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Give input on county transportation options at Thursday workshop or online

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

What do you want in Contra Costa? BART? Buses? Bikes? Roads? Ferries?

In an effort to obtain greater input on the transportation needs and priorities of county residents the Contra Costa Transportation Authority will host a workshop this Thursday, August 28 at 7 p.m. at the Pittsburg City Council Chambers located in the Pittsburg Civic Center at 65 Civic Avenue.

The Countywide Comprehensive Transportation Plan, or CTP, is one of the key planning tools called for in the Measure J Growth Management Program (GMP). Specifically, Measure J requires the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to:

Support efforts to develop and maintain an ongoing planning process with the cities and the County through the funding and development of a Comprehensive Transportation Plan

The CTP provides the overall direction for achieving and maintaining a balanced and functional transportation system within Contra Costa – including a series of strategies and implementing actions – while strengthening links between land use decisions and transportation. It outlines the Authority’s vision for Contra Costa and it establishes goals, strategies, specific projects, and other actions for achieving that vision.

The Authority adopted its first Countywide Plan in 1995. The first major update to the Plan was adopted in July 2000. The second major update, which helped define the Measure J Expenditure Plan and GMP, was adopted in May 2004. The third update was adopted in 2009.

During 2014, the Authority will undertake a fourth update to the CTP. The 2014 Issues and Opportunities brochure, (available for download on the CCTA website, below) sets the stage for the 2014 Update.

If you can’t attend Thursday night’s meeting, you can participate online by sharing your ideas and seeing what other ideas have been submitted by visiting www.keepcontracostamoving.net, and calling (925) 256-4720 or emailing 2014CTP@ccta.net to get a copy of the survey mailed to you.

For more information on the CTP, visit http://ccta.net/_resources/detail/11/1.

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Highway 4 closures in Antioch area Thursday through Saturday

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Hwy 4 detour map Highway 4 closures in Antioch area Thursday through SaturdayThe California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) are widening State Route 4 (SR-4) through Pittsburg and Antioch. As part of this construction work, the contractor will be installing drainage ditch alongside the highway at Contra Loma Boulevard.

In order to ensure crew and public safety during this work, the contractor will close all lanes of SR-4 in the eastbound direction from Contra Loma Boulevard to Lone Tree Way/A Street on the mornings of Thursday August 14 and Friday August 16 from 12:01 am to 4:00 am. And again on the morning of Saturday, August 16 from 2:00 am until 6:00 am.

The detour for this work will be as follows:

o Eastbound motorists will be directed off the highway at the Contra Loma Boulevard off-ramp and left onto Fitzuren Road, right onto G Street, left onto Putnam Street, and then left onto Lone Tree Way and then onto the EB on-ramp.

The Highway 4 projects include improvements to the entire project corridor that will help revitalize eastern Contra Costa County. The projects expand Highway 4 from four to eight lanes between Loveridge Road and SR-160, and add a BART extension from Pittsburg to Antioch (eBART). The projects will also expand the highway from two to four lanes from Lone Tree Way to Balfour Road. This will greatly improve transit accessibility for the region and help reduce traffic congestion and enhance the quality of life for the more than 250,000 residents of eastern Contra Costa County. The projects have been carefully staged to keep 130,000 vehicles per day moving as major construction and demolition work continue, and include over $1.3 billion in State, Federal, Regional Bridge Toll, and Contra Costa Measures C & J sales tax funds.

Caltrans and CCTA appreciate your patience as we work to improve the highways. For the most current information on all Highway 4 corridor closures please visit our website at: http://4eastcounty.org.

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Delta tunnels opponents: Gov. Brown’s water bond will be referendum on tunnels

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Sacramento, CA - Restore the Delta (RTD), opponents of Gov. Brown’s rush to build water export Tunnels that would drain the Delta and doom sustainable farms, salmon and other Pacific fisheries, today called Governor Brown’s water bond proposal to have taxpayers buy water for future fish flows to satisfy exporter mitigation requirements “nuts.” RTD said the governor’s bond measure is not “tunnels neutral,” and contains $485 million to buy water to replace what will be pumped into the tunnels.

“Charging taxpayers $485 million to replace water sent through the tunnels to enrich mega-growers in Westlands and Kern Water Districts is nuts,” said RTD Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. “With that Ponzi scheme included, this bond will become a referendum on the tunnels.”

The governor’s flow language would allow public funds to be used to purchase water that could be diverted into the Delta tunnels. “The half-billion dollars in funding for purchase of water upstream of the Delta, and later diverted into the tunnels is a massive transfer of wealth from the rest of us to a few mega-growers who hog 70% of the water exported from the Delta,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “Water transfers are needed by the BDCP for mitigation — essentially they can’t operate the new tunnels without putting more water in the River, which the BDCP will purchase – at taxpayer expense – from water districts and growers in the northern Sacramento Valley.” 

Here is simple language that could fix the bond measure’s shift of costs from water exporters to taxpayers: No water purchased under this division can be used directly or indirectly for exports from the San Francisco Bay Delta. That’s tunnels neutral.

Restore the Delta board member and water law expert John Herrick, said, “Legally it is the obligation of the projects to protect these fisheries and return their populations to pre-project or other levels. Until the projects have undertaken and accomplished this restoration of the fish populations, no public funds should, or can be legally used to recover the fish. Hence, any proposal for state or federal funding of new habitat for fish rearing or purchased water for fishery flows is a transfer of the projects’ contractors’ obligations onto the general public. Such a transfer is not just bad policy, it is illegal.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife would use up to $485,000,000 from Sections 79733 and 79737 to buy water that would be dedicated under Water Code Section 1707 for in stream use in waterways upstream of the Delta.  However, once that water reached the tunnel intakes it could be diverted into the tunnels. The new wording does not prevent that. This water would be available for export from the Delta the same as any other water purchased by the exporters. The public would be paying for that benefit to the exporters.

Restore the Delta is a 15,000-member grassroots organization committed to making the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable to benefit all of California. Restore the Delta works to improve water quality so that fisheries and farming can thrive together again in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. www.restorethedelta.org.

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Antioch Council won’t fill Agopian’s vacant seat, tables minimum wage discussion

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

By John Crowder

At their Tuesday, August 12 meeting, the Antioch city council decided not to fill the vacancy created by the death of Councilman Gary Agopian and tabled the idea of setting a minimum wage in the city.

As reported earlier, under state law the council had the option of calling a special election or appointing someone to the vacant seat. However, as city attorney Lynn Nerland pointed out, a special election could not be held until November 19, and the seat is already set to be filled at the general election on November 4. This meant that the only option effectively under consideration was whether or not to appoint someone to the seat, and, if that decision was taken, what process to follow.

Willie Mims, of the East County NAACP, was the only member of the public to speak on the item. He wondered why the city did not yet have a policy in place to fill such vacancies, and told the council that it would be prudent to fill the position, suggesting they find someone with views that were similar to those held by Agopian.

With respect to the need for a policy, Mayor Wade Harper questioned Nerland who confirmed that many cities purposely do not set up a specific procedure to follow in order to allow for flexibility based on the circumstances. Harper also asked how long the process would take to conduct interviews and make an appointment, to which city manager Steve Duran responded that it would typically take 45 to 60 days, leaving only two council meetings before the general election.

Council Member Tony Tiscareno stated that, while he tended to agree with Mims that an application process is more fair than an out-and-out appointment, with ten candidates vying for the two open council seats, it would be better to wait for the election to fill the vacancy.

All members of the council concurred that it would be better to allow the November 4 election to fill the seat, and, on a motion to that effect put forward by Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha, they voted 4-0 in favor.

The idea to have a minimum wage law specific to Antioch was also on the agenda. Four members of the public spoke on the issue, two in favor, and two opposed.

In favor were realtor Mark Jordan and Mims, who is a Pittsburg resident. Jordan said that he had raised the issue at a council meeting late last year, and that a higher minimum wage was a “progressive issue,” and about fairness. Mims said that it was important to give folks a livable wage.

Opposed to the measure were Realtor Lori Ogorchock, a candidate for city council, and Dr. Sean Wright, CEO of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce. Both expressed concern that, with the crime rate in the city already negatively impacting businesses choosing to locate here, adding the higher costs of a separate minimum wage would only make the city even less competitive.

Duran echoed those sentiments, also pointing out that staff wages would rise if Antioch increased the minimum wage. “There’s not a lot of upside in that,” he said, referring to the proposed idea.

While council member Tiscareno seemed sympathetic to the idea, he wanted more information. Council Member Monica Wilson expressed concern that raising the minimum wage might negatively impact the ability of the city to bring an end to the Friday furloughs.

Mayor Harper summarized the sense of the council when he said that he would not advocate pursuing a minimum wage for Antioch at this time, and that the council should just move on.

In other news, members of the public were on hand to express their continued dismay over crime in the city, and a handful of people expressed concern that the Nick Rodriguez Community Center might be demolished. Notable among the speakers was Karen Rodriguez-King, daughter of Nick Rodriguez, who opposed the demolition of the center.

In discussing the process undertaken by the city on the Rivertown RFP, the council ultimately decided that, in order to receive more feedback from the public, the bidding process should be extended to October 31. The motion to extend the bidding passed on a 4-0 vote. An extra focus group was also added in order to ensure all interested parties have a chance for input into the plan.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the city council is set for Tuesday, August 26.

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Antioch Council to consider filling Agopian’s seat, minimum wage increase, Tuesday night

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

By Allen Payton

At their regular council meeting, Tuesday night, August 12, 2014, the Antioch City Council will consider filling the vacant council seat held by the late Gary Agopian, who passed away after a 10-month battle with brain cancer.

According to the Council Agenda for the meeting, “with Council Member Gary Agopian’s death on July 28, 2014, state law provides the following options for addressing the vacancy on the City Council within 60 days of the vacancy:

1) Call a special election to fill the vacant seat, which would arguably not require the City Council to do anything further because the seat is already up for the regular election on November 4, 2014 and the City Council has already called for that regular election; or

2) Appoint a person to fill the City Council vacancy until the election results in November are certified and the elected Council Member seated.”

City staff has included two resolutions for the council to consider, one appointing someone at the meeting, and the other inviting applications for an appointment to the council at a later meeting.

However, an appointment is not necessary under state law and the council can leave the seat vacant, because the regular election will be held on November 4, which is within 114 days of the vacancy occuring. A special election could be called, but not held until November 19. According to staff, “a common sense reading strongly suggests that the regular election in November 2014 should fulfill the statutory option of having a special election.”

Leaving the seat vacant will save the city money, as it would incur no additional staff time, and no salary or benefits would be paid to the appointment Council Member.

If an appointment is made, that person would only serve until the new council members, elected in November, are seated some time in December.

Also on the council’s agenda is a discussion to consider a local minimum wage in Antioch higher than the state or federal minimum wage. Staff has brought the matter forward upon direction from the council, earlier this year, but is recommending against it.

The third major item on the agenda is the Community Outreach and Communications Plan for the proposed Antioch downtown east residential development project, which has become controversial due to the location of the project and the possible tearing down and replacement of the current Senior Center. The proposal is to have meetings with a two focus groups, one made up of seniors who use the center and another group that uses the Nick Rodriguez Center theater, as well as the Chamber of Commerce Economic Development/Government Affairs Committee and the city’s Economic Development Commission between now and October. Staff is proposing to have a council decision on which developer to choose for the project by sometime in October or November.

The Antioch City Council meetings begin at 7:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month and are held in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 3rd and H Streets in downtown Antioch or you can livestream them on the city’s website at www.ci.antioch.ca.us or watch them on Comcast Local Cable Access Programming Channel 24.

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Seven qualified, possibly 10 candidates total for Antioch City Council

Friday, August 8th, 2014

By Allen Payton

In a brief conversation with Antioch City Clerk Arne Simonsen, after filing for Antioch City Council closed at 5:00 p.m., today (Friday, August 8, 2014) he said there were seven candidates who had qualified for the ballot. There are three more people who filed their papers in the final hour, which he was processing to determine if they will qualify. “Most likely they will,” he said.

Diane Gibson-Gray – Qualified

Lori Ogorchock – Qualified

Anthony Segovia – Qualified

Tony Tiscareno – Qualified

Lamar A. Thorpe – Qualified

Steven Bado – Qualified

Karl Dietzel – Qualified

Jeffrey Hall-Cottrell – Awaiting verification of signature count

Amber Avelino – Awaiting verification of signature count

Sandy McGee – Awaiting verification of signature count

So, we could have as many as 10 candidates for the two seats that are up for election in November. Check back for the final list of qualified candidates, later tonight or tomorrow.

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Oakley Councilwoman Diane Burgis announces candidacy for East Bay Regional Parks District Board, Ward 7

Friday, August 8th, 2014
Diane Burgis 235x300 Oakley Councilwoman Diane Burgis announces candidacy for East Bay Regional Parks District Board, Ward 7

Diane Burgis

Incumbent Ted Radke to retire and endorses Burgis

On Thursday, August 7, 2014, Oakley City Council Member and Executive Director for the Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed, Diane Burgis, announced her candidacy for East Bay Regional Parks District Board, Ward 7. Incumbent, Ted Radke, is retiring and not seeking re-election.

Ward 7 includes the Cities and communities of Antioch, Bay Point, Bethel Island, Brentwood, Byron, Clyde, Crockett, Discovery Bay, Hercules, Martinez, Oakley, Pacheco, part of Pinole, Pittsburg, Port Costa and Rodeo.

“Ted Radke has served our community with distinction on the East Bay Regional Parks District Board and I am honored to have earned his endorsement upon his retirement,” said Burgis. “My professional life has been devoted to conservation, protecting open space, habitat restoration, and clean water. I will use my experience to expand on Ted’s legacy and enhance our regional parks.”

People were questioning whether he was getting ready to retire. A few people encouraged me to think about running,” Burgis said. “Then when the time came, I spoke with Ted about a month ago. and he said he was thinking about retiring but wanted to make sure someone who he felt good about was wanting to run. I told him I was interested and he was supportive of that.”

“I can think of no one better suited than Diane Burgis to serve on the East Bay Regional Parks District Board,” said Ted Radke, current Board Member of the East Bay Regional Parks District, Ward 7.  “Diane’s commitment to bettering our environment and ensuring access to open space, conservation of habitat, and environmental education programs makes her an excellent choice to replace me on the Board. I expect Diane to inject new energy and ideas into the Parks District organization.”

Burgis was elected to the Oakley City Council in 2012. Currently, she serves as Executive Director of Friends of Marsh Creek Watershed, a grassroots nonprofit based in East Contra Costa County that focuses on issues related to conservation, water quality, habitat restoration, and environmental education.  Since taking over the organization in 2007, Burgis has helped transform the nonprofit from a local grassroots group into a nationally recognized organization.  In 2011, Burgis was awarded the “Watershed Champion” award by the Contra Costa County Watershed Forum for her work to build partnerships and provide leadership in protecting, restoring and enhancing creeks and watersheds. 

Burgis has also been endorsed by Congressman Jerry McNerney, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, Assemblyman Jim Frazier, Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, Contra Costa County Supervisor Mary Piepho, Supervisor Federal Glover, Oakley Mayor Randy Pope, Oakley City Council Members Doug Hardcastle and Kevin Romick, Hercules Mayor Myrna de Vera, Martinez Mayor Rob Schroeder, Pittsburg Mayor Sal Evola, Antioch Council Members Mary Rocha and Tony Tiscareno, Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor, Brentwood Council Members Steve Barr and Joel Bryant.

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Alleged Brown Act violation by County Board of Education during Dozier-Libbey charter issue

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

By John Crowder

A closed session meeting of the Contra Costa County Board of Education on May 7 resulted in an alleged violation of the Brown Act, according to attendees.

The Brown Act is California’s open meeting law that is meant to ensure that public business is, with specified exceptions, conducted openly. In accordance with the act, items discussed by public bodies, such as boards of education, even in closed session, must be properly noticed on the agenda for a meeting and a report must be made following the session stating what decisions were made.

Emails obtained from the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) through a California Public Records Act request reveal that, during the May 7 closed session meeting of the board, attorney Adam Ferber appeared and spoke with those present about the Dozier Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) conversion charter petition.

The meeting in question came two days after a letter was sent to Bill Clark, Associate Superintendent of the CCCOE, from Scott Holbrook, which stated that his firm, “serves as legal counsel to the Antioch Unified School District. In the letter, Holbrook states, “This controversy (the DLMHS charter petition) has resulted in several streams of litigation which the Contra Costa County Board of Education and Contra Costa County Office of Education will very likely be pulled into if the conversion petition is approved on appeal.”

After listing the potential litigation, Holbrook’s letter concludes, “In light of the foregoing, I strongly urge the Contra Costa County Board of Education and Contra Costa County Office of Education to avoid this controversy in it entirety. My advice to the county boards of education and county offices of education that I regularly counsel under these circumstances would be, at a minimum, to take ‘no action’ and punt this matter to the State Board of Education.”

Ferber’s statement during the board meeting which, according to participants, also recommended that no action be taken on the DLMHS petition, caused some of the board members considerable distress. CCCOE board Vice President Dan Gomes, said, “I think that, in a way, that attorney was working for the district. I was taken aback by the letter from AUSD. This fellow (Ferber) that came in and recommended we do nothing was along the same lines as the AUSD lawyer.” He went on to say, “Ferber went over a script, we ignore, just skip over (approving the petition). I thought to myself, ‘I’ve heard this before (from the AUSD letter)’.”

According to board member Pamela Mirabella, “I was confused about why we were talking about Dozier Libbey in closed session. There were four things on the agenda…not included was Dozier Libbey.”

Board Member Cynthia Ruehlig was even more concerned with Ferber’s presentation. “I think there was an intent to influence the board,” she said. She also stated, “To correct a Brown Act violation, you must report what was said, put it in the minutes, and, if grievous enough, you must report it to the District Attorney.”

Board member Richard Asadoorian stated, “What concerned me was that we were advised to let this attorney speak, and we couldn’t really extend the closed session, and had no real time to respond to this presentation. The only Brown Act issue was that it wasn’t properly put on the agenda.”

Nonetheless, over the next several days, both Mirabella and Ruehlig followed up on their concerns in emails and letters to Dr. Joseph Ovick, Superintendent of Schools for Contra Costa County.

In an email sent on May 12, Mirabella states, “I didn’t agree with the ADUSD lawyer to ‘not take action.’” She goes on to say, “Legal Counsel (Name? Not Cynthia discussed with the County Board anticipated litigation regarding Dozier-libbey and the board took no action. Do we have a brown act problem by not reporting out correctly to the public?” In another email sent by Mirabella to Ovick on May 20, one day after a second closed session meeting which, according to Clark, was held in order to cure any Brown Act problem, she says, “Closed session—after I asked you to remind Dan G. to report out to the public that in closed session the board took no action, he did so. This is against the Brown act and very serious.”

On May 8, the day after the closed session meeting at which Ferber spoke, Ruehlig sent a letter to Ovick, and, in an indication of the seriousness with which she viewed the matter, sent a copy to the Contra Costa County district attorney. In it, she begins by stating, “This letter documents the violations which occurred during closed session of May 7, 2014.”

The letter states, “At this meeting, Atty. Ferber (who was not invited and was, in fact, unknown to all Board Member) discussed an item which was not on the agenda; specifically a threat of a lawsuit from the Antioch Unified School District. This is a violation of the Brown Act that ‘no action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda’.”

In addition, Atty. Ferber provided every Board Member with a copy of a letter threatening the Office of Education with a lawsuit from the Antioch Unified School District.”

Contact with Atty. Ferber was evident by the District lawyer’s public comment urging the Board to listen to staff and ‘our counsel.’”

Ruehlig describes the presentation by Ferber as a “prohibited ex parte communication,” and urges that several steps be taken to correct the situation, including publishing the comments he made.

Associate Superintendent Clark, in an interview conducted last week, acknowledged a possible Brown Act problem with the meeting, but said he believed it had to do with the technicalities of the agenda and reporting requirements, and not with the discussion of the Dozier-Libbey matter.

Exposure to legal risk was heightened by this case,” Clark explained. “Enrollment, assumptions with revenue, and the independent charter’s right to occupy the building could be found faulty, and might make us subject to a lawsuit from AUSD. We had every right to discuss this in closed session,.”

He also shared Ferber had been hired to help county staff understand the legal nuances of this particular petition. Clark also noted that, on advice from County Counsel, he believed any Brown Act problem had been cured by the closed session meeting held on May 19, at which the agenda and reporting requirements were met.

The district attorney’s office was contacted, last week, but it was not yet confirmed whether the office was investigating this matter.

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