Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Watchdog: Voters were hoodwinked on Measure C, should oppose Measure O

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog: Voters were hoodwinked on Measure C, should oppose Measure OBy Barbara Zivica

Voters in Antioch will shortly be selecting two new city council members and voting as to whether or not to update the existing business license tax and to impose a residential landlord business license tax.

Note for the record that this ballot measure comes one year after Antioch voters were persuaded to approve Measure C, touted to enable the hiring of 22 new police officers and one year after the County Assessor informed the Board of Supervisors that “The increase to the local tax base for 2013-14 is over $4.87 billion. This represents a 3.45% increase in assessed value and brings the total local assessment roll to over $146 billion, just 6.92% away from the County’s record assessed value, which was set in 2008. Richmond had the only percentage loss in assessed value at 14.61%, Cities with the largest increases in assessed value from prior year include: Brentwood (8.45%), Clayton (8.24%, Oakley (7.44%), Walnut Creek (7.38%) and Antioch (7.34%).”

It’s my belief that taxpayers were hoodwinked in regard to Measure C, a 7 year half cent sales tax increase) because, shortly after an accelerated swearing in, Mayor Harper, Councilman Tiscareno and Councilwomen Rocha and Wilson, knowing the city had a $59 million unfunded pension liability, voted to amend the signed September, 2012 contract agreement with police officers and misc. employees and restore more lucrative pension formulas for lateral sworn hires. (The rush to do so was to side step California’s new voter approved law which would become effective on January 1, 2013, setting a 2.7% retirement formula at age 57 for safety employees and 2% at age 62 for miscellaneous employees.

The reason voters should reject Measure O is because it’s another attempt to pickpocket voters in order to deal with the afore mentioned lucrative under funded spiraling pension costs.

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Writer addresses letter to Mayor and Council Members about crime in Antioch

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Posted on Facebook – Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Your Honorable Mayor and City Council members:

I write to you to implore you to make take immediate action regarding the violence in the City of Antioch. No doubt you are aware of the problems being dealt with by the Antioch Police Department on a daily basis. I also realize that they have enlisted the assistance of various law enforcement agencies in carrying out an aggressive effort to rid our city of criminals. In part, this has been successful and the numbers associated with these efforts has been significant. However, common logic dictates that the “tiny percentage” that you point out Mr. Mayor has either grossly underestimated or we happen to have acquired the worst-shooting, yet smartest criminals in the world since they have continuously been capable of holding this community hostage, burglarized all hours of the day/night, stopped traffic and brought business down to their knees at Deer Valley Plaza and changed the shopping habits of consumers at the same time.

Today again, another afternoon of insanity at Deer Valley Plaza. Yesterday was even worse, the crowd number around 100. Today it was smaller groups and Taco Bell and McDonald’s have shut their dining room for 1.5 to 2 hours after school let’s out. There was a significant police presence at DVHS and the area surrounding it. Of course there were fights at Deer Valley High School (tennis courts and parking lot), Deer Valley Plaza (Baskin-Robbins, etc.), across Lone Tree from the Chevron station, Burger King, as well as Country Hills & Hillcrest.

These types of incidents have a detrimental, far-reaching effect on the businesses, customers, traffic, reputation of the City, etc. If the businesses feel compelled for the safety of their personnel and premises, which Taco Bell and McDonald’s have both done, that is a loss of revenue to the business, that equates to the loss of revenue to the City of Antioch. The bad reputation has a direct effect on the housing prices and an unwillingness to move to a city that is the 4th worst city in the San Francisco Bay Area to live in. At this rate, more businesses will limit availability and even more businesses will end up closing. More revenues will be lost.

Almost daily we are allocating much-needed resources to an activity that should have been handled by parents a very long time ago. There is a complete lack of respect for the business owners and consumers, there is no respect for the people driving in the area. There is no respect even for the people themselves, the ones who who are creating the problems.

This problem extends far beyond Deer Valley Plaza. Daily you have the Antioch Police Department responding to 459 residential burglaries by juveniles, stolen vehicles by juveniles, armed robberies by juveniles. This list goes on and on. The same types of incidents include the young adult age group as well as adults. The calls for service is increasing on a weekly basis. We are now unaffectionate known as Grand Theft Antioch! Not too mention other no so flattering names.

Mr. Mayor, you reminded me that when you took on the position it wasn’t a full time job. That is quite apparent. However, part-time means less than full-time but it also entails having to get a job done at all costs. If not – GET OUT! You ran on a platform of, “zero tolerance”. You have been MIA when it came to addressing the violence and crime in the City until the people started yelling loud enough for you to realize something must be done. You did the Victory Outreach walk and then there was United Antioch on August 16th. Hello, is that it? Do you really believe you have supported and continue to support the Antioch Police Department? If you can honestly say yes then you have a transparency issue because nobody else is seeing it. If not – GET OUT!

Your leadership has a direct effect on the City Council. You action or inaction has a direct effect on the City Council. If you are hell bent about some feral cats and don’t appear to give a damn about the crime and violence in the city, well that is wrong – very wrong. I have pity for the feral cats but I have a tendency of cherishing human life more. Since you took office, again on the “zero tolerance” platform, how many people have died and how many shootings has there been? But feral cats were so important. Prove me wrong or GET OUT!

You and your hand picked City Manager tried to ramrod the Downtown East Transit Oriented Residential Development project through when you had gained even more control over the City Council and fortunately Mary Rocha delayed that, however, who could foresee the date changed to the end of October, just in time to have the new City Council vote on it. She did try, but it was evident you wanted to wait even longer. Transparency is one thing, but when your hand picked City Manager can’t even give one example of the three other city owned properties to potentially be used for the new Senior Center – AFTER BEING ASKED THREE TIMES, then that was truly transparent – we saw right through that sham. Actually, we didn’t we never got the answer on whether it would be Senior Center AND Community Center.

Let’s not be distracted by the City-Owned Restaurant Space. That too is another revenue producer that won’t do much good if people won’t put a foot inside the Antioch city limits. The priorities are all screwed up. Not that we should not be mindful of the ETORD Project or the CORS Project – we should. But is was obvious feral cats were more important than crime and violence. Now it’s two projects that are more important than crime and violence. When will THE important issue be addressed in a timely manner, that would be crime and violence? Address it, or GET OUT.

I have, on no less than 5 occasions demanded action in the form of emergency ordinances, declaring a state of emergency, get the reserves in here if necessary. It appears you will not take any action and we deserve better. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to know what actions you are planning to do. If we end up having to file bankruptcy due to your incompetence and inaction, trust me there will be repercussions.
A recall election is a long drawn out process. However, if that’s what it take, so be it.

Respectfully submitted,

Rich Buongiorno

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Letter writer wants Antioch Council to revitalize downtown

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

Dear Editor:

The City of Antioch lacks a thriving economic community. New local businesses are needed in order to attract and satisfy both prospective and existing residents. Considering that our downtown is close to becoming a ghost town, I am particularly passionate about reviving this area.

In August 2006, according to the document entitled “Antioch Rivertown Waterfront Development,” found on the city’s website, our government also shared this same passion: “In order to revitalize downtown, a bold vision must be married with a developmental strategy. We envision the Downtown Village as the heart of town, a vibrant riverfront place to live and shop. Retail tenants, shops, cafes and restaurants will contribute to the goal of making downtown a highly attractive, vibrant destination.”

How exactly is it that this detailed vision for our city from 2006 is so far off from the current reality of our very un-lively downtown in 2014?

As a resident of Antioch and as an avid believer in our city’s potential, I urge our government officials to once again become passionate about restoring and revitalizing our downtown. Determination is needed in order for this vision to be fulfilled.

Taylor Pagan – 19 years old, Diablo Valley College student

Antioch

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Writer says the gloves are coming off in Antioch’s Measure O fight

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Measure O, placed on the November ballot by an unanimous vote of the Antioch City Council, will levy annual business license fees on residential rental units of $250 for houses and $150 for apartments. The measure also will increase the minimum annual license fee for other businesses to $100 except for home-based small businesses, which will remain at $25. It is estimated the measure will increase Antioch revenues by $2.4 millon annually for restoration of City services.

The Friday Morning Breakfast Club citizens group has established a campaign committee, Residents for Fairness – Yes Measure O, to alert residents of the need and benefits of Measure O. The committee members have written a number of informational letters to local newspapers and will be posting signs about town and distributing brochures and mailers.

Opponents of Measure O have chosen to wage a campaign of misinformation to confuse voters and convince them to vote against the measure. They are well funded with indications they plan to spend between $50,000 and $100,000 to defeat the measure. The opponents are primarily residential landlords, many of which are large businesses located outside of Antioch, represented by the “California Apartment Association – Contra Costa Division” (CAA). They failed to reach agreement on the provisions of Measure O in a number of joint meetings with the City Staff, the Friday Morning Breakfast Club (FMBC), and other groups in 2013 and 2014. They are now attacking the ballot measure in an all-out effort to defeat it at the polls, claiming to be allied with seniors, homeowners and business owners. They falsely assert these groups will be substantially harmed if the measure passes.

The facts are that homeowners, including seniors and business owners not in the residential rental business would not be affected in any way if Measure O passes. Also, senior group housing and care facilities would be exempted from any fees under Measure O. Seniors living in rental housing that is not exempt could experience a minor increase in rent if Measure O fees are passed through by their landlords. However, most seniors own their homes rather than rent. Many others live with family members or in exempt senior housing, nursing homes, and other exempt care facilities. Therefore, the number of seniors affected at all by Measure O is believed to be only a very small fraction of all seniors.

The CAA and their allies have hired Media Associates, a high profile political campaign consultant from Sacramento to lead their campaign against Measure O. They have a reputation for winning at all costs – the truth be darned. Already the consultant has conducted a telephone survey of Antioch residents asking a series of questions designed to subtly convince people to vote no on O. Their callers do not identify who they represent and promptly hang-up when confronted by a knowledgeable resident in favor of Measure O. Media Associates’ President, Kevin Reikes, is scheduled as Guest Speaker to address Measure O at the September 26, 2014, Board Meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association in Concord. Members of the Yes Measure O committee plan to be there to refute any misstatement of the facts.

It is obvious why the CAA opposes Measure O; they don’t want to pay the new fees out of their profits or, in the alternative, to pass through the additional expenses to their tenants. However, it is observed that even if 100 percent of the fees are passed on, the impact on rents will be small, only $12.50 per month for apartments, and $20.83 monthly for single family houses. This would be only about a one percent increase of average rental rates. The fees will be a minor increase in business expenses that are tax deductible for the landlords, thereby reducing the impact on their profits.

The Yes on Measure O committee has minimal funds coming, so far from out-of pocket contributions by the committee members who want to do what is in the best interest of saving our community from crime, blight and bankruptcy. Your contributions are needed to help pay for large 4’ x 8’ signs, yard signs, brochures, mailers, and postage. This is truly a grass-roots effort by citizens, and no contribution is too small. Just $10 will buy five additional yard signs, but please give more if you can. Checks should be made out to “Residents for Fairness – Yes Measure O,” and mailed to 3036 South Apple Court, Antioch, CA, 94509. A website will soon be available to also make contributions online.
I urge all Antioch citizens to register and vote yes for Measure O.

Larry L. Harrison

Member, Residents for Fairness, Yes Measure O campaign committee

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Letter: Measure O closes loophole in Antioch’s business license tax ordinance

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Dear Editor:

Measure O is an ordinance that will update the City of Antioch’s existing Business License Tax Ordinance. It will close the loophole that inadvertently allowed residential rental property landlords to not pay licensing fees.

I am a homeowner and a senior citizen and I’m writing to address the California Apartment Association’s (CAA) stated opposition to Measure O.  The CAA says; “Many senior citizens will ultimately be paying for the Measure O tax.”

That statement is untrue.  Many senior citizens will not be affected by this fee.  Most senior citizens are homeowners.  Sure, the fee will affect those seniors who are residential rental property landlords and some seniors who are renters of apartments or homes.  Their rent will be increased if the landlord adds the fee onto the rental rate.  The fee for landlords will be $20.83 per month for single family rental homes, or $12.83 per month, per unit in multi-family rental units.

Renters, homeowners, and businesses alike want increased police services and robust code enforcement.  This ordinance is an equitable solution, closing the loophole, and will require residential rental landlords be included in the business licensing structure.    

Voters: please support the Residential Rental Property Landlord Fee and vote YES on Measure O this November 2014.

Marie Livingston

Antioch

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Antioch Residents for Fairness recommend a yes vote on Measure O

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Antioch’s Measure O will levy annual business license fees on residential rental units of $250 for single detached houses and $150 for apartments. It was unanimously approved and placed on the ballot for November’s election by the Antioch City Council. In addition, Measure O will raise the minimum license fee for all other businesses to $100 annually with the exception of some home-based small businesses, which will remain at $25. It is anticipated Measure O will generate additional revenue of approximately $2.4 million annually, helping to close a structural gap in the City’s budget in 2015 and beyond. Revenue collected under Measure O will go to the Antioch “General Fund” to support police, code enforcement and other City services.

Comparing Antioch’s revenue to revenue of nearby cities illustrates that Antioch suffers from a severe revenue shortfall and not from overspending. Antioch’s total projected revenues for the 2014-2015 budget are only $404.36 per resident compared to $555.84 for Pittsburg, $681.68 for Concord, $817.35 for Brentwood, and $1255.75 for Richmond. Brentwood’s per capita revenues are double and Richmond’s are triple those of Antioch! Even Pittsburg has a 37 percent advantage over Antioch and Concord a 69 percent advantage.

Business license fees on rentals are not “new” taxes as claimed by Measure O opponents. The measure will amend the City’s existing ordinance established in the 1960’s, which requires landlords pay business license fees based on a percentage of gross receipts. However, the existing ordinance was not diligently enforced over the years and many residential landlords did not pay any licenses fees as required. Many current owners and property managers are not aware of the existing law. The amendment will simplify the computation and collection of the fees to be similar to methods used by a number of other cities in California.

Measure O evolved from a proposal in 2013 by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club (FMBC) in response to the Council’s request for ideas to resolve the City’s revenue shortfall. To be fairer to owners of large apartment complexes, the Council modified the FMBC’s initial proposal of $240 fees for houses and apartments alike. The FMBC agrees with the City’s modifications and has formed the committee “Antioch Residents for Fairness – Yes Measure O” to campaign for passage of the measure.
Approval of Measure ‘O’ will:

1. Benefit renters, homeowners, and businesses (including residential landlords) alike with reduced crime and blight and improved City services.

2. Restore “fairness” to business license fees by ensuring that residential landlords pay reasonable license fees as do all other for profit businesses operating in Antioch

3. Provide funds to help defray the higher cost of policing and other city services associated with rentals compared to owner occupied residences.

4. Help balance the City budget to save Antioch from bankruptcy.

5. Help provide the level of services citizens should expect from local government including more police and code enforcement officers that are currently underfunded and understaffed.

6. Help clean-up Antioch to attract additional businesses and development to the economic benefit of all.
As a member of the campaign committee and a 46 year resident of Antioch, I strongly urge all residents of Antioch to vote yes for Measure O. I will rebut the arguments of the opponents to Measure O in a future letter.

Larry L. Harrison, Antioch Residents for Fairness – Yes Measure O Committee

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Watchdog: Thoughts on Antioch School Board’s actions and November election

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog: Thoughts on Antioch School Boards actions and November electionBy Barbara Zivica

Voters in Antioch will soon be asked to fill two Antioch Unified School District board seats in addition to two city council seats. Vote by mail ballots will be sent out beginning October 6th for the November 4th election.

Candidates for the school board are Walter Ruehlig, former board member, Debra Vinson, who previously ran for the board and lost, incumbents Joy Motts and Gary A. Hack, former president of the Antioch teacher’s union. Since I’ve been opposed to a number of board actions, incumbents won’t get my vote.

First is the board’s continuing opposition to the highly rated Dozier-Libby Medical High School becoming an independent charter school although a state appellate court panel upheld a Contra Costa Superior Court judge’s decision stopping the district from making Dozier Libbey a district run charter school. The board has now appealing the decision at the state level.

Second is that in December, Joy Motts, Board President, put discussion of the anti-Prop. 13 resolution by Evolve-ca, an activist group attempting to persuade local boards and councils to support removing Prop. 13 protections for business property on the agenda. Fortunately no action was taken after a presentation of correct information from the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association informing the board that the percentage paid by homeowners has declined not increased since the passage of Prop. 13.

Last, but not least, are the two bond measures the board previously saddled non-Mello Roos homeowners with and their more recent resolution to levy a special tax for the district for fiscal year 2014-15. That’s because, as Superintendent Gill recently commented “since residents recently voted to renovate Antioch High we’re looking at renovating other schools.” What schools?

The $61.6 million ballot measure that passed in 2008 was to make facilities improvements at Belshaw, Fremont, Kimball, Marsh, Mission, Muir, Sutter and Turner elementary schools, Antioch and Park middle schools, Antioch Live Oak and Prospect High schools. The 2012 ballot measure was to renovate Antioch High School.

It’s my guess the board’s ultimate decision not to put a parcel tax on this year’s November ballot was due to the City’s Business License Tax Measure O.  

In July the district, who will receive nearly $9.4 million this year in supplemental funds because more than 55% of students are low income, English learners or foster youth, approved a $157.2 million spending plan. The school board also ratified salary and health benefit adjustments which increased compensation for members of all three labor groups by about $3.5 million.

This month, during two recent closed meetings, the board discussed asking Superintendent Donald Gill, who negotiates for himself and was being wooed by the Newark School District, to stay, offering him a salary increase and asking him to finish important district projects. (Topic was to come before the public during a regular board meeting on August 27th.)

Projects include turning Dozier Libbey into a district-wide charter and making progress on its African-American Male Achievement Initiative. Ironically the district did have a RAAMP (Raising Academic Achievement Multicultural Program) academy which opened in 2009 but the California Charter Schools Association called for its closure in April 2014 due to low standardized test scores.

NOTE: From 2004 to 2012 AUSD enrollment fell from about 21,000 to 18,500 According to the district, enrollment as of last October was 17,900.

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Analysis – County Office of Education addressed Assadoorian recusal question

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

By John Crowder

A review of emails obtained through a California Public Records Act request reveals that the Contra Costa County Office of Education (CCCOE) considered the issue of a possible conflict of interest for board member Richard Asadoorian in the Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (DLMHS) conversion charter school petition appeal. Asadoorian is married to Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board Member Barbara Cowan, who voted against the DLMHS conversion petition. There had been some discussion that he should recuse himself from the appeal process.

Emails reveal that county staff were considering how to advise Asadoorian on this matter by mid-April. In an April 11 email from CCCOE Controller Jane Shamieh to Associate Superintendent Bill Clark, she relates a discussion she had with attorney Adam Ferber, from whom she had been seeking advice on the charter question. She says, “He (Ferber) asked if the board member (Asadoorian) with the conflict is going to recuse himself.” She continues, “When I told him I wasn’t sure he said that he absolutely should.” She goes on to say that this opinion is based on community property law, and that his wife has a financial interest because she is paid by Antioch.”

According to Asadoorian, he was approached by county staff with a recommendation that he recuse himself. “Staff presented cases based on common law. My own attorney looked at it, and (rejected their analysis). My own legal counsel saw no case study substantiating the idea that I should recuse myself, and I know other spouses have been in similar situations.”

Indeed, conflicts of interest are extremely common, in government and otherwise. The existence of a conflict of interest is not, in and of itself, an indication of unethical behavior or wrongdoing. Conflicts can exist whenever a situation occurs in which a person has more than one interest at stake in a decision. Concern arises when the possibility exists that a secondary interest might overshadow a primary interest. In this case, the questions raised were twofold. One was whether or not Asadoorian would be able to vote differently than his wife simply because of their relationship. The second, and the one being addressed by the CCCOE, was whether the stipend she received as an AUSD board member might influence his vote.

With respect to laws concerning conflict of interest, the husband/wife relationship is not even a consideration. Examples abound of relatives holding government offices (even the same offices held by Asadoorian and Cowan, as Walter and Cynthia Ruehlig were similarly situated in the not-so-distant past) and, while there exists the possibility of someone wanting to do a favor for a relative, conflict of interest laws do not generally focus on this relationship because it is so difficult to quantify the effect. Therefore, such laws focus on financial interest, because they are easier to quantify and are more objective.

In this case, Cowan is not employed by AUSD, but she does receive a stipend of $400 per month for her service on the board, along with another, smaller payment she receives in lieu of insurance offered to board members. It was argued that Asadoorian has a financial interest because of community property laws.

Public officials are expected to put their duty to the public (their primary duty) ahead of any secondary interest (such as an interest Asadoorian might have in the stipend received by Cowan). Conflict of interest laws are supposed to prevent decisions that could reasonably be perceived as being unduly influenced. Ultimately, it was up to Asadoorian to make the decision as to whether or not he might be influenced by the stipend his wife receives. It is hard to imagine that this small stipend could exert that level of influence. This is especially true when you consider that some, if not all of it, must be expended by her in the performance of her duties, i.e., local travel and other necessary expenses associated with serving on the board, for which she is not reimbursed.

Asadoorian ultimately determined, after consultation with county staff, and with his own attorney, that it was not appropriate to recuse himself. After a thoughtful consideration of the matter, it is hard to understand how he could reasonably have been expected to do otherwise.

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