On Tuesday, the Antioch City Council, during their special meeting, unanimously approved to amend the ballot language to get it under the 75-word limit. The ballot measure asks voters to increase the city sales tax and use tax to 1%.
The meeting was held after the city submitted their language to the county only to be told they had too many words—they are allowed 75-words, the City submitted 78-words. The city has until Aug. 10 to submit the final measure.
The approval came after an hour-long discussion which also highlighted a procedural error pointed out by City Clerk Arne Simonsen which results in the City having to host a second special meeting set for Friday.
During public comments, Rich Buongiorno advocated for the council to included a sunset clause in the measure because in its current form he finds it very undesirable.
“I find personally unacceptable when it comes to the fact that it is without a sunset, said Buongiorno. “The very people to accept that kind of an open-ended responsibility without knowing what is going to happen, it has to be reviewed. That review would come as a sunset.”
Antioch resident Manny Soliz also spoke up in favor of including a sunset.
“I think a sunset is appropriate,” said Soliz. “I also believe that a citizens advisory committee is appropriate because we do have one under Measure C, see the replacement to Measure C doesn’t contain the language to continue that process. But I do believe that it’s appropriate given the amount of shenanigans, even at the highest levels of government and we all know who’s there right now, but there’s some mistrust at all levels of government. And I think the inclusion of a citizen’s advisory committee would be appropriate.”
Councilmember Tony Tiscareno expressed some concerns saying when Measure C was passed, they promised 100% of the money to police and code enforcement.
“I think their [citizens] are in favor of it if it goes to the right resources,” said Tiscareno. “I’m not opposed to sunset, but we’re going through this right now because we have a sunset… it’s not part of this motion, but if I’m going to consider some kind of a sunset, it’s got to be something that we can work with.”
Later in the meeting, Tiscareno proposed a 20-year sunset which was objected to by both Mayor Pro Tem Lamar Thorpe and City Manager Ron Bernal (more on that further below).
Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock questioned the Ad-Hoc Committee consisting of Thorpe and Councilmember Monica Wilson.
Ogorchock asked about the original Measure C language and if an oversight committee was in the ballot language that went to the voters.
Thorpe replied “Yes it was” but that the Measure C committee will stay.
Ogorchock pressed him further asking where the language was and if the Measure C committee was going to do the same quarterly reporting even though it says there would be a one-year audit.
Thorpe replied yes.
Ogorchock again asked if it would remain the same as Measure C because there wasn’t any language and if it would be the same verbiage.
Thorpe explained again that it was the councils prerogative and it was not based on the ballot measure and they could do monthly or weekly reporting if they wanted them to.
Ogorchock then asked about why they didn’t included a sunset clause recommendation.
Thorpe said he was not a fan of sunsets and based on the city’s projections, it was his rationale.
“The sunset poses a lot of challenges,” said Thorpe. “So I personally am not for a sunset because we have to either solve these problems or keep kicking the can down the road. I have no interest in kicking any can down the road. I think we should solve a lot of these problems now so that we’re not coming back to this over and over. If we look at the projections that Dawn has put out, even with an extension, we’re going to run out of money in 2025, so we’re still going to be digging into our reserves”
Thorpe continued by explaining he aimed to look at the long-term fix, not a short-term fix just to satisfy people who have an interest in not seeing a tax measure.
“This was about the research, the data that we collected, the two surveys and the two over 2000 feedback forms that we got that you were all a part of because you were all in the video that said, come join the conversation. That is where this came from. We pulled some of those questions including whether a sunset makes good sense or a permanent solution makes sense. And overwhelmingly folks seemed to be excited about getting behind a one cent tax measure that specifically focused on a public safety, a youth program, particularly around youth violence. People have a strong concern around youth violence and quality of life issues that have to do with code enforcement,” explained Thorpe.
Ogorchock then asked Councilmember Wilson what her reasoning was for not including a sunset.
Wilson replied “Pretty much I will echo what Vice Mayor Thorpe has said. We surveyed it. We don’t know what the future’s going to bring in. A lot of projections that was presented to us by our director of finance showed this to be unstable, so we didn’t want to put a sunset date and we’re in the middle of maybe another economic downturn.”
Wilson also highlighted that the sunset could always come later by residents who impose it or if the economy improves they could impose it on themselves at some point in the future.
Thorpe added one other component was the city reserves.
“We’ve done a good job of building reserve with rollover money. We have to be deliberate about putting money aside for any economic downturn that approaches us in the future. We can’t continue to allow downturns to kind of take the entire city off course. And so continuing to build our reserves is critically important in that effort,” said Thorpe.
Mayor Sean Wright said he had no problem with the citizens oversight committee and it sounded like they would be continuing it whether or not it was in the ballot language or not, however, with a sunset, he agreed with councilmembers Thorpe and Wilson.
“The issue with the sunset is where we are financially right now as this is passed with, with oncoming debt from retirement and other things. You can look at the projections, if we do not pass Measure C at all, our reserves are gone. If we passed Measure C a half set, they’re gone within three to four years. If we pass it as a one cent. this is not something that’s going to be fixed in the next five to 10 years from the standpoint of there’s going to be issues and financial struggles that we as a city are going to have to face and if we’re willing to put this on ourselves, to be able to tax ourselves, to be able to fight and give ourselves the option to be financially stable,” said Wright. “This one-cent gives us that option and there’s not going to be a lot of choices that we’re going to be making. This will be helping our police department and pushing us forward from a quality of life standpoint. I’m in agreement with the not needing a sunset on this just because in eight years, we’re not going to not need this from a financial standpoint. If you understand our finances.
Thorpe again reiterated that the proposal was based on what the community had an interest in seeing and youth and youth violence came to the top, water quality to the top. He also explained how the money will be spent will be decided at the budget meeting and quarterly budget reports are provided.
Tiscareno then said if they were going to get this passed by the citizens, the council had to be united in their vote. He admitted that a short sunset would not work and they should look at a 20-year sunset—something that would be sustainable for the city.
Wright stated he agreed with Tiscareno on unity and he could get behind a 20-year sunset.
Thorpe then chimed in.
“I want to emphasize this again these are some of the questions that we’ve polled in,” said Thorpe. I would not be supporting anything that I thought would compromise the measure.”
Thorpe explained this really comes down to the city manager and if the council is providing him with the resources not only for today but for the future.
City Manager Ron Bernal explained they gathered information from 800 likely voters and were specific in the wording used and uses an
“The wording in the ballot measure are exactly what the voters wanted in relationship the polling that we did,” said Bernal. “And then in addition to that, another 1500 folks join the conversation, joined in and added their additional thoughts on what are the priorities for the city of Antioch, which were also reflected in this measure. So I would be remiss if I did I recommend changing any of the word wording in this measure because it would not reflect the information that we have gone out and painstakingly gathered in order to come up with what we believe is what the community wants. What is supported by the majority of the voters in our community”
Bernal said he felt very strongly about not changing a word on the measure, adding a sunset or wording related to a sunset because that is all things they captured while trying to communicate the ballot measure.
Thorpe piggybacked off Bernal saying it was not a majority, but rather 2/3 of voters supported the ballot measure.
“There is no word in this ballot language that has not been poll tested,” said Thorpe.
Mayor Wright then stated he would not ask them to change the language but that they need to reach out to the Antioch Unified School District to explain the language.
“I’m going to ask you to call her superintendent and explain the language because it’s where it says youth after school, summer programs. In a recent conversation I had a superintendent and not looking at this, but just in general, they see youth after school programs as us trying to take on their tasks. And I know it’s not, so I just asked if we’re going to go forward with this language that you reached out to the superintendent and acknowledged that we understand that we’re not taking their programs away. This is just language that we as lay non-education people see as a program not, not taking on school programs, but these are programs for youth when they finish school,” said Wright.
Thorpe explained that some of what they tested was restoring programs and highlighted how they once had operated an after-school program at every single Antioch Unified School and once the recession hit, that was the first thing to go.
“We talked specifically about restoring programs at once existed, whether it was code enforcement, whether it was a youth programming. I also want to encourage you to get talked to the superintendent. But more importantly, I need us to all understand that there’s nothing in here that we haven’t done in the past,” said Thorpe.
Tiscareno reiterated that whatever they do they needed to be unified.
“Whatever we do, we’re going to own it in that respect. So I’m going to have to live with it. I have no problem with that,” said Tisacreno. “So it’s all of us or none of us. We all get a praise on this or we all get criticized on this.”
The council then voted unanimously to change the ballot language to get in under 75-words.
The Council will have another Special Meeting on Friday, August 3rd at 2:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers to amend the Sales & Use Tax ordinance for the ballot measure.