Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Letter writer wants overhaul of Antioch Code Enforcement program

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Dear Editor:

The City of Antioch needs to face some of our key problem areas and failures head on or continue its downward spiral as the kids now call Antioch the “New East Richmond.”

The Code Enforcement program has continued to be a major dismal failure. Even though they have the ability to fine absentee slumlords $1,000 per day penalties, in addition to contracting the clean up which could then be placed on their annual tax bill for payment.

No more excuses. This program needs a major overhaul. Section 8 over all is a good program, helping those that need a little extra support, but there are three- to four percent of the approximately 2,000 Section 8 homes that are creating all the major problems and multiple police calls. These same out of town slumlords need to be held accountable similar to the Section 8 program in Pittsburg, where you get two strikes and you’re out. No more rent money for these slumlords. It’s not that complicated.

Antioch has also now become the dumping ground for panhandlers. They are everywhere. Safeway, Wells Fargo and just about every freeway off ramp. Why? Because Pittsburg, Oakley and Brentwood have all cracked down on this problem 100% and Antioch has sat by and done nothing.

If our Antioch officials will just take the lead and follow other successful programs that are already in place in other surrounding communities, I think there is still hope for a major turnaround for Antioch.

If not we will be the New East Richmond or maybe even worse.

Greg Feere

Antioch

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Watchdog: During drought and police shortage, why is Antioch Council approving new homes?

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Watchdog Logo Watchdog: During drought and police shortage, why is Antioch Council approving new homes?By Barbara Zivica

The City of Antioch is mandated to cut water usage by 28% due to the current drought in California. Why then is the Council approving so many new housing projects instead of temporarily halting residential development based on lack of water to service new homes and an inadequately staffed Police Department? It’s been done before.

Remember Measure K (November 2005) which asked voters to approve Antioch’s own urban limit line? Antioch already had a “Residential Development Allocation” ordinance which limited the number of housing units allocated to not more than 600 units per year with certain exceptions e.g. existing exemptions to remain in place and, also exempt from the allocation limit, dwelling units constructed in the immediate vicinity of mass transit stations. Measure K, which passed by 59.70%, prohibited the Council from approving any new allocations in 2006 and 2007, and reduced the number of allocations from 3,000 to 2,000 which could be approved until 2010.

To see what I’m talking about in regard to new development just take a look at the latest City Manager’s weekly report (CityMgr072315) which lists the following housing projects: Almondridge East Subdivision 8880 – a 81 single family home development by KB Homes, DeNova Homes Mixed Use project (8 acres multi-family and 2.2 acres single family residential, Laurel Ranch, a 186 unit housing development by Richland Communities, Nelson Ranch Unit 1 – a 102 unit housing development by Standard Pacific Housing, Oakley Knolls Subdivision – a 31 lot development by Discovery Homes, and Park Ridge Phase 1 – a 123 housing development by Davidon Homes. Note also that two homeowner associations (Contra Loma Estates and Golden Bow Estates) have applied for a permit to privatize their interior roads and install security gates and fencing at the entrances to their subdivision.

The Council is ignoring the water shortage, the understaffed Police Department, the fact that Highway 4 is still being widened, eBART to Antioch has yet to be completed and we currently don’t have ferry service. What Antioch needs now is a temporary moratorium on new residential development, a new mayor and a less acquiescent Council.

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Letter writer says transfers from Antioch city water and sewer funds for police, tiered billing illegal

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Dear Editor:

Following is a letter I sent to Antioch Mayor Harper and Council Members, City Manager Steve Duran and City Clerk Arne Simonsen, in response to a column in the Antioch Herald.

Dear Mayor Harper and Council Members,

It has now been more than three weeks since the June 23rd Council Meeting and more than two weeks since I sent to you all the Appellate Court Cases Mayor Harper requested at that meeting (copies attached, below). As of this date I have received no correspondence from the City, the Council, any Council Member, the City Manager or the City Clerk concerning the illegal activities of the City of Antioch involving the Sewer and Water Funds transfers and tiered billing.

Let me begin by saying that conservation, drought or no drought, is a good idea and the recycling and the maximum use of natural resources is worthwhile.

Not just for human beings but for all the creature of the Earth.

However noble an idea or desire may be including water conservation it does not rise to the circumvention or shredding of the California State Constitution. Irrespective of Governor Brown’s belief that he can persuade or browbeat the elected officials at the County or Municipal level he does not have the executive authority or right to sidestep the California State Constitution. Neither do you.

More than two hundred years ago we abandoned an authoritarian form of government and while democracy is often imperfect in many ways it represents the will of the citizen’s desires best.

I will not stand by and watch the Antioch City Council violate recent California Case Law, the California State Constitution and your Oaths of Office. This is unacceptable and you need to move not later than your next Council Meeting, July 28th, to correct the City’s position concerning transfers from the Water and

Sewer Funds and the tiered water rates placed in effect only to promote conservation. You will need to agenda these items for the Meeting, July 28th and correct your and previous Councils errors. As part of that correction the General Fund must be immediately required to repay and restore the illegal transfers from the Water and Sewer Funds and diverted to the Police Department during the past several years.

Transfers:

From information provided by the Finance Director, Dawn Merchant an initial transfer from the Water Fund began in 2010 with no transfer from the Sewer Fund. In 2011 both Funds were affected by transfers, with the Water Fund amount being transferred reduced from $265,000 to $240,000. When I asked Ms. Merchant for the Nexus Calculation Formula applied to the Water and Sewer Funds I was informed it is a percentage of the Police Budget (see attached email and accounting of transfers). There is no Legal Nexus or Formula according to your Finance Director.

Under Proposition 26 Cities are limited when transferring utility receipts into the General Fund. There must be a Nexus. In Citizens for Fair REU v. City of Redding, a State Court of Appeal held this year that the transfer of funds from the utility was a tax not approved by the voters as required by Proposition 26. Proposition 26 is an Amendment to the California State Constitution. Part of the reasoning by the Court was that the City of Redding was simply billing the utility a percentage and there was no connection to the cost of the service.

This case in facts and evidence closely parallels what is being done by the City of Antioch. Let me be clear. Billing the Sewer and Water Funds a percentage of the Police Budget is illegal, violates case law, violates the State Constitution and in voting to continue this illegal process of taxing the voters without a voter approval you are all and each individually violating your Oath of Office.

Tiered Water Rates:

Proposition 218, another amendment to the California Constitution in 1996, requires that government agencies charge only the cost of providing the service. Arbitrary tiered rates that do not correspond to the actual cost of providing the service are illegal. Not even in times of drought can you do this type of predetermined tiered billing. Not even at the browbeating of the current Governor of the State of California. Not at all.

In the case of Capistrano Tax Payers Association v. City of San Juan Capistrano a California appeals court ruled this year that tiered water rates must be based on cost. They cannot be based on predetermined usage.

The City of Antioch has adopted such a predetermined tiered usage plan in violation of California Case Law, in violation of Proposition 218 and in violation of the California State Constitution. In voting to approve and implement such a tiered billing process you all and each individually are violating your Oath of Office.

Oath of Office:

At the time each of you took office for the City of Antioch you swore or affirmed in part or whole the following:

CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION

ARTICLE 20 MISCELLANEOUS SUBJECTS

I, ______, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.

And I do further swear (or affirm) that I do not advocate, nor am I a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that now advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means; that within the five years immediately preceding the taking of this oath (or affirmation) I have not been a member of any party or organization, political or other wise, that advocated the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means except as follows: __________________________________________________ (If no affiliations, write in the words “No Exceptions”) and that during such time as I hold the office of ______________________________________________ (name of office) I will not advocate nor become a member of any party or organization, political or otherwise, that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States or of the State of California by force or violence or other unlawful means.”

Therefore; be advised that on June 23rd, 2015 you were placed on notice prior to your vote that approval of the Budget, Item 7 of the Agenda without lining out the Water Fund and Sewer Fund transfers was illegal.

Know now that this action and each and every individual vote was a violation of your Oath of Office. A probable criminal offense against the voters and citizens of Antioch. Know also that your adoption by vote previously of the tiered water rates based on a predetermined usage was illegal. Also, a probable criminal offense against the voters and citizens of Antioch. Ignorance is not a defense and neither is pressure from the Governor of the State of California.

Conclusion:

Bad advice and counsel comes in many forms and from many persons. Good intentions are sometimes corrupted. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And, executives sometimes come to believe they are omnipotent. These all become challenges for democracy, the law and the citizens.

You are all being called to correct errors made by this Council and previous Councils. This is your opportunity to do what is right and just and to live up to your Oaths of Office and the California State Constitution. The citizens of Antioch expect nothing less from you.

Demand is made that you agenda not later than July 28, 2015, Transfers concerning the Sewer and Water Funds and Tiered Water Rates. Demand is made that you line out the transfers in the current Budget and terminate all transfers that have no basis in a Legal Nexus. Demand is made that the General Fund immediately repay all funds illegally transferred from the Water and Sewer Funds for all years including but not limited to 2010 through 2015. Demand is made that you revoke the predetermined Tiered Water Rates based on conservation and not on the cost of service and that amended water rates be immediately calculated for billing in August.

Should you fail to agenda the items noted above and should you fail to make the corrections outlined I would be significantly disappointed. The citizens of Antioch will be significantly disappointed. The challenge to our City would continue forward seeking a just solution.

This is not my first tussle with the City of Antioch concerning Constitutional rights. The result of that previous tussle did not go well for the City. Constitutional matters as in these issues tend not to be blurred on misunderstood and once adjudicated, as in Redding and San Juan Capistrano, become crystal clear to all. Is our City at that point of clarity yet?

I look forward to the City Council Meeting July 28th.

Sincerely,

Mark Jordan

Capistrano-Taxpayers-Association-v-City-of-San-Juan-Capistrano_Amicus-Brief(1)

Citizens v City of Redding

Merchant & Jordan communication

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Watchdog: Antioch Mello Roos Board to spend final funds on all-abilities playgrounds

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

Watchdog Logo Watchdog: Antioch Mello Roos Board to spend final funds on all abilities playgroundsThe next meeting of the Antioch Area Public Facilities Financing District 1989-1 (CFD), known as the Antioch Mello Roos District, a joint powers authority established by the Antioch Unified School District and the City of Antioch, is scheduled for July 13, 2015. The meeting is being held to update residents on the status of the community facilities district, the projects completed to date and future plans.

The CFD was established by the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) and the City of Antioch in 1989 to help finance the building of five elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school and a 100-acre community park in the new areas of Southeast Antioch. But also included other new areas of Antioch, as well as parts of Oakley, within the Antioch Unified School District.

To facilitate development, bonds maturing at different times all the way out to 2025 were sold, and the special tax was collected via the Contra Costa County property tax bill. Now, however, due to having received matching construction funds from the State, the Agency anticipates that 2016 will be the last year the special tax will be levied.

After construction of the aforementioned facilities, about $1.7 million of Mello Roos funds remained. Proposed for construction with the use of the remaining funds are an all-abilities playground and an all-abilities water park at Antioch Water Park and a basketball court. The Antioch City County debated the issue at their last meeting and although approving the first two suggestions, voted 3-2 against a basketball court despite pleas from both Mayor Harper and Councilman Tiscareno.

The Mello Roos Board, made up of two representatives from each of the city council and school board, and one at-large member, will make the final decision on the expenditure of the remaining funds at it’s meeting on the 13th.

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Writer shares concerns about Antioch water reduction goals, rates

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

Dear Editor:

Below is an open letter I sent to the Antioch City Water Finance Department and all the city council members.

To Antioch City officials,

I received a letter dated June 5, 2015 with my last water bill. The letter provided a personalized water conservation goal table showing, by billing period, the actual usage from 2013 and the water reduction goal for this year, a 28% reduction. Apparently, a letter was sent out several months ago, that I missed, which asked for input from the public prior to the water restrictions being set. Please forgive my tardiness, but here is my input, now.

I have two issues with the water usage plan, neither of which are mentioned in the letter. First, the way the water usage is calculated is flawed. The usages are by billing period. This can be a very inaccurate way to compare actual water consumption because the number of days in a billing period in any year, but specifically 2013 and 2015, can be quite different. For example, looking at my water bills for the past two years there is a range of 23 to 36 days in a billing cycle. It would be nearly impossible to reduce the water usage by 28% if the number of days in 2015 is 36 days and in 2013 it was 23 days. Since the billing statements already include the gallons/day consumption, why not use this figure for the reduction goal? Also, the number of people in a household may also be greatly different from what it was in 2013. How can a comparison be valid without this factor?

The other issue I have, also was not mentioned in the letter. After multiple phone calls I learned that the charge per unit in my zone is increasing from $2.64 to $2.69 for the first 13 units. I have no problem with this. But, for usage in a monthly billing cycle that exceeds 13 units, the charge will be $4.35. As stated above, the number of days in a billing cycle might up to 13 days longer, which could be up to a 56% increase in the number of days in a billing cycle. The higher charge is a nearly 65% increase in the cost of water. It is possible citizens of Antioch could be charged 65% more for water usage in a billing cycle that was 56% longer than it was in 2013. Citizens could be charged a much higher rate for water even though their usage per day may have been less than the goal. A much fairer way to impose water restriction would be to base the tiers on gallons/day. If 13 units of water is consumed in a standard 30 day billing cycle the target would be 324 gallons per day (13 units x 748 gallons per unit / 30 days). The billing amount for consumption exceeding 13 units in a 30 day period would be $0.0058 per gallon ($4.35 / 748 gallons per unit). This does not address the household size problem but it does fairly address the problem of varying lengths of billing periods.

If no change is made in how the over 13 unit per billing period rate is administered, I request all my summer month billing periods be 23 days and all my winter billing periods be 36 days. I know this is an “unusual” request but, when compared to the current billing practice employed by the City of Antioch Water Department, it is quite reasonable. Also, if the usage in a billing period is less than 13 units, will this be credited against a later billing period where the usage is more than 13? If not, why? Isn’t the goal to save water? Why would it matter in which billing period the saving occurred? After all, your calculation method treats all billing periods as the same.

Striving to become the best version of myself,

Wayne Steffen

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School Board Trustee applauds restoring music programs

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Dear Editor:

We all know what road is said to be paved with good intentions. In the frenzied rush of squeezing the budget while doubling-down on core subjects, music and the arts got short shrift. What was lost in the deal of drill and kill on reading and math was the heart and soul that brings satisfaction to the daily grind, remember, many kids are disenfranchised and starving for even one passion, one single connection, one driving engagement to keep them from truancy.

It is not only about restoring motivation, though. Music can be academic brain food well as well. In teaching to the test and glorifying the fill-in-the-bubble multiple choice, we, inadvertently dumbed down. Coming full circle, we now see that learning music is not a frill luxury but, actually, a foundation in facilitating the learning of other subjects.

Poll any group of physicians and you will be amazed at how many took music.This should come as no surprise as music is really, in a sense, pure math. Research studies confirm that music students enjoy distinct advantages in spatial- temporal skills, associated with math comprehension.

Language development benefits, too. Musical training physically develops the left side of the brain, the part known to be involved in the learning of language. Vocabulary acquisition is enriched and cognitive thinking sharpened.

That’s not all. Music student attendance is cumulatively higher, grades better and discipline less. Music employs multiple skill sets, exercises eyes and ears and both larger and small muscles. In the process, students increase attention span and learn poise, teamwork and how to think on their feet.

Some research even indicates higher I.Q. of musical students. A 2007 study by Christopher Johnson of the University of Texas showed that students in elementarry schools having superior musical programs scored 22% higher on English and 20% higher on math standardized tests.

With this all in mind, good news for Antioch. As part of the holistic emphasis of the newly mandated Local Control Accountability Plan, (LCAP) the Antioch School Board just approved greatly expanded arts and music inititiatives. This includes bringing elementary band back and newly invigorated middle school programs. These are essential as the lower grades are, obviously, the high school feeders.

Kudos to the Board for a shared vision in adopting this measure and to those who did the tireless leg work to get this into the budget. Thanks go to Superintendent Dr. Donald Gill, LCAP Director Cheryl Domenichelli, and to Associate Superintendent Stephanie Anello for their enlightened perspective and for executing the logistics in pushing this forward.

Special gratitude goes to all the local long-term music educators, led by Sharon Vela, and the likes of Ken Bergmann, Romano Marchetti, Paul Rataczak, Damien Ting and Larry Widener, who carried the torch these lean years. They championed philosopher Frederick Nietzsche’s charge, that “without music life would be a mistake.”

Welcome back the spiritual soundtrack of our lives. Our kids, our hometown civic culture, and our collective humanity can celebrate.

It’s music to many of our ears.

Walter Ruehlig

A.U.S.D. School Board Trustee

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Realtors support expansion of housing opportunities in Antioch, East County

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

Hello. My name is James Britto.

I am a third generation Antiochan.

I am a homeowner, Mello Roos taxpayer, small business owner, and I am also President of the Delta Association of REALTORS® for 2015.

Antioch and the entire East Contra Costa region have experienced a great recovery of value in our properties. This has tremendously impacted many owners, positively. With a recovery of equity, they can refinance to improve their properties, put more money into our local economy, or sell their property. All of these create jobs and revenue and are good for our economy.

Inventory is still low in our area for the amount of demand there is for housing. This has contributed to the prices rising steadily, combined with a favorable mortgage market.

What we are coming to see more and more, are individuals and families coming from 30, 50, 70, 90 miles away or more to seek affordable housing here, yet their jobs are elsewhere, often Oakland, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Sacramento, Modesto… you name it, we have people who work there…. Spending two to three hours a day, often each way, to find what they need… good jobs and affordable housing.

The Delta Association of REALTORS® strongly supports the expansion of housing opportunities and programs that support average to median income earners being able to afford to buy and occupy homes and work where they live. It’s better for families, cities, the environment, and the economy. Commuters spend money elsewhere since they are not local a majority of their time.

We want to be a partner with the City of Antioch, as well as other local municipalities, to work together on options and opportunities to expand options for people with good jobs, good credit, and a desire to live in a home and work near home. The opportunities for Antioch and all of East County are improving, especially with the eventual arrival of eBART, but we have to expedite our work with attracting employers and job opportunities, now, not in 10 years, and finding ways to assist individuals who meet the criteria, to buy and occupy a home of their own in our terrific Delta region.

Thank you.

James Britto, President, Delta Association of REALTORS®

Antioch

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Watchdog – Concerns with crime and police staffing in Antioch

Friday, June 19th, 2015

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog – Concerns with crime and police staffing in AntiochBy Barbara Zivica

Mayor Wade Harper, who survived a recall petition which failed to gather sufficient signatures to qualify,  recently declined to comment about the city’s crime situation and the police chief told Council that crime in Antioch has declined in nearly every category.  The prroblem is, residents don’t agree.

In 2012, the police department had 88 officers which Police Chief Allan Cantando stated was the same staffing level as in 1995.   Council subsequently authorized a force of 102  and councilman Wade Harper decided to run for mayor telling constituents that he would hire 22 more officers, bringing the force to 124 sworn.  Folks know that never happened.

The police department, which is having a hard time keeping up with calls for service,  currently has a force of 88 officers, five of which are in various stages of the field training program and three police trainees, who will graduate from the Police Academy at the CCC Training Center in Pittsburg, next month.  According to my count, that would bring the department to a total of 91 officers, 11 short of the 102 authorized back in 2012.  Unfortunately, more officers are nearing retirement age and leaving the department which basically has been resulting in a zero net gain.

Recently, the police chief stated he’s having a hard time recruiting ideal candidates.  Wonder if it’s due to Antioch‘s declining reputation or the politics at City Hall?  It certainly can’t be the money.  A high school diploma, and a less than six-month police academy, can make you over $85,000, and as much as $104,000 a year, plus benefits.

Here’s the breakdown from the city web site:  Academy graduate/student full time, regular $7,134 – $8,672 monthly, Lateral police officer full time, Regular $7,134 – $8,672 monthly; Police trainee, Regular, hourly $21/hour.   No wonder the police department consumes 70% of the city’s general fund, not to mention lately over $600,000 from the water and sewer enterprise funds.

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