Candidates for council, mayor share views at Take Back Antioch forum

By James Ott

Community group Take Back Antioch hosted a candidate forum on Saturday to give Antioch residents a chance to get to know the candidates for city council and mayor.

The forum featured mayoral candidates Gary Agopian, Don Freitas, and Michael Leon as well as Jim Davis, Noel Pinto, Mary Rocha, Walter Ruehlig and Monica Wilson who are all running for city council.

Current Mayor Pro Tem Wade Harper was not present at the forum, but he is also running for mayor. That’s the second candidates event he missed, including the Antioch Chamber of Commerce debate on Thursday night, October 4.

Many of the questions at the forum boiled down to the high crime rate in Antioch and what the candidates would do about it if elected.

Candidates were asked question about police staffing and crime reduction, code enforcement and blight reduction and economic development and downtown revitalization.

Crime is a big problem in Antioch. On average you are almost twice as likely to become the victim of a violent crime in Antioch as you are in the rest of California. And according to a mid-year report by Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando, the city’s crime rates have gone up in almost every category this year.

As far as blight is concerned, all of the candidates agreed that something needed to be done.

Current Mayor Jim Davis said that he has already made strides at reducing crime by recently hiring 5 new officers and community services officers, (CSO’s) as well as volunteers in police service, (VIPS).

Mary Rocha stressed that the crime rate wouldn’t drop until more officers were hired.

Noel Pinto was in favor of cutting non-critical expenditures and using the savings to create budget specifically to hire new police officers.

Walter Ruehlig and Don Freitas were in favor of a new sales tax to hire more officers, while Gary Agopian suggested we take a look at other similarly-sized cities in the state that have a low crime rate and potentially borrow some tried-and-true crime reducing methods from them.

Monica Wilson and most of the other candidates seemed very much in favor of community involvement in fighting crime. Wilson suggested boosting the amount of neighborhood watch programs to report suspicious activities and stop crime before it happens.

When it comes to blight reduction many of the candidates were in favor of cleaning up and going after the owners of the many abandoned homes in Antioch.

Ruehlig suggested educating kids about blight, enforcing maximum fines as a deterrent, and cleaning up freeway exits.

Wilson wants to institute volunteer clean-up programs and going after fining the owners of neglected houses.

Michael Leon was against raising taxes and wanted to find another way to fight crime, such as neighborhood watch programs.

Agopian wanted to increase the amount of CSO’s to go after negligent homeowners and reduce blight. He said if you reduce blight and clean up you will increase home sales and so provide more sorely needed property tax revenue for the city.

Freitas was also in favor of more CSO’s but also suggested using the city attorney to lean on negligent homeowners in order to force clean-up of dilapidated property.

Davis pointed out his fixing of Mike’s Auto Body as proof that he has worked to end blight in the past and wants to work on a towing program to prevent run down cars from just sitting in place.

Pinto agreed with Davis about ridding the city of abandoned cars but also called for community help to identify those responsible for dirtying up the city so they could be slapped with bigger fines and punished.

When it comes to developing and improving the economy, particularly in downtown Antioch all of the candidates were in favor of bringing new and bigger businesses to the city.

Freitas said that Antioch “desperately” needs to annex the property off o Wilbur to make room for a business park. He wants to fast track development to bring in more city revenue.

Leon, who is a business owner himself, said that Antioch is not business friendly. He said he tried to open his business there in 1996 but was so frustrated at the process that he went to Oakley instead. He wants to offer incentives to bring bigger businesses to Antioch.

Davis said that he has been working behind the scenes with Wal-Mart – and example he uses to show that he is business friendly. He wants to make Antioch open to all businesses.

Pinto said that if elected, he would create a “Delta Valley Joint Venture” that would work with neighboring cities to go after big businesses such as those in biotechnology. He said that jointly, the region could combine to become attractive to businesses.

Ruehlig wants Antioch to adopt a pro-business model that would enact new legislation in order to fast track business in the city.

Wilson said that Antioch needs to remove red tape and hire an economic director.

Agopian had a similar take. He wants to make changes that would fast track the business permit process because he said, “time is money.” He also was in favor of annexing the property off of Wilbur Road.

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