Antioch Council adopts developer’s initiative approving 1,177-home project in Sand Creek area

Map of area covered by the Richland Communities’ alternative initiative, and The Ranch 1,177-home project.

Sends environmental group’s initiative to staff to study for 30 days

By Alexandra Riva

During their meeting on Tuesday, July 24, the Antioch City Council adopted the initiative sponsored by Richland Communities, approving their 1,177-home project in the Sand Creek area, while sending the competing Let The Voters Decide initiative, sponsored by environmental groups, to city staff to study for 30 days.  City staff report on West Sand Creek initiative 072418

The council had three options for each initiative that had garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. They could have either adopted one or both of them, sent them to the November ballot, or send them to staff to study for 30 days and return with a report. Then within 10 days they would still have the options of adopting or sending to the ballot. City staff report on Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative 072418

The first initiative discussed was for ‘The Ranch’ project in the Sand Creek area, that scales back the proposed project by 10% from 1,307 to 1,177 homes and requires the developer to donate $1.2 million to Deer Valley High School for their sports programs. The item was passed unanimously by the council.

Discussed second was an initiative to restrict development in portions of the area which, with five affirmative votes by the council, was sent to staff who must return with a report at a special meeting on August 21. They will then decide at their regular meeting on August 28 whether to adopt it or send it to the ballot for the March 2020 election. Richland’s development agreement will be effective on August 23, 30 days after Tuesday night’s council action. So, if the council adopts the other initiative, although it has conflicting language, it will have no effect on and cannot stop The Ranch project from being built.

Both initiatives restricted development on neighboring Zeka Ranch project, which included between 300-400 homes on 200 of their 640 acres. That has been the target of the environmental groups since the beginning of the planning for the Sand Creek Focus Area, formerly known as Future Urban Area-1.

Both of the issues were hotly debated at the meeting by members of the public who packed the council chambers, for a standing room only audience.

A presentation made by Craig Christina, Richland’s vice president, urged the council to approve the development plan for ‘The Ranch’ project, based on the fact that this would ensure balanced development of the West Sand Creek area. Additionally, he explained that the development of ‘The Ranch’ would create hundreds of local construction jobs and would create a surplus of funds, around half a million dollars or more, for the city.

Many members of the public agreed with what he had to say, including representatives of construction trades unions, the Antioch Chamber of Commerce and the Delta Association of Realtors, citing a need for more housing options in Antioch and how this project will help the city grow, and create local jobs.

However, others asked to have both initiatives sent to staff to study for 30 days, to avoid having them on the November 2018 ballot. One of those was Louisa Zee Kao, president of the Zeka Group, which bought their land located to the west of old Empire Mine Road and The Ranch project, in 1992, saying they had spent millions of dollars and worked with the city in the years, since.

Lawyers representing The Zeka Group has submitted a letter challenging the legality of both initiatives, pointing out flaws in each, to the city and each council member on Monday. Andrew Bassak of the Mannat law firm in San Francisco, spoke to the council expressing his client’s concerns. In addition, former Antioch Council Member and Herald publisher Allen Payton challenged the council about the private property rights of Mrs. Zee Kao. Manatt Letter to Council

In response, Council Member Tony Tiscareno asked Acting City Attorney Derek Cole about the impact on The Zeka Ranch if they adopted Richland’s initiative.

Cole explained that the initiative has a takings exemption clause, stating that if one of the four neighboring property owners feels their property has been devalued, thus taken, they have the opportunity to challenge that and the council will decide. The other initiative has a similar clause, but that one leaves it up to a judge to decide. That satisfied the councilman’s concerns.

Antioch Mayor Sean Wright expressed sentiments about the voting process and how long this issue has been up for debate.

“This has been a frustrating process,” he said. “I think this process stinks. We talk about it going to the voters and that’s where it’s gone. What I’ve learned through this is that ultimately a referendum can stop anything and it’s frustrating. How many times do we have to vote about this land?”

In response to the impending approval of the development plan, which would result in 1,177 more homes for the city, Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe expressed discontent with the decision.

“I’ve been kind of turned off by all of this…One of the things that I think my friends in the environmental community have always made an issue of are concerns about the environmental sensitivities on [the] property,” he said. “I’ve found it disingenuous the way signatures have been gathered to make this ranch project the focal point, when that was never the intent. And I also found it disheartening that in my discussions leading up to this with Save Mount Diablo, that they didn’t come up here and share their vantage point.”

The leaders of the environmental groups’ initiative, including Seth Adams of Save Mount Diablo, were not in attendance at the meeting, leading some to speculate that a deal had been cut between Richland and the environmental groups. Thorpe specifically mentioned their absence in his comments.

The “Let Antioch Voters Decide” initiative to restrict development in the Sand Creek area west of Deer Valley Road and make the city’s Urban Limit Line permanent. If the council adopted that initiative, it would essentially undo the development of ‘The Ranch’, which had just been approved in the meeting. It was decided that would be sent back to staff for review for 30 days.

One of the three local proponents of that initiative, Michael Amorosa was in attendance at the meeting, but did not speak on either issue.

Many community members against the urban development of the Sand Creek area still came out to share their disapproval and asked the council to adopt the initiative to restrict development.

“We are very proud that together with hundreds of supporters in Antioch and our allies at Greenbelt Alliance, California Native Plant Society, and Sierra Club, we are able to form the Antioch community to save Sand Creek and collect nearly ten thousand signatures, almost 6,000 of which were officially submitted to the city and county to qualify our ‘Let Antioch Voters Decide: Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative’ for the ballot,” said Juan Pablo Galvan, from Save Mount Diablo.

Further, Galvan asserted that by rejecting the development plan, and adopting their initiative, Antioch’s natural resources and scenery would be protected, as well as reducing traffic in the area.

Tiscareno spoke out against the initiative to restrict development in the Sand Creek area, after public comment ended.

“I am, to be honest with you, most angry about this particular one,” he said. “And, it’s not the citizens of Antioch, I truly believe that they are trying to do good things and try to preserve some of the beautiful hills out there but what I’ve heard and what I’ve experienced in the last several months has really disturbed me.”

Tiscareno continued, “…I did come across some of the petitioners. Some of them were good, but a lot of them were misinforming the public. I personally was approached and asked, ‘do you want to see 50 thousand homes built in the city of Antioch’ and I asked them were they got the information.”

He went on to explain that none of the petitioners he encountered could tell him where they got their information, but simply urged him to sign the petition. But, Tiscareno then clarified that not all of the petitioners he spoke with did this.

Council Members Monica Wilson and Ogorchock also shared similar stories, commenting that they had heard that anywhere between four to fifty thousand homes were to be developed in the Sand Creek area, which is false. Ogorchock then called some of the efforts to thwart development by the petitioners ‘deceiving’.

Ultimately, the major decision at the meeting was to go the adoption of ‘The Ranch’ initiative and approval of their project, and to prevent the environmental groups’ initiative from appearing on the November 2018 ballot. It will return to the council for their August 21 and 28 meetings for a final decision.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

the attachments to this post:

Manatt Letter to Council
Manatt Letter to Council

City staff report on Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative 072418
City staff report on Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative 072418

City staff report on West Sand Creek initiative 072418
City staff report on West Sand Creek initiative 072418

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