Linda Hudson, center in orange shirt, holds a sign supporting Mayor Harper’s recall, along with supporters of the speed bumps on 11th Street in front of her house, while Kip Stevens spoke at the joint study session of the Antioch City Council, Planning Commission and Economic Development Commission on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. She, her husband Gerald, as well as Stevens and other supporters of the speed bumps on 11th Street, also attended the June 9th City Council meeting, causing a disruption. photo by Allen Payton
by John Crowder
The temperature was rising outside, and the tempers of some local residents appeared to be keeping pace, as evidenced by the raucous crowd that showed up for the June 9, 2015, Antioch City Council Meeting.
A number of angry residents disrupted the meeting to voice their displeasure with the members of the City Council, and Antioch Mayor Wade Harper in particular, during the first half-hour of the meeting. From the very beginning, catcalls could be heard from those attending while Antioch City Clerk Arne Simonsen was conducting the roll call.
During the portion of the meeting set aside for community and civic announcements, Antioch resident Kip Stevens came forward to speak.
“Promise,” he began. “Do you understand the definition of promise?”
After reading the definition, he addressed the mayor by his first name, and said, “Your claim to fame, as you were running for office, was zero tolerance for crime.”
“Crime is the worst ever in Antioch,” Stevens continued. “Too bad the council is in denial.”
Stevens went on to complain about the conditions the city requires to be met before installing speed bumps.
“The speed table conditions are unrealistic,” he said.
He pointed out that Council Member Mary Rocha had been in office seventeen years ago when the requirements for installing speed tables had been implemented. He said that the council should have informed him and others of the procedures when they had appeared, asking for speed bumps to be installed on 11th Street, at a previous council meeting.
“Now it’s way out of control,” he said, referring to the installation of a speed bump on 11th Street by local residents, and city workers subsequently removing it, “and we’re going to keep fighting, until we get what we want.”
When the signal sounded that his time to speak had concluded, he continued on, saying, “I don’t care what the red light says, I want to be proud. I’m an Antioch citizen. Three generations here. We have businesses. Please help.”
As he left the podium, applause and calls erupted from his supporters in attendance.
Harper then informed those in the council chambers, “At this time, this is for civic announcements…after civic announcements, then we have public comments.”
Following Harper’s statement, the audience became more unruly. Harper began noting that some of those who had submitted speaker cards should be moved to the public comments section of the meeting, and people could be heard yelling things like, “Hold on there,” “Don’t cut me off,” “Really?” “Are you serious, now,” and other statements, unintelligible, as both the mayor and members of the audience were speaking at the same time.
Only two civic announcements remained to be given, however, and, once they were concluded, and Simonsen reported on board and commission openings, Harper called for public comments.
After Loretta Sweatt, a member of the City’s Economic Development Commission, spoke, saying she supported the council, and felt that they listened to everybody, Linda Hudson came forward.
Hudson, whose son, Timothy, was killed in April in front of her house on 11th Street in Antioch by a hit-and-run driver, said that when she had last come before the City Council [on May 26, 2015], she had requested that speed bumps be installed on her street. She then related that, after some sympathizers with her plight had installed them, city workers, overseen by police officers had, “on your orders,” ripped them out. She said this had all transpired while she was at her son’s funeral, and accused city workers of, “stalking her house,” waiting for her and her family to leave before taking the action.
Hudson told the Council that she had installed a camera at her home, was monitoring traffic, and would send evidence of speeding drivers to government officials outside the city in order to receive help. As she finished speaking, she twice rapped a gavel she had carried to the podium with her. (That was a reference to the last time she spoke, when the mayor had used his gavel to signal her time to speak had expired and she refused to stop talking). The audience broke out in loud cheers and applause.
Gerald Hudson followed his wife to the podium. After also complaining about the council not taking action on the request for speed bumps, he said, “It looks like to me right now, we’re going to have a long, hot summer in this council meeting.”
Paula Knight speaking after Mr. Hudson, was particularly unhappy with Harper, telling him, “You are the worst mayor we’ve ever seen.”
She complained about the level of crime in the city, referencing her sons’ car being stolen, and people being shot in town.
“This is not the Antioch I want to live in any more,” Knight said. “You have not come through with your promises on zero tolerance.”
Karl Dietzel continued on the theme raised by the previous speakers.
“All of you run your campaign on tough on crime,” he said.
He complained that the crime subcommittee was not meeting.
“You have failed, all of you,” he said. “We hear constantly, excuses, excuses, excuses.”
“I’m sorry the recall failed,” Dietzel concluded, a reference to the unsuccessful effort to recall Harper. “But we have 2016 coming.”
Public comments ended, but those in attendance were not yet done venting. As a review of the Prewett Park development project was about to begin, the meeting was interrupted by a member of the audience speaking loudly.
“Sir, can you remain quiet please?” Harper asked, as he banged his gavel.
“You could address all the situation,” the man yelled back.
“Can you remain quiet, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Harper said.
“I’ll be back,” was the response.
Another person could be heard saying, “Yeah, we’ll be back.”
Harper then said, “City council will take a break.”
There were a couple more catcalls, but the disruptive people in the audience were, at that point, filing out. In less than five minutes, the meeting resumed, with Harper saying, “Okay, had a little disruption there, but we’re back.”
A repeat of June 2nd meeting
This was the second meeting in a row that Stevens spoke and the Hudsons and their supporters were disruptive at a city meeting. That also occurred during the general public comments portion of the joint study session on the Downtown Specific Plan Update held by the Council, Planning Commission and Economic Development Commission on Tuesday, June 2nd.
“What was done on Monday was very, very. It’s hard because Tim was killed there,” Stevens stated. “You shunned us. The city doesn’t do anything for us.”
“You apologized in the newspaper,” he said to Harper. “You never came to any of us. Mayor mingle with us. Where was anyone in Antioch. Nobody showed up. We are here and we will be at every city meeting,” Stevens stated. “You just look astonished. We are amazed at what we’ve done. You guys just sit there like this guy’s another voice.”
“My street has been packed all day,” he continued. “I’ve never seen so many cop cars on my street before. Why? Because we stirred the pot. I’m the third generation in Antioch. It’s sad you just brushed under the carpet like some low life. We want our city back.”
“We want our town back,” yelled Linda Hudson from her seat, who, along with others was holding a sign supporting the recall of Harper.
“This agenda you sent us for the speed bumps, 14 years no one has applied for speed bumps,” Stevens continued. “We have to pay for speed bumps?”
“It’s wrong but we will make it happen,” he concluded to cheers from the audience.
Following Stevens’ comments, the group was noisy in the hallway, and Officer John VanDerKlugt spoke with them, as they were leaving.
Prewett Water Park Plans
Also at the June 9th meeting, a presentation was provided to the Council regarding the Prewett Water Park development plans by Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Kaiser and consultant/project manager Lonnie Karste, among others.
Kaiser first explained that the presentation would be given in parts, so that each part could be discussed as it came up, as there were several components to the project, beginning with security cameras, and moving to a spray park, and finally to an all-abilities playground.
Karste began his presentation with a discussion of the security cameras. He said that the installation of security cameras was already underway, and that it should be completed by the 15th of July. The budget for the security cameras is $128,000.
The importance of children with all levels of ability to have access to water play was discussed by Kaiser with reference to the spray park and splash pad.
Karste continued then, saying that one of the reasons the development team had decided in favor of hiring Royston Hanamoto Alley and Abey Landscape Architecture and Planning (RHAA) was because of the work they did with their subcontractor, Aquatic Design. Karste introduced Dennis Berkshire, President, Aquatic Design Group, who continued with the presentation.
Berkshire, after summarizing his firms’ credentials, discussed the history of spray parks, detailing their advantages, such as the fact that they have no standing water. “The actual water quality…is far superior than if we had…a swimming pool,” he said.
Berkshire detailed two possible options for the spray park amenity. He presented overhead slides illustrating conceptual ideas for the project.
Following his presentation, the council appeared to be in awe of the possibilities.
Berkshire related that his group works with another firm, Water Odyssey, a company that specializes in the design and manufacture of aquatic play equipment. (See their website, waterodyssey.com, for photographs of water structures created by them.)
Following Berkshire’s presentation, the council discussed the options presented and chose the one tied into the natural landscape as their preference.
Proposed Basketball Court Raises Concerns
When it came time during the Water Park presentation to discuss the all-abilities playground, the proposal to add a lighted sports court (basketball court) to the project received substantial discussion.
According to Karste, with respect to the sports courts, “There was some concern” about having a lighted sports court in close proximity to a family-oriented, all activities playground (the distance between the two would be approximately 90 feet). The concern was because of the different age groups each area would attract. “There was a lot of concern expressed by staff about the basketball court…particularly the language,” said Karste.
Kaiser confirmed this concern, saying that staff recommended removing the basketball court. She also noted that removal of the basketball court would allow the project to fall more within the budgetary guidelines.
Mayor Pro Tem Lori Ogorchock, clearly concerned about the basketball courts and their close proximity to the all-abilities playground, asked, “Are they supervised courts?”
“No, they are not,” Kaiser responded. “Drop in, informal play.”
Ogorchock asked if the basketball court was fenced in, and was told, “No.”
Harper asked how they chose the location for the basketball court.
Karste explained that this was the flattest area, and considering the soil, it was the least costly location.
Ogorchock continued voicing her concerns. She asked about police calls for service.
In response, Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando said, “For the last year, a year from today, there were 69 calls, but that encompassed alarms at the facilities.”
“I did notice from the standpoint of security at the skate park we’ve had incidents of assaults, thefts, weapons violations, those types of calls at the unsupervised skate park,” he added.
Kaiser, in response to another question, said there were other basketball courts near the facility. “Deer Valley has basketball courts,” she said.
Kaiser later noted there were 12 basketball courts in the Antioch park system.
Ogorchock summarized her concerns, saying that she was not for the basketball courts. She asked Cantando for his view on them.
Cantando responded, “What typically happens when you have unsupervised areas, like our skate park, you do have those assaults there. What tends to happen is the strongest of the fittest, basically, takes over. If there’s younger kids using the facility, older kids will come in and take over. It’s happened at the water park, and its been demonstrated.”
He went on to say that the City of Brentwood does not open their skate park unless it is supervised and staffed.
“So, Brentwood has staffed and fenced their skate park?” Harper asked.
“Yes,” Cantando replied.
Council Member Tony Tiscareno asked if the chief had data on complaints and calls for service at other basketball courts [in Antioch].
Cantando said he did not, but from his experience as a police officer, the courts were typically used by middle school students and teenagers.
“The language isn’t always the best,” he stated. “I have concern with this being in close proximity to kids playing in this park.”
Tiscareno said he envisioned kids having something to do after school.
“I just don’t want to take away from the teenage element that needs something to do,” he said.
Tiscareno discussed finding ways to staff the court, or closing it during certain hours.
“I do want to see accessibility for all ages, rather than having incidents at a shopping center,” he added.
Rocha also addressed the issue.
“It’s a hard thing for me to actually not consider this basketball, because I know that the young people need it badly in that area and we were promising something similar,” she said. “But it’s also hard for me to figure out how to put them next to special needs population.”
Rocha also thought it might be possible to provide basketball in some other location.
Harper asked how close the skate park was to the potential playground.
“A long way…at least 200-300 yards,” Karste responded.
Harper then expressed his support for the basketball courts.
“When I spent days out there at Deer Valley Plaza talking to the kids…that’s one of the things they said,” he shared. “They didn’t have enough to do. The courts at the community center, you have to pay $5 to get in, I know we’re looking at that, which is good. The courts at the school district, at Deer Valley High School, which some made a reference to, they’re taken up.”
“So, I’m going to listen to the voice of some of the young people that don’t have a voice, and, a lot of the teenagers, they don’t have a voice. We’re going to take a hit from the kids. They’ve spoken about this. I have listened, and I think we should have a court over there.”
He also said that it was not his opinion that there would be violent crime there, if the court was built, noting that, with surveillance and supervision, “those things are surmountable.”
Council Member Monica Wilson asked Kaiser if it would be possible to staff the courts, but Kaiser responded that, within the current budget, they could not do so.
Finally, Ogorchock made a motion to approve the recommended option with the expanded playground, but without the basketball courts Rocha seconded it.
Harper made another plea for the courts.
“Our kids need things to do,” he said. “We have the largest youth population in the county. For us to assume there’s going to be violent crime…we can tackle the challenge of making it safe.”
“I think we’re missing an opportunity,” he concluded.
Tiscareno said, “Thank you Mr. Mayor. I do appreciate your words. My sentiments exactly.”
The vote though, went against Harper and Tiscareno, by 3-2, and plans for the playground were approved without the basketball court.
The next city council meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 23. Meetings are held at the City Council Chambers, 200 H Street, and typically begin at 7:00 p.m.
Alia Bickham and Allen Payton contributed to this report.