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Antioch City Council Sends Landlord Tax to Ballot

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

By John Crowder

At their June 24 meeting the Antioch City Council voted to place a measure on the November 24 ballot that would update the existing business license tax ordinance to include a residential landlord business license tax (Landlord Tax) and would raise the minimum business license tax to $100 from $25.

Prior to the vote, City Manager Steve Duran gave a brief history of the events leading up to the proposed ballot measure that had been prepared by city staff. This was followed by a long line of speakers, both pro and con, voicing their opinions on the matter and statements by the council detailing their positions on the issue.

Duran opened by stating that the idea for the Landlord Tax had begun, over a year ago, as a citizen-led initiative, promoted by the group known as the Friday Morning Breakfast Club (FMBC). He stated that the FMBC and the California Apartment Association, along with other owners of residential properties, had been attempting to negotiate such an initiative with city staff involvement for some time when he started in his role as City Manager. He became involved in the negotiations, partly to “get a feel for what the dynamics of the discussion were.”

We had a lot of discussions, and didn’t make a lot of headway,” Duran added, noting that the apartment owners were unwilling to agree to a per unit tax of any amount.

Unable to reach compromise, he brought forward a proposal that would place a tax of $250 per year on a single-family dwelling, and $150 per unit per year on a multi-unit property, $90 less than what the FMBC had proposed. With time running out, the council had directed staff to bring the proposal forward for a vote, and that proposal was now in front of the council.

Duran noted the necessity for the tax.

Antioch is the worst General Fund in the county per capita basis,” he shared.

He said that Antioch obtained about $440 per capita for the city’s General Fund, with Pittsburg being about 45% higher, Concord about 60% higher, and that Walnut Creek was over $1000 per capita and Richmond over $1,100.

That means that we just don’t have as much money to hire police and code enforcement and parks and rec, and public works and everybody else that has to run a city,” he stated. “We need the money.”

Duran then discussed briefly that the minimum business license tax would also be raised under the measure, but would exempt certain small, home-based businesses from the increase.

During the public comments, speakers representing landlords made several arguments in opposition to the measure. Marcus Thompson of FBI Management, managers of Twin Creek Communities, argued that the tax, if passed, would be passed on to renters who could least afford it, that Twin Creeks already paid $161,000 per year in property taxes, and that renovations that were being made which helped beautify Antioch would cease. Clifford Gatewood, property manager of Riverstone Apartments on Sycamore Avenue, also expressed concern with the tax being passed on to renters who were least able to afford it, and said that the operating costs for the complex he managed were barely covered by current rents.

Theresa Karr of the California Apartment Association (CAA) brought up the issue of equity, stating that the proposed tax would treat those in the business of owning rental property significantly different than other business owners, taxing them at a level “2000% higher than any other business in the city.”

Joshua Howard, the Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at the CAA stated “the proposed tax before you is unconstitutional. The most compelling argument…is that the tax does violate the Constitution’s commerce clause.”

John Canning, a Real Estate broker with WR Properties in Brentwood who was formerly involved in large scale property management, was the final speaker against the proposed tax measure, arguing that margins for property managers were too thin to support a tax increase.

Those supporting the tax included Mark Jordan, broker/owner of Re/Max Preferred Properties in Antioch.

I’ve lived here 50 years, and I do property management, and I own rentals here in town,” he said. “You have what’s called a structural deficit in your budget that cannot be filled with hope, it has to be filled with money. I have the ability to pay it, I want the city to look better, I don’t want you to go bankrupt, and no one has an alternative idea today that’s reasonable, and sound, and will produce enough money to fill the structural deficit. Let’s put it on the ballot, let’s let the people decide.”

Both Terry Ramus and Fred Hoskins made light of the unconstitutional argument. Ramus said he was a “little bit excited, because it may be unconstitutional for us to pay any of the taxes.”

I would encourage the city not to be intimidated by that type of thing,” he added.

Hoskins said that the unconstitutional argument, infuriated him. However,, while supporting the Landlord Tax, he objected to the amount of the minimum business license fee increase.

Following the public comments, the council discussed the matter, asking questions of both Duran and City Attorney Lynn Nerland. Council Member Monica Wilson led off by asking Duran about the negotiations with the CAA.

They did draw a line in the sand, and said absolutely no per unit fee,” Duran responded. “One side was willing to compromise, the other side wasn’t.”

In response to a question by Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha, Duran said, “The market sets the rents.” He also said, “(The landlords) are going to raise the rent as much as the market will bear, not more, not less.”

Nerland addressed the constitutionality argument.

There’s no case that says a city can’t charge a per unit business license tax on residential rentals, or even to have some sort of formula that charges different businesses in different ways,” she stated. “That is not prohibited under the Constitution.”

Mayor Wade Harper and Council Member Tony Tiscareno both expressed support for sending the measure to the November ballot.

We have about a three million dollar structural deficit that we’re projecting, and we have to do what is best for the city of Antioch,” Harper explained. “I believe it’s the right thing to do, I think we need to put it before the voters.”

Tiscareno concurred with his opinion, referencing an earlier statement by CAA representative Howard.

They said, give us a day, and we’ll come up with some kind of a compromise. But, we’ve been trying to do that for a year,” he said. “It’s time to take action. I don’t think it’s up to us anymore, I think it’s up to the voters.”

Wilson then made a motion to include the proposal on the November ballot, Rocha seconded it, and the council voted 4-0 in favor.

Whether or not Antioch will have a Landlord Tax on the books will now be decided by the voters of the city, in the November 4 election, based on a simple majority. If passed, it is expected to generate approximately $2.3 million in additional revenue, annually for the General Fund. The cost to put the measure on the ballot has been estimated at about $11,000.

The deadline for submitting arguments, either for or against the measure, is Wednesday, August 20, at 5:00 p.m. Arguments cannot exceed 300 words in length

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Antioch man shot during attempted robbery, Saturday night

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

By Sergeant Michael Hulsey #2356, Antioch Police Community Policing Bureau

On Saturday, June 28, 2014, at approximately 10:42 PM, Antioch Police officers were dispatched to the 2300 block of Peppertree Way for a shooting victim. The victim, a 29-year-old Antioch man, who was suffering from multiple, non-life threatening gunshot wounds, was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

According to the victim, he was walking in the 1400 block of Sycamore Drive when an unknown male tried to rob him at gunpoint. When he resisted, the subject shot him.

The responsible is unknown and the victim’s name is not being released at this time.

If you have any nformation you can call the Investigations Bureau at 925-779-6926. You may also text a tip to 274637 (CRIMES) using the key word ANTIOCH.

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Seven people shot in Antioch, Saturday night

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

By Sergeant Michael Hulsey #2356, Antioch Police Community Policing Bureau

On Saturday, June 28, 2014, at approximately 11:50 PM, Antioch Police officers responded to a call of a shooting in the 5500 block of Cedar Point Way. Upon arrival, officers located five victims at that location suffering from apparent gunshot wounds. The victims were transported to local hospitals for treatment and their injuries do not appear to be life threatening.

While officers were on scene at this incident, two additional victims, also suffering from apparent non-life threatening gunshot wounds, arrived at local hospitals for treatment. It was determined these two subjects were also victims of this incident, but left prior to officers’ arrival.

The responsible has not been identified and the names of those involved are not being released at this time.

If you have any information please call the Investigations Bureau at 925-779-6926. You may also text a tip to 274637 (CRIMES) using the key word ANTIOCH.

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Man found stabbed in front of Antioch convenient store, Thursday morning

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

By Acting Sergeant Wisecarver, Antioch Police Field Services Bureau

On Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 12:13 AM, Antioch Police Dispatch received 911 calls from citizens reporting a man bleeding from an apparent stab would. The man was found to be in front of the convenient store at 2301 Buchanan Road and with a single puncture wound. He was treated by Contra Costa Fire personnel and AMR Paramedics on scene and transported to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek where he underwent surgery for his injury. The man’s injury was non-life threatening.

This incident is still under investigation as an assault with a deadly weapon. Anyone with information in regards to this incident is asked to contact the Antioch Police Dept. at (925)778-2441

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Back to Drawing Board for Antioch School District LCAP, Budget

Friday, June 20th, 2014

By John Crowder

The Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board of Trustees conducted a Special Board Meeting on Wednesday, June 18, for the purpose of holding two public hearings, one on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), and one on the annual budget.

The hearings were in advance of the regular board meeting scheduled for June 25th, at which both items are currently listed on the consent calendar (www.antioch.k12.ca.us). By the end of the meeting, however, the LCAP was sent back to staff in order to incorporate the expenditure amounts for programs listed in the document, and later, the board recessed in order to take up the budget again on Monday, June 23rd, in order to give the public time to view the document online.

The first of the public hearings opened with the public invited to comment on the LCAP, which, as previously reported, is a requirement of Local Education Agencies (LEA), such as AUSD. The LCAP is supposed to describe how an LEA “intends to meet annual goals for all pupils.” It anticipates parents and the public having a significant voice as to how such goals are to be accomplished, and how funds will be expended in order to accomplish those goals, particularly with regard to “high needs students,” such as English Language Learners, low-income students, and foster children.

Over a dozen members of the public, some representing a coalition of advocacy groups, addressed the Board about the LCAP. All of the comments made were similar, many reading a scripted message, while, to varying degrees, also adding personal anecdotes to their statements. While many lauded AUSD, and, in particular, Associate Superintendent Stephanie Anello and her staff in Educational Services for including ideas generated by the community in their revised LCAP, they nonetheless expressed concern that there were no monetary amounts included in the document.

Speaker after speaker told the board that Supplemental and Concentration Funds, which they pegged at amounting to about $8.4 million for the next year, were being generated because of the large proportion of high needs students in the district, and were to be used to benefit these same students. They repeatedly quoted Education Code 52604, which, according to the LCAP template produced by the California State Department of Education, “requires a listing and description of the expenditures required to implement the specific actions.”

Speakers were also under the impression that AUSD was only planning to spend $650,000 for high needs students. Synitha Walker, one of the founders of Parents Connected, whose children attended both Deer Valley High School and Dallas Ranch Middle School, expressed the sentiments of many present.

There is no way the district can implement (the programs) fully and effectively in the first year with only $650,000 designated for the students it is supposed to serve,” she stated.

There is a lot of confusion within the local community regarding the money that AUSD is expected to receive from the State under the programs that are designated to serve high needs students, and part of this may be due to the fact that, under both the old and new funding formulas, AUSD is spending much more than it receives, steadily depleting its reserves. In fiscal year 2013-2014, AUSD had total expenditures under the General Fund (i.e., the operating fund) of $159.1 million on revenues of only $138.8 million, a deficit of $20.3 million. For 2014-2015, the picture is somewhat better, with revenues expected to be $151.4 million and expenditures $157.2 million, but that still leaves them with deficit spending of roughly $5.8 million.

After public comments on the LCAP concluded, Board Vice President Gary Hack asked AUSD staff why there were no numbers in the document they had been presented. Dr. Donald Gill, AUSD Superintendent, responded that, “Up until two hours ago,” the County Board of Education had been advising them not to include numbers. Tim Forrester, Associate Superintendent for Business and Operations, concurred with him. Gill then told the board that, now that they were being told to include numbers in the document, they would do so.

The hearing on the annual budget was then opened, and once again members of the public rose to express their dismay with the process. Willie Mims, Education Chair for the East County NAACP, expressed concern that the budget was not posted online, and, that because of this, “the people are operating at a serious disadvantage.” Once public comments concluded, Board President Joy Motts asked staff if the budget was posted online. Forrester said that it was, which immediately drove many in the room to their phones and computers to verify whether or not this was true. Several commented they could not find it, and board member Diane Gibson-Gray finally said, “It’s not there.” After further discussion, Motts asked, “When can we get the budget online?” Forrester responded that it would be there, “tonight.” The board then determined to reopen the hearing and recess until a at a special Board Meeting this Monday, June 23, at 6:00 p.m., in order to give the community time to review the document.

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Money issues dominate Antioch School Board meeting

Monday, June 16th, 2014

By John Crowder

Show me the money” could have been the theme for the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) School Board meeting held on Wednesday, June 11 at the School Services Building.

Early in the meeting, a presentation was made by District personnel regarding the development of AUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). The development of an LCAP is a requirement of all Local Education Agencies (LEA’s), including AUSD, under the latest methodology used by the state of California in determining school funding. Its purpose is to describe how a school district plans to meet “annual goals for all pupils.” Further, all LEA’s are required to “obtain parent and public input in developing, revising, and updating LCAP’s.” In other words, it is supposed to allow parents and the public a say in how education funding is spent.

Tim Forrester, Associate Superintendent-Business and Operations for AUSD, made a presentation to the Board regarding the AUSD LCAP budget. Included in his presentation were a list of services currently provided by AUSD, including such things as counseling, additional student support for special education, instructional and bilingual aides, and numerous other items.

Several citizens spoke about the LCAP process during the public comments portion of the meeting. First to speak on the subject was Yuritzy Gomez, Community Organizer with the group Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO). The organization bills itself as “a multiracial, multigenerational, interfaith federation committed to building civic engagement and increasing public participation by those most affected by injustice and inequity in Contra Costa County.”

Let us, community members, work with you,” Gomez said to the board, with respect to developing the LCAP.

Later in the meeting, she stated that she had provided a “Community LCAP” plan to AUSD via email earlier in the day. Several other community leaders, including representatives of the Education Trust-West, NAACP, Parents Connected, and RAAMP all spoke in favor of incorporating ideas from the Community LCAP in the AUSD LCAP.

Some of the Board members seemed to be taken aback by the public comments regarding the LCAP process.

Board member Diane Gibson-Gray asked why, based on the public comments, it appeared that AUSD and community members were separated on the process. Stephanie Anello, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, responded that the two plans were “not that far apart,” and that she had spoken with Gomez about the matter earlier in the day. In later remarks, she noted that the district had held 27 meetings and spoken with approximately 1000 parents, students, and community members about the process.

We are committed to including as many of these recommendations as possible in our LCAP,” Anello stated.

A request to fund instrumental music in Antioch schools was also made during the public comments. Betty Lawrence, a former instrumental music teacher at AUSD and founder of the Antioch Strolling Strings, along with three others, all stressed the importance of music in providing a quality education.

Another issue that generated some controversy, even among Board members, was the adoption of two math programs for the local high schools, College Preparatory Math (CPM) and Big Ideas by Houghton Mifflin.

Julie Young, a mother of a student at Deer Valley High School, spoke in opposition to the adoption of the CPM books. Quoting directly from research studies conducted by college and high school mathematicians, she told the board that CPM was known to follow a “guess and check” method that, according to one author, produced “mathematical morons.” She derided the program as one that had been tried before, and had horribly failed. Her daughter, Megan Young, a former AUSD student, also spoke, reading a statement given to her by Deanna Donaldson, the parent of a Deer Valley High School student.

Kids do the teaching, not the teachers,” she said.

Mrs. Young and her daughter were supported in their assessment of the program by board member Claire Smith. Even so, after Board Vice President Gary Hack received assurances from Anello that Antioch’s math teachers had vetted the curriculum, it was approved by a majority of the board.

The next board meeting, a special meeting dealing with the LCAP process, will take place beginning at 6:00 p.m. on June 18th. The next regularly scheduled board meeting will take place on June 25th at 7:00 p.m. Both meetings are slated to take place at the School Services Building, 510 G Street.

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Antioch Council approves balanced budget using Measure C funds

Monday, June 16th, 2014

By John Crowder

The Antioch City Council approved a balanced operating budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year on a 4-1 vote at their regularly scheduled meeting on June 10th. Council member Gary Agopian cast the lone dissenting vote.

The small, positive balance projected for the end of the budget cycle in 2015 ($2,914) was, in the end, only possible because of projections that Measure C funds totaling a little over $1.2 million will not have been spent. Since they are technically part of the General Fund, they provide the positive outcome. Without the Measure C money, the budget would have shown deficit spending of just under $1.2 million.

Since March, the Council has been conducting study sessions on various aspects of the budget, wrestling with ways to bring expenditures under control and discussing potential revenue sources (minutes of the meetings can be found online, at www.ci.antioch.ca.us/CityGov/citycouncilmeetings.htm). The difficult choices that had to be made in order to approve the budget were evident in both the budget document that was produced and the ongoing discussions. In order to keep expenditures down, city staff members have been subject to furlough days, elected officials have reduced their compensation, earthquake insurance for both city hall and the police station was not purchased, and the city’s contribution to library maintenance has ceased.

Prior to the budget discussion, one of the first items taken up by the Council was a resolution “encouraging City of Antioch elected officials (Mayor, City Council, City Treasurer, and City Clerk) to voluntarily agree to an irrevocable 10% reduction in their salaries and a $100 monthly decrease in their automobile allowance for fiscal year 2014-2015 due to the financial challenges facing the city.” The resolution passed on a 5-0 vote.

Another resolution, also adopted by a unanimous vote of the council, called for approval of the Benefit Document between the City and the Confidential Employees Bargaining Unit. The tentative agreement, which covers the period from October, 2013 through September, 2015, allows for no salary increase, and continues the 36 hour work week and 10% salary reduction currently in place. Employees subject to this agreement will continue working four 9-hour days per week, Monday through Thursday, between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., “with specific hours designed by the employee’s supervisor.” That means what have been labeld as “furlough Fridays” will continue.

Regardless of the positive financial outcome projected for the coming fiscal year, city staff, led by City Manager Steve Duran, continue to sound the alarm with respect to deficit spending. In her presentation of the budget to the Council, Antioch’s Finance Manager, Dawn Merchant, noted that, even with Measure C funds, deficit spending in Fiscal Year 2015-2016 is estimated to be about $810,000 and $3.4 million the following year.

Some attending the Council meeting, however, appeared to be reaching their limit with respect to reduced working hours. Michael Davis, a Business Agent for Public Employees Union Local #1, spoke to the Council during the budget hearing.

There are some signs in the audience today,” he said, referencing individuals seated in the council chambers holding signs advocating a 40-hour work week.

Our contract negotiations are coming up,” he continued. “As men and women of the public works department who are present have in their hands, 40 hours, economic equality, I guess these are just previews of what’s to come. This furlough has been going on for approximately five years, I believe, with a 10% reduction, there has been a slew of issues regarding it.”

Although expressing a desire to work with the City to resolve any issues, he concluded, “We believe that the public works department needs to get back to 40 hours.”

Immediately following the statement by Davis, Mayor Wade Harper closed the public hearing and brought the matter before Council for discussion. Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha, then almost immediately made a motion to adopt the budget resolution, Council Member Tony Tiscareno seconded it, and with no further discussion, the council passed the resolution on the aforementioned 4-1 vote.

The next meeting of the council is scheduled for Tuesday, June 24, at 7:00 in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

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Antioch School Board approves labor agreements, considers parcel tax

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

By John Crowder

Labor agreements negotiated by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) with the Antioch Education Association (AEA) and California School Employees Association (CSEA) were both ratified at the May 28th meeting of the school board. The board also approved an adjustment to salary schedule and benefits for the Antioch Management Association (AMA).

According to documents submitted to the board by Keith Rogenski, Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources, the compensation for members of all three groups was increased by 5.21%. The total cost of the compensation increase for each group is listed as $2,442,195 with AEA, $1,029,960 with CSEA, and $384,245 with AMA. Together, the agreements raise the combined total compensation costs to AUSD by about $3.5 million.

Later in the meeting the Board revisited an item that had been discussed earlier this year during their January 22nd meeting. At that meeting, the idea of placing a parcel tax on the November ballot had been raised, and staff had been directed to gather further information. The board had not been willing, however, to authorize conducting a survey of Antioch citizens on the matter. Now the decision to move forward with a survey of voters appears to be gaining support.

During the discussion on the potential for placing a parcel tax on the ballot, all three board members who were present, President Joy Motts, Vice President Gary Hack, and Trustee Barbara Cowan, indicated they were in favor of moving forward with a survey.

However, before a motion was made supporting this step, both Superintendent Dr. Donald Gill and Hack voiced the opinion that it would be better to wait until the full board was present before taking any action on the matter. Board members Diane Gibson-Gray and Claire Smith were absent from the meeting.

Nonetheless, it was agreed that Associate Superintendent Tim Forrester could begin working to determine what questions the survey should ask in order to save time should the board decide to move forward with the survey in June.

According to Forrester, the purpose of the survey would be to determine whether or not there is public support for putting a parcel tax on the ballot in support of various programs that might be implemented or expanded by AUSD.

School boards have no authority to tax anyone,” Forrester said. “A survey is a way for the board to gauge if the public would support the board in placing a parcel tax on the ballot for needed programs for students. A survey would ask, at what level, would the public consider supporting the district’s needs.”

Some of the programs mentioned during the meeting that might be supported by a parcel tax included technology, counselors, art and music classes, and after-school programs. The cost of conducting such a survey was estimated to be between $25,000 and $30,000.

Not everyone at the meeting was happy with the idea of a parcel tax. Prior to the board discussion, one Antioch resident, Julie Young, addressed the matter during public comments. Young urged against placing a parcel tax on the ballot, citing a long list of other taxes either already in place, such as Mello Roos, Measure B and Measure C, or proposed, such as Measure E (which passed on June 3rd), the landlord business license tax and the increase in the minimum business license tax.

She made an analogy between a family that must budget for a large expense and government.

We are already taxed and if you want something else, you should budget and save to get it,” Young stated. “If you decide to put the parcel tax on the ballot for November, be prepared for a huge campaign against it.”

The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held on Wednesday, June 11th, at 7:00 p.m. The Board is expected to take up the question of whether or not to move forward with the survey to gauge the support for a parcel tax at that time. Meetings are held at the AUSD School District Office located at 510 G Street.

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