Archive for the ‘Growth & Development’ Category

Judge tosses out Antioch Council’s adoption of environmental group’s Sand Creek initiative and The Ranch development agreement

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Herald file graphic.

Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative must go to Nov. 2020 ballot; Richland must produce new Environmental Impact Report

By Allen Payton

On May 31, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Edward Weil tossed out the Antioch City Council’s adoption of the initiative sponsored by environmental groups to limit growth in the Sand Creek Focus Area, as well as the development agreement for The Ranch project, contained in the competing initiative sponsored by Richland Communities. That agreement approved 1,177 homes on their property. (See related articles, here and here.) See judge’s ruling, here: Judge’s Order on initiatives lawsuits 05-31-19

As a result of the adoption by the Antioch Council of the two initiatives, last year, four lawsuits were filed against the City of Antioch, two each by The Zeka Group and Oak Hill Park Company, challenging both initiatives. The Zeka Group owns the 640-acre Zeka Ranch property on Old Empire Mine Road at the west end of the Sand Creek Focus Area, and according to the court documents, “which Zeka Group purchased in 1989. Prior to purchase, the City’s planning development manager, Raymond Vignola, assured Zeka Group that the property was and would continue to be designated for residential development of 1000+ units. The City’s 2003 General Plan called for 4,000+ units in the Sand Creek Focus Area, and Zeka Ranch was to develop the executive housing stock.” That resulted in a reduction of the number of housing units on the property that can be built. Zeka’s plans are to build 340 homes on their property.

Oak Hill “owns roughly 419 acres in three parcels” directly south of The Ranch project, “designated for a golf course and senior housing in the 2003 General Plan.”

The city council adopted both initiatives instead of placing either on the ballot, as the council had the option of doing. First, they adopted the one sponsored by Richland on July 11, 2018, which also resulted in the adoption of the development agreement 30 days later. The other initiative, entitled Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative (LAVD) sponsored by Save Mount Diablo and other environmental groups in the county, was adopted by the council on August 28, after the council had sent it back for more study and a report by city staff, which was also one of the options the council had.

Both initiatives downgraded the development potential on the Zeka Ranch, Oak Hill and other properties in the Sand Creek area west of Deer Valley Road to just one home per 80 acres, the same level as land outside the city’s and county’s Urban Limit Lines. The entire Sand Creek area is inside the city’s voter approved ULL. That would allow only eight homes on Zeka’s property and only five homes on the Oak Hill property.

The Ranch Development Agreement Unlawfully Included In Initiative, Requires EIR

In the decision, “the Court finds that the Richland Initiative unlawfully includes the Development Agreement between Richland and the City…but it may be severed from the remainder of the Richland Initiative.” The court also found that “The Development Agreement cannot be approved by initiative and requires compliance with CEQA” (the California Environmental Quality Act).

The decision means the development agreement is invalid and Richland must go through CEQA’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process in order to obtain approval of their development agreement. Whether or not the development agreement can be separated from the initiative has yet to be determined. If the judge finds that it can’t be, that will result in the entire initiative being invalidated.

Voids Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative

In addition, the court found, “The LAVD Initiative is void as an improperly-adopted amendment to the Richland Initiative. The…question is whether the LAVD Initiative improperly amended the Richland Initiative. The Court concludes that it did. Under Elections Code section 9217, the City could not adopt the LAVD Initiative on its own. A vote of the people was required. This renders the LAVD Initiative void.”

The Council Must Place the LAVD Initiative On The Ballot

The court further finds, “Since the LAVD Initiative amends the Richland Initiative, the City had no choice but to put the LAVD Initiative before the voters. It would be manifestly unfair to the supporters of the LAVD Initiative to start the process over because the City instead adopted it. So, the Court is inclined to order the LAVD Initiative to a vote. The Court is unconvinced that the Richland Initiative is somehow immune from challenge by initiative amendment.”

The court prohibits “the City from enforcing the LAVD Initiative.” The judge then ordered the city council to place the environmental groups’ initiative on the November 2020 ballot. City Clerk Arne Simonsen said he has sufficient funds to include the ballot measure on the November 2020 election ballot.

Zoning For Zeka Ranch’s Property Couldn’t Be Changed By Initiative

In an additional decision, the judge ruled that the city council couldn’t change the designation of executive housing for the Zeka Ranch property.

“A city may not adopt ordinances and regulations which conflict with the state Planning and Zoning Law,” the ruling quoted from a previous court case. The judge further wrote, “Government Code section 65913.1 provides that a city ‘shall designate and zone sufficient vacant land for residential use with appropriate standards, in relation to zoning for nonresidential use, and in relation to growth projections of the general plan to meet housing needs for all income categories as identified in the housing element of the general plan.’

Zeka Ranch claims…that the Richland Initiative violated the code by restricting development in a manner that makes it impossible to meet the City’s housing needs allocation, particularly for the kind of executive housing Zeka Ranch was to build.

In fact, Zeka Ranch pleads that the General Plan called for allocation of one-to-two units per developable acre and contained a housing element specifically calling for residential development appropriate for executives of businesses seeking relocation to the City. Accepting this as true, Zeka Ranch properly pleads this claim.”

Legal Process Continues

The legal process continues over the two initiatives. To conclude his ruling the judge wrote, “The remaining challenges to the Richland Initiative will be resolved in a further phase.” Furthermore, the judge wrote, “Parties shall appear to discuss the proper remedy as to the LAVD Initiative and any further orders that may be necessary, as well as a schedule for briefing the remaining matters related to the Richland Initiative.”

In addition, the judge gave the parties in the lawsuits until June 24 to file amended pleadings. Both Zeka and Oak Hill submitted them by the deadline.

The case numbers are MSN-18-2228, 2229, 2231 and 2232.

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Antioch Council adopts environmental groups’ Sand Creek initiative on 3-1 vote

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Map of the area included in the environmental groups’ initiative showing projects already approved and The Ranch and Zeka Ranch projects they were working to stop.

Publisher’s Note: This article was published in the September 2018 issue of the Herald but, was not posted on this website, until now. Apologies for the oversight.

By Allen Payton

After sending to staff to study for 30 days and return with a report on the “Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative”, the Antioch City Council on a 3-1 vote chose instead to adopt the initiative. Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock voted no, preferring to send it to the ballot, and Councilman Tony Tiscareno was out of town on vacation. The initiative was backed by Save Mount Diablo, and other environmental groups in the county. (See related article)

The council had already adopted the West Sand Creek Initiative backed by landowner and developer Richland Communities on July 24. Conflicting language between it and what is in the environmental groups’ initiative will have to be worked out, later by council. Both restrict growth in the Sand Creek Area west of Deer Valley Road.

The staff report said the environmental groups’ initiative limited the total number of housing units to 2,100 in the entire Sand Creek Area. Since the past and current councils had already approved more than 2,300 homes, then no more homes could be built, including the proposed 301-unit, gated senior home community east of Deer Valley Road, known as The Olive Groves on the Albers Ranch property. However, both Seth Adams of Save Mount Diablo and the attorney for Richland said that the intent of each initiative was to only affect property on the west side of Deer Valley Road.

Both initiatives directly impact the proposed Zeka Ranch project (see related article), west of Richland’s The Ranch project, on the west side of Empire Mine Road, as well as three other properties directly south of Richland property. Each of the owners of those properties can either appeal to the city council for a finding of “takings” of their property and still be allowed to build some homes on their property. They can also sue the city within 90 days of the July 24th adoption of Richland’s initiative or possibly pursue their own initiatives to obtain voter approvals.


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Antioch Council to consider staff report on environmental groups’ Sand Creek initiative

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

If adopted would cost $65.4 million in fees, and $2.4 million in future annual, net city tax revenue; prohibit any more homes in Sand Creek Focus Area, eliminating proposed gated, senior home community

By Allen Payton

At a previously scheduled, special meeting on Tuesday, August 21, the Antioch City Council will consider the staff report on the Let Antioch Voters Decide: The Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative, put forward by a variety of environmental groups in the county in coordination with Antioch residents. The initiative effort gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. City Staff Report on Sand Creek Initiative

As a result, the council had three choices at their July 24th meeting, to either adopt the initiative, place it on the November 2018 ballot, or send it to staff to study for up to 30 days and return with a report. They chose the last option, with the result that if they don’t adopt the initiative, places it on the March 2020 ballot, at the soonest.

The council, instead chose to adopt the competing West Sand Creek Initiative, known as The Ranch Initiative, put forward by Richland Communities, which owns the land where the 1,177-home project was proposed. The council’s action approved the Development Agreement, which by law, goes into effect next Thursday, August 23, the 30-day mark following their vote on July 24. (See related article)

The council will have the option, at their next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, August 28, to either adopt the environmental groups’ initiative (The Sand Creek Initiative), including those provisions which don’t conflict with The Ranch Initiative, or place it on the ballot in 2020 for the voters to decide. According to the report, “only those provisions (of the General Plan) outside of The Ranch Development Agreement area would be amended.”

Loss of 1,900 Units

The report states, “The Sand Creek Initiative imposes severe land use restrictions throughout the western portion of the Sand Creek Focus Area and also reduces the overall development capacity of the Sand Creek Focus Area from 4,000 units to 2,100 units. This change along with the differing language regarding constitutionality are the most prominent elements of The Sand Creek Initiative. If adopted, the Sand Creek Initiative would have a profound effect on the Sand Creek Focus Area and would halt all future residential development. Other non-residential uses may still be feasible.”

Loss of Fees and Future City Tax Revenue

In addition, adopting The Sand Creek Inititiative would have future, negative financial impacts on the city, with “a loss of 1,900 units and all of the associated costs and revenues” including, “property tax, sales tax, property transfer tax, property tax in lieu of vehicle license fee, and the Citywide Police Services Community Facilities District.”

“The effect of this action is a reduction in annual ongoing revenue of $3,160,315,” the report states. “The value of this revenue would be offset by the costs of $740,289 to provide increased services to the new development. In total, the net annual ongoing benefit (and net loss) would be $2,420,026 or $1,274 per unit.”

If The Sand Creek Initiative is adopted, it would also mean a loss of pass through and regional fees of $65,411,015 or $34,427 per unit, including $18 million less for Antioch schools and almost $36 million less for regional roads, according to the report.

The report further states that, “alternate sources or increased fees elsewhere may be required.”

Proposed Albers Ranch Site Plan located east of Deer Valley Road and south of Sand Creek.

Prohibits Senior Home Community

Furthermore, the report states, “The City of Antioch previously approved two residential projects in the Sand Creek Focus Area – Vineyards at Sand Creek with 641 units and Aviano with 533 units. With the recent approval of The Ranch with 1,177 units, the current number of approved units in the Sand Creek Focus Area is 2,351. Since The Sand Creek Initiative would limit the total number of residential units to 2,100, any future development anywhere in the Sand Creek Focus Area, including east of Deer Valley Road, would be absolutely prohibited.”

The result of that would mean the proposed 301-unit, gated, senior home community, known as The Olive Groves as well as Albers Ranch, planned for east of Deer Valley Road, south of the Kaiser medical center, Dozier-Libbey Medical High School and the actual Sand Creek, could not be built. (See related article). It is the only other project on the east side of Deer Valley Road currently proposed that has not been approved.

Proposed Zeka Ranch Site Plan located west of The Ranch project.

Also Reduces Zeka Ranch from 256 Units to 8

The report also addresses the effect on the proposed Zeka Ranch project, west of The Ranch and Empire Mine Road, stating, “The General Plan Land Use Designation for Zeka Ranch was approximately 40% Hillside and Estate Residential (256 acres) and 60% Open Space (384 acres). The Hillside Estate Housing designation in the General Plan Land Use Element allows development at a rate of one dwelling unit per gross developable acre…this would allow an absolute maximum of 256 single family homes on the Zeka Ranch property.”

However, some of the land in the Zeka Ranch is not on hillsides and the proposed project includes between 320 and 400 units, which was reduced from the original plan for over 1,100 homes. (See related article).

The report concludes, that, “with the passage of The Ranch Initiative, the development potential of Zeka Ranch was reduced to one unit per eighty acres, which results in a maximum development potential of eight homes. The Sand Creek Initiative applies an identical density and would result in a maximum of eight homes as well.”

Takings Provisions Allow Legal Challenges

However, both initiatives have provisions which allow for a challenge by a landowner who believes their rights were violated due to a “taking” of their property.

The report states that, “Under State and Federal laws, a government agency may not simply ‘take’ a person’s private property and the down-zoning of property has been, and may be, interpreted by courts to constitute a form of unlawful ‘taking’. Presumably, a landowner would need to prove with substantial evidence that the initiative had the unintended effect of unconstitutionally taking their property through the diminishment of development rights, etc.”

The difference between the initiatives is who gets to decide what constitutes a “taking”.

The report states, “Whereas, The Ranch initiative allowed the City Council to determine the validity of a takings grievance and take proper steps towards restitution, The Sand Creek Initiative would require that courts determine that the terms of the initiative violate the law. The Sand Creek Initiative would impose a higher and costlier standard to resolve a takings dispute, should one arise.”

The council meeting begins at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 200 W. Third Street. It can also be viewed via livestream on the city’s website at Since it’s a special meeting, it will not be televised live on local cable access channels.

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Antioch Council approves nine-home in-fill project

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Rendering of one of the three elevation choices for the split-level home design at Black Diamond Ranch Unit 4.

By Allen Payton

At their July 24 meeting, the Antioch City Council approved a nine-lot neighborhood by Discovery Builders. It is located in the Black Diamond Ranch subdivision, on Torgensen Court off Markley Creek Drive, near the south end of Somersville Road, on the western-most edge of the city.

There will be three sizes of homes of one-story to split-level three-stories, with three different designs, which is unusual for a project with so few units. Homes will range in size from 2,074 to 3,122 square feet.

There were no speakers on the agenda item and following some discussion, the council approved the project.

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Environmental groups claim “major victory” with Antioch Council’s approval of 1,177-home development, deny deal was cut

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

Map of the area included in the environmental groups’ initiative showing projects already approved and The Ranch and Zeka Ranch projects they’ were working to stop.

Claim the two initiatives were the same; defend providing false information to voters; want council to adopt not “Let Antioch Voters Decide” their initiative

Following is an email message sent out Thursday by the Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek whose “Let Antioch Voters Decide: the Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative”, backed by environmental groups, was not placed on the November 2018 ballot by the Antioch City Council as the backers wanted. Instead, the council voted unanimously to adopt the competing initiative by Richland Communities which approved their 1,177-home development, known as “The Ranch” and postponed dealing with the environmental groups’ initiative for 30 days, delaying its appearance on the ballot until March 2020. (See related article).

Email message:

City Council Adopts Richland Developer Initiative, Orders 30-day Study on Our Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative

Council Can Adopt Our Initiative on Tuesday August 28th (7pm; 200 H St)

This past Tuesday night, with many members of Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek, in attendance, the City Council adopted the initiative backed by Richland developers and ordered a 30-day study on ours.

What Does This Mean? 

In short, three things:

1) more than 1,200 acres of beautiful Antioch scenery, endangered species habitat and creek corridor west of Deer Valley Rd have increased protection,

2) ‘The Ranch’ project (about 1,200 units) is now approved, unless challenged in the next 30 days, and

3) Antioch voters will get to decide if they want any more development west of Deer Valley Rd besides the development envelope associated with ‘The Ranch’. 

This Is A Major Indirect Victory! But How, if the Developers Got Their Initiative Adopted? 

To understand that, first know that the developers would never have done their initiative if we had not drafted, filed, and collected signatures for our own initiative. 

Recognizing they had made a major blunder in not taking us seriously and realizing they had to make some major changes, they basically copied our initiative with one major change: allow an improved version of their project. 

They changed their project to reduce the number of units, provide a wide creek-corridor buffer around Sand Creek, leave the hills alone and buffer Empire Mine Rd so their project doesn’t lead to more development further west. 

So right now, an improved (as described above) ‘The Ranch’ project has been approved, and about 70% of the Sand Creek area west of Deer Valley Rd has development restricted on it. That includes the Zeka Ranch, which is more than 640 acres west of Empire Mine Rd that is surrounded on three sides by East Bay Regional Park District land, the southern hills and Sand Creek. 

What Happens With Our Initiative?  

On Tuesday the Council ordered a 30-day report, also known as a 9212 Report (from the Elections Code) on our Initiative. It’s a purely informational report that basically describes how our Initiative would affect the City’s General Plan, if at all.

Our Let Antioch Voters Decide: the Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative, will be taken up again by the City Council on Tuesday August 28th. 

They will have two options: 1) Adopt it, or 2) put it on the 2020 ballot. 

Since the Richland initiative has a built-in development agreement that takes effect after 30 days, and it was adopted on Tuesday, the Council adopting our Initiative on August 28th wouldn’t affect the approval of ‘The Ranch’.
We want them to adopt our Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative. It would save the City the expense of having to put it on the ballot and add protections to the Sand Creek Area.

Addressing Council’s Criticism of Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek Member Organizations  
During the discussion of our Initiative by the Council on Tuesday there was a lot of criticism lobbed at Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek members, specifically Save Mount Diablo. Much was made of Councilmembers’ experience that signature gatherers told Antioch residents that there could be 4,000-8,000+ houses approved in the Sand Creek area, and in some cases 50,000 new houses in Antioch overall. The Council thought these were false and misleading claims. There was also criticism related to a member organization, Greenbelt Alliance, not sending a representative to the meeting that night. 

We want to address these claims directly. The below paragraph is from our Frequently Asked Questions sheet, which from the very beginning we made available digitally and in hard-copy. 

Amount of Possible Housing Stated To Public – 4,000-8,000 Units

Before our Initiative, more recent planning attempts and the City’s current General Plan suggested 4,000 units in the Sand Creek Area. But, for each project so far, the city council has amended the General Plan to allow even more houses. The Sand Creek Focus Area includes 2,783 acres. The approved Aviano and Promenade projects east of Deer Valley Rd include 1,183 houses on 281 acres east of Kaiser. There are two other active development applications: At the time, ‘The Ranch’ proposed 1,307 on 552 acres.  ‘Olive Grove’ east of Deer Valley Rd proposes 301 units on 97 acres. In total that’s 2,791 units on 930 acres, just a third of the total acreage. If the city continued to ignore the General Plan at the same pace, that equals 8,352 units on 2,783 acres. So we used a range of 4,000 units suggested in the General Plan and 8,000, suggested by what’s actually taking place.

Paid Signature Gatherers – 50,000 Houses?

As for the 50,000 house claim, Tuesday was the first we’ve heard of it. This is a good point to bring up the fact that about 85% of the official signatures we collected to qualify our Initiative for the ballot were collected by volunteers and staff from member organizations. They were informed about 4,000-8,000 range and communicated this to the public. Towards the end of the signature drive, it became necessary to use paid signature gatherers to get over the last signature hurdle. It’s possible that some of these individuals inflated numbers in the hopes it would yield more signatures, but we hope this was not the case.
Richland’s 50+ Paid Signature Gatherers Confused The Situation

We noted that on Tuesday the Council publicly criticized what they called the misleading claims of some of our signature gatherers, while saying nothing about the Richland initiative, which unlike us, relied entirely on paid signature gatherers. We agree that we witnessed paid signature gatherers saying whatever they thought would get someone to stop and sign. 

Deal Between Save Mount Diablo and Richland?

One Councilmember suggested there was a deal between Save Mount Diablo and Richland. In fact, the Let Antioch Voters Decide initiative is sponsored by a coalition of organizations and individuals. Save Mount Diablo is one member of the coalition, but certainly a significant one.  We have had discussions, tours and all kinds of conversations with Richland for over 3 years before we drafted our initiative, in hopes they would make their project better. By the same token, we’ve had conversations about the same issues with every city council member.  In our opinion, they didn’t make their project better and so we drafted our initiative.
After our initiative was filed we continued meeting with Richland (and separately with every city council member), hoping at the simplest to keep them from going nuclear on our volunteer signature gatherers for as long as possible.  Our efforts are always toward the best conservation outcome we can achieve. During the signature drive, we submitted comments on Richland’s The Ranch project Environmental Impact Report—and the city slowed down the environmental review. When Richland began qualifying a competing initiative, they clearly copied much of the substance of our own initiative, hoping we would not oppose theirs. They also changed their project, making it smaller and including many of the suggestions the public and Save Mount Diablo had made over the previous 3 years. That made things a lot more complicated.
We had plenty of discussions with Richland, but the only deal we had was that neither of us would legally challenge the others’ initiative. Each initiative sponsor would continue pursuing their initiative’s qualification and attempts at getting the City Council to adopt our measures.

Greenbelt Alliance

And finally, regarding the absence of a Greenbelt Alliance representative at the meeting on Tuesday, Greenbelt Alliance is a highly valued partner. The East Bay Field Representative position is currently vacant. Greenbelt Alliance is facing a very high workload with less staff than they normally would have available. Having communicated directly with Greenbelt Alliance, we can confirm that their absence on Tuesday was simply a bandwidth issue and in no way related to any disagreement or controversy related to the Initiative.
Moving On

We hope this puts to rest any questions, concerns or accusations that the Council or anyone in the Antioch community has regarding Antioch Community to Save Sand Creek member organizations, specifically Greenbelt Alliance and Save Mount Diablo. We look forward to constructive relationships in the future with not just the City Council, but all people in Antioch. After all, we still have work to do next month.

Our Next Step Is…Ask Council to Adopt Our Initiative on Tuesday August 28 (7pm; 200 H St)

Please come to the meeting, fill out a speaker card and ask the Council to adopt the ‘Let Antioch Voters Decide: Sand Creek Area Protection Initiative’. If you can’t be there in person, call or email the City Council (list below) and ask them to adopt the Let Antioch Voters Decide Initiative.

Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of Antioch residents who signed helped us get this far. Let’s make the next step a reality!

Antioch City Council Contact Info:
Mayor Sean Wright
(925) 757-3309 – [email protected]
Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe
(925) 978-4663 – [email protected]
Council Member Lori Ogorchock
(925) 628-7764 – [email protected]
Council Member Monica E. Wilson
(925) 628-0749 – [email protected]
Council Member Tony G. Tiscareno
(925) 234-3639 – [email protected] 

Who We Are

A coalition of Antioch residents and environmental groups, including Save Mount Diablo, California Native Plant Society, Greenbelt Alliance and Sierra Club. We want to keep our community informed about what’s going on. You can unsubscribe from these messages at any time (below). But if you want to influence things and take action, you should join us. Thanks!

— End of email message.

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

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

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.

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Both initiatives on Sand Creek development in Antioch have enough signatures to qualify for ballot

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Map of the area included in the environmental groups’ initiative showing projects already approved and The Ranch and Zeka Ranch projects they’re working to stop.

By Arne Simonsen, Antioch City Clerk

The County Elections Office has completed the signature verification on both of the initiatives that were submitted to my office.

“Initiative To Restrict Development in Portions of the Sand Creek Area, Approve a Development Agreement for “The Ranch” Project in That Area, and Allow Amendment of the Urban Limit Line by the Voter Approval Only”

Number of valid signatures of registered voters required: 5,111

Number of valid signatures verified by the County Elections Office: 5,156

Map of area covered by the Richland Communities’ alternative initiative.

“Initiative To Change General Plan Designation Within The Sand Creek Focus Area and Permanently Require Voter Approval of Amendments to Urban Limit Line”

Number of valid signatures of registered voters required: 5,094

Number of valid signatures verified by the County Elections Office: 5,682

In coordination with the City Attorney, I will prepare a staff report for the July 24th City Council meeting to certify the petitions.

The City Attorney will give the Council three choices on each initiative per Elections Code 9215:

1) Adopt the ordinance, without alteration, at the regular meeting at which the certification of the petition presented, or within 10 days after it is presented.

2) Submit the ordinance, without alteration, to the voters pursuant to Section 1405 of the Elections Code.

3) Order a report pursuant to Section 9212 at the regular meeting at which certification of the petitions is presented. When the report is presented to the legislative body, the legislative body shall adopt the ordinance within 10 days or order an election pursuant to subdivision (b).

See related articles here, here, here, here, here and here.

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State of the City: Mayor Wright, Chief Brooks report on achievements, future of Antioch

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018

Mayor Wright shared this satellite map of Antioch and the surrounding area during his remarks to show all the open space in and near Antioch, compared to the small Sand Creek area (just northeast of “West Hartley”) planned for new homes. Source: Google Maps

“We want this to be the place that people want to live, not move away from.” Mayor Sean Wright. Speaks of balanced, conservative development

By John Crowder

On Friday, May 11, the Antioch Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual State of the City luncheon for 2018 at the Antioch Community Center at Prewett Park.  While attendees dined on a lunch buffet provided by Celia’s Mexican Restaurant, they heard from Chief of Police Tammany Brooks and Mayor Sean Wright in a presentation that lasted just over an hour.

Richard Pagano, CEO of the Antioch Chamber, welcomed everyone to the event, then introduced Chief Brooks.

Antioch Police Chief Tammany Brooks offers his remarks. Photos by Antioch Chamber of Commerce

Chief Brooks: Department Using Technology to Prevent, Reduce Crime

Brooks began his presentation by providing an update on the latest crime statistics.  The data he presented included statistics for the past year and trend information for the last five years.

Brooks went beyond the simple reciting of statistics, however, providing details that he said were being used to help law enforcement take a more proactive approach to community policing.  He shared that the information he was providing could also be used by members of the public to take actions that would substantially reduce the likelihood that they would become victims of crime.

Brooks noted that violent crime was down 20% over the past year.  Digging deeper into the data, he explained that, of the ten criminal homicides that had occurred, eight involved criminal activity, one involved a robbery, and one involved a family dispute.

Two-thirds of robberies, Brooks said, occurred at night.  Of the aggravated assaults that took place, in three-fourths of the cases, the perpetrator was known to the victim.  While there was a significant reduction in residential burglaries, he noted that in one-third of these crimes, the house itself or a window to the residence had been left unlocked or open.

Newer key technology, according to Brooks, contributed to the fact that almost 80% of car thefts were of cars that were 10 years old or older.  He noted that in 90% of these crimes, the stolen vehicle was recovered.  Brooks attributed a portion of this success to the installation of cameras equipped with license plate readers.  He emphasized how his department was continuing to seek ways to leverage technology to fight, and prevent, crime.

Other highlights shared by Brooks were that crime has been in decline over the past five years, that the City has had a net gain of fourteen officers since the passage of Measure C, and that response times have been significantly reduced. (Editor’s Note: The City has only had a net increase of seven officers since Measure C was passed, using the correct figure of 89 sworn officers as the base, not 82 that the council and staff are using).

Future priorities for the police department include a focus on gang and drug enforcement, increased collaboration with neighboring law enforcement agencies, and continuing engagement by officers and staff with members of the community.

Community volunteers, according to Brooks, continue to make substantial contributions to reducing crime and blight.  He highlighted the Volunteers In Police Service, the Police Explorers, and made special mention of Antioch resident Tim McCall, who led an effort to raise funds for additional K-9’s, which Brooks called a “force multiplier.”

He concluded his remarks by saying, “Antioch is already a safer city,” as he pledged to work to continue moving citizen safety in a positive direction.

Wright shared this satellite image of the Highway 4 interchange with Laurel Road, showing how it will connect with the other section of the road once the homes are built in that area. Source: Google Maps

Mayor Wright Highlights City’s Achievements

Mayor Sean Wright followed Brooks and began his remarks by thanking his fellow council members for working together, as he acknowledged each one of them individually.  Referring to the positive results that had been related by the Antioch Chief of Police, Wright said, “This all comes as we work together.  It’s all of us coming together.”

Mayor Sean Wright speaks about Antioch’s historic, downtown Rivertown during his remarks as Antioch Chamber of Commerce CEO Richard Pagano looks on.

Wright then highlighted some of the major economic development successes over the last year, including Best Buy moving to Antioch, the new Smith’s Landing Seafood Grill restaurant opening soon on the waterfront, BART operations beginning on May 26, the opening of the $15 million Rocketship School on Cavallo Road this coming fall, and the creation of four Opportunity Zones in the city.

Wright continued discussing economic development as he touched briefly on regional collaboration, and the desalination project that was a result of a major grant received by the City of Antioch, one of only three such grants in the state of California.

“This will help our community create jobs and create water,” he said. “This is huge for our community.”

Wright emphasized that there are many ways, now, for residents to become involved in Antioch and help the city move in a positive direction.  He noted that the City was providing information through Facebook, Instagram, Nextdoor, Antioch on the Move, Join the Conversation, and especially emphasized the SeeClickFix app. (Available for download on Android GooglePlay marketplace and at the Apple iTunes store.)

“There is no time to rest,” Wright continued. “We just finished districting.  Decisions on cannabis are coming up.  We’re hiring an economic development director, hopefully on board in the next two months.”

Addressing the homeless situation, Wright discussed the Care Center that was being built that would, “help the homeless get the services they need.”  Wright also thanked Council Member Lori Ogorchock and District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, who he said, “worked together to bring a Family Justice Center to Antioch.”

Wright shared this satellite image of the Sand Creek Road/Highway 4 interchange and the east end of the Sand Creek Focus Area in Antioch, where the road will be extended. Source: Google Maps.

Says Sand Creek Will Take Antioch Into the Future

After discussing the “Four Corners” of Antioch, Wright turned his attention to the Sand Creek Focus Area. He said, “There’s a petition right now around Sand Creek,” which he noted was seeking support to curtail development of the area.

Showing a series of slides to put the issue into perspective, Wright said that development around Sand Creek of estate homes and senior housing was part of a long-standing plan to take Antioch into the future.  With respect to estate homes, Wright said, “These are jobs, these are people with money to invest.”  He also said that, without this development, “we get no connection,” referring to the fact that there are currently two off-ramps that take people into Brentwood and Oakley but go nowhere into Antioch.

When questioned further about this issue at the end of the presentation, Wright said, “Balanced, conservative development to help finish building infrastructure around the Laurel and Sand Creek exits should bring about senior and estate housing that does not exist in our community.  This development is vital if we are to attract those willing to make the investments in our community that will result in the high-tech jobs that we desire.”

Concluding his remarks, Wright said, “If you want to help, get involved.  Drive us to the future that we need.  We want this to be the place that people want to live, not move away from.  Thank you for coming today and thank you for your help.”

Antioch Chamber CEO Pagano, closing the event, encouraged everyone in Antioch to work together to improve the City.  “If there is an issue that you care about, please, step up and let your voice be heard,” he said.

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