By Paul Burgarino

pburgarino@bayareanewsgroup.com

ANTIOCH -- This city is looking to close the book on the past few years and start a new story.

In his first State of the City speech Thursday, Mayor Wade Harper laid out his vision of how Antioch must move forward and establish a "story" as the safest city in Northern California, with thriving businesses, easy transportation and a high-achieving school district.

"We're not going let the pain of our past punish our present and paralyze our progress. We're going to keep it moving," Harper said during the Chamber of Commerce event. "We're continuously moving toward our goal."

Though city employees are asked to do more with less, Harper touted positives such as hiring in the city's police and code enforcement departments, new retailers moving in and work starting on field turf installation at Antioch Community Park.

He also lauded how community and faith-based groups, businesses and elected officials raised money to rebuild a tot lot at City Park torched in a September arson.

"Now all will be able to see how Antioch comes together in the face of adversity. This is the Antioch that I know and love," Harper said.

The luncheon at the Antioch Community Center also featured updates from Antioch Police Chief Allan Cantando and City Manager Jim Jakel.

Cantando told the 100 attendees of the lunch about some good things happening in the department, including a near 20-percent drop in crime for the first three months of 2013 compared with the same time the previous year.

Though far below its staffing level of 126 sworn officers when the economy was better five years ago, the department is at 86 and in the process of hiring. Two officers, an academy graduate and a transfer from El Cerrito, start next week, Cantando said.

Cantando also acknowledged the heroism of some citizens: caretaker Marlin Joyce Britt-Williams' help in finding and caring for a dementia patient who had wandered onto Buchanan Road during the commute hour and Ryan Sealey administering CPR to a 4-year-old girl who almost drowned at In-Shape.

The Bay Area economy, particularly the South Bay, is "on fire," with Contra Costa County on the "first ring" of that insurgence and Antioch is "probably on the second ring," Jakel said.

Antioch is seeing lower unemployment rates, increased housing values and developers looking to build, he said. The challenge, however, is that it still is bringing in $11 million less than it did in 2008, operating with a 40 percent employee vacancy rate and has "tremendous needs in police, code enforcement and recreation," he said.

"We will be great again. We've got a ton of work to do. But, today, I am 100-percent confident we will succeed here. I'd say last year, I was 80-percent confident," he said.

Like most who attended the lunch, Chamber of Commerce CEO and local chiropractor Sean Wright is encouraged that Antioch is on the upswing.

"There's a lot of potential that the future is going to be bright, and we can move toward that vision," he said.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.