Antioch Council reverses direction, moves forward with development of downtown lot, dashing hopes for park and event center, proponent vows referendum

By Allen Payton

The opportunity for a park and event center on a downtown lot is dead, for now. Just two months after Antioch residents pushing for the project thought they had a victory with a council vote and comments giving them the opportunity to pursue it, their hopes were dashed at Tuesday night’s (Aug. 25) council meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, Interim City Attorney Derek Cole reported the council had voted during closed session, earlier in the evening, to give direction to City Manager Steve Duran to negotiate with one developer for the purchase of that parcel and eight others, instead.

The agenda item, entitled “Conference with Real Property Negotiatiors.”included a list of parcels and the City Manager Steve Duran as the City and Agency Negotiator. Also listed under the agenda item was “Other Parties Negotiators: Seeno Homes, Inc., Albert Seeno Jr.; Lewis Operating Corporation, Doug Mull; City Ventures, Phil Kerr; Celebrate Antioch Foundation, Wayne Harrison. Under negotiation: price and terms of payment.”

The city attorney stated that the council had voted to give City Ventures the exclusive opportunity to negotiate the purchase of all the parcels listed under the agenda item, including the old Antioch Lumber Company lot, that’s been the site of the proposed park and event center.

A variety of citizens spoke in favor of the downtown park and event center and with disappointment in the vote, with Connie Komar pointing out that some council members had lived here all their lives, and named Council Members Mary Rocha, Tony Tiscareno and Mayor Pro Tem Lori Orgochock. Celebrate Antioch Foundation Treasurer Joy Motts, who has been a leading proponent of the park and event center, expressed her disappointment during public comments, as well, ending with the promise of a referendum on the council’s vote.

However, it wasn’t until the end of the meeting that the city attorney shared how the council members voted.

On the closed session item, it was a 4-1 vote,” he said, with Ogorchock dissenting.

Harper reverses position

Following the meeting, Mayor Wade Harper gave his reasons for his vote, which differed from what was stated at the June workshop on the Downtown Specific Plan update and the impression left with the park proponents at the June 23rd city council meeting. (See article)

I can say certain things about what we desire,” he stated. “But, we had to go along with what the council majority wanted.”

We voted for mixed use,” he added.

However, at the June 23rd council meeting, Harper thanked the community for all of their input, but said, with reference to designating Site 5 a park, “I would want to know how you’re going to pay for it.” Even so, he said, “I’m going to choose 1B, and I would like to give the community the opportunity to find out how we’re going to pay for it.”

Celebrate Antioch Foundation submitted a proposal that included a financial plan, but it was never discussed that they would have to buy the land in order to build the park and event center, according to Motts.

She explained that over the past several weeks members of CAF have said they’ve been meeting with potential funding sources, including a private foundation. But, according to Motts, they needed a commitment from the council in order to secure the funding.

Rocha had offered group hope, twice.

In response, both Rocha and Ogorchock at the August 11th meeting asked to have the matter on the August 25th meeting agenda. Duran responded that it was a matter for closed session. In spite of that, Ogorchock still pushed to have it on the agenda giving a specific list of items she wanted discussed as part of the matter, including giving CAF a date certain to return to the council with preliminary plans, the first right of refusal to pursue the park and event center, without competing with other development interests, and waiving the requirement for them to go through the Request for Qualifications/Request for Proposal process that the council had adopted, last year, for developers.

But, the item, which is set by both the mayor and city manager, was only agendized for the closed session and not the public meeting.

During the June 23rd meeting, in which the council voted to change the zoning of the empty lot to mixed use, allowing for opportunity of a park and event center, there, Rocha said that there should be a set amount of time in which to develop a park, because other opportunities exist right now.

The timing is important,” she said, but also said she supported the Mixed-Use designation, but with the understanding that, at least initially, a park would be on the site.

Rocha explains her reversal

However, after Tuesday’s council meeting Rocha said “If they [CAF] had a plan to pay for it,” then maybe she would have considered their proposal.

She then responded to questions about her vote in favor of the development.

When asked if the council members had seen the information package that CAF had submitted to Duran, Rocha responded “They didn’t bring in anything.”

When asked if the council members were shown packages from any of the groups, she stated, “We didn’t see any package from anyone.”

She then explained her vote.

You remember the last time that property was for sale,” Rocha stated. “The CRAWDADS [citizens group] opposed it. I couldn’t take that chance anymore.”

This is my last round,” she added.

Motts shared her thoughts

Also, following the meeting, Motts offered additional thoughts on the council’s vote, via text and was under the impression Rocha had voted with them until she learned of the city attorney’s statement at the end of the meeting.

Right before the meeting, Mary Rocha came up to us and told Wayne Harrison, CAF President they voted against us.”

The city attorney reported out of closed session that City Ventures was given the DA, development agreement, for all the parcels listed…Thereby completely dismissing CAF without ever a discussion or a meeting and completely reversing on their statements of June 23rd.”

Ogorchock says council got package

Following the meeting, Ogorchock stated, “I voted against it, that’s all I can tell you” since it was a closed session.

When asked if she ever saw the package that CAF had submitted to Duran, she replied, “I don’t know if what she gave the city manager is the same that Joy handed out at a council meeting.”

Council and staff were given CAF’s proposal CAF Event Center BDC DRAFT 0.2 – Proposal for City

Motts commented on the package they submitted to Duran in July.

We submitted a detailed, specific proposal that was an excellent business plan, that detailed our fund raising and marketing plan…coming from a local non-profit, and obviously a grass roots effort,” she stated via text. “We are not an anomaly, many community efforts have gone forward in other cities, just recently in Martinez.”

She had also previously mentioned the privately funded improvements to the playground at City Park located at the corner of West 10th and A Streets.

CAF’s concept was the same, to privately fund a public park and event center.

There’s also another precedent in Antioch, the city-owned Lone Tree Golf & Event Center which is operated by a private, non-profit organization.

We wanted to try and work together on this vision,” Motts stated. “Based on the comments made at the June 23rd meeting where the mayor apologized for not listening to us, and how they would give us an opportunity, we worked with a local attorney in developing an initial proposal. Wayne [Harrison] submitted that proposal during public comments at the council’s return from vacation at the July 8th council meeting.”

Motts vows referendum

We are all absolutely furious,” Motts stated. “I am meeting with City Clerk Simonsen tomorrow [Wednesday] about 12:30, city hall to gather the information to start a referendum or initiative to stop the development.”

We believe when the citizens of all of Antioch are presented with a choice of 18 town homes or a community event center, it will be overwhelming support for the latter, just as we have shown them through petition, forums, emails and public comments,” she shared.

This is going to be a battle and we need to pull out all stops to stop them,” Motts added.

the attachments to this post:

CAF Event Center BDC DRAFT 0.2 - Proposal for City
CAF Event Center BDC DRAFT 0.2 – Proposal for City

8 Comments to “Antioch Council reverses direction, moves forward with development of downtown lot, dashing hopes for park and event center, proponent vows referendum”

  1. Julio says:

    Mrs. Motts knows Mrs Rocha never tells the truth. She just got the old Rocha famous stab in the back.

    Did they sell the lots to Seeno?

    It is time to get rid of Steve Duran too!

  2. Wayne Harrison says:

    I am so angry! We gave them everything that they requested, a proposal that included how we would pay for the development with no cost to the city. Did they even read it? That’s doubtful. They instead decided to go behind closed doors and listen to the city manager, who again somehow convinced them to rebuke the Antioch citizen’s efforts to save this beautiful river front property and bring throngs of people downtown. Instead they voted to turn it over to a housing developer which will do little or nothing to help the downtown businesses. It’s shameful.

  3. Rick Stadtlander says:

    It takes very little vision to realize that green space is a critical piece to old Downtown Antioch’s economic redevelopment puzzle. Antioch’s downtown area has a raw asset that other downtown area’s can only imagine; beautiful panoramic water and mountain views. The vacant lot known as the Old Beede Lumber Yard has natural amphitheater slope and wide open water views. This vacant lot, far more than any other lot, developed as an outdoor entertainment center is the catalyst needed to attract people to downtown Antioch merchants, restaurants, etc. The number of cities who have revitalized their waterfront downtown economies is long. Examples are Old Sacramento, St Louis, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Savannah, San Antonio and so many more. Todos Santos Plaza of Concord with Thursday evening music and a Farmer’s Market has greatly contributed to an economically revitalized downtown. Antioch’s elected city council were smart enough to claim vision for a better Antioch in their campaigns but when most critical, have lost it. What else could cause politicians to lose vision? Without accusing anyone, money, power and other incentives might influence the onset of sudden loss of vision syndrome. This is a serious turn for the worse for the heart of our patient, the downtown of the City of Antioch. Other than Lori Orgochock, the city council has chosen a maximum of 18 condos for this beautiful and critical property when their constituents have repeatedly asked them to support green space. How could maybe 50 more people living on this strategic property possibly compare to 200,000 or more projected annual event center visitors and their money, returning for cultural events. There is every reason to expect the outdoor event center to succeed. The Celebrate Antioch Foundation as an operator has more than demonstrated success in previous, well run, safe, fun events. Nothing succeeds like success is an old but accurate expression. The adjacent property, the Nick Rodriguez Center with fine theater production companies such as The Drama Factory and the neighboring Campanile theatre would all benefit from the synergy of a successful “Lumber Yard” at Antioch’s Riverwalk. The citizens seeking responsible Antioch waterfront development must and will prevail while the political future of Antioch city council men and women without vision will suffer. As someone succinctly stated recently, visitors, tourists and citizens enjoy and talk about beautiful views and parks much more than high density condominium structures.

  4. Julio says:

    Another election folks. 2016. Vote no on Rocha, Harper, AND Wilson. They all plan on running. Harper may try to run for Supervisor against Mary Piepho too. June 2016. Vote no there too!

  5. Reginald Jamal Brown says:

    Welcome to the wonderful world that stupid voters are responsible for. Yes, I’m talking about you stupid, idiotic, dumbshyte, people who voted for Rocha, Wilson, Tiscareno, and especially Harper. Can’t forget to mention the racist idiots and those who suffer from guilt that voted for incompetent Harper.

    Now we live in the worst city in Contra Costa County. Congrats you stupid, moronic, idiot voters.

  6. Michelle says:

    Rocha said this her last round. Does that mean she is finally stepping down? She lies, secretive not looking out for the community. She is one of the bug leaders to make sure the the city goes the way of Antioch in the bible. So sad…

  7. Rich says:

    Based on this article, it would appear that someone is not telling the whole truth. To me “exclusive” somewhat negates what the city attorney, et al are attemptuing to have us believe. Antioch to negotiate exclusively with City Ventures on controversial downtown site

    So much for their “closed session”.

    • Publisher says:

      I’ve corrected the article to reflect the actual vote the council took. They haven’t yet voted to sell the property, only to give Duran the authority to negotiate the sale of the nine parcels. I believe a vote to sell would be a public vote on a regular council agenda, in the future.
      Allen Payton, Publisher.

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