Pittsburg wins planning victory

Lisa Vorderbrueggen

A protracted battle for planning control over land in the Pittsburg hills ended Wednesday in a narrow victory for the city.

The Local Agency Formation Commission, a countywide board that governs when and where cities and service districts grow, passed on a 4-3 vote a 2,258-acre expansion of the city’s planning area and the jurisdictions of adjacent water and sewer service districts.

Much of the land is owned by the Seeno family and has been the subject of considerable debate among residents worried about excessive development on the prominent ridgelines between Pittsburg and Concord.

Pittsburg officials argued that its planning boundary, called a “sphere of influence,” should be widened to match that of its 2005 voter-approved urban growth line. The commission also expanded the service boundaries of the Contra Costa Water District and the Delta Diablo Sanitation District.

Environmentalists called for the commission to conduct a full environmental analysis before a vote.

They urged the board to wait until a developer comes forward with a proposal, and to study its potential impacts and inform the public about ramifications of the development, such as traffic increases.

“Why push water and sewer services into an area designated (in Pittsburg’s general plan) for open space unless the intent is to approve development?” said Christina Wong, field director for the Greenbelt Alliance. “This is a sneaky attack.”

Commission policy calls for an expansion of a jurisdiction’s sphere of influence when a city or district demonstrates a need for services on the property within 10 years.

The state created the planning tool in a bid to avert annexation wars when cities sought to boost their tax bases by gobbling up unincorporated lands on their perimeters.

For Pittsburg, the favorable vote for its sphere expansion is the first in a series of approvals required before a developer can start building houses.

To proceed, the city will next seek annexation of the area, which will fully turn over planning control to the city. The landowner must then win approval for a specific development project from Pittsburg. Both processes require public hearings and environmental analysis of the impacts on traffic, schools, water, wildlife and other factors.

Commissioners voting in favor of the expansion included Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg, Concord Councilwoman Helen Allen, Discovery Bay Community Services District Member David Piepho and Martinez Mayor Rob Schroder.

Glover told his colleagues that while he campaigned against Pittsburg’s 2005 expansion of the urban limit line, he will respect the voters’ decision.

Those voting against the sphere change were Contra Costa Supervisor Gayle Uilkema, member at large Martin McNair and George Schmidt, who represents special districts.

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