For last week’s forum, held at the Community Room in the Antioch Police Department, Take Back Antioch member Dena Jeglum set up 170 chairs. She was worried about the possibility of a room filled with empty seats, but concerned Antioch residents packed the room to the point where people were standing outside.
In addition to Antioch citizens, City Council members Wade Harper, Mary Helen Rocha and Gary Agopian attended the meeting, along with Mayor Jim Davis. Acting Police Chief Allan Cantando was also on hand.
Several items designated for action were formulated by the end the meeting, which Antioch Unified School District president Diane Gibson-Gray called “impressive for a group that is still in the formative stage. You’ve got to create the excitement and the environment to get out and make a difference.”
The forum also shared ways residents can report crime and blight, and offered contact information for vital services in the city. TBA founder Brittney Gougeon was pleasantly surprised by the positive tone the discussions took and noted that as soon as TBA finds a bigger venue, the group will schedule future meetings. She hopes that the forums can become a monthly occurrence.
One woman in particular really got to Gougeon. She tearfully spoke about how she didn’t feel safe in her own neighborhood. Hearing that, several people promised to head there and help out. Later, Gougeon found out that the woman lived only a few doors down from her.
“I think a tremendous amount of progress was made,” Gougeon said. “It was better than I expected. I really felt like we were almost in a support group.”
Two main elements to emerge from the meeting were the importance of providing residents information about ways to volunteer and putting pressure on the city to bring back code enforcement, a casualty of budget cuts.
But residents didn’t attend the forum only to get information and vent about what’s wrong with their community – many took action.
Gougeon said that over the course of the forum, 10 attendees signed up for the volunteer-run Graffiti Abatement Program and another handful applied for the Antioch Police Department’s Volunteers in Police Service program.
Meanwhile, TBA member Jennifer McVicker spoke up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting on the subject of code enforcement. “The homes that remain vacant are not maintained, with overgrown weeds and decaying buildings,” McVicker said. “The homes taken over by squatters are vandalized or worse – used to grow marijuana or cook hard drugs. These homes are not only a blight on our community; they are hazardous to the health of our citizens. Code enforcement can solve these problems and more by requiring that the legal owners of these homes maintain them to the standards set by the city.”
The forum also synchronized with the city’s monthly Saturday cleanup, which was organized by the police department and held the day after the meeting. More than 100 people showed up at Meadow Creek Park to pick up garbage. They even found a discarded gun safe containing a bevy of personal information. Many people at the cleanup said they were motivated to come out because of the forum and TBA’s actions.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to rejuvenate the public under these conditions,” said Leroy Lui, a 37-year resident of Antioch and neighborhood watch block captain. “There was a lot of energy in that meeting. What I noticed is there were some cries for help. And the people that could help – they were there.”
A victim of earlier budget cuts, the cleanup program has been reinstated. Late last year, the Antioch PD decided that it could no longer fund the monthly event. Recently, crime prevention officer and Graffiti Abatement Program leader Dennis Jeglum teamed up with Wayne and Carol Harrison from United Citizens for a Better Neighborhood and asked Cantando if they could restart the cleanup program, which would not be funded by the police department.
Cantando gave Jeglum his blessing and donated trash pickers and bright vests. A group of Target employees came by to help the effort as well, donating their time plus supplies, bagels and coffee.
Next month, volunteers will turn their cleanup attention to Jacobsen Park.