Archive for the ‘Politics & Elections’ Category

Deputy DA’s endorse Graves for Contra Costa District Attorney

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. Photo courtesy of Paul Graves for DA

The Contra Costa County District Attorneys’ Association endorses Paul Graves for District Attorney.  Delivering the news, Association President Aron DeFerrari noted “Paul has the experience and integrity Contra Costa deserves in its next District Attorney.”

Stephanie Kang, a DAs’ Association Board Member, noted “Paul Graves is exactly the type of person who should be leading the change and reforms Contra Costa needs.  Paul Graves had the courage and leadership to stand up against Mark Peterson’s misconduct and run against him even though taking a stand risked Paul’s career.”  

Lauren Whalen, another Association Board Member, and lifelong Contra Costa County resident, said “Paul’s actions put Contra Costa first and we know he’ll continue to do so as District Attorney.”

Steve Bolen, an Association Board Member noted “Our prosecutors are eager for change. We embrace the idea of a fresh start and the possibilities it offers. Most importantly, we care about the safety of the residents and communities we serve.  We know Paul Graves puts public safety above politics, that’s what matters to us.” 

The people of Contra Costa deserve an experienced, trusted prosecutor who can provide the leadership needed to keep our communities safe.  Paul Graves alone offers both that experience and integrity. He should be Contra Costa’s next District Attorney.

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Environmental groups, Antioch residents submit initiative seeking third vote on new home development area

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

By Allen Payton

On Thursday February 8, 2018 a coalition of Antioch residents and community groups, entitled the Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek, submitted the text of the “Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative” to the City of Antioch.  According to a press release from the group, the initiative is in response to plans for the remaining 2,800 houses in the Sand Creek area at Antioch’s southern border, the undeveloped area stretching from Deer Valley Road west to Black Diamond Mines Regional Park. The initiative would give Antioch voters the right to vote on Sand Creek Area projects or changes to Antioch’s Urban Limit Line.” 180208 Initiative

However, the voters of Antioch already voted to allow development in the Sand Creek area both in 1990 with the passage of the countywide Measure C, as well as with the passage of Antioch’s Measure K in 2005. Measure C established the countywide Urban Limit Line and Measure K moved the line back out and established a city Urban Limit Line (ULL), which supersedes the county’s line, after the Board of Supervisors moved the line in and cut the former Roddy Ranch golf course and planned development of 640 homes in a gated community, out of the line. Those 900 acres have since been sold by Roddy and his partners to the East Bay Regional Parks District and are now publicly owned open space inside the ULL.

The initiative petition was signed by three Antioch residents, Michael Amorosa, Selina Button and Kristina Gutilla. However, the effort is also backed by Save Mt. Diablo, Greenbelt Alliance, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay, the California Native Plant Society and Antioch Creeks & Trails Alliance.

Organizers say the “Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative” would: Require a vote to allow any major development in the initiative area; limit the extent and amount of development in a 3 square mile (1800-acre) area between Deer Valley Road and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve; protect the existing Urban Limit Line; preserve nature, open spaces, and historic qualities; maintain agriculture; protect the Sand Creek stream corridor; limit traffic in Antioch; decrease impacts on schools, water police fire and other services; help focus city investments, revitalization and economic development on existing neighborhoods, downtown and along the waterfront.

It would do so by designating the roughly 1,800-acre area between Kaiser Hospital and Black Diamond Mines for rural residential, agricultural and open space uses. It would require a vote of Antioch voters to allow more intensive development.

The effort is specifically targeting the project known as The Ranch where as many as 1,307 homes are  proposed, down from 1,700 just two years ago, as well as Zeka Ranch project, on the former Higgins Ranch property, at the western end of the valley. That property is immediately adjacent to the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve land, publicly owned by the East Bay Regional Parks District. –

One project left off of the list that has yet to be approved, is the proposed development known as the Olive Groves, which includes 300 homes in a gated senior community south of Sand Creek and east of Deer Valley Road.

The initiative, if passed, would also make Antioch’s Urban Limit Line permanent. Under Measure K, through December 31, 2020, only the voters may change the location of the Line. “After that date voter approval is not required and the urban boundary can be changed by the Antioch city council any time they want. Maintaining voter approval of the urban limit line is in the best interests of Antioch residents,” the organizers claim.

Six Months to Gather Signatures

The City had 15 days from Feb. 8 to provide a title and summary before signature gathering for the initiative could begin. According to Antioch City Clerk Arne Simonsen, “the Title & Summary was prepared by the City Attorney which I received on February 23rd and immediately sent to the proponent(s) of the initiative.” Initiative Title & Summary

However, Simonsen said it is too late to get the initiative on the June ballot and the soonest it can make it would be the ballot in November.

“They have 180 days from the date they publish their Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition in the newspaper to gather the necessary signatures,” he said. That occurred on Feb. 28. The group then must print the initiative petitions and gather the necessary signatures to qualify the measure.  Published Notice of Intent 2-28-18

The group has to obtain 10% of the registered voters in the city as of the last time the County Registrar of Voters updated the California Secretary of State. That occurred early last year, according to both Simonsen and County Clerk-Registrar of Voters, Joe Canciamilla.

There were 51,040 registered voters in Antioch at that time. So, the group has to gather 5,104 valid signatures of registered Antioch voters. That will give them until sometime in late August to gather and submit the required signatures. The cut-off date to make it onto the November ballot is mid-August.

If the group is unable to make the November ballot, the soonest the initiative could be up for a vote would be in June 2020 because, according to Simonsen, “the initiative did not call for a special election, so it would have to appear on a regular election.”

Also, if the council approves the remainder of the homes prior to the November election the initiative will be moot, except for making the ULL permanent. The council could also opt to place the measure on the ballot, even if the group is unsuccessful in obtaining the required signatures or misses the deadline.

“I became involved with the ‘Let Antioch Voters Decide:  The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative’ not only to help conserve and protect open spaces in Antioch, but also to reduce an uptick in unneeded and unwanted development and growth.  Antioch, and especially Highway 4, does not have the infrastructure to support an additional 4,000 or more houses,” said Button, an Antioch Rivertown resident who is a member of the steering committee of the “Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek” coalition. “There is so much beauty in Antioch, from the San Joaquin River to Mt. Diablo views, and we have a responsibility to ensure that this natural beauty is preserved for future generations.”

Lack of Infrastructure Capacity Claims Disputed

In response to a question about the capacity built into the design for the Highway 4 widening, Linsey Willis of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority refuted Button’s claims, stating, “The traffic studies completed as part of the required environmental reviews for the expansion of Highway 4 were based upon the housing forecast information released by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) during the late 1990’s.  The horizon year of the forecast at that time was 2025.”

In addition, Mike McGill of MMS Design, the engineer of record who designed the roads, water and sewer systems in southeast Antioch said that they were overbuilt. That was to allow for additional capacity to support the projected homes in the Sand Creek Focus Area (formerly referred to as Future Urban Area 1 or FUA-1), as well as the employment area planned for the Laurel Road area north of Highway 4 (known then as Future Urban Area 2 or FUA-2), back in the 1980’s.

“When we set up southeast Antioch, FUA-1 and FUA-2, we were doing that against the backdrop of what we were thinking the ultimate land-use would be. We put together the infrastructure for 12,000 homes in FUA-2,” he said.

“We didn’t do anything for Hwy 4, initially because we had approached Cal-Trans. They said ‘that’s a state highway, we’ll take care of that. You just bring everyone to us,’” McGill explained. “I believe they used the ultimate build-out of Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood. City staff would have given Cal-Trans that data. But, it was much more than 4,000.”

“The local network was designed to handle 12,000 units in FUA-1, now known as Sand Creek Focus Area, and Roddy,” he reiterated. “When the roads are first built, people get used to driving on them almost empty at level of service A. At ultimate build out it’s designed to be at level of service C. Lone Tree Way was designed to be three lanes in each direction without a bike lane, because the bicycles were supposed to be on the Mokelumne trail. But the bicycle coalition didn’t like that because they wanted to be on the street.”

“We had to consider the traffic coming into the area and did the traffic design for FUA-1 and FUA-2 and tied it all together,” McGill continued. “The road network was sized on the ultimate usage. But it all hasn’t been built, yet. There are pieces that aren’t done. When Sand Creek Road connects to Dallas Ranch Road the traffic on Deer Valley Road and Lone Tree Way east of Dallas Ranch Road will reduce significantly. Also, Deer Valley Road will ultimately be expanded all the way to Balfour Road.”

“With Lone Tree valley development reduced, and Roddy now gone, there will be excess capacity in the roadway than everyone originally thought and planned,” he added.

Organizations supporting the initiative.

Additional Reasons for the Initiative

Other organizers shared their concerns with the development, as well.

“For so long it has felt like Antioch has been led blindly by our city council,” said Kristina Gutilla, one of the Antioch residents who submitted the petition to the city. “This gives residents a chance to let their voices be heard, giving control back to the people.”

“Much of Antioch’s creeks, marshes, and landscapes have been paved over,” said Antioch resident Michael Amorosa, who helped create the coalition. “The extremely unique Sand Creek Area, which I like to refer to as the Upper Lone Tree Valley, is high in biodiversity and is an aesthetically alluring watershed with century old riparian forests that absolutely should not vanish in any way, shape, or form. This extraordinary slice of virgin land needs to remain as open space, not bulldozed over.”

“Antioch has a General Plan to guide development in Sand Creek. The amount of development proposed – 4,000 units – is crazy to begin with but the city has ignored the General Plan every time a project has been proposed,” said Seth Adams, Land Conservation Director for Save Mount Diablo. “If they continue at the same rate, we’re talking 4,000 to 8,000 more houses on the south edge of the city.”

However, what Adams didn’t mention is that the City’s original plans for the Sand Creek area was for 8,950 homes, plus the 640 homes at the Roddy Ranch development. Plus, the council in 2016 already approved over 1,200 homes on the eastern end of the area, between Deer Valley Road and the city’s boundary with Brentwood, around Kaiser and Dozier-Libbey Medical High School.

“Conservation of the Sand Creek Area has long been one of our goals,” said Lesley Hunt, California Native Plant Society, East Bay Chapter. “It contains several rare and unusual plants with the potential for more. It is also an important transitional zone between three major ecoregions. Preservation of this area will allow all species to adapt to changing conditions.”

Former Mayor, City Staff Respond

But, the land has been owned by developers since the mid-1990’s and is just now being prepared for development of the new, upscale homes, on larger lots, with gated communities and senior communities.

When reached for comment, former Mayor Don Freitas whose council adopted the new policies Sand Creek Focus Area in 2003 said, “It was a very transparent process. How many meetings did we have with the public? Dozens.”

“We cut the total number of homes by more than 50% from over 8,900 to about 4,000,” he continued. “We wanted the type of housing for Antioch that we don’t currently have.”

Freitas also explained how he said at the time plan had to require that the Antioch Unified School District was “100% satisfied and that there has to be enough money to build the school facilities in FUA1 or I will not support it.”

Antioch’s Community Development Director, Forrest Ebbs further stated the limit of the number of homes for the area.

“What the council did in 2003 was instead of adopting a Specific Plan for the Sand Creek Focus Area, was to adopt policies and include them in the City’s General Plan.” Those policies included the total number of homes “shall not exceed 4,000 and that has been in place since 2003,” he stated.

On the group’s Facebook page, people are encouraged to “get involved by calling Juan Pablo Galvan at Save Mount Diablo” not one of the local organizers. Galvan does not live in Antioch and only Antioch residents who are registered voters can gather signatures for the petitions.

Initiative’s Leaders Respond to Questions

The following questions were sent to Adams, Amorosa and Button on Tuesday, Feb. 20. Some of the same questions were posted on the group’s Facebook page, without response. However, Adams responded by email that day with, “Thanks for your questions.  Our coalition will respond to your email after our Steering Committee has a chance to discuss it.”

  • First, other than making the ULL permanent, why do we need another vote of the people when there have already been two to allow development in the Sand Creek Focus Area, as you point out in the press release – the Measure C countywide vote approving the original Urban Limit Line and Measure K, a vote of the people of Antioch which established the city’s Urban Limit Line in the same place?
  • Second, what city do you live in and the other leaders and most of the members of your and the other organizations helping lead this effort? Are there upscale, executive homes there in which business owners and executives live who have their businesses close by employing other residents in your cities? Why can’t Antioch have the same thing?
  • Did you try to stop that same type of housing in Brentwood, Oakley and Brentwood? Why should Antioch home owners have to move out of our city in order to live in a nicer home on a larger lot with views, or in a gated community, or in a senior community – as some of housing in The Ranch project is proposed? Why can’t Antioch have those same types of homes that other cities in Lamorinda, the San Ramon Valley and Central County have?
  • Isn’t it rather elitist and an effort to keep your property values high at the expense of those in our city, preventing us from having a complete mix of housing, now that it’s our turn to have it and we have the Highway widened, the Bypass/Hwy 4 extension will be completed, and the Antioch and Pittsburg BART Stations opened in May?
  • Also, by cutting off the additional supply of housing in our county, aren’t you contributing to the increasing home prices and rental prices, and thus to the increase in the homelessness crisis?
  • Isn’t it also contributing to actually causing people to buy homes further out in the prime agricultural land of the Central Valley and driving further to their jobs, thus blowing more smoke out of their tailpipes and polluting the environment more?
  • Isn’t 65% of the land in the county enough for open space? Plus, 900 acres of the former Roddy Ranch golf course and development have recently and in the past few years become permanent open space with the sale to the East Bay Regional Parks District, as well as acreage donated by Gordon Gravelle off of James Donlon Blvd. where he had upscale homes on view lots planned, all of which is inside the Urban Limit Line.
  • Were you aware that originally there were 8,950 homes planned for the Sand Creek Focus Area plus the 640 homes at Roddy and now it’s down to just 4,000 of which 1,200+/- have already been approved?
  • Aren’t those enough victories for you and the environmental organizations? A 58% decrease in the total number of homes?
  • Finally, it’s been mentioned that the environmental community cut a deal with the development community over Measure C and Measure J, as well, that basically said you can have the 65% of the land outside the line, but that you would leave the land inside the line alone. Is that true?

The three responded on Friday, March 2 with the following:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Sand Creek Focus Area?

It’s a 2,783 acre area along the south edge of the city, stretching from Black Diamond Mines east to Brentwood. It’s divided into three parts by Empire Mine Road and Deer Valley Road.

What Land Is Affected by the “Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative”?

Our initiative would affect about 1850 acres from Deer Valley Road west, past Empire Mine Road, to Black Diamond Mines Regional Park. 80-90% of that area is owned by out of town speculators and developers.  Our initiative doesn’t affect the 900 acres east of Deer Valley Road including Kaiser and several already approved developments (Aviano and Promenade).

Why Is Our Coalition Proposing the Initiative?

Antioch residents are fed up.  They want change from business as usual.  Current development approvals have created many problems that need to be addressed. Additional development to the south will stretch services and damage sensitive, beautiful areas. Our initiative would require that developers persuade Antioch voters that their project benefits Antioch.

What Does The “Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative” Do?

–      Designates 1800 acres west of Deer Valley Road as the Initiative Area and zones it Rural Residential, Agricultural and Open Space.

–      Limits development in the Sand Creek area between Kaiser Hospital and Black Diamond Mines, where the city is proposing 4000-8000 houses.

–      Require Antioch voter approval to allow more intensive development. It Lets Antioch Voters Decide if they want to allow bigger developments.

–      Permanently Require Voter Approval Of Amendments To The Urban Limit Line. The current Antioch Urban Limit Line is only voter approved until December 2020. Our measure would continue to require voter approval for changes.

How Many Signatures Do We Need To Collect?

10% of registered voters in Antioch, or 5100.  But some won’t be good signatures, so our goal is 7700 signatures. We’re starting collecting March 3-4.  To qualify an initiative you have 6 months but we hope to finish sooner.

How Can I Help?

–      We need help collecting signatures to qualify our initiative. It’s easy, we’ll put you with a partner or you can bring your own, and a shift is just two hours.

–      Check our Coalition Facebook page: “Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek” or call or email Juan Pablo Galvan at Save Mount Diablo at 925 947-3535 or, to sign up.

–      Like and Share our Facebook page – it’s the easiest way to communicate with you.

–      Sign up for our E-Blast – it’s our most detailed information.

What’s Special About The Initiative Area’s 1850 acres

From A Neighbor Perspective: It’s beautiful, and if our initiative is adopted, it doesn’t stretch services, it doesn’t add traffic, etc.   From A Resource Perspective: The Initiative Area is beautiful ranch land and open space next to Black Diamond Mines and Deer Valley Regional Parks.  It’s crossed by sinuous Sand Creek, which supports a number of endangered species, and is part of a wildlife corridor from Black Diamond Mines to Los Vaqueros Watershed. It’s home to many rare plants and animals, including golden eagles and owls, as well as more common species like bobcats, deer and coyotes. It’s the most sensitive part of the Sand Creek Focus Area with big rock outcroppings, ponds, and springs and an oak savannah with huge old oaks separating the Sand Creek Area from Horse Valley and Deer Valley Regional Park. It’s also a bad place for development with underlying coal mines – two coal mining towns were located in the Focus Area. The real question is whether to impact the public’s investment on these parks, or to buffer the parks.

Do We Need More Housing?

Not For Years.  Antioch already has over 2000 housing units in town approved but not built. That’s a huge amount of traffic and impacts on schools, police, fire and other services that are yet to be felt.

What Is An Initiative?

“Initiatives” are one of the reforms from the Progressive Area, like “recall” of corrupt politicians.  It allows private citizens to write and enact their own laws. After talking with people for over two years, that’s what we did, with the help of a volunteer, retired law professor.

Do We Need This Initiative Now If Development Might Not Happen For Years

Yes. If the area west of Kaiser isn’t protected by our initiative, it will be broken up and fragmented by current development applications, even if development takes place later.  The area east of the hospital has already been fragmented.  Developers and some elected officials like to suggest impacts of projects might not happen for years. But they also suggest project benefits will happen immediately. Reality is in the middle. They also ignore that other development already approved, but not yet built (more than 2,000 units in Antioch) is still to be felt in our schools and services. Approving more development when thousands of units are already approved Is asking for problems and digging those holes deeper.

What Are “Development Agreements” ?

Developers ask the city for “Development Agreements” which guarantee their rights for extended periods.  In many places, those “Development Agreements” rights are negotiated in exchange for substantial public benefit. In East County they’re practically given away.

There Have Been Several Votes On Urban Limit Lines (ULL), Why Do We Need Another?

There have been five major urban limit line decisions affecting Antioch in 30 years. They’re all listed at the bottom of this FAQ.  Most of them were very general and don’t affect any of the properties in the Sand Creek area.

Why Didn’t You just Shrink the Urban Limit Line (ULL) to Exclude the Sand Creek Area?

If our initiative qualifies and is approved by the voters, Antioch voters retain control of the area. Developers will have to convince Antioch voters to allow more intensive projects. If we had proposed shrinking the ULL, the city and developers would probably threaten that the area would be developed by the County or Brentwood. Our initiative would maintain local control by Antioch residents.

Who Are We? Are Antioch Residents Involved?

Developers or elected officials sometimes try to suggest that newer residents, nonresidents, or advocacy organizations should be ignored or aren’t legitimate.  They never make that claim about out-of-town developers. More than 80% of the area that would be affected by our initiative is owned by 4 out-of-town developer speculators, including two from Southern California and one from Nevada.

We believe anyone who lives, works, or plays in Antioch has a voice. These projects threaten existing neighborhoods and residents’ quality of life. They also threaten two regional parks we’ve all invested in, wildlife and resources, and will have regional impacts on traffic, air quality, etc.  Just because you’re a new resident doesn’t mean your voice is less important. The real question is whether new development will stretch services and make problems worse, or better?

The “Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek” coalition which drafted the initiative, is made up of Antioch residents and community groups, and communicates with thousands of Antioch residents.  All three of the listed proponents who drafted the initiative—Michael Amorosa, Selina Button, and Kristina Gutilla– are Antioch residents. Community groups such as Save Mount Diablo, Greenbelt Alliance, California Native Plant Society, and Sierra Club all have members who live in Antioch.

How Much Traffic Would The Sand Creek Focus Area Cause?

Each new house generates 10 daily car trips, according to traffic engineers. 4,000-8,000 housing units would generate 40,000 to 80,000 car trips per day, on Empire Mine Road, Dallas Ranch, and Deer Valley Road, through existing neighborhoods to Lone Tree Way, without increasing capacity on any roads.  Our initiative does not affect any road extensions, or completion of Sand Creek Road from the Bypass to Deer Valley Road and Kaiser.

How Will Sand Creek Development Affect Our Local Economy?

Since there are already thousands of houses approved to be built in and Around Antioch, this development isn’t needed to create temporary building jobs. The proposed development will compete with existing and already approved but not yet built housing, reducing property and resale values.

Where Are The Developers Going To Get Water?

The developers do not provide any new water supplies, further stretching our water supplies during drought.

Why Didn’t You Include The Area East Of Deer Valley Road In The Initiative?

Our initiative is silent about the area east of Deer Valley Road and wouldn’t change the status quo.  Just like it’s silent on other areas. One reason is that area is already fragmented and includes Kaiser and two approved housing projects, Aviano and Promenade. They’re grandfathered in. City officials say they want Senior and Executive Housing. There is a proposed senior project there, the 301-unit “Albers Ranch / the Olive Groves” project (If the city actually makes them perform on promised senior housing.)

Why Did you Exclude the small 4-acre rectangle at the bottom right corner of the initiative area?

There’s only one parcel west of Deer Valley Road mentioned in the city’s General Plan Housing Element.  It’s that 4-acre property. None of the other parcels

The City Wants Upscale, Executive, Senior Housing or Business Park, etc.

At about 115,000 people, Antioch is almost tied with Concord for largest city in the County by population. It’s nearly tied for second with Concord in geographic size. It’s a little late to think it’s an underdog.  If it doesn’t have what other cities have it’s because the city council is not demanding it, or developers don’t believe the market will support it.

Is This The Place For Executive Housing

“Executive Housing” is a buzz word meant to suggest “upscale” and is often demanded or promised, but rarely delivered. Executives tend to live close to business parks and headquarters, like Bishop Ranch, Hacienda, and in Silicon Valley or San Francisco.  Until the city solves existing problems, businesses are less likely to locate here.  Developers claim they will build Executive Housing to get approvals.  Then they ask the city to let them build whatever the market will bear at the time of construction. The Antioch City Council usually allows them to change their product whenever they ask. So, one thing gets approved, then what actually gets built is different.

Is This The Place For Senior Housing?

We’re all aging, and many of us have aging parents, so Senior Housing sounds good, but it’s rarely delivered. Cities often suggest they want senior housing because it suggests less commute traffic and no impacts on schools.  Then after environmental review is done, they often discard the senior requirement and you get those traffic and school impacts anyway.  That’s exactly what’s happening at the Aviano project, east of Kaiser.

Are Our Organizations Working Just In Antioch?

The organizations involved in our coalition have all been working in East County for decades, in a variety of cities, on a variety of projects. Save Mount Diablo for example, began working to create Black Diamond Mines Regional Park in 1973

What Does The Sand Creek Area Have to Do With Mt. Diablo?

The Sand Creek Area is part of the foothills of Mt. Diablo, a wildlife corridor from Black Diamond Mines to Los Vaqueros Watershed, and adjacent to two regional parks Save Mount Diablo helped create, Black Diamond Mines and Deer Valley Regional Park. It’s part of the historic Mt. Diablo Coalfields which began being mined in the 1850s. And the area is part of the Diablo Range, which was defined by the California Geological Survey in the 1850s.

Why is a staff member for Save Mount Diablo, the contact for the effort?

Because this is a big priority for Save Mount Diablo and to make it easy for people asking questions to reach us.  Check our Coalition Facebook page: “Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek” or call or email Juan Pablo Galvan at Save Mount Diablo at 925 947-3535 or, if you have questions.

Should We Be Concerned About Our Property Values?

Of course Antioch residents should be concerned about our property values. For many families, it’s our major investment. During the recession, many Antioch houses lost half their values.  Every new house that’s built competes with existing houses for resales. Caring about property values and quality of life is common sense.

Does Requiring Developers to “Let Antioch Voters Decide” Restrict Housing Supply?

No. It Requires Developers to Propose Projects Good Enough to Get Voter Support.  There are thousands of homes approved but not yet built in East County, including more than 2,000 in Antioch. Every City is required to meet regional housing needs by zoning adequate land for housing.  Antioch has zoned and approved more than required. Not a single parcel in our initiative area is required to meet Antioch’s designated housing needs.

If They Don’t Build It Here, Won’t They Build it On Prime Farmland Further Out?

California has had massive waves of development since the Gold Rush. As long as there’s good weather and a strong economy, it will continue. Antioch has more than met its share of regional housing. Residents have the right to preserve their community’s quality of life.  Whether we make better development choices now or after there is no more vacant land in Antioch, we face the same choice—smarter growth with fewer impacts. Plenty of communities are building lots of housing without spreading out further.

How Did You Calculate 4,000-8,000 House Number In The Sand Creek Focus Area ?

The City’s General Plan suggests 4000 units in the Sand Creek Area, but for each project so far they’ve amended the General Plan to allowed more. The Sand Creek Focus Area includes 2,783 acres. The approved Aviano and Promenade projects include 1,183 houses on 281 acres east of Kaiser.  “The Ranch” proposes 1307 on 552 acres.  “Olive Grove” proposes 301 units on 97 acres.  In total that’s 2,791 units on 930 acres, just a third of the total acreage.  If the city continues ignoring the General Plan at the same pace, that equals 8,352 units on 2,783 acres.  So we use a range of 4000 units suggested in the General Plan and 8000, suggested by what’s actually taking place.

What Planning Has Happened In The Sand Creek Area?

Antioch started but never finished a Specific Plan in the Sand Creek Focus Area (2002-2003) and started but never completed a General Plan Amendment of the 2003 General Plan. The only real land use map is a 2018 photocopy of a 2003 photocopy (below), with a couple of changes on the east end. That’s the level of planning for this area.

Both the 2003 and the 2018 Antioch General Plans say:  “Prior to or concurrent with approvals of any development applications other than major employment-generating uses (including, but not limited to a medical facility on the Kaiser property), a specific plan or alternative planning process as determined by the City Council, shall be prepared and approved for the Sand Creek Focus Area.”

The City has never completed a Sand Creek Specific Plan. Instead, a developer proposes a project and the city ignores its vague General Plan Focus Area map, and approves something completely different.

The Sand Creek area was originally called Future Urban Area #1 (FUA#1) and was added to the city in the early 1990s. Around 2002 the city began planning a specific plan for FUA#1. They did inadequate environmental review and when challenged by environmental groups, they tabled the specific plan and never completed it. The only direction about the Sand Creek Focus Area is a few pages in the General Plan, (GP 2003, pg 4-38 to 4-45) and a version of the vague map above, (

In 2003 the City updated the General Plan and included a document that had been developed for the FUA#1  Specific Plan that was never finished, called “Appendix A: Sand Creek Resource Management Plan.” In 2015-2018 the city started to create something like a Specific Plan (a General Plan Amendment) again for the Sand Creek Focus Area as part of a General Plan Update.

Once again they did inadequate environmental review and when challenged by environmental groups, they tabled the plan again and never incorporated it into the General Plan. Bottom Line, the City has started to create a Specific Plan for the Sand Creek Area twice, and never completed either Plan.

Does The Current Specific Plan Or General Plan Protect The Creek?

No.  There is no Specific Plan for the area.  The General Plan has some vague language but no specific setbacks from the creek. A Management Plan attached to the General Plan refers to the draft Specific Plan that was never completed and a 250’ creek corridor. And for all 3 projects so far, the city has changed the General Plan substantially.  Save Mount Diablo was successful in getting a significant creek buffer for the Aviano and Promenade projects, but nothing in the General Plan requires it. The “Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative” requires a 200’ wide corridor on either side of Sand Creek if approved (400’ total).

Editor’s Note: However, according to Ebbs, The General Plan has language providing appropriate buffers for development adjacent to Sand Creek. There’s no numerical standard. It’s based on a site-specific analysis because the creek varies and the projects vary. So, there’s not a standard, across-the-board set-back. There is a host of other agencies that review this, that have their standards. But, the plan does not say you can build right up to the creek, by right.

Urban Limit Line Decisions Affecting the Antioch Area

Nov. 1990 – Measure C –  County Urban Limit Line (ULL) was approved, creating – it was expansive and designed to allow a large amount of development. Cities weren’t bound by the ULL, which could be changed by a 4/5 vote of the County Board of Supervisors.

Aug. 2000 – County Urban Limit Line Tightened – The County Board of Supervisors approves tightening the County Urban Limit Line. It still only affects the County.

Nov 2004 – Measure J – Requiring Voter-Approved Urban Limit Lines – The Contra Costa Transportation Authority passes Measure J, requiring that the County and all the cities have voter-approved Urban Limit Lines to qualify for transportation funding.

Nov. 2005 – Measure K Roddy Ranch Developer Urban Limit Line – in response to Measure J, Roddy Ranch/developers circulate Measure K, an expansive Urban Limit Line affecting just Antioch – potentially allowing a large amount of development. The campaign is all about limiting growth but in reality Measure K could allow a lot of development. The measure is approved. It will sunset in Dec 2020, after which point voter approval is no longer needed to change it. At that point it can be changed by the Antioch City Council.

Nov. 2006 – Measure L Unified County Urban Limit Line – in response to 2004 Measure J, the county Board of Supervisors places Measure L on the ballot, referencing the 2000 tightened Urban Limit Line, and various changes all around the County. (Editor’s Note: Measure L did not make any changes to the Urban Limit Line in Antioch).

What’s the 65/35 Plan? Was it an agreement with Environmentalists?

No it wasn’t.  In 1990 Conservationists proposed the first County Urban Limit Line Measure, Measure F. The County Board of Supervisors and Developers put a competing Initiative on the ballot, Measure C (see above).  Measure C beat Measure F and created an expansive County Urban Limit Line called the 65/35 plan.  Developers said “Who cares if there’s an Urban Limit Line if you need binoculars to see it?”

Problem was, Measure C didn’t affect cities. If developers couldn’t get what they wanted from a city, they’d go to the county, and vice versa.  Measure C could also be changed by a 4/5 vote of the County Board of Supervisors.

Isn’t There 65% Open Space Outside The Urban Limit Line, And 35% Inside the Urban Limit Line?

No. The 65% standard just suggests non-urban density. That can include all kinds of development like all the houses along Marsh Creek Road, the trailer park, the county jail, etc.  The 35% standard is urban, but it can also include all kinds of other uses including protected land.  There’s protected land inside the line, and developed land outside the line.  In Antioch for example, Contra Loma Reservoir, Dow Wetlands and part of Deer Valley Regional Park are all inside the Urban Limit Line and the City Limits, and are protected.

The line became more useful when it was tightened by the County Board of Supervisors in 2000, and even more so in 2004 when Measure J required that both the county and the cities have voter-approved Urban Limit Lines—that put more control in the hands of residents.

More Information

General Plan:  A statement of policies, including text, maps and diagrams setting forth objectives, principles, standards, and plan proposals, for the future physical development of a city or county. The official public document or ‘constitution’ adopted by a county, city or other agency as the policy guide for decisions about its future development and redevelopment. A General Plan usually includes, but is not limited to, a land use plan, housing, transportation, etc.  General Plans and General Plan Amendments and are subject to environmental review.

General Plan Amendment:  An amendment to the General Plan can involve either a change to the policy text of the plan or a change on the General Plan Map which alters the land use designation of a particular parcel of property. General Plan Amendments and are subject to environmental review.  The 1300(-home) “The Ranch” project would require a General Plan Amedment.

Specific Plan: A plan addressing land use distribution, open space availability, infrastructure, and infrastructure financing for a portion of the community. Specific plans put the provisions of the local general plan into action. For example, a “Downtown Specific Plan” or the “Sand Creek Specific Plan” covering a smaller part of the city.

Urban Limit Line: The local government enacts an ordinance that defines on a map where growth will occur in the future and where basic services, such as schools, sewers, water facilities, and police and fire protection, can be provided economically.  AKA “Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).” Each one is unique. Some are strong. Some are weak.

Adams also responded to the questions directed to him with, The leaders of community organizations also represented on the Steering Committee are from a variety of places; all of those organizations have members and donors in Antioch. I personally live in Martinez. All of the developers proposing projects in the initiative area are from out of town or out of state.

The initiative isn’t about stopping all development, or any specific kind of development – it’s about giving control to Antioch voters,” he added. Caring about quality of life and property values is common sense.

The group filed the necessary paperwork with the Antioch City Clerk’s office on Thursday, March 1 in order to begin raising funds to pay for the campaign. Form 410 Initial Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek rcvd 3-1-18



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Joy Motts switches sights and files intent to run for Antioch City Council in November

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

Joy Motts from Facebook on Oct. 31, 2017. Photo by the Hon. Monica Wilson

By Allen Payton

After serving on the Antioch School Board and running unsuccessfully for reelection in 2014 and then again in 2016, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, Joy Motts switched her sights toward the City Council and filed an intent to run in the November election. She is the first candidate to do so and will either face one of the incumbents Tony Tiscareno or Lori Ogorchock, if either decides to run for reelection or are able to should they live in one of the new districts that will be soon be created by the council. Form 501 – Joyann Motts filed 2-13-18 (1)

Motts served on the school board from 2010 to 2014. She has since been leading the effort to create a park and event center, named the Rivertown Square, on the former Antioch Lumber Company lot in downtown, also known as The Yard. Two efforts by the group to place an initiative on the ballot have failed. But, the council recently rezoned the property to mixed use which would allow the park and event center.

Motts is also one of the directors of the Celebrate Antioch Foundation which organizes Antioch’s annual July 4th Parade and Celebration, as well as the Holiday Parade and City Christmas Tree Lighting. She is also a member of the Rivertown Preservation Society, a group of homeowners seeking to preserve the historic qualities of the city’s downtown, north of W. 10th Street.

Filing for the two council seats up for election in November opens in July. However, neither Motts nor anyone else knows, yet if she will be able to run this year. She lives in the Rivertown area but, if and until the council approves dividing the city into four districts, the two that will have elections this year won’t be known until their meeting on April 10.

Asked why she wanted to run for the city council, Motts responded with the following via email:

“To start, service for my community is a part of my DNA.  My parents believed and instilled in myself and my siblings that it was a citizen’s responsibility to participate in making and leaving the world a better place. My father served our nation in World War II and my mother, served 20 years on the Antioch School Board.  I followed in her footsteps and served on Antioch’s School Board between 2010 and 2014, and I am proud of the work that was accomplished during that time, from being fiscally efficient and successfully weathering the economic downturn to the rebuild and renovation of Antioch High School.  I serve and still work on several Foundations and service organizations that support Antioch’s children, its quality of life and its citizens.

As a lifelong resident, it has been frustrating to watch surrounding communities thrive while Antioch continues to struggle with issues of crime, blight and homelessness.   Whereas recently I have seen improvements, we are still a community that needs a stronger and cohesive vision, and leadership that can collaborate on a brighter path forward. The perception that we are not a healthy or safe community, that our schools are failing is sometimes played out on social media, our local news and in the conversations amongst ourselves and all over the Bay Area and makes economic vibrancy very difficult. This should not be our story.  It is time for Antioch to recognize its potential!  We sit in a beautiful place, with unparalleled climate, on the San Joaquin Delta, one of the largest inland waterways in the world, in the middle of the State that has the seventh largest economy in the world. We are diverse, intelligent and are home to citizens with some of the highest salaries in the Bay Area.

As a city councilwoman, I plan to tackle those issues that are preventing us from changing our story.  We must maintain and improve the number of police that protect this great city. We must support the extension of Measure C to support law enforcement and all efforts to keep our citizens safe. We need Code Enforcement to return to pre-recession employee levels to tackle the negligent and irresponsible landlords and business owners who do not maintain their properties or shopping centers and all areas of blight in our community.  We must develop a long-term plan to support the rehabilitation, support of services and housing for homeless.

We must work together with the Antioch Unified School District as over 20,000 of our citizens attend Antioch schools, private and public as AUSD is our largest employer, their concerns and challenges are and should be the City of Antioch’s concerns and challenges.  We need to develop a strategic plan to address infrastructure needs for our entire city especially our older north Antioch community. We must work with other cities in the Bay area and aggressively promote job development in East County and along Antioch’s northern waterfront, a gold mine of possibility for good living wage jobs for our citizens.

We must sit down with our community, developers and other interests, in collaborating on what smart growth and development looks like before we end up at a stalemate.  We must listen to our citizens, promote community and civic events and create reasons for our community to come together to celebrate.  I am committed, passionate and capable of making a difference.  Hope this helps you understand why I am running.”

On Thursday, Feb. 22 Motts filed paperwork for the formation of her campaign committee, Citizens for Joy Motts – 2018 City Council, allowing her to begin raising receiving contributions. Form 410 – Citizens For Joy Motts – 2018 City Council rcvd 2-22-18

For more information about the city’s districting process, click here. For information about running for city council, contact the City Clerk’s office at (925) 779-7009.

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Not all residents happy with council dividing Antioch into four election districts, “not a done deal”

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

How should the City Council divide Antioch into four equal districts? Create your own map and offer your input now through April 10.

Next hearing Thursday night, Feb. 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Antioch Community Center in Prewett Park

By John Crowder

The City of Antioch held it’s first of two public hearings on Districting on Tuesday, February 13 and not all residents are happy about it. Districting is the process that may result in changing from the current system of at-large elections for city council members to one in which representatives are elected from four districts, by voters who live in each district. (See related articles, here and here).

When the agenda item was reached, late in the meeting, Interim Antioch City Attorney Derek Cole explained the process

According to Cole, it was the first of five meetings the City would undertake as part of the process to convert from at-large elections of City Council members to elections held by District. However, the mayor would still be elected citywide under the new system. Cole introduced Karin MacDonald, Principal Consultant of Q2 Data and Research, the consulting firm tasked with leading the districting process for the city. Q2 was the same firm selected as the consultant to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission for the statewide decennial effort in 2011.

MacDonald provided a slide presentation explaining the districting process.  As she explained, the 2001 California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) made it easier for members of a protected class to prove that at-large elections ‘dilute’ their voting strength.  In November 2017, the Council received a ‘demand letter’ asserting a violation under the CVRA.  As a result, in January 2018, the Council passed a resolution of intent to move from at-large to by-district elections.

According to MacDonald, the strict timeline and constraints imposed by the CVRA require the entire process be completed in 90 days, that five hearings take place, and that two of these hearings occur prior to creating a draft map.  At the final hearing, the Council can adopt the Council District Boundaries.

Besides explaining the process, the February 13 hearing would serve as the first of two hearings designed to gather community input.  The second will take place on February 15, at 7:00 pm, at the Prewett Community Center.

The third meeting is scheduled for March 10, at 9:00 am at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center.  During that meeeting, consultants will present the input received and outline draft maps and options.  The Council will be able to create a draft map during the meeting.  The draft map will be available for comment online and elsewhere around March 12.

The final two meetings will be held on March 27 and April 10, both at 7:00 pm in the City Hall Council Chambers.  At these hearings the ordinance will be read.  At the final hearing, it is anticipated that a vote will take place on the ordinance.

MacDonald noted that there are five criteria used for drawing districts; equal population, compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act (FVRA), contiguity, compactness, and respect for communities of interest.  Not to be considered are incumbents, candidates, and political parties.  Elections could be undertaken by districts as early as November 2018.

During the hearing, a handful of speakers weighed in, some supporting and some opposing the idea of district elections.

Nancy Fernandez, the first speaker, stated her opposition to district elections.  “They don’t function because each council member is trying to please his voting constituents and not doing the business of the city as a whole,” she said.

Planning Commissioner Jim Conley also spoke in opposition.  After stating that Antioch has a diverse community and a diverse city council, he said that districting makes council members very parochial and leads to backroom deals being done.  “The City doesn’t matter,” he said, “It’s your district that matters.”

Planning Commissioner Kerry Motts expressed support for district elections.  He said that districts have worked elsewhere and will solve a major problem of underrepresentation in the northern part of Antioch.

Two members of the East County Regional Group spoke in favor of district elections.  They argued that district elections would make running for office more accessible, and asked that the number of immigrants, low-income, families, and people of color be considered in forming districts.

Representing the Rivertown Preservation Society, Joy Motts also spoke in favor of district elections.  She said that members of the Rivertown community do not feel they are represented or listened to and said that the creation of a path for a North Rivertown representative should be a priority.  She dismissed the idea that elected officials would be parochial, saying, “Quality leaders will work together.”

The last to speak from the public was long-time resident Larry Harrison.  Calling the move to district elections, “utter nonsense,” he said that it was, “a solution without a problem.”  He advocated banding together with other cities that oppose moving to district elections and working to overturn the law that was forcing the change.

During Council discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe began by saying, “This is not a done deal.”  He went on to say that, while the Antioch City Council is diverse, other elected offices must be considered, and other factors besides race should be taken into account.  (Mac Donald responded that race could not be considered in drawing districts.)  Thorpe also said that the process had created more competitive elections in other electoral races.

Council Member Tony Tiscareno noted that the demand letter was based on lack of Latino representation, yet, “we have Latino’s living throughout the city.”  He also raised the concern that data from the 2010 census would be used to draw the maps.  “Right now, it’s very confusing to me,” he said.

Mayor Sean Wright agreed with Tiscareno that the process, and the premise behind it, were confusing.  “The confusion for all of us, is that we’re threatened because we’re ‘racially polarized.’  It just does not make sense,” he said.

Council Member Lori Ogorchock expressed concern with the lack of attendance.  “There’s maybe forty people here,” she said.  “We really need to hear everybody’s point of view.  We want everybody to have their voices heard.”  She encouraged those present to share information with their neighbors.

Following the hearing, the lead consultant, Ms. MacDonald, emphasized the need for as much public input as possible to create, “lines that will work.”  She asked that City residents go to the City Website and to the Districting page,, and share their comments and even create their own draft maps using the interactive city map.

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Supervisors OK $6.75 million purchase of new county voting system

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Supervisors honor County Auditor-Controller Robert Campbell for his 30 years of service. Shown are from left: District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover, Chairperson and District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, Campbell, District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen and Vice Chairperson and District 1 Supervisor John Gioia. Photo by Daniel Borsuk

By Daniel Borsuk

With scant protest, Contra Costa County Supervisors unanimously approved Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Joe Canciamilla’s request Tuesday to replace the county’s aging ES&S voting system with a system made by Dominion Democracy Voting Systems, Inc.

Courtesy of Dominion Democracy Voting Systems, Inc.

The new voting system, the Democracy Suite System made by Dominion will be delivered in time for the special March election for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and will be widely put into service for the June gubernatorial election, Canciamilla said.

The county has used the ES&S voting system since 2005.

Supervisors, particularly Chairperson Karen Mitchoff and District 4 Supervisor Candace Andersen, said they had received several emails from citizens questioning the fiscal validity of acquiring a new voting system in an era of election system security vulnerability.

Andersen wanted to know why the county did not put out a request for proposal (RFP), and Scott Konopasek, assistant county registrar, answered that the Secretary of State has to certify voting equipment suppliers.  There are few voting equipment suppliers that meet rigid state requirements.  It happens that both Dominion Democracy Voting Systems and ES&S are voting equipment suppliers the Secretary of State has certified and an RFP is unnecessary.

But in the county’s evaluation, Dominion Democracy took top honors, said Konopasek.

In evaluating the Dominion Democracy and ES&S systems, Dominion Democracy came out on top with a score of 39 points out of 60 possible points.  Dominion Democracy scored highest, especially in the areas of integrated software, ballot marking device, central count equipment and precinct count system.  ES&S did not prevail in any of the 11 evaluation categories.

Canciamilla told supervisors that the Office of the Clerk-Recorder has $4.7 million to pay Dominion Democracy Voting Systems.  Beginning in the second year of the contract, the office will pay $360,000 a year for six years to cover maintenance and licensing costs, Konopasek explained.

Canciamilla said the current ES&S system is rapidly deteriorating to the point that it needs to be replaced, especially now that elections will need to accommodate three languages: English, Spanish, and, starting this year, Chinese.  Furthermore, ballots are bulkier with more ballot measures.

In this era of national inquiry about Russian meddling in our elections, Konospasek said the Dominion Democracy Voting Systems passes the cyber security test.

Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood questioned the vulnerability of the Dominion Democracy Voting System to cyber security threats.

“We have always had great security” Canciamilla said.  “We have designated a person to manage our security.”

Voters will see no difference.  They will continue to receive and fill-in-the-bubble ballots that will be tabulated by digital imaging.  Poll workers will also see no difference with the new voting machines.

Before supervisors voted on the request to acquire the Dominion Democracy system, Canciamilla informed supervisors that he plans to eventually present a request to the board for the county to spend about $14 million to restore 3 million historic documents and 20 million maps that are now housed in inadequate storage.  Canciamilla did not state when he will present this request or how he plans to fund the request.

“We are excited to be bringing in this new equipment that will make our operation more cost effective and reliable and ensure a secure, accessible and transparent process,” said Canciamilla.

Supervisors Authorize Agricultural Planning Hearings

At the request of District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood, supervisors voted 5-0 to authorize the Conservation and Development Department to conduct meetings with farmers and residents with agricultural interests to assist the county in a policy review and the creation of new ideas to promote an “incentive” for agricultural sustainability and economic vitality in Contra Costa County.

The county has $150,000 to spend on agricultural planning, John Kopchick, chief of the Contra Costa County Department of Conservation and Development told supervisors.  He suggested that the department conduct a series of forums where 15 to 20 persons per forum can express ideas ranging from agricultural tourism to bed and breakfast establishments.

“How does cannabis get involved in this?” asked Board Chairperson Mitchoff.

“Cannabis is a background topic,” answered Kopchiick because the county does not yet have a marijuana ordinance on the books.

The department plans to conduct its first forum in April.

County Auditor-Controller Campbell Honored

The Supervisors also gave special recognition to the county’s elected Auditor-Controller Robert Campbell for his 30 years of service to the county on Tuesday.

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Contra Costa election materials will now be in three languages

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Contra Costa County voters will see an additional language on their voting materials starting this year, as the Contra Costa Elections Division adds Chinese to the current English and Spanish. This means that the official ballot and Voter Information Guide will appear in all three languages.

Voters in the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District and the Diablo Community Services District have a special vote-by-mail election on March 6 and will be the first to see the trilingual materials when they receive their ballots in the mail next week. incorporation of Chinese will appear on all voting materials beginning in June.

Written material will be in traditional Chinese and the Elections Division will provide audio language assistance in Cantonese and Mandarin.

The addition of Chinese comes as a result of the county’s population growth and corresponding shift in demographics. As the population changes, so do the language needs of local voters. When 10,000 voters or 5 percent of the county’s voting age citizens speak a specific language, the Federal Voting Rights Act requires that language be included on all election materials. At the end of 2016, the Department of Justice informed us that we crossed that threshold for Chinese.

“We look forward to meeting the needs of all of our voters,” said Joe Canciamilla, Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters.

The Contra Costa Elections Division continues to engage with local community groups to ensure language access for all voters. For more information, visit our website at

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Entries accepted for the 2018 County Elections Photo Contest through Feb. 28

Monday, January 29th, 2018

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Antioch Council moves forward with district elections process, Tiscareno and Wright challenge need

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

How will the City of Antioch be divided up into four districts based on equal population if the Council approves a new plan for elections to comply with the CA Voting Rights Act? The public will be able to give input during five public hearings.

Wright, Tiscareno not happy but Mayor votes yes, Councilman gives “symbolic” vote against; Mayor holds moment of silence, closes meeting in honor of the two sisters who died from car accident last week

By Allen Payton

Antioch Councilman Tony Tiscareno and Mayor Sean Wright were not happy with the city being threatened with a lawsuit if the council didn’t move towards district elections, and let the public know during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. However, the council ended up voting 4-1 in favor of moving the process forward, with Tiscareno offering the only dissenting vote in what he referred to as a symbolic gesture.

“It has nothing to do with diversity. If we’re going to do this because we’re facing a lawsuit, then I’m going to vote against it,” he said. “I’m not only saying this as a Council Member, I’m saying this as a Latino” because the lawyer threatening the lawsuit is claiming that the current at-large voting hurts Latino candidates’ chances of getting elected.

Wright said he thinks “this is going to be horrible for the city” and that it will cause division. But, he voted in favor of moving the process forward without committing to approving district voting.

The city now has 90 days to hold five public hearings to develop a plan, including maps of the four possible districts, and then adopt an ordinance and approve the final map, for implementation as soon as this November. (See related article for details.)

The council heard the staff report from Interim City Attorney Derek Cole, who shared information from a letter that a lawyer sent to the city in November.

“The letter writer asserts Latino voters are disadvantaged in this city and that racially polarized voting exists,” he said.

He explained that at two public meetings the council will consider the various interests that will go into drawing the maps, based on things such as communities of interest. There will be a public outreach effort and the consultant will develop the maps.

“Then there will be a third meeting, a workshop where you would share the maps,” Cole explained. Then the fourth and fifth meeting will be for developing and enacting the ordinance. The city will build a website, a very easy page for the public to have all the resources to understand the process, including PowerPoints which Ms. McDonald will provide.

“This is a complex process…that’s evolving now,” he shared. “We will do everything we can to make sure the process has maximum exposure to the public.”

“The 45-day safe harbor ends at the end of this month. So, if the council doesn’t take action tonight then the plaintiff can move forward with their lawsuit. The legal effect is to kick-off the process and to get an additional 90 days,” Cole added. The process is also “to avoid the attorney fees that can be awarded in these types of cases. The courts have awarded attorney fees of many of hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars have been awarded where cities have lost.”

Public Hearing Comments

As the proponent of the item, the attorney who sent the letter and threatened the lawsuit, Scott Rafferty of Walnut Creek, was allotted 10 minutes to speak.

“I wanted to congratulate you…that was a superb presentation,” he said to Cole. “I think it’s important that this is a process that’s respectful of incumbents. But it’s terribly disruptive. What I hope you can do is create a collaborative model, here…concluded with the consensus of the community.”

Rafferty wants to make sure that the new districts, if adopted by the council, will go into effect for the November election, and the that process has a short time frame so it can be implemented “quickly as feasible.”

“I understand the Registrar of our county has told Concord that he’s not going to be able to do this and that they’ll have to run their own election. But that’s not his prerogative to do. The Registrar is without authority to say he won’t do it this year. He (County Clerk-Recorder Joe Canciamilla) has to make this work,” he explained.

“We filed this a year before the election,” Rafferty said. There’s a short time frame, “to get the job done with the presumption there will be a remedy in 2018. I don’t think that’s necessarily essential. But I think you have to hear from the community, first.”

There are horror stories with this statute, he added.

Speaking as the leader of the opposition was Antioch Economic Development Commissioner Tim McCall who was also given 10 minutes.

The City’s Mission Statement reads, ‘Unify our diverse community,’” he said. “Reading this report was disturbing. Seeing the diversity on the current and past council, this is patently untrue. Changing to district-based would be a serious setback. Dividing the City of Antioch is not the way to create a community. Districting will pit one group, one area against another.”

“Do we want council members to only care about one district in Antioch?”  McCall asked. “Does this create community pride or community divide? Division will be the biggest result.”

However, he said, “If we area forced into district-based voting…it is imperative that we keep voting at large for the mayor position. This could mean looking into charter cities, again…looking outside the box.

“Our mission statement reads, ‘Unify our diverse community,’” McCall reiterated. “District-based voting does the exact opposite.”

Martha Goralka was the only other public speaker, representing the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, first saying “a threat of lawsuit by what appears to be a greedy out-of-town attorney seems to be a poor reason to work on districting.”

“We are a welcoming community, and everyone lives everywhere in Antioch,” she stated. “But, it appears that it will be fiscally prudent to consider districting.”

“The league supports…an independent commission…for the redistricting process. Geographic contiguity – no gerrymandering” Goralka said in outlining principles the group advised the council to follow. “Redistricting should not allow a goal of protecting incumbents.”

“Considering the economics this is something we should move forward on,” she continued. “It could benefit me as we don’t have anyone who lives” in the north part of the city on the council.

Council Discussion

Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe was the first council member to weigh in on the matter, sharing his support for the concept saying it was a campaign commitment.

He spoke of the council’s ad hoc committee on Quality of Life 2018 Ballot Measures, which he and Councilwoman Monica Wilson sit on, saying “this is something we had discussed, not necessarily whether or not to move forward, but it is something that we discussed.”

“It’s not because of a threat of lawsuit,” Thorpe continued. “When I ran…single member council districts was one of my top three priorities. I want to make that very clear. I see some added value. I’m doing this because I thought this was the right thing to do many, many years ago. I lived in a town in Maryland of 5,000 people and we had district elections. People who live right next door to you represented you. It didn’t mean that any of the elected representatives cared less about the rest of the city.

“I live in southeast Antioch and I care deeply about the downtown. I think we all care,” he added.

Councilman Tony Tiscareno shared his concerns, saying, “I’m quite torn about this. It has nothing to do with diversity. This council right here is pretty diverse. We’ve had a diverse council …even in the mid-90’s. So, I’m struggling to understand where this information came from that we are not a diverse community.”

“There isn’t a city in Contra Costa that has officially done this, yet. Some are going through the process,” he said, wanting to wait and see how other cities in the county handled the issue.

“This is catered more toward the lack of Latino votes,” Tiscareno continued. “For the life of me I don’t see this…it looks like we’re pursuing this because there is a threat of a lawsuit. That won’t deter me from doing what’s right for the city of Antioch. I’m not afraid of a lawsuit. If we look back in the 70’s or the 80’s maybe…but this city has doubled, and we’ve brought in different cultures and ethnicities.”

“There’s going to be Latinos without the opportunity to vote. That goes for the other races, as well. So, I’m struggling with this,” he said.

“If we’re going to do this because we’re facing a lawsuit, then I’m going to vote against it. I’m not only saying this as a Council Member, I’m saying this as a Latino,” Tiscareno stated firmly.

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock spoke in favor of the process saying, “I understand everyone’s point of view. Everyone should have their vote heard in the city. Should we do this because we’re threatened with a lawsuit? No. But I think it would be good to go through these meetings and hear what the people have to say. The town has changed. We’re very diverse. We’re a very diverse council. Whether or not everyone is being heard that’s the question.”

“I’m leaving my views open at this time until we go through the whole process. I believe the process is needed,” she concluded.

Wilson also supported the effort saying, “I too believe everybody’s voices should be heard. There are a lot of issues. I do feel some voices are not heard. Martha (Goralka), I do agree with you that people on the north side of town don’t have representation.”

“We need to control this and not have a lawsuit control this, rather than an attorney who doesn’t live in Antioch or live in our area,” she stated. She then advocated for having at least one of the public meetings on a Saturday.

City Clerk Arne Simonsen, as the city’s Elections Officer, offered his concerns with districting.

“This is something from the City Clerk’s Association since the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) was passed, it has several problems…We were successful in getting (legislation) passed that reduced the legal fees down to $30,000. Even in cities that said, ‘we don’t have a problem’ it cost them $3.5 million…and $2.8 million. No city has won.

He spoke of the challenges districting would have for the County Elections Office. “They have a March election, a June election and then a November election. So, they’re going to be tied up. The problem is they don’t have the people to do this.

“If we were to go and split a precinct, this is going to create a serious problem for getting this done,” Simonsen warned. “If you want to go ahead and do this for November, I am going to have to run a stand-alone election. Separate from the November ballot. So, people are going to get two ballots.

“I encourage the council to look at the cost of this to my office, with 1.5 full-time employees,” he added.

Wright then spoke passionately against the entire idea saying “I think this is going to be horrible for the city. I think it’s going to take us in a direction that’s going to divide us.”

“The last time we spent money on parks it was north of the freeway. The next time we spend money on parks it will be north of the freeway,” he said pointing out that in spite of no council member living on the north side of town, the council still voted to improve the parks there.

“When you represent 25% of the city you will naturally…care about the voters who actually vote for you…more than what the rest of the people want you to do,” Wright continued.

“It blows me away that this is done in the name of voting rights…for minority voters in a city where” Mary Rocha, Manny Soliz, Ralph Hernandez and Tony Tiscareno were elected,” he said naming some former and current Latino mayor and council members. “We’ve had an African American mayor (and) council members. We have a diverse voting bloc.

“This is so we can make sure minority voters can be heard in a city where minority voters are heard?” he asked in irony. “In Scott Rafferty’s own words, ‘districting sometimes reduces the strength of the people it’s intended to help.’ African Americans live all over this city. Our Latinos do the same.”

“I just don’t understand, other than that, now there is a financial gain for attorneys who throw letters around. Results don’t matter. The first one to the punch gets the money,” Wright stated. “And if the city stands up and says this is wrong you’re facing a potential $4 million price tag…when very few cities that have converted to single district voting have seen a significant increase in minority officeholders.”

“Now, I will probably vote tonight to move forward with this process to give us another 90 days…to try to not divide this city as much as possible. But, I’m going to reach out to our city attorney and see if there’s any way” to avoid districting, he said. “I just think this is horrible.”

The first public hearing will be held on Feb. 13 and the second on the 15th. The maps would be revealed during a third public hearing on a Saturday in March to be determined.

Ogorchock made the motion to approve the resolution to move forward on the districting process. But before the vote Tiscareno weighed in once more saying, “this will be more symbolic than anything. As a Latino who has lived in this community for over 47 years…the nature of our councils has been diverse for many, many years.”

“My ‘no’ vote will be symbolic, that Latinos do vote and care about our city,” he reiterated. “This isn’t something that’s demeaning to anyone in the city, this is something, whether it’s progress…this is something that the state is trending to. But if we have areas that aren’t represented…we need to make sure. But, if we’re going to make this into a racial thing, then I’m going to vote ‘no’ on this.”

Thorpe then attempted to break up the seriousness of the matter by sharing a concern in jest.

“I just want to say how disappointed in our city attorney about something he said in closed session and for something Mayor Wright said tonight,” Thorpe said sounding very serious.

“We have two Latinos on this city council. My mother and father came to this country from Mexico and Spanish was my first language,” he said with a laugh.

“I will add you to my list,” Wright responded with a smile.

The councilmembers then voted 4-1 with Tiscareno dissenting.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, Dr, Jeffrey Klinger shared his thoughts.

“I want to express my appreciation on sharing your positions of going to district elections instead of at large,” he said. “There’s a lot of passion around it. Whichever direction the city goes we’re not going to be pushed around willy nilly by an attorney. My personal opinion is that I am well represented at large. Thank you for going on the record.”

General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan Updates Approved

In other action, the council voted unanimously to approve amendments to the city’s General Plan Land Use Element, as well as the Downtown Specific Plan. (See separate articles about those matters.)

Commercial Marijuana Ordinance

They also received a report from the city attorney on the progress of the development of an ordinance on commercial recreational marijuana uses in Antioch. The City will hire a consultant familiar with the cannabis industry to advise the council in the development of the ordinance. For now, all commercial uses including delivery of marijuana for recreational purposes are banned in town.

The Economic Development Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter at their meeting on Feb. 6 according to McCall.

To see the entire Council agenda packet, click here.

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