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East Bay Times

Pittsburg wants more time to consider effects of proposed Buchanan Road bypass

This article was originally published on April 7, 2014 by the Contra Costa Times.

By Eve Mitchell

PITTSBURG — The City Council delayed certification of a 1.7-mile-long road to relieve traffic congestion south of Buchanan Road in response to concerns that the project will ruin pristine hillside land and views.

The council voted 3-0 on Monday to continue a public hearing to May 19 on whether to certify the 243-page environmental document for the long-delayed James Donlon Boulevard Extension south of the city limits. Council members Nancy Parent and Ben Johnson had recused themselves from the hearing as a result of living near a project alternative that calls for widening Buchanan Road.

Seth Adams, land programs director for Save Mount Diablo, which is fighting the project, said he was pleased by the delay. “That doesn’t change the fact that the document is completely inadequate and that the project is horrible,” Adams said after the meeting.

On Friday, the environmental group submitted a 60-page letter from its law firm that challenged the adequacy of the report, prompting council members to continue the public hearing.

The road alignment would divide in half the Thomas Ranch property, where the pioneering Contra Costa family has raised cattle since the 1860s. If the road project is approved, Pittsburg would likely have to use eminent domain to acquire right of way for the extension.

During the public hearing, Tina Thomas pleaded with council members to not certify the report, which would clear the way for the project to go through a formal approval process.

“The road would destroy our home and way of life,” she said. “Your road would scar up our hills.”

The road would run between two Seeno housing developments, from the western edge of the approved 415-house Sky Ranch II subdivision to Kirker Pass Road, adjacent to the proposed 356-unit Montreux subdivision currently under city review.

The $53 million project is viewed by proponents as a way to move drivers off congested Buchanan Road during commute hours while providing a key route from points east of Pittsburg to Concord and other areas of Central Contra Costa.

The city’s general plan said in 1988 that the extension is needed as part of a long-term transportation network for Pittsburg and the region, according to a staff report. Since 1990, it is estimated that 30,000 units of new housing have been built in East County, mostly east of Pittsburg, which has led to Buchanan Road becoming a crowded commute route.

Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance contend the roadway will lead to more housing developments and destroy pristine habitat and views as a result of cuts into the land and grading of 2.1 million cubic yards of dirt. The report’s description of the project is flawed and proposed mitigation measures for identified impacts involving aesthetics, biological resources, geology and soils, noise and air quality don’t go far enough, according to the environmental groups.

The project would not lead to more housing developments because the surrounding land would be rezoned as open space, the report said. So if the road project does become a reality, “There will be reduction in the number of homes that could be constructed,” City Manager Joe Sbranti said.

An environmental study on the extension was first done in 1993, followed by a more thorough study in 2007 that evolved into the final environmental report.

In a separate action, all five City Council members voted unanimously to give tentative approval to an ordinance that bans businesses from letting customers use computers to play online sweepstakes.

The idea behind the ordinance, which comes back for final approval April 21, is to comply with a recent court ruling that found moratoriums that ban Internet cafes from operating where patrons buy blocks of online access time to play online sweepstakes were overly broad. Pittsburg and other Bay Area cities, including Antioch and Oakley, have passed such moratoriums.

The ordinance instead bans businesses from allowing on-site computers to be used as simulated gambling devices to play online sweepstakes. That means business such as Kinko’s and print shops that provide Internet access will be able to operate, as long as the computers aren’t used for online sweepstakes.

It is modeled after a similar one passed by Hayward, which narrowed its prohibition to only cover online sweepstakes gambling after Internet cafe owners took the city to court when it passed a moratorium.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.

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