Archive for October, 2010

Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel

Friday, October 29th, 2010
Simon & Garfunkel
A.J. Swearingen and Jonathan Beedle have been performing a remarkable tribute to the music of Simon and Garfunkel for more than a decade, and their sold-out shows prove the effect on their audiences is undeniable. A chance meeting in 1991 in a local club in Bethlehem, PA brought these two talented artists together. A brief introduction and moments later they were blending their voices as if they had been performing together for a lifetime.
A.J.’s warm baritone and Jonathan’s soaring tenor combine flawlessly to capture the essence and magic of Simon and Garfunkel’s sound of the early years in Greenwich Village. With a quiet stage and an acoustic guitar, A.J. and Jonathan re-create the memories of the classic hits and obscure songs of Simon and Garfunkel.
The show starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20 at the El Campanil Theatre, 602 W. Second Street, in downtown Antioch. Tickets for adults are $25, seniors – $22, youth – $10. For tickets and information call 925-757-9500 or visit
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Welcome to the Antioch Herald

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Starting a newspaper in this day and age and in this economy is not easy. But we feel that Antioch, a thriving city of more than 100,000 people, deserves its own newspaper that is of, for and about Antioch.

Because it is a financial challenge to launch a newspaper, we are starting off online initially. But our plan is to mail a newspaper to every residence and business in Antioch, first as a monthly and then twice a month. Whether we are able to achieve that goal will depend on support from advertisers and readers who support those advertisers.

In any case, we are here now online and plan to be around to chronicle the ups, downs, highs, lows and everything in between that goes on in this exciting, always interesting city. With a limited staff, we will depend on your help to do that. Please send us letters to the editor, news tips, articles, article ideas, photos, press releases, etc. If something interesting is going on in your neighborhood, school, church, workplace, club and elsewhere, let us and your fellow residents know. We’re here for you.

Send your items to

Dave Roberts

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Shooting Near Antioch High School

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Shooting near Antioch High

On Oct. 28 at just after 1 p.m., Antioch police officers responded to the area of West 18th and G streets on a report of an in-progress shooting. Upon arrival officers were advised that a person had been seen shooting at a group of individuals located at the dead end of West 19th Street.

Due to the close proximity of the incident to Antioch High School and the unknown direction of flight of the shooter, restricted access procedures were initiated at Antioch High School. It was quickly determined that the suspect in the shooting fled from the shooting scene.

Within moments the Antioch Police Department apprehended a 17-year-old Hispanic male and recovered the firearm. The Antioch Unified School District was notified, and the restricted access procedure was rescinded. There were no reported victims or injuries in this case. There is no indication that any Antioch High School students were involved in this incident.

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Yes on Measure P

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The following is the ballot pamphlet argument supporting the proposed half-cent sales tax increase in Antioch.

Antioch is struggling to maintain the services that protect our quality of life and keep our city safe. State takeaways of local money, combined with declining home values and decreased consumer spending have seriously impacted the city’s main sources of revenue – property and sales taxes.

The city continues to look at other ways to increase revenue, including working with public employees to obtain further voluntary pay and benefit concessions. However, this financial crisis is severe. In the last two years the city has cut $13 million and still faces a $4 million deficit. Twenty-five percent of the workforce has been eliminated, remaining staff has voluntarily cut their pay and benefits by $2.8 million and city hall is closed on Fridays.

Positions at the police department are left unfilled and there are 20 fewer police officers on duty than there were two years ago.

If we are to preserve our safe neighborhoods, additional funding is needed to prevent further police layoffs and to maintain police patrols and 911 response times.

Other city services that contribute to our quality of life also need additional funding, including fixing potholes and maintaining local streets and sidewalks and enforcing city codes to clean up abandoned properties.

This measure will provide a stable source of funding for these vital services and not one dollar can be taken by the state.

This measure also has strong accountability provisions, including an annual audit and a citizen oversight committee, to ensure the money is being spent as promised. And the measure will expire in eight years.

This measure will bring stable revenue that cannot be taken away by the state, has strong citizen oversight of spending and an annual audit. In order to maintain our police services and emergency response times and keep our community safe, please vote Yes.

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No on Measure P

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The following is the ballot pamphlet argument against the proposed half-cent sales tax increase in Antioch.

Vote NO to increasing Antioch sales tax beyond the current record levels.

The tax dollars would NOT be dedicated to police services and public safety, the number one priority among citizens, but go to the general fund. The tax would not add police but “hopefully” allow a break even next year. It will NOT solve the crisis.

The proposed oversight is not binding and cannot legally be modified at a later time.

While all Californians have seen many increases in service fees and taxes, Antioch leaders have:

  • Raised water rates a total of 60 percent
  • Raised sewer rates a total of 30 percent
  • Allowed garbage rates to climb 26 percent this year.

Logic and history tells us a local sales tax would negatively impact Antioch businesses and still not produce the income projected. It’s wrong to ask for more tax dollars at a time when so many families and businesses are struggling financially.

Economic development, business retention, reducing the city business permit process, constant budget reviews, pension reforms and contracting out more city services will help solve our fiscal crisis.

Vote NO to this tax increase. It is the wrong solution at the wrong time.

No on Measure P

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Antioch School District Debate

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The following is a transcription of the answers to the first question in the Antioch school board candidates debate on Aug. 25. Eight candidates are running for two seats on the school board. They are Joy Motts, Gary Hack, Angel Luevano, Debra Vinson, Teri Lynn Shaw, David Pfeiffer, John “Jack” Yeager and Vincent Manuel. All of the candidates except Manuel participated in the debate.

Question: The district faces another $6.4 million in cuts to avoid insolvency. It’s already cut 107 teaching positions. What steps would you take to keep the district financially afloat?

Joy Motts: It’s a huge challenge. With the budget not settled at the state level there’s still more information to come. So I believe it’s going to take all stakeholders. We’re going to need to get our teachers and our parents, our administrators, our community involved in determining how we are going to go forward in funding public education. Truly we need some new outside of the box, innovative thinking in order to try to take on these troubling times and these challenges we have fiscally. I’m prepared to take on that challenge. I’ve worked with the school for many years. I’ve been out in the community and have relationships with many in the community, business partners and all. I think that strength I can bring that to the table in making determinations in how we can go forward in funding public education.

I think it’s only fair that we involve everybody in the community. It’s a huge challenge – at the state level and federal level too. We have got to take into consideration how this affects what we are going to do at the administrative level, at the classified level with teachers, get parents involved to determine priorities there. It’s only fair that we get everybody involved in making those choices in how we go forward. What programs we are going to be able to continue with and how we are going to be able to take on being fiscally responsible and still meeting the needs of all our children.

Gary Hack: Right now Antioch has a qualified positive certification of accounting for the next three years. There’s issues like all school districts are facing in California. The issues primarily for Antioch come forward in the next couple of years, not particularly this coming year. I think the number one priority for the board, they need to hire a chief business officer. That person is not in place at this moment in time. Unfortunately, in the last 10 years Antioch has had four chief business officers. And there has been no consistency, no planning, no plan of consistent attack and planning and vision. That needs to be resolved as soon as possible so we can continue to go forward into the future. The board also needs to review the financial documents over the last few years and see the pattern of expenditures and assets. But the interim reports and the budget reports. Primarily they need to look at the actuals. Because sometimes there are discrepancies between what we think will happen and what actually happens.

Also I think the board needs to review the recommendations from the two outside agencies that they brought in in the spring. They reviewed all the policies, business practices, special ed and administrative polices in the district and came up with dozens of recommendations that either enhance revenue or restrict or reduce expenditures. You add that to the budget advisory committee. And the school board whose brought issues out also. You do all of those and you can address a lot of the issues that are facing possibly and mitigate those issues. I have been part of that recommendation process. As a member of the board I’d like to be a part of the decision-making process, the prioritization and the time lines. Also bargaining is there with the employee groups. Bargaining is in process right now with the classified employees. Theoretically we will start in the fall with the certificated employees. Although they are under a closed contract, so that might be problematic. But you put all those together and I think Antioch has the opportunity to address the issues that are facing them financially. And I would like to be a part of that process.

Angel Luevano: I think that part of the problem here is that we haven’t gotten a handle on the deficit. It’s tough because we don’t know what that is. We don’t get those numbers until way after we have done our budgets. But I do think that we are on the right track with the review of the spending and expenses that the district is doing. I think that (Superintendent) Don Gill is doing a good job in that regard. I believe that we are going to see some good news coming up pretty soon. I understand that there are going to be some things that we are going to be able to do some shout-outs about. The problem is that the fix is so vast. We have so much that we have to do because we were so far behind. But we have to look at those resources and decide what our priorities are.

Academic excellence is key. We have to succeed there. So no matter where we cut if we start losing too many teachers, what we are going to have is that we are going to have to cut the services. While we can’t do that and still maintain academic excellence, I think we are going to have to look at what cuts have been made, whats working, what needs to be relooked at again. So some specific plans for that is to review the Total School Solutions report and look at what their recommendations are. I believe they are going to be looking at several departments and going into director or coordinator positions. I do have a concern about the English language learners, and whether or not we are going to be doing the right thing by the cuts we make in that area.

Debra Vinson: I believe that the budget issue right now is complex for all school districts. But specifically with Antioch having to make over three years the $6.4 million cut, I think that we need to take a more strategic look at every line item that we have on the budget now. We also need to look at where those allocations are, whether those are proposed expenditures, exact expenditures and whether or not we can over the next year, even the next three years, let go of some of proposed items that we have on the budget that make up the budget. The other thing that I think is really interesting is Antioch is a unique school district in that we have a chance to receive more funds from the U.S. Department of Education. I do understand that Antioch did receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education for a specific cause. I also believe specifically that there are grants out there because we serve a unique population of students. There are grants we can take advantage of, and that will allow the district to not use any allocated funds that they would have for those specific expenditures.

The other thing about the budget is passing a state budget. That has been chronic issue for California. All schools are impacted by it. It is unfortunate that employees have to be also impacted by it, because you are looking at layoffs. So once again I think the district can take a look at the number of the students in the classroom, the number of students that attend. Looking at attendance to make sure that we do everything we can to have 100 percent attendance. Looking to make sure that we have full on board parent participation. There are many people in the community who have resources through corporations. Perhaps we can write letters, receive donations. In terms of laying off staff I would hope that we would be strategic in doing that to make sure we put all of our resources together, all of our minds together, parents, administrators teachers, unions, everybody coming up with their specific information to look at what we can do to offset the $6.4 million deficit.

Teri Lynn Shaw: All of the information – we have been very transparent, the board has and the district – all of the information is available because it’s public information and so are our board meetings. You’re welcome to come to our board meetings where all of this is discussed. But as everyone has said thus far, we are trying. And we have had to make cuts. But the main thing is that we want to cut as far away from the classroom as possible. And it does impact other families because we are all people. So cuts really do impact all of us. Because it impacts our community and it impacts our children as well. But cuts are inevitable. But the main thing is, as has been discussed, is grants and thinking outside the box and getting creative. And that was something I spoke about back in 2006.

We have got to get creative when it comes to education, when it comes to funding. It’s a public school education. For so many years we have been able to have free education, and we would like to keep it that way for our students. It makes it public. But we do need stakeholders, we do need community members and we also need business partners. And so that is what helps. For instance, I work for Biotech Partners, which is Bayer Corporation. It’s bio-science. Bayer funds the education of these students for a bio-tech program. When you start  bringing in those types of partnerships then you can do that. So there is opportunity there. It’s unfortunate. We are being impacted. Everybody is being impacted in California when you look at that. Like we said, we don’t find out until school has already started. So you do have to project. But the best thing you do like families – and in this district we are a family. I don’t just mean the board members, I mean all of us care about these kids. They belong to us, and we are really thinking best about their future. So, like a family, when there’s budget times and there’s a bad economic and a crisis then you tighten your belt. But you don’t give up and that’s what we are doing.

David Pfeiffer: I have over 34 years in the private and public sector in management. I was at San Francisco Airport after 9/11 when the airport lost over 40 percent of its traffic, which greatly reduced our revenues. As an employee of the city and county of San Francisco we went through some major budget cuts. I think one of the things that was different there, versus the school board here and what’s going on in Antioch as previously mentioned, is that we had plans that we followed. We had plans in place that forecast out different scenarios in advance. So we were able to adapt. Every city, every school district in the state right now is struggling with a budget crisis. The difference is that we have a reactionary school board right now. We don’t have one that has a plan. They have had multiple business officers. They have had multiple superintendents. I think what we have got to do is regroup. I personally have put in 12 requests for public information dating back to August 6 I haven’t received yet. We do need an open, transparent school board. We need to be able to see what’s going on, how the money’s being spent.

And as a candidate I think it’s especially critical that we get it quickly so that we can come up with plans of action. Because, in my opinion, this really is an indictment of the existing school board, the situation we are in right now. We have got administrators, teachers, students, classified union employees that do everything from drive buses to clean toilets that are all concerned about their jobs. They shouldn’t need to be worrying about that right now. They should know what’s going on and how we are going to fix it. My concern is that we step up to the plate quickly, we know what’s going on so that we can come up with real plans. I think it’s important that the community, students, parents are involved so we can weight what they feel is critical and what we need to cut that they feel that they can give up. There will be cuts coming, but I think we the public need to be better informed on what’s going and how the money is being spent right now, so that we can better come up with a real plan.

Jack Yeager: I have been in education for over 17 years, some of that overseas. I have watched other schools go through the same kind of problems. I myself am a teacher; I teach in Pittsburg. And I have seen what cuts can do when late budgets from the state are handed down. I know what losing hours means. When you lose 25 percent of your income because of that, it does affect your living style. As far as Antioch is concerned, I know that there are problems here. There are two reports that I know of that money has been spent to go through recommendations on how to streamline the operation. Unfortunately, some of those recommendations will depend on others than the school board to give something back. Or not to go into something extra than what we already have.

We have a limited time to do this. And we have a very limited budget in which to make this right. Unfortunately, we need to re-examine all phases of the education system in Antioch. There may be places we can cut that programs are no longer available by the state or federal, they are no longer funded. Individuals who have been there as coordinators, directors may need to consolidate what they are doing to help us reach a balanced budget. The alternative, unfortunately, would be a state takeover. At that point nobody wins. Everybody will lose. If we cut teachers we go above the state mandatory number of students per class, which we have already exceeded, and that lessens the quality of education that we get for our children.

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Antioch City Council Debate

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

City Council candidates, from left, Arne Simonsen, Wade Harper and Gary Agopian at a candidates forum in September that Council members Reggie Moore and Martha Parsons did not attend.


The following is a transcription of most of the Antioch City Council candidates debate on Aug. 25. Five candidates are running for two seats on the council. The candidates are Antioch Unified School District (AUSD) Board Member Wade Harper, former Councilman Arne Simonsen, Councilwoman Martha Parsons, former AUSD Board Member Gary Agopian and Councilman Reggie Moore.

Question: Will you vote for Measure P, the half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot?

Wade Harper: I agree with a half-cent sales tax. I agree with raising taxes only as a last resort. People are paying Mello-Roos tax, water and garbage rates have increased. We always have to look at it as a last resort and not always go into the pockets of the taxpayers. I do realize that there was a survey done to ask if they would agree with a half-cent sales tax and there is evidence that the community would agree with that. The City Council is going before the  community and saying, “Give us some direction. We are at a fork in the road. Do we maintain our current level of service, or do you want us to start decreasing service?”

I believe that public safety is one of the most important things. We need to properly fund public safety, properly staff our police department, our fire department. If you ask people in the community they will say our number one concern is public safety. If you ask any one of these candidates, at the top of their list is going to be public safety. So we have to properly staff our police department, our fire department. We also need to make sure we can improve the roads. It means that I’m going to vote yes because I want our police department properly staffed, and I want to maintain this level of service to the community.

Arne Simonsen: If you look at the articles of incorporation for Antioch back in 1872, we have two services we are supposed to provide: police and fire. Our fire department is consolidated with the county. So Antioch police service is number one. I believe the half-cent sales tax proposal by the city council is the wrong direction to go. When the State of California increased sales taxes by 1 percent for a two-year period, they predicted it would draw $8 billion to the state. They ended up with the fiscal year that just closed only generating $1.4 billion. Its going to drive Antioch residents to go shop at our neighbors in Brentwood, Pittsburg and Oakley. And they are going to love it, particularly on the high ticket items. It won’t affect car sales (those are related to zip code). But it will impact car dealers on parts and service. There’s more generated in those departments than actual car sales. I think it’s the wrong way to go.

My preference would have been to go with a parcel tax. We have roughly 35,000 parcels in the city of Antioch. And we could have a steady income that would not be very much per month. It might be $9 a month, something like that. But I would have insisted that the money went to our number one priority: public safety. There’s times when you have to look at whether you’re getting what you’re paying for. A lot of times we get thrown off by what initially comes out. City survey said it would go for police, code enforcement and roads. But when you hear the City Council, they are talking about giving money to animal services and everything else except public safety. If it all went to public safety I’d be very very happy. But it’s not. And since it’s going to be a volatile source of income I could not support that. But I could support a parcel tax dedicated solely to police services.

Martha Parsons: I’m clearly going to vote for it. The money will in the beginning go to public safety. If we say it’s only going to go to public safety there’s a two-thirds threshold of the voters. By saying it’s going to the General Fund and will also support code enforcement, which I also believe is important, it’s going to our police department, code enforcement, our streets, all of which have something to do with public safety. The half-cent sales tax will impact everyone in our community. It will be on not only the residents who own property but on the renters and the people that come into our community.

I believe in our residents more than some others, I guess. I believe for the half-cent sales tax someone is not going to buy a tube of toothpaste that will cost them two more cents. I believe they will stay in Antioch to go to a dealership for their car repair for $180 and spend 90 cents to improve their quality of life. For someone on a fixed income, they would have to buy $24,000 worth of taxable goods to add up to $120 on a parcel tax. We are giving the opportunity to say I want to support our city. I want to support my quality of life. And the way I want to do it is by the half-cent sales tax.

Gary Agopian: The real issue is not so much taxation as it is the drop in revenue. The real issue is that we have seen a 32 percent drop in revenue in property taxes in the last three years. We have seen a 25 percent drop in sales tax revenue in the last three years. We have seen $10.5 million in revenue cut from our budget, but only $8.5 million in expenditures cut in that same three-year period of time. So if I was on the council I would be saying first of all, “What are the priorities in this city? Where do we want to fund, and what is the most effective way to do that?”

If I were doing a poll I wouldn’t have put the poll up and say, “Are you willing to pay a half-cent sales tax or $120 a year (property tax)?” When the answer is going to be a resounding no (on the property tax). But if you are asking the voters, “Would you like to dedicate X number of dollars a month – it could end up being $5 a month – to police services?” I think the voters might have a whole other opinion. As a council we might be debating that issue differently than we did. So the real issue is: How do we grow revenue? If I was a City Council member I would have debated it very, very differently than it was.

Reggie Moore: What the council decided to do was to ask the residents of Antioch are they willing to tax themselves for vital services. This only happened after years of serious cuts on behalf of this council. This council turned every rock over and tried to find every savings that we could find. Our employee groups have been wonderful on this question. They have given back in the form of furlough days, they have given back in the form of wage concessions. We don’t have a spending problem; we have a revenue problem. This council has done a wonderful job of cutting costs while maintaining services. But there comes a point where if you’re going to maintain the level of service that the community deserves and address the entire spectrum of city services and not just stay focused on one issue, you have got to raise revenue. And we are at a point right now where we need to raise revenue to meet those needs and those concerns in our community.

I hear from a wide range of people in our town that “I want my level of services to be maintained.” And this particular budget cycle, unlike any other, those who support recreational services come out, those who support animal services come out and, of course, those who support public safety come out. And as an elected leader you have got to make tough decisions. At this point in time to enhance the quality of recreational services. When I hear from parents that “My child has grown and become a better person because of the programs we have in place,” I don’t want those programs to go away. Then I take it as a charge to make sure we have those services. When I hear “We are not treating the animals in our town the way we want them treated,” I take that seriously. Of course, we know that public safety is best met through preventative programs. While our police department does a fantastic job of solving crimes, they can’t be everywhere all the time. So it becomes a balancing act. But this particular revenue enhancement measure is really going to be decided by the people. And our charge as council members was to ask the question. And we have asked the question, and it’s up to the voters to decide. Yes, I will be voting in the affirmative on this particular measure. I think that 50 cents per $100 is a nominal amount of money to be spent to improve the quality of life in Antioch.

Antioch Council members Reggie Moore and Martha Parsons

Question: A poll of city residents said that 63 percent feel the city is on the wrong track. Do you agree? What would you do to change it?

Simonsen: That was a sad result on the poll, and a commentary on what’s happened in the year and a half since I left the council. When I left the council, we had a very healthy reserve. But I also warned the council about the problems that are on the horizon, and they didn’t listen. In 2007 I warned about a potential housing bubble coming down the road, about the bond market, and it seemed that nobody was really listening to the Federal Reserve, the bond markets, the financial markets, housing markets. The projections were so optimistic that I actually had to vote against the budget because I said it will lead to a deficit. And guess what – it did lead to a deficit. Things a city could have done. There are ways to get the revenue back in line. When I was elected the mayor Verne Roberts told me, “Arne, you’re now responsible for every bad decision the city has made since 1872 – 128 years.

One of those mistakes is the council back in the ’70s and ’80s decided that they were going to pay the employees’ portion of CalPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System). That means that not all of our employees are contributing to our retirement plan. But we in the private sector have to pay our portion of Social Security. If the city employees back in 2006, 2007 had agreed to that, the city would have over $2.7 million a year that they would have to be able to retain the positions. It would have softened the blow from the economic downturn. If you look at whether we should be funding the county in operation of their branch library in Antioch, we should have our citizens go after the (county) board of supervisors for not properly funding it. Or do we look at privatizing Prewett Park, which can provide more money? The wrong track is what’s happened since 2008.

Parsons: I agree (that the city has gone downhill). I actually took the poll. I disagree with Mr. Simonsen. The first meeting I had after being appointed to the City Council in 2008, we were already talking about our budget cuts. So it didn’t end with his leaving. It started prior to that. The reason we’ve had to cut so much is our lack of revenues. The state has taken it. The assessors lowered our values. We’ve had numerous foreclosures because of the growth that had taken place prior. And we’ve done an enormous amount to get us to where we are now. In 2006-7 we had a budget in monetary revenue of $47 million. At this point we are $34 million. That is an enormous amount to cut. But our citizens have stepped up. We had Keep Antioch Beautiful. We’ve had Neighborhood Watch groups. I believe in the city of Antioch, and I believe that we can get back on the right track and maintain our quality of life.

Agopian: In that same poll 82 percent of them are likely voters. So these are people who really care about Antioch. And 69 percent of those voters were also dissatisfied with how the city was handling its finances and budget. Those are big numbers. There’s a great deal of dissatisfaction in Antioch on a number of different issues. It was instructive in that same poll that clearly 80 percent of those same voters want police and safety to be the number one priority of this council. I pointed out earlier that we had a $10.5 million drop in revenue but only an $8.5 million reduction in expenditures. We have still not closed the gap. We have been deficit-spending now for the last three years. We are going into year four and projecting year five. So if someone on the council is telling you they have done the heavy lifting, they haven’t done all of the heavy lifting that they need to do. They have only done part of the job. And that’s one of the reasons why we have the $4.5 million gap that we are facing for next year. With that type of backdrop what we need to do clearly in this city is re-bench expenses. We have a new normal.

When is the (real estate) market coming back? Well, it isn’t coming back, because it was inflated artificially. When you lose 32 percent of your taxable value in a city you have to seriously think: Are we going to get 32 percent back? How are we going to live? The question I have is: When was the last time we had a budget of $34.5 million? How did the city survive? What was the level of police service? What type of benefits did we offer? What are the weighted benefit costs today versus 10 years ago? What are we paying for medical insurance for workers compensation? The water park, should we privatize it? Should we handle it the way we do with the Lone Tree Golf Course? Have a board of directors, a nonprofit and say we are not going to subsidize that any more. There are a lot of things that we still need to do in order to get right-sized. Having said that, I need to emphathize that we have a Gottschalks that closed, we have two Mervyns that closed. And the drop in retail taxable value in this city is also a huge component in the problem that we are facing. We have to have a full court press in that area in order to get those tax dollars back.

Moore: I can respect and appreciate that (people think things are not going that well). I think with a deep economic recession, people become frustrated with the level of service that the city provides. I think overall my town is a wonderful town. Those who knock the town for political gain really troubles me. I would argue that Mr. Simonsen was on the council for two terms. And during the boom years, yes, we had significant income from new housing starts. Yet Mr. Simonsen did not push for a 30 percent reserve, which would have put this city in much better stead today with the drop in revenue. Currently we see $25 million of the $34 million go to police services. We are funding the police as well as we can fund them in today’s environment. So it troubles me when there are those who play the politics of fear instead of the politics of optimism. How do we turn this around? I think this council has taken the very first step that’s necessary by placing this revenue enhancement measure on the ballot. And it is my hope that the people of Antioch will support this measure. What we know is that this economy will grow and turn around. The American economy, even though we have gone into a global environment, is one that is built upon a very strong foundation, and at some point we know that it will turn and it will grow. Housing starts will at some point begin anew. We know that the foreclosure rate at some point will stop.

It’s a tough time to be in leadership right now, there’s no doubt about it. I often wonder why the five of us are even running right now, given how tough a job it is. But it’s not a time to play politics. And it’s not a time to say “If I were there I would have done this.” This council has been as responsible as any council in the county when it came to addressing these very tough needs right now. Do we need to ask the employee groups, who by the way are in contracts, to give something to their pension? Absolutely. As a public employee I pay some 7 percent into my pension every month. I think it’s what we should be doing. And I do think it’s unconscionable that employee groups are not paying into their pension. As we negotiate new contracts they are going to have to understand that there is a new norm, that the days of 100 percent-funded pension by the taxpayers are gone. Those days don’t exist any longer. And we can’t move forward in that environment. The people of Antioch are going to have to be patient right now. This council has made some serious steps toward righting the listing ship. And I believe that with their support we can get it done. But I believe that they are right. I as a 20-year resident am one of them who think we may be headed in the wrong direction. But I’m very convinced that it can be turned around. And it’s not going to be hard to turn around and we are going to get it done.

Harper: I think the incumbents here and everyone realizes that we can always better our best. This recession was not caused by this City Council. We all understand that. There was a sharp decline in property tax and taxes. We all know that if our outgo is greater than our income then our upkeep is in for a downfall. We all realize that. We can’t continue to deficit spend. I see the foreclosed housing. I see the lawns that are yellow. I think we all realize that we have to turn it around. We have to stop deficit spending. We have to properly staff the police department and fire department. I think they have made concessions. There’s been about 13 police officers that were laid off, 11 community service officers laid off, code enforcement officers laid off.

So we have to get together. In the city where I work I facilitated budget workshops, and we have come up with ideas to reduce spending and bring in revenues. We listened to all of the community. We have to involve the community in the decision making, have town hall meetings, get them to be a part of the solution. We came up with 900 possible solutions. We did the same thing with the school district. We need to sit at the table with the community members, with business leaders and synergize and come up with the right ideas to move this city along in the right direction.

Question: Reggie Moore said employee groups must accept that they are going to have to pay some or more into their pensions. Do you support that?

Parsons: I do. I think they realize that. Our employee groups have been wonderful. I was not part of any of the contracts that were signed. However, the employees have stepped up to the plate. They are working harder, fitting more into less time. They are reevaluating and doing a wonderful job, including our police department. It’s not 11 community service officers, it was actually 22. I took three ride-alongs. We’ve put a tremendous amount of impact on our police department because of that (loss of community service officers). They know what they need to do and they are willing to help us out.

Agopian: I agree with the concept that underlying some of this is a weighted cost, a future expense that is extremely costly to the city currently. There’s a good model out there that we need to look at and consider doing. The State Highway Patrol has made agreements in exchange for certain other kinds of things that protected jobs, which would have been a great model for Antioch. Oakland PD just did the same thing and they are actively supporting a parcel tax in order to rehire police officers, which is something that we should be considering.

It’s a push-pull type of situation. We have to be looking at how we can restrain growth and expense and at the same time prioritize where we need to have the bodies doing the work that we know is most important. Remember, 80 percent of the people polled said that crime and violence and gangs was the number one priority of the city. All you have to do is drive into Antioch and look at the graffiti and look at the blight. I’m really concerned also when we have an opportunity to enhance a tax base and allow a retailer the opportunity to expand and do the work that they should be doing. That’s a central part of the strategy. Retail sales growth comes from that.

Moore: We have yet to lay off a single police officer in the city of Antioch. I’m uncertain where the 13 layoffs of the police department is coming from, but it’s not true. When I hear the politics of fear, its very troubling about gangs and violence and how bad Antioch has become. If we are ever going to attract middle class families to Antioch and increase the revenue stream in Antioch, we have got to stop playing that game with the people of Antioch. It’s just not fair. On the pensions, yes we are in contracts and its definitely my hope that every employee group will come to the realization that there is a new norm and they have got to pay into the pension. It’s a nominal amount. I’ve paid it for years. I’ve been a public employee for almost 20 years and I’ve always paid into my pension and I think its the appropriate thing to do.

Harper: I’ve met with the president of the Police Officers Association. Law enforcement understands that there is going to be a two-tier retirement system. I’ve been a police officer for 22 years, currently serving as a lieutenant. We were threatening to lay off police officers and we all gave up our raises. We agreed to a two-tier retirement system. So we understand that that is what it may come to. But what we don’t understand is that the life expectancy of a police officer after retirement is only about five years. So that’s why they had the better retirement system. So I don’t think we should try to take away from these law enforcement officers who have served us and who have dedicated their lives to us. And a lot of them are about to retire and now we are going to tell them that we are going to take away your retirement. But I do understand a two-tier system is long-term. That won’t help us right now, that’s long-term. I do think police departments have made concessions and they do understand that it is coming to a two-tier system.

Simonsen: I want to correct one thing Wade just said. According to CalPERS actuaries they show that the average life expectancy of a CalPERS retiree non-public safety is 81.4 years. They also show that the life expectancy of a sworn police officer in the CalPERS program is 81.4 years. It’s exactly the same. So we have to deal with reality and the facts. They are living longer. I’m retired military and I’ve almost been retired longer than I was actually in the service at this point. We need to have the employees pay their portion. When I first got on the council in December 2000 the first thing I did when we had our first negotiations was ask why aren’t they paying into the program. I tried at every negotiation we had to get them to do the same thing we do in the private sector. I never could get support. The last round of negotiations we had I said, “OK, let’s try to get them to pay at least 1 percent. A long journey begins with one step.” The city manager said, “You’re not going to believe this – they accepted your proposal.”

We are all seeing what other cities and counties are experiencing. They also have their post-employment benefits that we have to deal with. Reggie was directly involved in this with me. We realized that we had an unfunded liability that we had to take care of. We took $6 million and we put it in a nonrevocable trust with CalPERS that draws interest. All we had to then do was put in an additional $1 million over the pay-as-you-go amount and in 10 years we would have a 100 percent-funded program. So we were taking the right steps. The economy obviously has hurt that. When we look at employees having furlough days, they call that a pay cut. The real cut is to the services to the citizens of Antioch. Being closed on Fridays. A roofer wanted a permit and I told him “You picked the wrong day, they’re closed.” For a contractor coming in that’s really tough.

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City Sued for Fighting Crime

Thursday, October 28th, 2010


Section 8 Controversy

The Antioch Police Community Action Team has been awarded by the California Peace Officers Association, but sued by Bay Area advocacy groups for African-American Section 8 tenants.


By Dave Roberts

For the first decade that Walter Ruehlig lived in Antioch his neighborhood was “just as quiet as could be,” he said. “I would always tell people how blessed I felt. I couldn’t even recall one instance of complaining to a neighbor about loud music. Then all of a sudden all hell broke loose.”

That hell began around five years ago. He had a car stolen out of his driveway. Someone attempted to break in through the back door. Two bicycles were stolen. A neighbor threatened to kill his wife and dog. A house down the street was the scene of drug activity with people coming and going at all hours, loud parties late into the night, people smoking marijuana on the roof, garbage strewn in the front yard. Neighbors placed about 20 calls to the police. Another house contained a juvenile who attempted to rob a kid of his iPod, then shot him in the back when he ran.

Another teen in that house spewed a string of expletives at Ruehlig when he confronted the juvenile about leaving a shopping cart in the street. “He said, ‘You step one foot further, m-f-er, you’re a dead man,’” said Ruehlig. “I called the police and they came out. They were getting call after call.”

Unfortunately, Ruehlig’s neighborhood was not alone. In 2007 Antioch suffered a 31 percent increase in violent crime – the largest increase of any big city in California – at a time when violent crime was actually decreasing in many large cities.

The increase in crime occurred around the same time that federally subsidized Section 8 rentals significantly increased in the city – the 1,900 rentals were the second largest of any city in Contra Costa County. When the real estate market was booming, housing was seen as a good investment. Absentee owners rented out their homes – some worth $700,000-$800,000 at the time (less than half that now) – to Section 8 tenants because the landlords were guaranteed a monthly check from Uncle Sam. The federal program pays about two-thirds of the rent with the tenant picking up the rest.

The problem was that the understaffed Housing Authority of the County of Contra Costa (HACCC) only conducted cursory background checks on the tenants with few or no follow-ups. Residents who lived near problem residences in which they suspected the tenants of receiving Section 8 vouchers, tried to complain to the HACCC, but were often unable to get through the phone system or left messages that weren’t returned. They then complained to city officials, who pressured HACCC and also established a community policing team of four officers, known as the Community Action Team (CAT), in July 2006.

Instead of the reactive enforcement of police officers being called to a residence numerous times, issuing a warning or citation and filing a report each time, only to be called back again and again, it’s been the CAT’s job to take a proactive approach to find ways to deal with problem residents. That has included trying to find ways to help tenants find support services for their problems as well as determining whether they are violating Section 8 regulations, such as having an unauthorized person in the residence, and reporting that to the landlord and HACCC.

Residents like Ruehlig have been grateful for the help. “We heard from the CAT Team that they thought it appeared the ending was coming (for the problems at one house),” he said. “Sure enough, they just left. I think so much pressure was put on them, they got tired of the calls and the landlord. I am convinced that this sort of targeted attention is the only thing that can drive people out when the police are like a tattoo all over them. Legally so. They don’t come out unless you call them. The CAT Team gave us their number and said, ‘Call me.’ I think that’s what did the trick. Ever since then it’s been a vastly improved neighborhood. It ain’t what it was 10 years ago, but for a while it was the Wild West.”

Improvements were also made at HACCC after it was fined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for mismanagement in January 2007, the HACCC director was replaced in March 2007 and an HACCC office was opened in Antioch.

But over the course of the next year while complaints to police and city officials from residents about problem neighbors decreased, they were replaced by complaints from advocates for African-American Section 8 families, alleging police harassment. In December 2007 a 38-page report entitled “Policing Low-Income African-American Families in Antioch, Racial Disparities in ‘Community Action Team’ Practices” was issued by Bay Area Legal Aid and Public Advocates Inc. It states that although African-Americans total 14 percent of Antioch’s population (representing a doubling from 2000-06), they comprise 56 percent of the city’s Section 8 tenants.

After reviewing 1,150 pages of police and HACCC reports on Section 8 households, the report charges that “African-American households in Antioch are approximately four times more likely than white households to be the subject of a CAT case, subjected to a search or investigated by the CAT, searched or investigated by the CAT based on a purely non-criminal complaint, subjected to a letter from the Police Department to their landlord complaining of their conduct. In short, there is reason to believe that scrutiny of Section 8 families may serve as a proxy for scrutiny of low-income African-American families.

“CAT practices overselect African-American families, even within the disproportionately African-American Section 8 population. While 56 percent of all Section 8 families in Antioch are African-American, 70 percent of the families about which CAT has submitted complaints to the Housing Authority are African-American. The explanation for the disparity does not appear to lie in the illegitimate conduct of the tenants.”

The city attorney responded in a press release that the CAT Team has no “racial focus” and that it is merely attempting to deal with properties that “include a high number of calls for service to the Police Department, suspected criminal activity, substandard housing or other structures, lack of utilities or sanitation facilities, vagrants in abandoned buildings, and/or lack of property maintenance. About two-thirds of complaints concerned homes later determined to be Section 8 properties, in which some of the tenants aren’t following the rules of the program such as engaging in drug-related and unlawful behavior.

“The City and Police Department recognize that the vast majority of Section 8 residents do not generate calls for service to the Police Department or neighborhood complaints. The City looks forward to continuing to work with the Housing Authority to ensure that the many needy, disabled and elderly persons who have been on the waiting list for Section 8 assistance for years are not overlooked in favor of those who are unwilling to follow the rules of the Section 8 program.”

Three lawsuits were filed against the city alleging police discrimination against African-American Section 8 tenants. Recently one suit, on behalf of an African-American woman, lost in a jury trial; and another, on behalf of a Section 8 landlord was withdrawn before going to trial after the city established that the CAT Team wasn’t within a quarter-mile of the landlord’s home during the alleged incidents.

The third suit, which is backed by the ACLU and the Impact Fund, has been filed on behalf of four African-American Section 8 women, who could receive monetary damages if they win. It has also been granted class-action status on behalf of 1,000 unnamed African-American Antioch residents, who would not receive damages. A trial date has yet to be set.

City officials are encouraged by their victories in the other two suits, and many residents are glad they have decided to fight. “There’s a small percentage of homes that are just wrecking whole neighborhoods,” said Ruehlig. “I am not against Section 8. I am sure there’s many good aspects to the program. But it’s a program where many have wreaked havoc.”

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