Posted on Sun, Nov. 02, 2003


By Lisa Vorderbrueggen


Half of Contra Costa County cities and none of its eastern towns appear ready to endorse a countywide growth vision called Shaping Our Future in its first major vote. A Times survey of 100 city and county elected officials reveals a deep philosophical and geographical split in the five-year, $750,000 initiative that could tear it apart.

In March, we published a special section looking at the Shaping Our Future proposal. The plan calls for the county and its cities to voluntarily redirect growth from the suburban fringe into more compact, mixed developments in existing cities and near transit.

Among the survey findings:

The county and nine cities, including every town in western Contra Costa except one, support it as a tool in the fight against sprawl, congestion, urban blight and the lack of affordable housing.

Six city councils in east and central Contra Costa appear ready to reject it as an attack on suburbia that strips them of local control and forces high-density development into their neighborhoods.

Three city councils -- Clayton, Martinez and San Ramon -- are split on whether the vision sports horns or a halo.

San Pablo's City Council considers the vision of little consequence to its 30,000 residents and has no plans to vote on it.

"This illustrates why regional collaboratives are so difficult," said researcher Paul Lewis at the Public Policy Institute of California. "Absent a binding mechanism or institute of enforcement, there's nothing to stop individual cities from walking away from regional planning." [WAIT UNTIL THE POLITBURO COMES TO TOWN...THEN YOU'LL HAVE NO CHOICE!!]

The county's 19 cities and the Board of Supervisors have been asked to vote by the end of the year on a set of 15 principles that govern the implementation of the vision. A committee comprising city and county elected officials drafted the accord. [WHY???????]

To date, four cities, Richmond, Danville, Orinda and Concord have endorsed it. The plan Contra Costa County began its regional planning effort in 1998 and since then, similar initiatives have surfaced elsewhere in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. The principles recommend the county and cities come to a mutual agreement on the location of the controversial growth boundary, or urban limit line. The initiative also urges cities and the county to conform their general plans to the vision, link transportation money to land-use decisions and pursue funds for open space and affordable housing. Cities may drop out any time, and the initiative states clearly that "jurisdictions will retain local control of general plans and zoning of land within their municipal boundaries." [MONETARY BLACKMAIL - SIGN ON OR ELSE.....]

Communities that join will later vote on a more detailed plan, or compact, that spells out the specifics of carrying out the vision. Geography matters The split reaction to Shaping Our Future reflects the county's diverse mix of older communities, first-ring suburbs, affluent residential enclaves and fast-growing bedroom towns. Older western cities like its emphasis on in-fill and transit villages and hope the vision will lead to greater investment and redevelopment of their aging neighborhoods. Richmond embraced the vision because the "city is underdeveloped and our infrastructure can support much more than we have," said Councilman Tom Butt. "It will increase our tax base and our quality of life. I can't see any down side for Richmond." [NOW I SEE WHY RICHMOND IS IN THE DUMPER...]

Central cities such as Concord and Walnut Creek unabashedly support the vision because, among other reasons, it affirms their plans to locate more housing, shops and jobs in their downtowns. "The principles stated in Shaping Our Future are consistent with our values and best interests," said Walnut Creek Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Abrams.


That has not been the view of a majority of elected officials in Contra Costa's eastern cities or in a handful of other towns. Some reject core smart growth tenets such as higher densities in downtowns. "If we wanted to live in the city, we'd live in the city," said unapologetic suburbanite and Pleasant Hill Councilwoman Terri Williamson. "We live in the suburbs because we like it like this." Other cities such as Antioch and Brentwood have demanded concessions on the urban limit line in return for their cooperation. County supervisors in 2000 tightened the boundary and thwarted these cities' expansion plans. But almost without exception, critics denounce the vision as unwanted interference in local land-use decisions. "I'm not going to agree to anything that allows 18 other cities to have a say as to what happens with the city limits of Pittsburg, there's no way," said Pittsburg City Councilman Bill Glynn. "Conversely, why do I want to vote on something for another city? That's what they have a local elected council for."

Opposition has also surfaced among vocal residents, particularly in Lafayette where a powerful homeowner's association has publicly challenged the vision at every step. Armed with research from planning authors such as Randal O'Toole of Oregon and Wendell Cox of Illinois, who say smart growth produces more congestion in downtowns and diverts investment into little-used transit projects, local residents questioned the process, the outcome and the intent. They distrusted the Portland-based consultant, suspected organizers of manipulating the workshop results and accused city leaders of failing to spell out its impacts back home. "Any time you double density, you double congestion ... the quality of life will change for everyone in the county," said Lynn Hiden, a highly influential association member. "It creates monumental traffic jams, and I don't think these cities have the vaguest notion of the degree of traffic this is going to bring them." [YOU GO LYNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]


Critics of regional planning and smart growth seem to think that burying their heads inside city limits will make growth go away, countered Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, an ardent regionalist [ARDENT REGIONALIST = SOCIALIST] and one of Shaping Our Future's initiators. People forced to live far from their jobs must commute through dozens of towns and multiple counties. He half-jokingly compares some of Contra Costa's elected officials to the infamous Iraqi information minister who denied the presence of U.S. troops while the bombs dropped. "Pay no attention to the traffic congestion. You are living in paradise," DeSaulnier joked. "The fact is," he continued seriously, "cities don't have local control. Every action by a city has impacts on its neighbors, and we have to find a way to plan regionally in a way that makes sense for everyone." The solution may not look like Shaping Our Future, DeSaulnier conceded.

The panel repeatedly diluted the principles to counter cities' fears over loss of local control and win near unanimous support, a strategy that does not appear to be working. "We're very close to having a document that has no enforceability and limited support, and you have to wonder whether it was worth $750,000," DeSaulnier said.

Can Shaping Our Future survive without widespread support, particularly from the county's eastern cities where planners predict 335,000 people -- nearly the size of Oakland -- will live by 2020? Proponents insist they will march ahead, with or without every city. "As cities see that the vision is working and that it does not impinge on anyone's local control, I'm confident they will join," said Supervisor Millie Greenberg of Danville. "This is just the beginning." [SHE'S RIGHT THERE....THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING........]


Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers growth and transportation.

Reach her at 925-945-4773 or

The following reporters contributed to this story: Jane Ramsey, Alan Lopez, Melissa Moy, Danielle Samaniego, Kelli Phillips, Janice DeJesus, Theresa Harrington, Paula King, Tom Lochner, Bruce Gerstman, Denis Cuff, Linda Davis, Meera Pal, Corey Lyons, Taunya English and Rebecca Rosen-Lum.