Antioch Council agrees to move forward with “community gathering space” proposal for lumber yard in Rivertown

River Town Square Site Plan from presentation at Antioch City Council meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.

“We’re celebrating our 150th anniversary, next year. It’s time.” – Save The Yard leader, Joy Motts

Torres-Walker supports a “green space”; using it for a “420″ pot smoking festival so Antioch residents don’t have to travel to San Francisco for the annual event on April 20th in that city

By Allen Payton

After years of advocating for a park and event center on the former Antioch Lumber Company lot in the city’s historic, downtown Rivertown, former Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts and members of the group, Save The Yard, got the go ahead from the city council. All five council members agreed to pursue the idea during their meeting Tuesday night, Nov. 23. The City’s downtown hasn’t had a large park, but only the smaller Waldie Plaza, since the much larger Barbara Price Marina Park was replaced with the marina boat launch and parking lot in 2012.

The former Barbara Price Marina Park and sign (inset) where the marina boat launch and parking lot are now located. Source: Yelp

Motts, local theater director Lee Ballesteros and Area 1 Antioch School Board Trustee Antonio Hernandez spoke about their vision of a Rivertown Town Square, bordered by W. 2nd, W. 3rd and E Streets, during the group’s first, formal presentation to the council. Rivertown Town Square presentation ACC112321

“Our ask this evening is that the city council decide on the disposition of this property…rather than leave it as an eye-sore,” Motts said.

Following the presentation, Thorpe said, “the goal is to have a conversation with Save The Yard folks.”

Joe Goralka spoke during public comments in favor of the project and against “selling a prime piece of property to a developer for a few condos.” He also said, “a few more residents isn’t going to bring about significantly more traffic to downtown businesses”…”The city should not sell out Rivertown businesses” and called the town square project “an asset to downtown.”

Antioch resident Martha Goralka speaks in favor of the River Town Square project during the Antioch City Council meeting, Tuesday night, Nov. 23, 2021. Video screenshot.

His wife, Martha Goralka said, “everywhere Joe and I have visited had gathering places.”

“There’s nothing that we can’t do as a united community,” she added.

Rick Stadtlander, wearing a “Save The Yard” T-shirt gave eight reasons for the council to approve the town square: beauty, walkability, ideal location, a focal point, pride, community, our voice, health. “Residents deserve much better than an empty lot,” he stated.

“Be the council that is bold and has vision. Let’s save the yard. Let’s build a town square,” Stadtlander concluded.

Former Antioch Planning Commissioner Kerry Motts spoke in favor of the project and suggested a farmer’s market at the proposed town square

“The City is not considering housing on this lot, right now and we do not have any applications for it,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe said. “I want the public to understand that.”

“Thank you, so much for the presentation and all the hard work you put into the presentation, tonight,” District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker said. “Not sure if the previous process included youth voice. Since the report in 2014…there might be more diverse opinions other than housing.”

“If this moves forward, it will be their park, too,” she said about those

“My concern about people not being policed in public spaces,” Torres-Walker stated. “I’m definitely not a supporter of building homes on contaminated land. But then I’m also concerned about building a space to bring children and their families on land that is contaminated,” mentioned by Ballesteros.

“Soil contamination is easily mitigated,” Ballesteros responded. “All of this is on the City’s website in the Downtown Specific Plan. It’s a 179-page report. You can look at cancer clusters…where people spend a length of time. There is mitigation that can be done if you want to put housing there. Green space adds positive air because of trees.”

“It’s just a vision. This isn’t the plan. We put this together to ask the council to make a plan,” she stated. “Give everyone in the city positivity. We’re coming out of two years of misery. Let’s make the river belong to everyone.”

“It’s just time for the whole community to gather together for events,” Joy Motts then said. “It will be an economic engine for downtown. We’re celebrating our 150th anniversary, next year. It’s time.”

Torres-Walker then mentioned people not having to “go to San Francisco for 420 fests”, which is a large, annual pot smoking event. “We should do it, here like we do all these other things.”

“I was one of the ones in the past who was unsure about this,” said Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson, then mentioned “equity in access to public spaces.”

“I’ve come to be open to this,” she said. “I’m glad to talk to you, Joy about this and Antonio, you’ve educated me about this, too.”

Joy Motts then publicly thanked Brian Halloran, a landscape architect, for drawing the site plan pro bono.

Rivertown Town Square rendering. Source: Save The Yard

“I don’t think it’s a secret that I’ve been a supporter,” Thorpe said. “I’d like to step back, because this isn’t a plan, it’s a vision. I believe if the public steps up and demands something, the government needs to look into it. I believe the council needs to make a decision about the direction we want to go. Do we want an RFP process…or direct our resources for a town square project?”

“I’ve had multiple people talk to me about this,” District 1 Councilman Mike Barbanica said. “What has struck me as odd is, I don’t know if this is the highest and best use of this land. This is the third time you’ve spoken to us about this but where are they? The people of our community are telling us this is what they want. We, as a city, have had years to do something about this, but we haven’t. I just believe we need to listen to the community.”

“You can sell me on anything, Lee but not this, yet,” said Lori Ogorchock to Ballesteros. “I’m looking at Waldie Plaza. I’m looking at City Park on A Street. I’m not sure I’m sold, yet. It is something I will hold open. At this point, I don’t know what’s the best use of this property. I will keep an open mind.”

“This is the first time you’ve presented to council,” Thorpe said.

“That’s correct,” Joy Motts said. “The mayor said he would bring it forward, this year. We didn’t have to think about it too hard because it’s in our heart.”

“In the past we’ve looked at housing,” Thorpe said. “We can look at a community gathering place. But I need direction in what we envision for this property.”

“I would envision a process that would include more voices,” Torres-Walker said.

“First, we have to decide what this process would do,” Thorpe responded.

“I’m saying, yes, this should be green space,” Torres-Walker stated.

“I would say some kind of gathering space,” Wilson added.

“I agree with that. I don’t believe we should decide, tonight on moving forward with a community space,” Barbanica said. “If we are going to build houses, then let’s build houses. But if this is what the community is asking for, then we need to move forward instead of just talking about it. If we are truly going to explore this idea, then let’s fully explore it.”

“I’m all for exploring,” Ogorchock added.

“Community gathering space is what we’re talking about,” Thorpe stated.

“We can begin a process for exploring a community gathering space, a green space,” City Manager Ron Bernal said.

“Congratulations,” Thorpe said to those in the audience to squeals, cheers and applause.

the attachments to this post:

Rivertown Town Square rendering

Rivertown Town Square presentation ACC112321

Former Barbara Price Marina Park – Yelp & sign

Martha Goralka speaks during ACC mtg 112321

River Town Square Site Plan ACC112321

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