Service

A hearing date on the motion for a new trial has been set for April 14, 2022.

The Pittsburg hills where the Faria project has been approved for construction, as seen from the San Marco neighborhood in Pittsburg. Photo: Scott Hein

On the day of the decision, Save Mount Diablo issued the following press release about their legal victory:

“On February 10, 2022, the Contra Costa County Superior Court handed Save Mount Diablo a major victory in its legal challenge to the City of Pittsburg’s approval of the 1,650-unit Faria/Southwest Hills Project.

According to the ruling, the city’s environmental review was inadequate in numerous ways. Faria was proposed by Seeno companies/Discovery Builders, Inc./Faria Investors LLC on the spectacular and highly visible major ridgeline between Pittsburg and Concord and could include grading and houses visible across the ridge.

As a result, the City of Pittsburg is required to overturn approvals for the project and correct environmental review. The city and Seeno/Discovery Builders will also be required to pay Save Mount Diablo’s legal fees.

It remains to be seen whether the developers, Discovery Builders, Inc. and Faria Land Investors, LLC, or the City of Pittsburg will appeal the decision.

The Pittsburg City Council—then-Mayor Merl Craft; then–Vice Mayor Holland Barrett White; and Councilmembers Shanelle Scales-Preston, Juan Antonio Banales, and Jelani Killings—all voted to approve the proposal in February 2021. (The mayor and vice-mayor designations rotate among the councilmembers.) They ignored hundreds of letters and public comments that opposed the project. Save Mount Diablo filed a lawsuit challenging the project’s approval in March 2021.

If the project had moved forward, it would have meant the development of a major, new residential subdivision on 606 acres of ridgeline and hillside grazing land in what is currently unincorporated Contra Costa County, immediately south of the City of Pittsburg.

The biologically rich site supports sensitive wildlife species and rare plants and is in one of the most visible and most environmentally constrained areas of the county. The Faria project would have fragmented open space and damaged wildlife corridors.

The proposed housing development would have changed the beautiful green hills forever by annexing the property to the City of Pittsburg and locating 1,650 new residences far from jobs, transit, and services.

The Faria project would have also impacted the new East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50 at the Faria site’s southwestern edge, formerly part of the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Save Mount Diablo and its partners advocated for the creation of this new park over many years. The Faria project would have been located directly above the new park on a ridgeline, degrading views from surrounding areas.

The Contra Costa Superior Court ruled that the City of Pittsburg’s environmental review of the project was inadequate in four major ways:

  1. It failed to analyze any impacts that would results from the 150 accessory dwelling units that were added by the City of Pittsburg at the last minute. This is important because the number of units affects every part of environmental review from traffic to water supply to schools, etc. and will make correcting the environmental review complicated;
  2. It failed to include a baseline description of biological resources that could be impacted by the project, specifically special-status plant species;
  3. It failed to consider the water supply impacts of adding 1,650 new housing units in the area, which is especially important given years of drought and increasing fire danger; and
  4. It failed to adequately disclose or mitigate the project’s air quality impacts, including greenhouse gas impacts, without which development will continue to make the climate crisis much worse.

“The court’s decision says to developers: ‘You don’t get to kick the can down the road. You have to do a thorough analysis of your project’s impacts before you lock in project approvals,’” said Winter King, Save Mount Diablo’s attorney from Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. “The court got it right.”

The court’s ruling means that the City of Pittsburg’s approval of the project is null and void.

The court also noted that additional impacts—such as geologic hazard impacts resulting from grading and filling, and impacts on streams and agricultural lands—would need to be addressed in more detail.

Save Mount Diablo Executive Director Ted Clement said, “Throughout the East Bay, residents have worked hard to protect our ridges and views, flora and fauna, and to defend our parks. In this case that was just decided in our favor, Save Mount Diablo had to stand up against some very powerful interests to help further the work of protecting these treasured resources, which add so much to our collective quality of life.”

“Although I’ve worked for Save Mount Diablo on this issue, I’m also a Concord resident,” said Juan Pablo Galván Martínez, Save Mount Diablo’s Senior Land Use Manager. “This project infuriated me as an open-space lover, a wildlife enthusiast, and someone who is deeply worried and taking action to stop catastrophic climate change. Since this affects both cities, I want both city councils to work together to protect the hills and ridgeline.”

“This is a major victory for Pittsburg’s hills,” stated Save Mount Diablo Land Conservation Director Seth Adams. “Open space, habitat for wildlife, and the community’s scenic views have won the day, and poorly planned development will not go forward, for now. We are very happy with the court’s decision.”

“On the other hand,” said Adams, “while our victory is costly for the city and Seeno/Discovery Builders in time and money, it does not stop the project forever. After correcting environmental documents, the Pittsburg City Council can approve Seeno’s huge project again if they choose. But now they have a second chance to make it better by protecting the ridgeline and neighboring regional park. We don’t have to argue about protecting ridgelines in other cities. The Pittsburg City Council should do the right thing.”

Save Mount Diablo Says Motion for New Trial “Should Be Denied”

Asked about the motion for a new trial, Save Mount Diablo Executive Director, Ted Clement responded, “Regarding the Seeno companies/Pittsburg request for a new trial, the Court has already rejected their arguments for reasons fully set forth in its decision. Their Motion for New Trial does not question the adequacy of the administrative record on which the Court properly based its decision (and which the City itself prepared) or suggest there was any other irregularity or unfairness in the hearing. Instead, they seek a second bite of the apple.”

“Their Motion reargues issues that were fully briefed and addressed in the Court’s Decision,” he continued. “They also seek to introduce irrelevant and improper extra-record evidence, violating black letter law that CEQA actions must be decided on the record that was before the agency when it made its decision.”

“Because their Motion provides no basis for this Court to order a new trial solely on the issues decided adverse to them, it should be denied,” Clement concluded.

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Two officers sue city over treatment by Antioch PD, councilwoman for incident with her sons riding dirt bikes, video rant

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022

Claim gender discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, defamation and more; “contemptible culture” at APD, “malicious campaign of vengeance” by Torres-Walker

City doesn’t issue response to lawsuit

Councilwoman unsurif she needs outside counsel or if city attorney will represent her, city attorney won’t say

By Allen D. Payton

On Dec. 28, 2021, Antioch Police Officers Andrea Rodriguez and Calvin Prieto filed a lawsuit against the City of Antioch, District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker as an individual and unnamed Does 1-10 for gender discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, and defamation for how the Antioch Police Department has treated the officers and how the councilwoman treated them both following the Dec. 2020 incident in which they pursued and attempted to pull over two of her sons who were riding dirt bikes illegally on city streets. COMPLAINT-Rodriguez & Prieto v. City of Antioch & Torres-Walker

Source: Contra Costa Superior Court

The officers were able to stop her younger son, who is a minor, but her adult son, Yomani Mapp, who was riding with his younger brother, fled from police, went home and brought the councilwoman back with him to the scene. It was during that exchange and Torres-Walker’s later video rant on her Facebook page that are the basis for the officers’ lawsuit.

As previously reported, he was later charged with evading the police by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office. Antioch Police submitted a felony charged against Mapp using Vehicle Code (VC) 2800.4, because he drove in the opposite direction while evading police. He could have faced six months to a year in jail or a fine of $1,000 to $10,000, or both. But Contra Costa DA Diana Becton reduced the charge to a misdemeanor using VC 2800.1(a) for just evading police and, if convicted, Mapp could face up to one year in jail. The filing with the court occurred on March 23, the same day Torres-Walker made a $500 contribution to Becton’s re-election committee, according to the DA’s campaign finance report. (See related articles here and here)

A portion of page 1 of COMPLAINT. Source: Dhillon Law Group

Officers Claim “Contemptible Culture” at APD, “Malicious Campaign of Vengeance” by Councilwoman

In their complaint, the officers claim, “Officer Rodriguez and Officer Prieto served their community as dedicated and honorable law enforcement officers for nearly a decade. Over the last two years, Plaintiffs’ (officers’) careers have been railroaded by the collision of two events: a contemptible culture of gender-based discrimination, harassment and retaliation at the Antioch Police Department”.  They also claim, “a malicious campaign of vengeance spearheaded by Defendant Torres-Walker.” The complaint states that her “conduct has been egregious that both Plaintiffs have been placed on stress leave as a result of the emotional distress they have suffered and continue to suffer, jeopardizing their livelihoods, law enforcement careers, and depriving the City of Antioch of two committed officers.”

The officers are requesting a jury trial for their case and for “general, special and compensatory damages; punitive and exemplary damages; civil penalties; pre-judgment interest; and attorneys’ fees and costs.

A case management conference is scheduled for May 17, 2022, at 8:30 AM in Department 21.

City Council Discussed Case in January

The case was discussed by the city council during a closed session meeting on Jan. 25, 2022. – Closed Session Agenda item 4. reads, “CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL – EXISTING LITIGATION – pursuant to California Government Code section 54956.9: Andrea Rodriguez and Calvin Prieto v. City of Antioch et al., Contra Costa County Superior Court Case Number C21-02687.”  But no reportable action was taken during the meeting.

Source: Contra Costa Superior Court

Officers Represented by Civil Rights Attorneys

The officers are represented by three attorneys from the Dhillon Law Firm in San Francisco, including nationally known civil rights attorney Harmeet Dhillon, founder of the Center for American Liberty.

When reached for comment, one of the attorneys for the officers, Jesse Franklin-Murdock, wrote, “Officers Rodriguez and Prieto are hardworking and community-minded public servants. They served the City of Antioch with integrity and professionalism. Officer Rodriguez suffered gender-based discrimination and a hostile work environment at the Antioch Police Department, and both officers suffered retaliation after they opposed illegal, discriminatory practices at APD.”

“Councilmember Torres-Walker further defamed Officer Prieto by telling vicious lies about him in a profane video, and then sought professional retribution against him because her anti-police animus,” Franklin-Murdock continued. “Our office looks forward to seeking justice for both officers and sending a message to the City of Antioch that a culture of discrimination and retaliation cannot continue.”

“The action is indeed in the Martinez division,” the attorney shared. “The Case Management Conference is open to the public and members of the media. It is generally a routine scheduling conference where the court will set case deadlines.”

Lawsuit cover page. Source: Frank Sterling, KPFA Radio

City Attorney Doesn’t Respond to Questions About Lawsuit

On Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, questions were emailed to City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith and Torres-Walker, copying the other four council members and former Antioch Police Chief Tammany Brooks asking, “does the city attorney represent a council member if they’re being sued as an individual? Or would they need to get their own counsel? Also, do you have any comments about the lawsuit and what do you expect to result from the Case Management Conference scheduled for May 17, 2022?”

None of them had responded to the email as of Wednesday, March 2, 2022, at noon.

Torres-Walker Doesn’t Know, Yet if City Attorney Will Represent Her or She Needs Outside Counsel

When asked directly if she had to obtain her own legal counsel or if the city attorney is representing her, Torres-Walker responded, “That’s still not clear but I have reached out for consultations.” Asked for clarification, if she had reached out to City Attorney Smith or an outside attorney she responded, “Outside.”

City Doesn’t Respond to Lawsuit

When asked for a copy of the City’s response to the officers’ lawsuit, Rakia Grant-Smith, Executive Legal Assistant for City Attorney Smith wrote, “The City of Antioch received your request for a “copy of a response to the lawsuit on behalf of the City” in regards to the Prieto-Rodriguez complaint. It has been determined that the record sought does not exist.”

In response, they were asked, “isn’t it common practice to respond to a lawsuit within 30 days?”

In addition, Franklin-Murdock was informed of the city attorney’s office claim and asked, Is that true? If not, do you have what the City provided? If it is true, isn’t that unusual for a party to not respond to a lawsuit?”

As of Wednesday, March 2 at noon, neither the city attorney’s office, nor Franklin-Murdock had responded.

City Attorney, Interim Police Chief Won’t Say if New Investigator Hired

Last fall, City Attorney Smith and then-City Manager Ron Bernal said they would hire another outside investigator.

Questions were sent Friday afternoon, Feb. 25 to Smith and Interim Police Chief Tony Morefield asking, “has another outside investigator been hired for the investigation into the police incident with Councilwoman Torres-Walker’s sons riding their dirt bikes on city streets? If so, when did that occur and is that investigation completed? If not, is that currently ongoing? If not, do you still plan to hire another outside investigator in the matter, please?”

As of Wednesday, March 2 at noon, they had not yet responded.

Interim Police Chief Offered Opportunity to Respond to Accusations Against Department

On Wednesday afternoon, March 2, 2022, Interim Police Chief was also sent a copy of the lawsuit and given the opportunity to respond on behalf of the department.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.

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Judge rules in favor of Sand Creek area developer striking down almost all of Measure T, long-planned homes can be built in Antioch

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021

The Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative known as Measure T on the November 2020 ballot cannot be implemented.

Environmentalists claim victory with Urban Limit Line extension

By Allen Payton

In what amounts to a final blow to Antioch’s Measure T and the environmentalists’ efforts to stop the long-planned new home developments in the city’s Sand Creek area, on June 7, 2021, a Contra Costa Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Oak Hill Park Company in their lawsuit against the City of Antioch to prevent the council from implementing the provisions of the measure. The initiative’s full title was Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative (LAVD) and would have devalued Oak Hills’, Zeka Ranch’s and other neighboring property owners’ land by over 98%, downzoning it from two homes per acre to just one home per 80 acres.  Measure T Statement of Decision 060721

In his tentative ruling on June 2, 2021, Judge Edward G. Weil wrote, “The Court finds that the LAVD Initiative, with the exception of Section 22, conflicts with the Housing Crisis Act and is therefore void. The Court further finds that, with the exception of Section 22, the individual provisions of the LAVD Initiative are not volitionally severable. The Court finds that Section 22 is valid and enforceable.” 2021-06-02 Tentative Ruling of Oak Hill

That meant that other than Section 22, none of the other sections of the measure could be separated from the rest of the initiative and applied on their own. The Housing Crisis Act, known as SB330, which was signed into law on October 9, 2019 and went into effect on January 1, 2020, forbids cities from reducing the zoning of residential property until January 1, 2025, by either council action or citizen initiative.

Section 22 of the LAVD initiative reads, “The location of the Urban Limit Line enacted in Antioch Measure K on November 8, 2005, may be changed only by the voters.”

According to Weil’s final ruling, Section 1 of the LAVD Initiative identifies the following as two of the seven primary purposes of the Initiative: “maintains the existing urban limit line,” and “requires voter approval to change these safeguards.” In 2005, Antioch voters adopted Measure K establishing an Urban Limit Line. Under that measure, through December 31, 2020, only the voters could change the location of the Line. After that date, voter approval was not required. The measure’s language claimed, “maintaining voter approval beyond 2020 is in the best interests of Antioch residents.”

Had the judge not ruled in favor of severability of Section 22, the city council would have had the power to move the line from the current location, along the ridgeline on the back side of the former Roddy Ranch Golf Course. However, that part of the judge’s decision has no impact on the proposed developments in the Sand Creek area.

Save Mount Diablo Claims Victory on Urban Limit Line

In a press release by Save Mount Diablo on June 15, announcing the judge’s decision, the organization claimed a victory over the section about the Urban Limit Line. Measure T requires a vote of the people to change the boundaries. That is the only section of the measure the judge allowed to stand.

The group’s press release reads in part:


On June 7, 2021, Contra Costa Superior Court ruled on a legal challenge to Measure T, the “Let Antioch Voters Decide” initiative. Measure T was approved by 79 percent of Antioch voters in November 2020. The legal challenge, OAK HILL PARK CO. VS. THE CITY OF ANTIOCH, was filed by out-of-state developer Oak Hill Park LLC/Richfield in an attempt to strike down Measure T. Measure T included growth management provisions for the Sand Creek area in southeast Antioch and extended protections for the Antioch Urban Limit Line.

Part of Measure T was affirmed, and part was ruled in conflict with SB 330—a 2019 housing crisis law enacted after Measure T was qualified in 2018 but before the public voted in November 2020.

“Save Mount Diablo, the Antioch community, and our other good partners have been working to defend and protect the important open spaces of the Sand Creek Focus Area for years against various developers and lawsuits. This past November, 79 percent of Antioch voters approved our Measure T to give the Sand Creek area more protections,” said Ted Clement, Save Mount Diablo’s Executive Director. “In the recent court ruling, our efforts were successful in saving the Antioch Urban Limit Line, which affords protections to Sand Creek, but other parts of Measure T were struck down. We are also proud that our Measure T gave Antioch voters a voice to express their clear desire that Sand Creek have more protections, and we hope Antioch officials will respect the overwhelming will of the people.”

After the election, in February 2021 Oak Hill Park LLC/Richfield once again challenged Measure T, based in part on SB 330. The state passed Senate Bill 330, the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, after the 2018 qualification of Measure T but before the November election. SB 330 established new rules about what initiatives and local jurisdictions can do to affect housing.

The court’s ruling finds that Measure T, with the exception of the provision extending the Urban Limit Line (ULL), conflicts with Senate Bill 330 and is therefore void. A requirement for a public vote for major development west of Kaiser Hospital and Deer Valley Road in the Sand Creek Focus Area, and a variety of development standards Measure T would have required, have been nullified.

However, the coalition’s efforts and Measure T saved the Antioch Urban Limit Line. The court preserved Measure T’s extension of Antioch’s Urban Limit Line, and the requirement that any changes to the Urban Limit Line must be approved by the voters. Without Measure T’s approval in November 2020, that voter approval requirement would have expired on December 31, 2020.

“Our coalition educated Antioch residents about the Sand Creek and Empire Mine Road area,” said Seth Adams, Save Mount Diablo’s Land Conservation Director. “We saved the Antioch Urban Limit Line, built a strong grassroots coalition, established greater concern within the city council about the Sand Creek area, and received a very strong 79 percent election result of public support to help with the next steps. We’re in this for the long run. The work continues. We will oppose Zeka and Richfield, defend Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and Deer Valley Regional Park, and work to ensure that more of the Sand Creek area is protected.”

What Is SB 330?

SB 330 was signed into law by Governor Newsom in October 2019. It’s designed to speed up housing construction in California during the next half-decade by slashing the time it takes to obtain building permits, limiting fee increases on housing applications, and barring local governments from reducing the number of homes that can be built. Although it’s meant to encourage affordable housing, Antioch already provides more affordable housing than most cities.

The Antioch coalition qualified our initiative, and the Antioch City Council adopted it, long before SB 330 was signed into law. It was only because of lawsuits from developers Zeka Group and Oak Hill Park LLC/Richfield that our initiative was delayed until a judge sent our initiative to the November 2020 ballot, where we won in a 79 percent landslide. But by then, SB 330 had been signed.

Because of all this, we’ve known that some parts of Measure T might be struck down in court, and other parts might be “severed” and survive. Based on the court’s tentative ruling, that’s what’s happened.


Measure T has saved the Antioch Urban Limit Line. However, the rest of the initiative was struck down.


No Decision on Possible Appeal

Asked if Save Mount Diablo planned to appeal the judge’s decision, Adams responded, “No decision has been made. Can’t say at this point.”

City Council Discusses Lawsuit

During a special Conference with Legal Counsel on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, the Antioch City Council discussed the case of Oak Hill Park Company, vs. the City of Antioch, Contra Costa County Superior Court, Case No. N21-0048.

However, City Attorney Thomas Lloyd Smith said, “There was no reportable action on the item.”

Oak Hill Park Company Responds

In response to their lawsuit victory, Oak Hill Park Company’s attorney, Alicia Guerra, issued the following statement: “Oak Hill Park Company appreciates the Court’s thoughtful ruling invalidating almost every provision of the Initiative under the Housing Crisis Act, and looks forward to working with the City in the future.”

Oak Hill plans a 370-home project known as Bridle Hills, south of the 1,177-home The Ranch project approved by the city council, last year. The neighboring 338-home project, known as Zeka Ranch is planned for 200 of the 640 acres of the former Higgins Ranch property located on the closed Empire Mine Road, adjacent to the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.

History of Sand Creek Area and Urban Limit Line

Plans for new homes in the Sand Creek area, formerly known as Future Urban Area-1 (FUA-1), have been underway since developers purchased the land in the 1990’s following voter adoption of the county-wide Urban Limit Line (ULL) in 1990, protecting 65% of the land in the county from subdivision development. In 2003, the Antioch City Council reduced the total number of homes allowed in the Sand Creek area from over 8,900 to 4,000. Of that figure, approximately 877 homes remain to be approved and built west of Deer Valley Road, which is the area the initiative would have affected. Another 640 homes planned for the Roddy Ranch development will no longer be built since that land was sold by Jack Roddy and his partners to the East Bay Regional Parks District several years ago, and is currently referred to as Deer Valley Regional Park.

In 2006 County voters passed Measure L, which extended the term of the ULL through 2026 and required a 2016 review to determine whether enough capacity existed inside the ULL to accommodate jobs and housing growth through 2036. The location of the county’s line matches that of the City of Antioch’s ULL.

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