Even as commuters have grown weary of the long drive from the western edge of the Central Valley to the employment centers of the Bay Area, a group of landowners in Brentwood see robust development opportunities. The formerly diminutive Contra Costa County city, now of 51,000, is hotly debating what its next round of expansion will look like. 

At issue is the fate of a 740-acre tract of largely undeveloped land, which lies to the west of the county urban limit line that governs Brentwood but is nonetheless already addressed in its general plan. That plan calls for up to 579 homes to be built on the property, which is owned by only five landowners, in the event that the land was annexed by the city. Measure F, however, would expand the urban limit line and in so doing authorize a 20-year development agreement for up to 1,300 homes and 30 acres of commercial development. 

The agreement itself would not, however, permit development, which would still be subject to environmental review, and approval by the city, the water board, and other agencies. 

Unique to Contra Costa County, the urban limit line is a planning tool by which the county designates land, both incorporated and unincorporated, for development. The urban limit line used to be an informal policy, but since 2007 the county Local Area Formation Commission has promised to honor it (See CP&DR Vol. 14, No. 4). This is, in fact, the latest in many battles over the future of inland Contra Costa County and its uneasy role as bedroom community serving the East Bay and San Francisco (See Insight CP&DR Vol. 15, No. 9 )

"Brentwood will have its own urban limit line that it will control," said Tom Koch, consultant and spokesperson for the pro-Measure F campaign. "Currently Brentwood does not have that authority." 

Representatives of the Brentwood Department of Community Development declined to be interviewed for this article.  

Proponents have agreed to a number of concessions designed to assure residents that, if Measure F passes on June 8, all 1,300 homes -- and their estimated 4,000 residents -- would not appear overnight and would not adversely affect the community. Provisions included in the measure an in a recently negotiated development agreement include assurance that the area would not be occupied until 2015 and that developers would improve surrounding roads, provide community benefits such as parks, and fund municipal paramedic services. 

These concessions are not enough for opponents, who contend that any future development should simply abide by the city's existing general plan and that the measure represents an unfortunate case of ballot-box planning. 

"We understand that it may be developed in the future; it's in our general plan for that purpose," said Brentwood resident and Measure F opponent Kathy Griffin. "It's not like we're not saying that it's pristine farmland or it should be preserved for open space. Our argument is that you're replacing our general plan and doubling the number of housing units." 

Measure F's proponents contend, however, that failure to extend the urban limit line now may mean that Brentwood will forfeit the ability to control the land in the future. They contend that the neighboring city of Antioch may try to annex it or that Contra Costa County will go ahead and authorize development there. 

"It's clear that the land is going to be developed by one or the other," said Koch. 

Opponents of the measure call these concerns far-fetched. 

"There are so many hoops for [Antioch] to do that," said Griffin. "They'd have to do a planning process, they'd have to do an environmental report, they'd have to get LAFCO to take it out of our sphere of influence under our protest and put it into their sphere of influence...then they would have to take it to a vote of their people to get it into their urban limit line.

"To just imply that Antioch can just come in and build something is simply misleading." 

Griffin insists that she does not oppose growth but does think that Measure F calls for too much density. She also contends that many of the concessions that proponents are making would be required by the existing general plan and are, in fact, not particularly generous in light of the increased density. 

They include a $2,000 per house fee for community athletic facilities; land that could be developed for parks and schools; a $3,000 per house fee for employment generation, such as job-training programs; a fee for paramedics; and requisite road improvements. The city's fiscal analysis estimates that at full build-out the city would net $800,000 annually, with $2 million in revenues and $1.2 million in additional expenses from the development; the city could also receive up to $45.7 million in impact fees. 

"If you look at their development agreement, most of the items they're touting as over and above [are] at contribution levels you're expected to make with a development of this size," said Griffin. 

Though the battle over Measure F is being fought against the backdrop of tremendous growth in the Bay Area's inland suburbs, Griffin said that the measure is following an old pattern. In 2005 Brentwood voters defeated Measure L, which would have expanded the urban limit line to the north, and then in 2006 approved a measure that reaffirmed the city's existing (and still current) urban limit line. 


Tom Koch, Yes on F (925) 634-4200

Brentwood Special Election Website

Brentwood Measure F Full Text (PDF)