On Tuesday night, Antioch’s City Council chose to divvy up roughly $530,000 in federal CDBG money to code enforcement, housing rehabilitation, downtown curb cuts, Opportunity Junction and the Antioch Chamber of Commerce.
City staff originally drafted a plan that would devote $200,000 of that money to downtown curb cuts for easier handicapped access, but decided to cut into that amount and increase support for job-training hub Opportunity Junction and the Chamber.
“Everything that we do here with money is helping people, and we have less,” City Councilman Gary Agopian said. “At this time, we’re trying to prioritize the values that we want to stick a little bit closer to.”
One drawback to reducing the funding of curb cuts is that the city increases its vulnerability to disability lawsuits. Director of Public Works Ron Bernal said his department might tap into the gas tax fund to help prevent this.
At Tuesday’s meeting, CDBG consultant Teri House held aloft a three-ring binder full of grant fund applications. She said the requests totaled more than $2 million, but only a fraction of that was available to give out.
City Councilmembers Wade Harper and Mary Rocha listened in March as agencies delivered their pitch for CDBG money. In the end, they were forced to tell most of them that the city was unable to provide money.
Even the funding for Opportunity Junction represented a 30-percent reduction of the city’s contribution last year. “There are so many worthy programs, and we want everyone to know that,” Harper said. “I sat through every single one of these interviews and we had to tell many people ‘no.’ I saw these two programs, which are just a little bit special and something that we can invest in.”
The funding will give Antioch its first code-enforcement officer since that department was eliminated in 2009 budget cuts. Dismayed by ill-maintained properties and rampant graffiti, Antioch residents have been begging for some kind of code enforcement to address these problems.
Currently, Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Graham handles only the most extreme cases of neglect, but help is on the way. Graham said Tuesday that city staff members are vetting candidates and could hire a code enforcement officer in a month and a half. One person was selected for the job, but turned the position down, meaning Graham and his staff were forced to dip back into the applicant pool.
City Councilmembers ultimately decided to help out the Chamber of Commerce and Opportunity Junction as a way to stimulate the local economy. The chamber, according to President Sean Wright, plans to use the money to conduct workshops for Antioch small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to set up shop in the city.
Last year, the chamber was forced to lay off all its paid staff members and revert to a volunteer workforce. Led by Wright and other city business owners, the chamber has been able to adapt and evolve.
Opportunity Junction teaches low-income East County residents skills necessary for today’s workforce and gives them the confidence to fill out resumés and ace job interviews. Executive Director Alissa Friedman noted that since July of 2009, 47 Antioch residents from the program have found employment. In the past year, Opportunity Junction graduates from Antioch have earned more than $1.8 million combined.
“Opportunity Junction has provided a fabulous and wonderful opportunity for those students to learn, to be able to get the information needed to go out and get those jobs,” Wright said. “But you need those businesses to have those jobs.”