Many Antioch residents have bemoaned a deteriorating quality of life in the city in recent years an issue that was front and center in a debate between three of the four candidates for mayor: incumbent Mayor Don Freitas, City Councilman Jim Davis and former Councilman Allen Payton.
Only Freitas and Davis' names will appear on the ballot. Payton is running as a write-in candidate, as is Monique Lazzarini, a political newcomer who was too ill to attend the Oct. 16 debate in the City Council chambers.
Payton, who served on the council from 1994-98 and is a former publisher of the Antioch Press, argued that Antioch needs a change in direction.
It's nice to have these Quality of Life forums that the council has had. But in general, our quality of life has gone down, said Payton. Violent crime is on the increase, our roads are in disrepair, the freeway has not been widened, the Highway 4 Bypass will not be finished until 2020-25, downtown has not been revitalized.
We don't have a lot of well-paying jobs in town, people still have to commute out of here, the (eBART) rail service won't happen here until 2015 at the soonest. Hopefully, the ferry system will happen here soon. We have challenges, folks.
Payton touted his HOPE plan, which stands for highways, opportunity, protection and education. He said he wants to attract a private four-year college to locate in Antioch along with green, clean technology businesses and to develop a port on the waterfront.
The bottom line is that the quality of life can come back, he said. We can turn the corner. We can bring Antioch back. But we have got to focus first on hiring more police, reprioritizing the budget to hire them to pay for more and then getting some dedicated revenue streams from new economic areas to pay for additional police so we can reduce crime.
Payton also called for a new police volunteer patrol program and the launching of a mentoring program for youth.
Davis, who has served on the City Council since 1998 and will retain his council seat even if he loses the mayoral contest, defended the work the council has done to make Antioch a better place to live.
Quality of life means to me that we have a community we can feel safe in, said Davis. Five years ago, things were getting a little bit crazy in this community. Things were getting out of hand. We took action. We started the Quality of Life forums. We invited the public to meet on a regular basis and give us their thoughts, their concerns, their problems, their questions.
We took all those questions and comments to heart. We've worked very closely with our police department. We've established a (police) Community Action Team, which has gone after problem properties and landlords as well as the Section 8 issue.
Davis noted that he was the first council member to raise concerns about problems with the county's management of Section 8 subsidized housing in Antioch and had suggested that Antioch take over control of the Section 8 program in the city. That idea was dropped, however, after it was determined that it would cost the city more than a million dollars annually to do so.
The forums have been nothing but successful, said Davis. The CAT team was an answer to the public demand that something be done. Safety is number one. We can have the nicest streets, the best and nicest parks in the country, the best stores to shop in, but none of that matters if we are not safe to walk out our front door to go to those areas.
Freitas, who has served as Antioch's mayor for eight years, prefaced his comments on Antioch's quality of life by taking a shot at Payton's tenure on the council.
I don't think you can absolve yourself four of the most dysfunctional years occurred when you were on the City Council from 1994 to 1998, Freitas said to Payton. Often times in the 1990s there was so much chaos and so many problems that when you said to individuals, Yes, I live in Antioch' they would begin to laugh because it was so dysfunctional.
We took care of that problem. We changed the quality of life. We conduct business at the City Council instead of personal assassinations and recriminations.
No one noted that Freitas and Davis spent several minutes at a recent council meeting engaged in a verbal brawl with insults flying back and forth over Davis' contention that Freitas thwarted Davis' desire to identify himself as mayor pro tem on the ballot.
Freitas said that the council has focused on improving public safety by hiring 23 police officers, more than doubling the police budget to $22.5 million in the past eight years and by hiring Police Chief Jim Hyde, who he said might be the most popular person in Antioch.
Payton responded that he was among the council majority that got things done during his tenure, despite the divisiveness. Those accomplishments include reducing the number of Section 8 rentals in the city, reducing crime, widening Highway 4, starting the Highway 4 Bypass project and hiring an economic development director.
He complimented Freitas for being a stronger mayor than the city had then, but added that Freitas has gone too far and become too strong.
Freitas did not respond to that charge, but Davis said he's lived in Antioch for 50 years and I can't remember any of the accomplishments that Mr. Payton attributes himself to. If he's talking about improvement in Section 8, I didn't see it, you didn't see it.
Earlier in the debate, Davis took a shot at Freitas, who a couple months ago had a disabled veteran removed from a council meeting after taking exception to the man's insulting comments aimed at Freitas.
People want a mayor who has character and (is) not a character, said Davis. People want a mayor who can treat people with respect and dignity and allow people to state their opinions in a way that they wish to express them, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. I think at this point we need a different leadership and different direction.
Freitas contrasted his verbal style with the much more subdued persona of Davis, who is by far the quietest council member at meetings.
One of the things I'm most proud about it is that I will sit down and talk to anybody about any problem, and then take steps to correct it, said Freitas. Leadership means having a vision not just sitting there silent but being able to articulate a vision. Being able to work with the City Council, the staff and the community to make sure that the vision can become a reality.