ANTIOCH, Calif. - Antioch is offering new funding to support small business owners in the city's high crime areas, Mayor Lamar Thorpe announced on Monday.
Thorpe listed inflation, homelessness and violent crime as issues that have grown to negatively affect Antioch's commercial areas. He hopes that a new $500,000 investment will help small business owners in Antioch who have struggled with the challenges.
"We're specifically targeting specific census tracks that see high crime in our community, and we're reinvesting in some of those businesses, particularly towards facade improvement," Thorpe said in an interview with KTVU. "We're all familiar with the old ‘broken-window theory,’ and if we leave some of these old businesses the way they are, some of these old merchants, without the economic investment that they need, they are going to continue to be targets of crime."
The grants are expected to range from $5,000 to $25,000 per business. For more information or details about grant requirements, visit the City of Antioch grants website.
"We need help otherwise a lot of businesses will be closing very soon," said Jasvir Ark, owner of Veer Da Dhaba Indian restaurant. "Right now we are helpless because we cannot convince our customers, ‘hey, we can protect you.' Because we cannot even protect ourselves."
The grant funding can be used to improve safety and security or to simply update storefronts to make them more welcoming and appealing.
"We are looking at working with our local merchants to figure out what security measures they can take, particularly as we get closer to the holiday season when people just seem to get even more desperate," Thorpe said.
As for when businesses will see the cash, city leaders are hoping it can be within the next few months.
"We'd love to do it within 90 days, we'll see," Bret Sweat, the city's economic development manager said at a press conference.
But not all businesses can benefit, especially if they've been displaced.
Nisha Toor's parents have owned a corner convenience store on Delta Fair Boulevard for 22 years, however, a fire earlier this month deemed the building unsafe and uninhabitable.
"They told us shut your doors down, your business is no longer safe to operate," Toor said. "We're basically having to build our store back up from the ground."
Since the fire, Toor said the business has been looted time and time again, adding insult to injury. Broken windows, shattered glass and trash is seen both inside and outside the store.
"Our business is exposed. We're personally exposed as well," she said. "We've had three burglaries over the course of a week. There's just a lot of inventory missing on top of us trying to vacate.
Nearby businesses have also closed or left the strip mall, preventing the stores from taking advantage of the facade upgrade grants.
City leaders are urging shopping center owners to apply for the grants in hopes more drastic improvements will be made and ultimately deter crime.
Thorpe said the city has also invested in surveillance cameras and Shot Spotter technology to reduce gun violence, burglaries and robberies.
"It's going to take long-term strategies," said Thorpe. "This [small business funding] being one of them, to turn things around."
The announcement comes as Antioch is navigating a shortage of police officers. Antioch has the capacity to support 115 police officers, but at this time, only 87 officers are on the payroll. Of those 87, more than 40 officers are currently on paid administrative leave, including some who are under investigation due to racist text messages sent by members of the force.
Thorpe also discussed the troublesome sideshow problem that appears to be growing in the city. A sideshow sparked a brush fire near Deer Valley Road and Lone Tree Way on Sunday.
"The large-scale sideshows we have been experiencing the last few months is a direct result of all these officers being placed on administrative leave because it impacted, directly, our traffic division," Thorpe told KTVU.
He shared that the investigations team in Antioch was also hit hard by the scandal. Thorpe fears that Antioch citizens' ability to report crime has been heavily impacted by the internal investigation.
"It determines whether or not people seek justice," he said.
KTVU's Brooks Jarosz contributed to this report.