Brentwood attempts to create its own urban limit line

Rowena Coetsee

An initiative that would pave the way for Brentwood to annex hundreds of acres moved forward last week when proponents submitted signatures to elections officials in hopes of getting the measure on the June ballot.

The proposal would establish Brentwood’s own urban limit line, replacing the county’s present line with a more expansive boundary that includes about 740 additional acres of open space west of the city.

Urban limit lines contain growth by severely restricting what can be developed in areas outside those boundaries.

Residents’ approval would bring Brentwood one step closer to annexing the now-unincorporated property, which the measure’s backers say would buffer the city from some of the troubles plaguing Antioch.

Look at the crime that has overtaken that city and the blight that its low-income housing has created, said consultant Tom Koch, who represents a handful of the area’s landowners.

“Brentwood property values are higher, crime is lower, and the schools have a better performance,” he said. “It’s a much nicer community. I’m not saying Antioch is a bad place. I’m just saying Brentwood is better.”

Koch and a grass-roots group that includes former Brentwood Councilmembers Brian Swisher and Annette Beckstrand are also pitching the initiative as a pre-emptive move to block the eastward expansion of its neighbor. But Antioch City Manager Jim Jakel says the city never has been interested in annexing that area.

He also noted that the land is already within Brentwood’s sphere of influence, a term for areas that cities plan to add.

The measure would limit residential development to 1,300 homes, 200 of which could be multifamily units such as apartments, condominiums and townhouses.

The so-called Balfour Planning Area also calls for commercial development, parks and an elementary school.

Koch emphasizes that homes wouldn’t start going up immediately if the measure succeeds; that’s at least four years away because of the time it takes to get permits from government agencies, he said.

The approval process is also costly, which can discourage developers from building in a sluggish economy because there’s a greater risk they won’t recover their investment quickly — if at all, Koch said.

The measure also would establish a contract between the city and the approximately 10 individuals who own the 17 parcels comprising the Balfour Planning Area.

This agreement includes a clause designed to avoid the problems associated with absentee landlords by requiring that builders do everything in their power to sell their homes only to those who will live in them.

Developers also would have to pay additional fees — as much as $6.6 million — when they pull building permits, revenue that would go toward police services, creating playing fields and strengthening the local economy through means such as job retraining, scholarships and building business parks.

In addition, they will have to widen Balfour Road from Deer Valley Road to American Avenue and extend American Avenue so that it forms a complete loop off Balfour Road.

But these measures don’t impress Melissa Hippard, campaigns director for Greenbelt Alliance.

The organization encourages cities to wisely use the space they already have instead of seeking to expand beyond urban limit lines.

The bottom line for Hippard is that the initiative would mean the loss of open space, acreage that’s important as wildlife habitat as well as for flood control and recreation.

Requiring builders to pay more for developing this area isn’t going to solve Brentwood’s financial pressures, Hippard said.

She also doubts voters will question claims that the additional fees will generate local jobs, especially when the unemployment rate is in the double digits. “They will not look to see if there’s an engine in this car,” she said.

What the initiative will do, however, is create the potential for a few people to make sizable profits, Hippard said.

“It’s about individuals whose properties’ value will go up tremendously (when) they’re brought inside the urban limit line — they’re the ones who benefit,” she said.

Whether the measure’s supporters collected enough valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot remains to be seen.

Elections officials received 6,032 signatures Tuesday; 3,624 valid ones are needed — 15 percent of the electorate — for the city to hold a special election.

Brentwood voters narrowly defeated a similar initiative in 2005 that would have brought even more land within the urban limit line.

If the measure succeeds this time, Brentwood would become the fourth city in Contra Costa County to create its own urban limit line. San Ramon was the first to take the step in 2002, followed by Antioch and Pittsburg in 2005.

The remaining cities all abide by the urban limit line that voters amended in a countywide election in 2006.

The Brentwood City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

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