Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

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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Jordan offers one more response to Watchdog over Charter City proposal

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

Dear Editor,

Here is my response to Ms. Zivica’s column published on the Herald website, June 15, 2015.

Barbara, you begin by quoting Sir Francis Bacon. I’m not going to quote some obscure Sixteenth Century Philosopher. But I will quote the Eagles from 1974.

Just remember this, my girl, when you look up in the sky You can see the stars and still not see the light.”

So, let us begin. Again Ms. Zivica offers no solution or suggestions as to how we should all address the unfunded retirement liability for the City of Antioch. This should not be about pointing fingers, laying blame or frightening the citizens. We are where we are with this problem. Problems need solutions and Ms. Zivica offers none. But she is not alone. Neither does the City Manager or the current Council Members. Silence is not golden in finance.

Yes, Barbara, Charter Cities have a much greater degree of latitude in how they address issues or seat Council Members. That does not mean that an approved Charter has to largely move away from our current General Law governing outline. It simply can allow a funding mechanism for the approximate amount due of $150,000,000.00.

Barbara, where do you suggest we generate the necessary amount? If we don’t get very serious about this matter quickly, within five years it is possible that we will have funds for about fifty police officers and nothing else. No finance department, no building department, no code enforcement, no animal services, nothing. A major amount of funds will be mandated to pay for employees’ current and retired financial obligation.

I am not suggesting that the funds charged in transfer fees created by a Charter City be delivered to the General Fund. That would be a mistake because it would rely on the staff and Council to promise they would only use the money to pay off the debt. Obviously we have seen too many promises made and not kept in this town. Additionally, we could, as part of the Charter, sunset the transfer fee implemented upon the full payment of the unfunded CalPERS amount, if it was the will of the majority.

All said, the complete terms and conditions of the city Charter can be clearly stated and defined before the approval of the citizens. What is wrong in presenting the matter to the voters? Let democracy work.

Barbara, you mention that the citizens are over taxed and over burdened.

Measure C was sold to the citizens by the Mayor and Council to hire additional police officers. I believe the number was twenty two more. Effectively we have almost a zero net gain. Here you are correct. It was a General Fund measure and, well, the money isn’t really being used for what it was intended; additional police. Another broken promise by the Council and Administrative Staff. Most likely there will be no extension of this additional sales tax. I know I won’t vote for it again. Will you?

Measure O is different. Here you misstate the facts. Measure O is not a burden to most of the citizens of Antioch. And, of no burden to you since, you don’t own residential rental property. I supported and voted for the ballot measure and pay the fee, multiple times over. Not because I like taxes but because most of the rental property in Antioch is owned by non-resident landlords who don’t care about our city and who pay almost nothing to improve the quality of life here in town. They needed to begin paying their fair share. Period.

You also mention schools. School bonds are generally for students and schools. Should we stop educating our children? Should we let Antioch High fall in on the classrooms? Really? Are you really that short sighted? I attended Antioch public schools and graduated from Antioch High and UC Davis. Both of my daughters attended Antioch public schools and one graduated from Antioch High and the other from Deer Valley. One is a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and the other is attending UC Davis in the fall. I can only say to the faculty and staff; job well done. Thank you.

You also state Barbara, that it is the State of California’s fault that the retirement accounts at CalPERS were underfunded. The City was just following the lead of the State. Really? So if the City Manager leads the City off a bridge and you follow then it is really his fault you are dead? You’re not smart enough to know falling off a bridge isn’t a very good idea?

Look, the CalPERS “pay as you go” plan was not and is not a good system and it has created a monster of a problem not just for Antioch but all cities who participated and made minimum payments. But, when your City Council tells you they have hired the best in staff; educated in government accounting and finance, and you get to a point of no return, then it is time to take responsibility for your mistakes, as a city. Blaming someone or something else, the State of California, is no solution.

And, so in conclusion let me end with effectively the same question. What is your solution Barbara?

Mark Jordan, Antioch

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Watchdog responds to Jordan’s call for Charter City in Antioch

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Watchdog Logo 300x95 Watchdog responds to Jordans call for Charter City in AntiochBy Barbara Zivica

Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.” – Sir Francis Bacon

I have been criticized by Realtor Mark Jordan for my article entitled General Law Cities vs. Charter Cities, which I wrote after he asked the city where they would find money to deal with under funded retirement accounts. He suggested the solution was to convert the city into a charter city and significantly increase the transfer fees on real property, which seemed to draw a favorable response from Mayor Harper and Council Member Tiscareno.

Let me respond by explaining a few things:

A transfer tax is a tax on the passing of title to property from one person (or entity) to another, typically imposed when there is a legal requirement for registration of the transfer of real estate, shares or bond. In the U.S. the term transfer tax also refers to estate tax and gift tax. In California only charter cities may impose a real property transfer tax, in addition to the current one, although both general law and charter cities have the power to tax. Currently the property transfer tax is limited to $1.10 per $1,000 with it split 50/50 between the county and city. If Antioch were to become a charter city and increase its property transfer tax the county would get the full $1.10 per $1,000 and the city would keep the amount it sets above $1.10. The amount of revenue received, of course, depends on how many existing and new homes are sold and resold.

I think it’s a bad idea for many reasons. For starters, California residents are overtaxed and over regulated and Antioch residents are feeling the burden from two tax measures: Measure C, the half-cent sales tax increase which was touted by the Mayor to add 22 more police officers to the force and passed by 68.09% of the 11,175 voters who turned out (net zero additional cops, due to attrition) and Measure O, the business license tax which passed with 51.62% of the vote, with 16,926 of the city’s approximately 45,000 registered voters turning out.

On top of that, we’re paying for two new school bond measures., all of this happening during an economic downturn which I attribute again to crushing taxes, over regulation and incompetent legislators. It was the state that was responsible for the under funding of employee retirements accounts, the cities just followed their example. NOTE: Governor Brown recently released a 12-point pension reform plan which will eliminate the opportunity to purchase additional retirement service credits, prohibit pension holidays, prohibit employers from making employee pension contributions, prohibit retroactive pension increases, prohibit pension spiking, impose pension benefit cap, improve retirement board governance, and limit post retirement public employment.

Other reasons I dislike the charter city idea:

Charter cities aren’t bound by the election code and can set their own criteria for city officers, term limits and council members’ salaries, can permit the financing of election campaigns, aren’t required to have competitive bidding for public works contracts over $5,000, aren’t required to pay prevailing wages under state law for local public works funded by local funds, and charter city zoning orders are not required to be consistent with the general plan unless the city adopts a consistence requirement by charter or ordinance.

Last, but not least, is the fact that general law cities are governed by a city council of five members but charter cities can provide for any form of government including the “strong mayor” and city manager forms. This could be disastrous. We’re having trouble enough reining in Mayor Wade Harper.

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Writer responds to Antioch School Board Trustee’s comment on Friday night incident at Safeway

Monday, June 15th, 2015

Dear Editor:

A message to bleeding hearts justifying acts of vandalism or violence in Antioch.

Lack of planning plus lack of imagination equals boredom. Own up. Pick up a book or pick up a ball. Libraries and parks are free. The world is not responsible for your action or your entertainment.

Cynthia Ruehlig, Antioch

NOTE: This was written and submitted in response to a comment about the incident posted on Facebook by Antioch School Board Trustee Debra Vinson, who wrote “Terrible! Boredom is always bad!”

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Watchdog: Concern over more race-based programs in Antioch school district

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Watchdog Logo Watchdog: Concern over more race based programs in Antioch school districtBy Barbara Zivica

My recent column regarding an African-American graduation ceremony in Antioch provoked a lot of response and prompted a reader to inform me about the African American Male High School Preparatory Academy (summer school). Wondering what was going on in the district, I checked their website and found out something that may have been the cause behind district decisions, which I consider to be discriminatory.

It seems that on March 26, 2015, the district issued a press release in response to a complaint brought by Willie Mims, Education Chair of the East County Branch of the NAACP, charging the district with disproportionately suspending African American students and students with disabilities.

Claire Smith, AUSD Board of Trustees President at the time said “I am so pleased to share that the Board of Education gave direction in closed session to accept a plan of action that will fortify our work in areas of student equity and access and provisionally resolve the issued raised by the advocacy organizations.”

The District’s web site now includes a non-discrimination statement. Perhaps this is the reason the district scheduled African American Male Achievement Initiative Committee Meeting dates during 2014-15 to which the public was apparently welcome, although it’s the first I’ve heard about them. The African American Male Achievement Initiative goal is to increase graduation rates for AA males, increase the number of students who graduate, decrease the number of AA male students referred to special education, and decrease the number of AA male students suspended from school.

The district’s former RAAMP program – Raising Academic Achievement Multicultural Program Charter Academy was deemed a failure by the California Charter Schools Association, and called for its closure due to low standardized test scores.

Check the district’s website in regard to information for the following programs: Credit recovery summer school, African-American Male Initiative – Bridge Program, Alternative Education, and Independent Study summer school, all held at Deer Valley High School. (June 15 through July 21, Monday through Thursday). Incidentally, these summer programs offer free breakfast and lunch as do elementary schools in the district (K-8) during June and July.

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