ANTIOCH -- City leaders have placed limits on where new service providers for former inmates can locate, despite objections from county officials and civil rights advocates that say the rules will hinder ex-convicts' efforts to seek help.
The City Council recently approved an ordinance restricting future providers of services such as mentoring, substance abuse prevention, housing help and job training for ex-cons from locating within 1,000 feet of "sensitive areas" such as schools, parks and senior centers without obtaining a use permit, which costs $2,000.
Locating in business parks or professional-use zones is allowed.
Several revisions were made since the proposal's first introduction in March, including the council reducing the buffer from 1,500 feet to 1,000 and changing the hours of operation from 7 to 10 p.m.
After some discussion, the council opted not to waive the new permit fees.
Part of the county task force to brace for the state's prison realignment since 2010, Antioch hadn't received inquiries from providers until a vendor to handle "probationers with a medium- to high-risk" sought space near the Antioch Senior Center in February, ¿said Tina Wehrmeister, community development director.
Stressing how crucial service providers' work is in reducing recidivism, council members said their intent is to work with groups on locations and strategies that suit the community, including looking at access to public transportation and proximity to liquor stores.
"We want to make sure we can successfully put a good program together for everybody," Councilman Tony Tiscareno said.
Since the 2011 state prison realignment from Assembly Bill 109, more inmates have been released in Antioch than any other city in Contra Costa County, according to the county's probation department.
Mayor Wade Harper stressed the importance of planning, especially near areas where Antioch already has issues. One such place is a shopping plaza with a smoke shop near Deer Valley High School where teens hang out.
"That's an area where I wouldn't want a supervision program, this is our vulnerable community," he said. "We don't get a do-over."
Contra Costa's probation department, county Supervisor Federal Glover and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California argue the new restrictions create unnecessarily obstacles.
ACLU attorney Micaela Davis says Antioch's ordinance goes against the intent of AB109 and possibly violates state and federal law. Further, the new rules may be creating a disproportionate effect on African-Americans and those with disabilities who need mental health services, she said.
"There must be checks to make sure decisions are not being made based on unfounded fears and prejudices of who these people are but rather are based on facts," Davis said.
The ACLU will monitor Antioch's implementation of the new ordinance, she said.
Glover, of Pittsburg, and some local providers say the permit fees place an unfair financial burden on service providers already hard up for funds, many of which are nonprofits.
"We're not talking about a different population coming in; these are ex-felons that are already living in Antioch. For them to receive those services so they don't reoffend, why wouldn't you want to do that?" Glover said. "I don't understand the justification."
Antioch has been home to several service providers for years. The most recent, Rubicon Programs, opened downtown in October.
"Those folks didn't have to go through that process," Glover said.
Jeffery Terry has benefitted from those post-incarceration services. Terry told the council he voluntarily sought mentoring and other help upon being released from a prison sentence of more than 18 years.
"When you really want to do right and help yourself, you will seek the services that are being provided for you," Terry said.
Contra Costa is allocating $4.5 million in state funds to community-based organizations to provide services, with 40 percent going to East Contra Costa.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.