By Allen Payton
At Tuesday night’s Antioch City Council meeting the council members opposed the idea of community courts on a 4-1 vote and unanimously agreed to seek input from the public on renaming A, L and West Second Streets which lead to and run through downtown.
Chief Allan Cantando and Captain Tamany Brooks presented the idea of having community courts in Antioch, in response to an effort by Mayor Pro Tem Ogorchock and a letter from the County Grand Jury asking for input from the cities in the county.
The courts have already been implemented and in use in Pittsburg, Concord, Walnut Creek and San Ramon.
They operate locally and allow people charged with misdemeanors to avoid having their case sent to the District Attorney. The individual meets with and pays for a mediator, to have their case heard. Then if found guilty they pay a fine, which is collected by the city, and do some type of community service. The intent is to reduce repeat offenders.
But, Cantando gave his reasons why the courts shouldn’t be implemented in Antioch.
“There are issues we have to address,” he said. “Staffing is obviously an issue. It would be cost prohibitive from doing.”
He also mentioned a problem with the perception of the public.
“Translation is an issue,” Cantando continued. “There is no recording mechanism. The police departments are actually picking which cases go before an arbitrator. There’s concern over liability on the city for not turning over the case to the DA.”
Councilwoman Mary Rocha was the first council member to respond.
“I was going back and forth on this,” she said. “My concern is the one-time offender. I’m in that in-between stage.”
Councilwoman Wilson asked Cantando, “You don’t agree with the Grand Jury report? What changes would you want to see?”
“I would want some kind of recording mechanism,” he replied. “A court certified interpreter. A lieutenant or captain would have to go through the misdemeanor cases, redact [sensitive information], oversee the handling of the cases and make sure the fees are paid.”
A court stenographer costs $35 per hour with a two-hour minimum and an interpreter costs $160 per hour with a two-hour minimum, Cantando shared.
“It’s a moneymaker,” he stated. “But we’re spending money out the back end.”
“The cases are the weaker cases the DA wouldn’t file on, anyway,” Cantando added.
Then he provided statistics about the cases his department sent to the District Attorney and what happened with them.
“In 2014 Antioch sent 2,895 cases to the DA. Of those 1,234 no complaints were filed. They filed on 13.5% of our felonies. There’s a one in five chance they’re going to file,” he explained.
Brooks offered his input, after having sat in on some community court cases in other cities.
“Was there evidence to support an arrest beyond a reasonable doubt?” he asked. “Many of the cases were like that.”
Then he spoke about the language problems he encountered.
“The secretary there was having difficulty coming up with the terms being used,” Brooks said.
Ogorchock was the only council member who spoke in favor of having community courts.
“I found it intriguing and I spoke to other cities that have them,” she said. “They combine punishment and have offenders pay back to the community.”
However, Mayor Wade Harper gave his reasons for opposing the courts.
“I don’t support this at this time,” he stated. “It puts an extra burden on police. Right now, I want more traffic officers, more resource officers in the schools.”
“It’s not just for first-time offenders. It’s for misdemeanants,” he added. “We are transferring the burden to local agencies and local police departments.”
“I don’t think the benefits monetarily outweigh the costs,” said Councilman Tony Tiscareno. “If it works in other cities, fine. But, I don’t think it will work for our city at this time.”
In the only public comment, which was submitted in writing by Iris Archuletta, read by Harper, she stated “There are issues with due process.”
Cantando mentioned a current diversion program for youth, in Antioch.
“We work with REACH for diversion with youth,” he shared. “We’re trying to keep the juveniles out of the system.”
Then explaining another problem with the community courts, Cantando said “The arrest stays on their record. But, if they pay this fine, that does not.”
The council then voted 4-1 with Ogorchock opposed, to approve the recommendation of Chief Cantando and to have the mayor sign the letter letting the Grand Jury know Antioch would not be participating in the community courts program.
As part of the city’s Downtown Specific Plan update, earlier this year, they approved renaming of streets leading to downtown. Now, the council is seeking the public’s input on what the names should be for A, West Second and L Streets. The City of Antioch 1996 Economic Development Plan included plans to rename A Street to Rivertown Drive and L Street to Marina Way. Since then, A Street was connected to West Second Street.
Downtown business owners, including this writer, took an informal vote at a meeting, earlier this year to support the renaming of the streets, which included changing both A and West Second Streets to Rivertown Drive and L Street to either Marina Blvd. or Way.
Two members of the public spoke.
First, Lori Cook, who hosts the Facebook page “Cleaning Up Antioch, One Home At a Time” said “Personally, I do not have an opinion either way. We, the city need to clean up these streets before anything else.”
If we had more Code Enforcement Officers “it could change this city overnight,” she added.
This writer then spoke in favor of the idea, for “permanent marketing for downtown” letting people know on the freeway that “there’s a river down there, a marina down there.” At the request of Duran, this writer also suggested the council rename A Street to Rivertown Drive and West Second Street to West Rivertown Drive, as there are potentially conflicting addresses between 6th Street and the Hobin & Hobin Law Office on A Street, which is located between 10th and 11th Streets.
The street name could change to West, as the road crosses 6th Street.
“I really would like the city to reach out to the businesses,” Wilson stated. “I need more information.”
“I think it’s time to change the name and give the residents enough time,” said Tiscareno.
Ogorchock said “I think we need to reach out to the people on A Street. But, I agree with Lori Cook.”
“This will be a great push for our marina and the ferry,” Rocha said. “Let’s bring it back in October.
Harper ended the council comments by stating, “We need to clean the area up, not just change the name.”
The council then voted unanimously to take 60 days to hear from the public, and specifically the businesses on A Street, about which names they would prefer and then bring it back for a vote.
Water Park open Fri & Sat nights
In other business at the meeting, during the community presentations and public comments, it was announced that the Antioch Water Park is open Friday and Saturday nights through the end of the season on September 7th.
Councilwoman Mary Rocha gave a special “Thank you to Betty Smith for her leadership at Delta 2000.”
Fire Department report
Also, ConFire Battalion Chief Bob Atlas gave what he said will become a regular report on fire department activities in Antioch.
They handled a total of 795 calls for service in the past month, a total of which were 692 Code 3 calls. They included 32 calls for outside aid, nine structure fires with one significant fire, which was on Sycamore, last week; 21 vegetation fires, 136 mistaken fire alarms.
This placed Antioch “number one in all cities the fire district is responsible for and number one in terms of fire loss,” Atlas stated.
The fire in the Sycamore area on August 5th “displaced 30 residents,” he said. He praised the American Red Cross for their help in dealing with them.
Committee & Commission Vacancies
City Clerk Arne Simonsen announced there was a resignation on the Measure C Oversight Committee. Applications would be online and at the City Clerk’s office, starting Wednesday, August 11. (Click here)
Proposed City Transportation Fee
A proposed transportation impact fee was discussed. The council heard a presentation on a draft study on imposing a one-time fee on both new residential and commercial development.
The presentation by the representative of Economic & Planning Systems, Inc., projected a total of 10,700 new homes and 17,500 more jobs in Antioch by 2040.
The funds generated from the fee would pay for capital facilities, such as road improvements and any other transportation projects directly impacted by the new residents or businesses, in Antioch. The fee would be in addition to the regional fee for transportation already imposed on new development in East County. The cost for that in Antioch is $15,000 per new home.
Oakley, Pittsburg, Brentwood and Concord already have their own local transportation fees ranging from $7,124 to $14,015 per single family home, $2,624 to $8,550 per multi-family unit and $1.38 to $8.81 per square foot for commercial development.
Councilwoman Mary Rocha asked if the funds could be used to pay for the ferry system. A station is planned for downtown Antioch.
The consultant responded “you could include certain capital items,” as long as they were for “new riders associated with new development.”
It can’t be used for operations and maintenance.
She asked if the funds could be used for Tri Delta Transit, which runs the bus system in East County, or A Street and L Street.
Antioch Public Works Director Ron Bernal responded to that.
“It would probably be a very small cost,” he said. “We could look at bus turn-outs. But, not for funding operations.”
The fee, if adopted by the council, would be kept in place over 25 years.
The council also unanimously approved an additional $210,000 from Gas Tax funding for pavement plugs and base repairs for streets throughout the city, bringing the total project cost to $2,220,757.11.
“Great job,” Rocha said to city staff. “The streets look beautiful. The people are happy.”
“I’m getting a lot of comments from people,” Harper said. “They are very appreciative of it. So, good work.”
Possible desalination plant
The council also unanimously approved a consulting contract for the Phase 1 Initial Planning for a possible desalination plant to treat brackish water from the river.
“This is an exciting opportunity,” said Lou Carella of Carollo Engineers. “Water is the new oil, these days. To take advantage of your pre-1914 water rights on the river is paramount.”
“It could be a very expensive project,” he added.
Bernal added his thoughts.
“It wouldn’t be able to supply all of our water needs,” he said. “But, it would decrease our reliance on CCWD.”
This year, the city is buying 95% of its raw water from the Contra Costa Water District, which costs the city money, instead of being able to draw water from its pumps in the river, due to the high salt content as a result of the drought.
The consultants will pursue low-interest state loans and Proposition 1 funds, in competition with other cities and agencies.
Councilman Tony Tiscareno mentioned possible “future manufacturers that can use this water and generate revenues” then asked about future expansion.
“We’re just looking at current capacity,” Bernal replied. “We have to use our water rights within our city limits.”
Babe Ruth loan forgiveness
The council voted unanimously to forgive a loan to Antioch Babe Ruth baseball in the amount of $792 which benefits their ball fields on Auto Center Drive.
The council also discussed the city’s priorities for transportation funding from regional sources, such as a proposed extension of Measure J, the county’s half-cent sales tax for transportation.
Staff’s recommendations include the L Street corridor project; the ferry system with a terminal in Antioch’s downtown; the TriLink project which is a four lane freeway and transit line between East County and Tracy, connecting the end of what was known as the Highway 4 Bypass and Interstates 205 and 5; the I-680 and Highway 24 interchange in Walnut Creek, and improvements to the interchange of Highways 4 and 242 in Concord.
“The ferry is already included in the East County Plan,” said Duran.
But the council wanted to place it at the top of the city’s list of priorities.
“I would like to put a major emphasis on the ferry,” Tiscareno said. “I believe it will be a one-time shot. The ferry system is an important part of our vitality.”
On a motion by Rocha to make the ferry the city’s number one transportation priority for regional funding, and include the rest of the projects on the list, the council voted 5-0 to approve.
Council committees and appointments
In response to Ogorchock’s request to review the various committees to which council members are appointed, and which ones still need to exist, the council had a lengthy discussion about the matter.
“If they don’t met why have them?” she asked.
Rocha shared her concerns about the Committee on Aging.
“Is it East County or the seniors at Nick Rodriguez [Center], which is a non-profit?” Rocha asked. “I’ve gone to both but I don’t know where I fit.”
Wilson asked about the City/School Relations Committee.
“It’s met twice, then abruptly stopped meeting,” she stated.
Duran explained his understanding of the reason why.
“A standing committee required Brown Act [state open meeting law] compliance,” he said. “The school side wasn’t agreeing with the way our attorney was saying the meeting should be run. So they stopped meeting.”
“I heard that second hand,” Duran added.
Harper told the council members “you can meet as much as you want on your committees.”
“At least have a meeting before deciding not to have a committee,” he directed them.
Rocha also asked about the Historic Preservation Committee.
That’s something the Planning Commission can handle, Duran explained.
Wilson warned, “We have to be careful of not duplicating efforts.”
Regarding one of his committee appointments, the Graffiti Committee, started by the late Councilman Gary Agopian, Tiscareno said “I’m suggesting we put more teeth into it.”
The council then unanimously approved a motion to eliminate the following committees and appointments: International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Historic Preservation Committee, Quality of Life Forum Committee and the Committee on Aging.
Downtown park and event center discussed
Joy Motts, of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation, made an emotional appeal to the council to have specifics about the downtown park and event center her group has proposed for the old lumber company lot, on the agenda for the August 25th meeting.
In response, during council communications, Rocha asked for the matter to be on the next agenda. However, Duran said it would be a closed session item as part of a real estate negotiation.
Ogorchock then offered a list of items regarding the project that needed to be clarified.
“There was not a clear, concise message sent to the Celebrate Antioch Foundation,” she stated. “I feel we need an MOU [memorandum of understanding] agendized.”
Then she read a list of items she wanted included.
At one point Harper cut in and asked “You want this on the agenda?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m sharing everything I want in it.”
Following is the list from notes Ogorchock provided following the meeting.
1. We need implementation language to be clear and concise direction to staff and the Celebrate Antioch Foundation of what is allowed and required to fulfill their goal.
2. The RFQ/RFP process is not a requirement for this type development as they are not a developer. But, they do have to go thru the same steps as a developer. They are required to work w/staff for normal project approval, paying normal staff fees, etc..
3. We need to give them a date certain, for them to bring back to the council a preliminary plan with engineering and architectural renderings.
4. They need to show the financials of how is the event center being financed and how do they plan to maintain the event center. Is this a privately operated public asset?
5. We need to give them first right of refusal during the preliminary plan process, which can be extended upon direction from council.
6. Finally, they need to understand this is not a commitment to build an event center but the opportunity to pursue one.
During his comments Harper mentioned the Super Bowl 50 being held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and how it will be labeled the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl and how Antioch can participate in the promotion and celebration of it.
Then a request to have the homeless issue agendized for discussion was mentioned.
Rocha asked Cantando how many officers we currently have.
“89” was his response.
The next Antioch City Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, August 25 at 7:00 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at West Second and H Streets in downtown. It can be viewed on Comcast Channel 24 or via live stream on the city’s website at www.ci.antioch.ca.us.