Archive for February, 2011

It’s Time to Rein in Public Employee Unions

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

California, Contra Costa County and Antioch have large budget deficits, and are  dealing with them in different ways. Governor Jerry Brown is trying to schmooze legislators into backing another ballot  measure to raise taxes. Brown had strong union support in his run for office, as  opposed to Meg Whitman who, after pledging to slash the ranks of public employees, was targeted by the California Nurses Association (allegedly responsible for the “Little Nicky” charade) .

Contra Costa County Administrator David Twa has been trying to woo concessions from 19 different bargaining units who are apparently unwilling to talk about pay freezes, pension benefits for current employees or even acceptance of an automated time card system which would save $8 million.

Antioch too has been seeking concessions. And while the majority of Antioch’s seven employee groups have agreed, we won’t know the result of final negotiations until the City Council meeting on March 8th.

Regrettably, the problem in all these negotations are public employee collective bargaining rights, which enable entire groups of public employees to retire early and receive enhanced retirement and health benefits. That’s why you’ve been hearing a lot about Wisconsin Governor Walker’s desire to eliminate bargaining rights and the strong opposition from union groups such as the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, despite Walker’s contention that doing so would save at least 1,500 jobs.

It’s a courageous stand to take, since a portion of every public employee’s union dues go toward backing liberal politicians and union bosses who make sure workers turn out to vote for the chosen candidate. (Kudos to Governor Daniels of Indiana of Indiana who did it six years ago via executive order.)

Some union bosses, however, are downright embarrassing to their membership like AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumpa who charged that those who didn’t vote for Obama
were racists, and New York’s United Federation of Teachers union boss Michael Mulgrew who authorized spending more than a million dollars last year for 130 people to party at the Hilton New York in celebration of the 50th year anniversary of the union.

Speaking of teacher unions, teacher Al Shanker who later became head of the New York teachers union in the 70s was once my husband’s boy scout leader. He took the troop, based in Queens, N.Y. to the cliffs of New Jersey for a climbing expedition where he managed to get them into a tough situation he couldn’t resolve and had to call for help.  This time it’s the taxpayers who are calling for help.

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Quality Of Life Forum This Saturday

Friday, February 25th, 2011

The City Council’s next Quality Of Life Forum is set for this Saturday, February 26 from 9:00 a.m. to Noon at Deer Valley High School, located at 4700 Lone Tree Way, Antioch.

For a copy of the agenda, which includes presentations and discussions on the city budget, volunteerism, future priorities and by the school district, please click on

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Wine Tasting Fundraiser for First Tee

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Lone Tree Golf and Event Center invites you to join us Friday February 25 from 6-10pm at a Wine Tasting Fundraiser for The First Tee.  Appetizers will be prepared by our chef Jonathan Hork. Wine will be provided by Hanna Nicole Vineyards, Watts Winery and Brentwood Spices and Olive Oil. Silent Auction Items include hotel stays, rounds of golf, 49ers memorabilia, dinners at restaurants. There will be special pricing on cases of wine bought at the event

Tickets are available in the pro shop for $45 per person. A large portion of all proceeds will benefit the First Tee foundation.

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Council Not Blown Away by 327-Foot Windmill

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

A proposed wind turbine as seen from the Pittsburg-Antioch Highway.

 By Dave Roberts

City Council members were less than enthusiastic Tuesday night when presented with the possibility of construction of a windmill on the Pittsburg-Antioch Highway that would be taller than the length of a football field, visible from much of the city and likely the most prominent landmark in Antioch.

The Delta Diablo Sanitation District wants to place the wind turbine on its property at Arcy Lane in order to save $1.5 million-$4 million over the next 20 years in energy costs through renewable energy. The cost savings would be passed on to its 200,000 customers in Antioch, Pittsburg and Bay Point, according to district officials. The district has not yet signed an agreement with Foundation Windpower to construct the turbine, and is seeking comments from city officials and the public.

None of the council members praised the proposal and several were wary.

“I would want more community feedback on this,” said Councilman Wade Harper. “It’s hard to argue aesthetics when you have a smoke stack next to (the proposed windmill).”

Councilwoman Mary Rocha said, “Because it is visual and something that we are going to see, the community would want to know how important it is to us. Because it’s green-on-green and there would be a (cost) reduction somewhere along the way that we could see in the future, it might be more acceptable. But it is an object that seems very obtrusive.”

The proposed wind turbine as it would appear from Contra Loma and James Donlon boulevards.

Councilman Gary Agopian noted that it’s one thing to have windmills along a freeway such as the Altamont Pass and quite another thing to have them in an urban area.

“I’m not real fond of looking at them, but I can see the value in using wind,” he said. “But putting it in the city where we all going to be looking at it all the time, I’m very much aware. It doesn’t look that large from (western Pittsburg), but here in Antioch, I’m looking at a wind turbine right out in the middle of all of our views. I’m a little bit concerned about the location – not the technology, not the savings and not the greenness of what you’re trying to do – but the location. Looking at a windmill right there in Antioch, uhhh, I’m not real hot about it, I’ve got to be honest with you.

“Solar has a much lower profile. And even though you may need to use a little bit more real estate to do that and maybe it will cost a little bit more, you certainly are not going to have the aesthetic issues that we’re having with wind.”

Solar energy panels would take up more real estate on the district’s property, would save $400,000 less in energy costs over 20 years and would be more unreliable, according to Delta Diablo Associate Engineer Irene O’Sullivan. General Manager Gary Darling added that the district is already planning a solar project to power its office buildings.

A Foundation Windpower representative said that residents could consider the turbine to be a “nice big piece of artwork, a sculpture.” He added that it creates very little noise and only kills two birds per year on average.

Councilman Brian Kalinowski said he wants more information. “I would be interested in what the agreements look like and call for,” he said. “I don’t think, based on industrial use, I’m overly concerned. But I want to make sure we are at the industry standard.”

Mayor Jim Davis did not comment.

Delta Diablo plans to make a similar presentation to the Pittsburg City Council next month. The district board could decide in April whether to sign an agreement with the wind company and then seek the necessary environmental permits.

In other action at the council meeting:

  • Kalinowski said that Transplan, the East County transportation planning agency, plans to sue the City of Pittsburg if Pittsburg doesn’t rejoin the East Contra Costa Regional Fee and Financing Authority by March 4. That authority collects funds from new development in East County to help pay for transportation improvements.
  • Brittney Gougeon, founder of the grassroots group Take Back Antioch, announced that they will be working to improve Dallas Ranch Park, including painting over graffiti, replacing vandalized benches and planting trees, flowers and shrubs.
  • The city’s first Quality of Life Forum in nearly two years will be held this Saturday, February 26 from 9 a.m. to noon in the Deer Valley High School auditorium. It will include an update on the city’s budget crisis, a presentation from the Antioch Unified School District, opportunities to volunteer for civic projects and provide time for public comment.
  • Bill Gegg, who is retiring after having held more than a half-dozen administrative positions in his 23 years working for Antioch, was thanked for his service and given a standing ovation. Gegg told the council members that they need to scale back city functions to focus on a few priorities and find ways to provide services cost effectively by investing more in technology.
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Antioch Now Has Two Libraries, But Little Funding for Them

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Recently the Mirant Gateway Center for Learning Library opened in the new Antioch Community Center on Lone Tree Way. As long-time residents know, Mello-Roos funds enabled the construction of a high school, 2 middle schools, 5 elementary schools, and the Prewett Family Water Park. The remaining $26 million in funds went towards the construction of the combined library, community center and police substation project. Frankly, I don’t know if the project came in on budget or not but here’s hoping.

However, the problem today, which we knew going into the project, is the operating cost of the facility and Antioch’s two libraries. Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown has a plan to alter how libraries are funded and utilized. His proposal is to cut $30.4 million in state funding for local libraries ($12.9 million for books and materials, $12.9 million to reimburse libraries that lend books outside their service area, and $4.6 million from literary programs). The budget cut would also cut off support that helps hire staff, purchase books and maintain hours of operation.

The result, according to State Librarian Stacey Aldrich, is that some facilities would have to charge for library cards, which they have avoided doing, partly because otherwise they wouldn’t qualify for a share of state funding.

The Governor’s office, specifically his Finance Director Ana Matosantos, suggested cities could use money freed up by the Governor’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies to replace the reduced funding. State money, however, makes up just a fraction of public libraries’ budgets, which rely primarily on local taxes which have declined in an adverse economy.

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Antioch Starting to Turn Around

Monday, February 21st, 2011

We’ve seen the news. Pittsburg is seeing fifty-year lows in crime. Brentwood reported zero homicides last year. Then there is the Antioch story, but no need recounting the grim tale. From both ends, housing boom and bust, Antioch suffered a tailspin that will take years of correction. Perhaps it’s the New Yorker in me that reveled in Rudy Giulianii turning the city around after decades of free fall. To think, it all started with graffiti and jaywalking.

Whatever my affliction of optimism, I hold hopes for Antioch. We boast a new community center, a glistening civic touchstone. We are awaiting Highway 4 widening and e-Bart. A ferry may soon grace Rivertown, making the Martinez-San Francisco commutes a joy and affording a major spark of downtown revitalization. The pioneering Youth Intervention Network is gaining national prominence and results-oriented traction. The School District had a 14 point jump in API scores last year and is trail-blazing a career-themed linked pathways program. The City Council seems to be working well together and is law enforcement and business friendly.

Best yet, the everyday people are making a difference. Dennis Jeglum and volunteer crew are graffiti-fighting tigers. The Neighborhood Cleanup people are magnificent; the Take Back Antioch movement is a blessing. Margaret Meade, in fact, was right; the most powerful force in the world is a few committed people- they can change the world.

Chaos breeds chaos, order breeds order. It doesn’t take a lamppost in front of every house to lighten a street. In fact, science tells us that a tiny fraction, about 1% of an iron bar’s atoms aligning, sets in motion the move towards magnetizing. The same is true of a light source; approximately1% of composite photons aligning is enough to signal a laser effect.  We don’t need everybody on board; it’s all about critical mass. It won’t happen overnight in Antioch but the momentum is changing, one family, one street, one neighborhood at a time.

Join the people power that are being part of the solution and not the problem.  Attend the Quality of Life Forum this Saturday, February 26th at 9 a.m. at the Deer Valley High School Auditorium. 80% of the topic discussion will center on city issues, 20% on school topics.

After all, if New York a city of eight million can turn around, so can Antioch.

Walter Ruehlig
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Strange Light Show on Mt. Diablo Saturday Night

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

The Mother Ship concealed by snow, perhaps? View of Mt. Diablo from Antioch on the morning of February 20, 2011 - by Allen Payton, from his BlackBerry

Alien Ship Landing? Fires of a Satanic Ritual on Devil’s Mountain? Nah.

By Allen Payton, Publisher

Did you see it? The strange light show on top of a cloud-enshrouded Mt. Diablo, last night between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m.?

After being alerted to the “lights in the clouds” by my friend’s grandson and his cousins, on Saturday night, February 19, I went to look and sure enough a bright light shown through the low clouds on top of Mt. Diablo.  The light was changing color from red to yellow to green to blue.

I’d never seen such a sight in all the 34 years I’ve lived in Contra Costa County, both in Walnut Creek and Antioch – with views from both sides of the mountain. I thought it might be the beacon that the Veterans group lights up every December 7 to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day. But that doesn’t stay on year-round.

The boys said, “maybe it’s a flare” to which I responded, “no, it’s staying in the same place.”

I jokingly told the kids, maybe it was an alien ship landing or a Satanic ritual. It IS called “Devil’s Mountain,” after all.  But I had no idea what it was.

I quickly posted on Facebook what I had witnessed. Others too posted what they’d seen, including a Realtor friend from Brentwood, who also had no idea what it was.

“Aliens” was the most popular comment.

We decided to get in the car and drive to a better viewing spot. But, by that time, the light was gone.

Then my son called who also lives in Antioch. “Did you see it?” he asked. “It was crazy!”

I tried to get in touch with the local television stations and was able to get through to KPIX Channel 5, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco.

They ruined the fun, but solved the mystery.

The lady who answered the phone in the newsroom said, “It was a transformer fire. The fire department is on their way up the mountain, right now.”

So that’s it. No aliens. No devil worshiping. Just a transformer fire. But a spectacular one, that’s for sure!

Free Saturday night entertainment. At least free to the viewers. We’ll find out how much damage was caused if and when we get a news release from the fire department.

If anyone has any video, please let us know and we’ll share it here. Thanks!

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Deer Valley High’s Book Bonanza

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Kathy Green, Head Librarian at Deer Valley High School, with Walter Ruehlig, Antioch Unified School District Trustee, before some of 1,600 gently used books given Walter at the County Library Commission by the Friends of the Lafayette Library. (Photo by Michelle Weber)

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