About 125 people were in attendance Feb. 28 as members of the public, City Council, police department, school district and local faith community discussed how to combat the growing problem.
“This will set the stage for reducing crime and making the community safer,” Mayor Wade Harper said.
Residents of all ages suggested a series of ideas to stem the growing crime wave, such as reducing truancy, taxing renters to generate money for more police, creating more free programs for kids and respecting the needs of the community.
“If you put enough perseverance into something, you can get it done,” said 12-year-old John Higgins, the youngest member of the audience to speak. “I believe we can get this city back to what it used to be 45 years ago.”
The audience also heard presentations from Police Chief Allan Cantando and City Manager Jim Jakel about the current state of the police department and the financial status of the city. Antioch Unified School District Superintendent Donald Gill and School Board President Joy Motts also spoke.
Prior to the recession that hit the city during the 2006-07 fiscal year, it employed 126 sworn police officers, but that number has decreased to 88 today due to a $13 million deficit in the city’s general fund and an $11 million decrease in reserves since then. To bring staffing levels back to the status quo of 123, it would cost 3.6 million or 6.8 million for 144 officers – a mark recommended by the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.
“We didn’t get here overnight, and we are not going to get out overnight,” Cantando said.
Members of the City Council reiterated during the forum that over the next several months, it intends to gather the public’s opinion about putting a sales, parcel or business-license tax on a future ballot. The ideas generated at the meeting will also be considered at a strategic planning session next month.
Antioch resident Daniel Loey made his opinion felt about the type of tax he favors. He showed up with 60 copies of an initiative that would levy a $250 yearly tax on all non-owner properties in the city, the money earmarked for hiring more police.
According to his research, 11,569 of Antioch’s 33,000 properties are non-owner-occupied rentals. The tax would generate an estimated annual $2,892,250, to be used to hire 22 additional police officers.
“It needs to be simple,” Loey said. “Just get it done; just get it done.”
Bruce Smargiasso, director of housing for the Contra Costa County Housing Authority, addressed recent complaints about Section 8 housing in the city. About 1,970 tenants belong to the Section 8 housing program in Antioch, plus 400 in Brentwood and 300 in Oakley. He said he hopes to alleviate the problem of nuisance tenants by holding workshops for landlords.
“Our numbers are larger in East County partly because you guys have ample housing,” Smargiasso said. “Having been a landlord before, I understand some of the frustrations that the landlords are having.”
While many solutions were suggested during the meeting, some Antioch residents used the forum as an outlet for their frustration. Maria Gonzalez, owner of Fiesta Mexicana Party Supply on Sycamore Drive, said she has lost 80 percent of her customers due to the store’s unsafe location. “We need more protection,” Gonzalez said.
Fellow resident Jonathan Hernandez addressed the crowd twice about police response times and the need for a safer community. The mixture of complaints and solutions appeared to strike a chord with the city officials in attendance.
“The time for talk is over, and the time for action is now,” said City Councilmember Gary Agopian at the conclusion of the forum.
The community’s input will be used by the City Council during a strategic planning secession scheduled for March 28.