Antioch City Council candidates give their opening statements at the forum hosted by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club in the Council Chambers, Tuesday night, September 6, 2016.
By Allen Payton
Before an audience of almost 100 residents, the largest to attend candidate forums that former Antioch Mayor and event organizer Don Freitas could remember, six candidates for the Antioch City Council and four for Mayor debated and discussed the issues facing our community, Tuesday night, August 6th. Sponsored by the Friday Morning Breakfast Club – a by invitation-only group of about 22 local residents who meet and talk about local issues on Friday mornings, of which Freitas is the leader – two forums were held in the Council Chambers inside City Hall in Antioch’s historic, downtown Rivertown. With the opportunity of rebuttals by the candidates, they proved to be rather lively.
First, it was the council candidates’ turn to present their case and mix it up a bit, with some making members of the audience laugh, and at other times groan in disagreement. Ann Flynn of the League of Women Voters of Diablo Valley, who served as moderator, had to remind the periodically, unruly mob (OK. That’s an exaggeration for dramatic effect) that no applause was allowed. Freitas also had to ask some of those making cat calls – directed mainly at the incumbents – to be more respectful of the candidates.
Opening Statements – Battle Lines Are Drawn
During their opening statements, the candidates, chosen in random order, offered information about themselves, why they’re running, complained about the problems in the city and one incumbent got a little defensive.
Retired businessman Fred Rouse was first, speaking of bringing his business experience to the position of council member.
“The streets, right now need work,” he stated. “The community needs work.”
Retired, first-generation German-American immigrant and second-time council candidate Karl Dietzel said he wanted to “take back Antioch” and supported “putting all pipe dreams on the back burner.”
Antioch general contractor, Rotarian and 2015 Citizen of the Year for Most Impact, Kenny Turnage said he was for “cleaning up blight” and “fiscal responsibility.”
“I will fight for the City of Antioch,” he added.
Next, was university administrator, former Economic Development Commissioner, and another second-time council candidate, Lamar Thorpe.
“I’m a proud resident of Antioch, an eight-year Navy veteran and recipient of the Global War on Terror Expedition medal,” he exclaimed.
Thorpe then proposed “moving away from citywide elections” and “going to single district” elections.
Council Member Mary Rocha was next, and shared her dismay of what she had already been hearing from the other candidates.
“I’m a little angry about people saying I’m not committed,” she stated. “I’ve lived in this community for 40 years and have served for 30 of them.”
Then she listed the various organizations, and her namesake child care center on Cavallo Road, and that she was named Woman of the Year by the county Women’s Commission.
“I’m a little concerned,” she added.
The other incumbent being challenged by the four men, Council Member Wilson spoke of “balanced budgets” and how the council “bought back our reserves” and are “paying down th unfunded liabilities” She also said “We’re making progress with public safety.”
Downtown Park and Event Center Question Presents Surprises
The surprise of the night was when both Rocha and Wilson said they now supported sending the decision, about the proposed downtown park and event center on the parcel where the old Antioch Lumber Company had its lumber yard – now simply referred to as The Yard – to a vote of the people. Answering questions about the issue from both Flynn and the audience, Wilson stated “I’m for that going to a vote and letting the people vote on it.” She also said she had “tried to advocate…to discuss before the council in public” and “I have no problem with that going to a vote of the people.”
Rocha said “I asked them…how they’re going to pay for it” and offered the alternative location.
“Waldie Plaza is in a good place right now to fill the need,” she continued. “It’s an open issue, yet. But, we need to have a way to pay for it.”
Later she said, “I was hoping you would get the signatures so we could go to a vote of the people.”
“For on-going, it takes away from the budget,” Rocha added.
However, Dietzel and Thorpe, a former Wilson Stand-By Council Member, weren’t buying it. When it was his turn to answer the audience’s question about The Yard, Dietzel said “It’s very interesting to hear that from you two. Where do I go with my grandkids for a concert? I’m for a vote. It’s our property.”
In answering the panelist’s earlier question about how to fill the need for a downtown event center, Dietzel responded, “That’s an easy one. I’m supporting The Yard.”
“Two years ago I asked the city manager to put the issue on the ballot,” he continued. “We need to open up the waterfront for all of us. We need events for younger people. Where do we bring a rock band for 5,000?”
“The city manager needs to listen to us,” Dietzel added.
Thorpe also challenged Rocha and his former mentor, Wilson, for whom getting her elected he claimed in his 2014 council race, was his greatest accomplishment in Antioch, at that time.
“I think the historic value is priceless,” he said about The Yard. “I’m actually shocked by what I’m hearing up here. All they have to do is put it on the agenda and vote to put it on the ballot.”
Turnage also supported sending the decision about a downtown park and event center to a vote of the people, but has a different location in mind. He supports it near the Antioch Marina, where restrooms are already located and parking is ample, explaining his idea using his knowledge of construction.
“I agree 100% it should be on a ballot,” Turnage said. “I don’t agree The Yard is the right spot. I think the better place is down by the marina. You already have parking. You’d be supporting the restaurants. It costs $500,000 to put in a restroom, once you tap into the sewer line.”
“It is almost the same exact view [as from The Yard],” he argued. “It would be a minimal increase to the city.”
But, Turnage also stated, “There’s no way 31 condos should go on that piece of land.”
While he also supported sending it to a public vote, “if it’s on the ballot,” only Rouse was opposed to the event center proposal.
“I’m the osd man out,” he said. “Until we can afford to pay for more police, clean streets, we can’t afford a performance venue.”
Rouse also offered another location.
“The library on Lone Tree,” he said, referring to the Antioch Community Center at Prewett Park. “There’s a place for a concert.”
Then Rouse shared another concern with The Yard proposal.
“Whoever hangs out there, today will be there, tomorrow,” he added.
“It’s got to pay for itself,” Rouse said later, to the question from the audience. “We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. We have more important issues. Are you going to have a ticket booth? I don’t think so.”
Dietzel used one of his rebuttals to comment on the Waldie Plaza location.
“The city manager said we don’t have any money to build Waldie Plaza,” he stated. He then mentioned the Pokemon Go game as something that has and can attract people to downtown.
After the forum Wilson confirmed that at the end of the August 9th council meeting she had asked for the event center proposal to be placed on a future council agenda for discussion. However, her foxhole conversion comes more than a year late, as she was one of the four council members, including Rocha, who voted in closed session on August 25, 2015 to give the city manager the exclusive right to negotiate with developer, City Ventures on The Yard parcel, and eight other city-owned parcels in town. So, until those negotiations have concluded, the Council can’t discuss the event center proposal with the proponents and public, nor can they send it to a vote of the people.
Earlier, Thorpe said “I’m a big supporter of having a city center like Todos Santos Plaza in Concord. It’s not rocket science.”
He then said the city needs to “focus on smart growth”and mentioned rezoning the property next to the KFC on Hillcrest Avenue for mixed use development, for people to be able to walk to the new BART station.
“It’s not smart growth” he said, referring to the proposed housing development on The Yard parcel. “It’s 31 units. We don’t need them.”
Wilson responded to Thorpe in her comments.
“The Hillcrest area is being rezoned to be livable, walkable to the BART station,” she stated. “I have asked for that.”
Thorpe used one of his rebuttals to pat himself on the back about Wilson’s Hillcrest comment.
“That was my recommendation on the Strategic Plan,” he said.
He then took another swipe about The Yard.
“The city council promised them that they would have the opportunity to discuss it,” Thorpe stated. “It’s broken promise after broken promise.”
Rouse got the last word, with his opposition to the event center proposal.
“We cannot continue the cycle of spending money without revenue,” he stated. “It has to be smart, actionable, measured. We don’t have that in an event center. It should not go forward, right now.”
Measure C, Measure O, Police & Public Safety
Responding to the question of what is their back-up plan when the money from Measure C’s half-cent sales tax ends in four years, Thorpe responded, “that’s why I supported and voted for Measure O,” the city’s business license fee for residential rental property owners.
He also said the city “must look at long-term, systemic” funding for police.
Thorpe compared revenue between Livermore and Antioch.
“Livermore brings in $40 million in sales tax,” he said. “We bring in…$12 million in sales tax.”
He also proposed a real estate transfer tax, but later corrected himself that Antioch can’t have one, since it would require being a Charter City instead of a General Law City. Instead, Thorpe later proposed documenting fees for real estate transactions, as a new revenue stream.
Regarding the voters extending Measure C when it expires, he said “I’m concerned with this council and the trust level.”
“Part of Measure C is to fund Code Enforcement Officers,” Thorpe said, later. “We have to ask the city council to ask the city manager what happened to the money.”
“I have to commend Lori Ogorchock who has been the only council member who” has pushed on the issue, he added.
Wilson admitted the council had made mistakes, stating “We started off on a bad foot with Measure O.”
“Obviously we need a more stringent process to collect Measure O,” she said, later. “But we’re back on track.”
Regarding Measure C, she spoke of “the way it’s being spun.”
“The council made a commitment to [spending] 100% on police and code enforcement,” Wilson continued. “We want to hire quality officers. Everybody is struggling with hiring officers. We’ve hired 41. We have a net of 12.”
But, then she went down a different tangent.
“What assets does the region have?” she asked. “We’re looking at the opening of SR [State Route] 239 which will open the back end. We’re primed to bring livable wage jobs.”
Wilson suggested a “regional approach to bring in revenue.”
There are two problems with her comments. First, the city has only a net four additional police officers, based on the 89 on the force at the time she and the rest of the city council added their names to the ballot argument in favor of Measure C. Second, State Route 239 is currently, only in the planning stages and there is no funding for the proposed four-lane freeway between Brentwood and Tracy in the new, half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot. It is years away from being built.
Rocha mentioned the financial struggles the city has been facing, but that things are turning around.
“We’re barely building ourselves back up,” she stated. “Our economy is really coming on board.”
“We went from 400 to 200 employees,” Rocha shared, later. “We’re still struggling as a city. We are strictly, slowly coming up. We are still taking small steps to get back to where we are.”
Rouse suggested increasing the business license fee on residential rental properties.
“Measure O is way low for what we’re charging landlords,” he said. “It should be $1,000 per year.”
He then compared the per citizen revenue of Antioch and other cities, then stated, “Measure C…it shouldn’t go away. Let’s see specific results within a timeframe.”
Later Rouse said regarding collecting the Measure O funds, “We need a departmental group who knows. What we do is assign a lien. The absentee owners who are not paying it need to have a lien” on their properties.
Dietzel cut to the chase, saying “the question really is where is the Measure C money. Where is the Measure O money. We have to ask the city manager because he is in charge.”
“We’re going to have to ask for an extension,” Dietzel continued. “Put the city manager on notice that he has to do his job.”
Then he added, “No officers in the animal shelter,” referring to a recent development of having a sworn police officer inside the Antioch Animal Shelter.
“We have to collect Measure O money,” Dietzel stated, later. “We need a collections department.”
Turnage was critical with the lack of collections by the city.
“We need to collect the money that’s owed to the city,” he stated. “Stop outsourcing.”
“Measure O is not being collected,” Turnage said, later. “I came to the city with a plan. I could have had the job done in six months with two employees. Right now we’re spending $500,000 per year and it’s not getting done.”
“We need to increase our tax revenue per acre,” he offered as a solution to increasing revenue to the city. “Start building up on some of our older properties.”
But, Turnage disagreed with Rouse’s and Wilson’s comments, using one of his rebuttals.
“I don’t agree with putting liens on properties,” he said. “We aren’t collecting Measure O.”
“We are not back on track,” Turnage continued. “I’m easy to find and I haven’t received a Measure O bill. The company we’re using right now, they should be blatantly fired.”
Economic Development & Jobs
Rouse had the first opportunity to answer the question, what is your vision for economic development and jobs.
“We’re not healthy enough to bring employers to our city,” he said.
He mentioned four things needed for that to occur, a labor pool that’s trained, location, infrastructure and “yes, safety needs to be in place.”
Thorpe said “jobs are central” to his campaign and mentioned biotech, research and development, “not only for our city, but as a region.” He also proposed “tax incentives to complement…the governor’s tax incentives.”
“I’m tired of seeing the dollar stores, low-rate businesses, predatory businesses, especially the smoke shops,” he added.
Dietzel said “economic development goes hand in hand with crime and blight.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves,” he continued. “We must hire an economic development director who aggressively goes after businesses. We don’t need more tobacco shops, dollar shops. We need to survey businesses why they are leaving.”
Wilson said she had just researched recently and learned that there were 24,300 jobs in Antioch in 2012 and that there was an increase of “3,494 jobs over the last four years. That’s an 11% increase.”
She mentioned offering “incentives to these businesses to hire local” and possible new jobs from “manufacturing, light manufacturing, clean energy” in “the Wilbur corridor” as well as “a solar farm in that area.”
Wilson mentioned that she had “added a clause for high school and college students to job shadow” at the solar farm site of NRG, in the agreement that the council approved, earlier this year.
Turnage said “we need a business development person. Antioch has a bad reputation online. We need this person who is not in their office, but in the CEO’s offices and meeting them.”
In her comments, Rocha responded to that, saying “We do have a developer who will be at a conference” referring to Lizeht Zepeda, the City’s Economic Development Analyst. However, the city doesn’t have an Economic Development Director, as in the past.
Rocha has also said “It’s an exciting time” mentioning the “roads, rail and water” for transportation and job creation. However, her focus was different.
“Our little, small shops are what keep you alive,” she added.
Thorpe used one of his rebuttals to respond to Wilson’s and Rocha’s comments.
“I don’t want Antioch to have a service sector economy,” he said. “What they’re talking about, the 11% are service sector jobs. We have to think beyond that.”
Dietzel reiterated those comments.
“We don’t need more service jobs,” he stated. “We have over 14,000 rentals. The median income is $42,000 per year. For homeowners it is $81,000.”
Again he said Antioch needs to “put away pipe dreams, like the ferry and Wilbur corridor exploding.”
Addressing Needs of the Homeless
Turnage was the first to respond to the question about how to address the needs of the homeless in Antioch.
“We have two sectors of homeless,” he stated. “Those who want and need help, give them a hand up, and those who want a hand out.”
“We need to take a tougher stance,” Turnage continued. “Hand them food and clothing that will sustain life, not cash that will sustain a habit.”
“Get them off our medians and streets,” he added.
Rocha said that “most of the money goes to Richmond. They get seven dollars for every one dollar” East County receives from the county. “We need to develop a plan,” she added.
Rouse offered a different approach to helping the homeless, including getting “them corralled so they’re all in one area for services to be provided to them.”
“A plan does need to be developed,” he said. “You’re going to have to change the medians.”
Rouse suggested placing fences in the street medians.
Thorpe offered a “two-pronged approach” including a “no-tent ordinance.”
“The county is ultimately responsible for providing services,” he stated.
Then Thorpe added, “I don’t want to just kick them out, but give them notice.”
Wilson said she wanted an “all hands on deck approach” and that she had “requested the Police Chief to assign officers to the homeless.”
Dietzel said “What makes America great is we help the ones who are fallen.”
“The City has over 650 parcels,” he said and suggested we “offer one parcel to a non-profit to offer services.”
But, then he offered the most unique solution.
“Offer one-way tickets to their home cities like San Francisco does,” Dietzel added.
Rouse used one of his rebuttals to respond to that idea.
“I don’t agree with handing them a one-way ticket,” he said and that he wanted to “coordinate all the services.”
On the issue of what to do with Antioch Animal Services and if it should be moved out from oversight by the police department, Turnage said he wanted to “take it from police services and turn it over to parks and recreation.”
He then suggested the city have an “exit strategy to turn it back over to the county.”
Rocha said “We need to go to the county and get our money back. We’re paying double.”
“We don’t have the staff,” she continued. “We’re talking a deficit. Running a deficit in recreation…and in animal control.”
Rocha then mentioned the effort to contract with ARF, which is Tony LaRussa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, for certain services.
Thorpe said it’s “more animal control than animal services” and that he’s “not sure which department to put it in.”
He then directed his comments at Rocha and Wilson.
“You’re the elected council members,” Thorpe stated. “You need to come up with the solution.”
Rouse agreed with moving Animal Services out of the police department.
But, he didn’t support turning it back over to the county.
“I do believe they’re doing the best job they can,” he shared. “I think it’s one of the things that’s cute about Antioch. The little things that make Antioch quaint.”
Wilson supports the status quo, saying “I prefer Animal Services to remain in the police department.”
“We agreed to hire three [additional staff]” she continued. “I know we need a vet tech. We’re trying to do the best we can.”
Dietzel joked about not wanting to deal with the issue.
“I try to stay away from animal people. They’re a tough crowd,” he said with a chuckle.
But, then he got serious and suggested “privatization of the Animal Services, water park, golf course and the marina.”
“Now we have a full-fledged [police] officer in the shelter,” Dietzel complained. “I want him on the street. I don’t want him taking care of dogs.”
Funding Library Services
On the issue of funding more hours for the library, Rouse suggested holding revenue-generating classes at the library, like those by Los Medanos College “out in Brentwood.”
Dietzel said the library is “the most important building in the city for our kids” giving them “access to computers and books.”
“Maybe they’re obsolete, soon,” he added. “Right now we need them.”
Turnage suggested an “idea outside the box” by offering “community service hours to students who work at the library.”
Wilson said she disagreed “with closing down one of the libraries. We need both of those libraries.”
“We’ve been banging on county supervisors’ doors, because it’s the county” that oversees libraries and funding, she added.
“It’s a safe haven for some kids,” Wilson continued. “Mr. Turnage, I have to applaud you. That’s a good idea of bringing the students in.”
Thorpe also mentioned the county.
“Libraries are run by the county,” he said. “So we need to work with our community partners” and “look at future planning.”
Rocha said we need to “look at those running for supervisor, now.”
“We were giving $100,000 [per year] to our libraries to keep them open until we couldn’t,” she stated. “The county has shorted us in the long run. Other cities have more hours.”
Wilson was the first to offer her closing statement, saying “I just want to see Antioch grow strong. I’ve worked hard to listen to you.”
Rocha said “I’ve learned ideas that I’ve heard, tonight. Look at all of us and decide who is the best.”
She then said that “It’s not the money, that’s for sure” why she’s running, again, to laughter from the audience.
“I still have the strength and the energy to do it,” Rocha concluded.
Thorpe offered a patriotic theme to his closing statement.
“I love America,” he said. “I was willing to die for it.”
“You won’t see me every four years,” he continued. “I’ll always be available” then mentioned social media as how.
Turnage said “I will be somebody who speaks transparently and direct.”
Dietzel took one last swipe at Wilson, who ran for supervisor, in June.
“I’m not running to jump ship for a supervisor’s position,” he stated. “We can have three new people and maybe four to take back control” referring to how many new members of the council there are possible, following the election.
Rouse asked the Reaganesque question, “Are you better off now than you were when you first moved here, into Antioch, no matter when?”
He then mentioned the neighborhoods and “getting that send of community back.”
Rouse then thanked the Friday Morning Breakfast Club, with a little humor.
“It sounds like a high school musical,” he said.
“With me you’ll get a full-time council person,” Rouse added. “I’m 100% committed to the job and no other job.”
The next forum for council candidates, hosted by the Antioch Herald will be held on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 6:30 p.m., also in the Council Chambers at 200 H Street in downtown Antioch.