The improbable transformation of Concord Naval Weapons Station
If good fences make good neighbors, the Inland Area of the Concord Naval Weapons Station has been a strangely good neighbor to the suburban Contra Costa County city it adjoins. For 65 years, ever since the navy purchased it in 1944, the 5,000-acre slab of land sloping eastward from the edge of town has been hidden in plain sight, visible from local neighborhoods and traversed by three major thoroughfares, yet strictly off-limits to most people. The terrain within those barbed-wire-bristling borders is blanked out on some older maps. Even today, with this part of the station closed and awaiting transfer to the city, with every stick of munitions gone, the site is under careful guard. Access must be arranged months in advance.
Annoying, to some. But the military presence has achieved something seemingly impossible: it has kept the land open, a generous chunk of grassland, hillside, and oak savanna that has grown in value with each passing year as the lowlands west and north of Mount Diablo have become a sheet of rooftops. “This is the last piece of central Contra Costa County where the whole range of landforms is intact,” says Bob Doyle of the East Bay Regional Park District.
The hillsides within the station are part of the Los Medanos Hills, the upland chain that links the Diablo massif to the shore of Suisun Bay, and one of the great prizes in the continuing battle over the shape and limits of growth in Contra Costa County. One third the height of Diablo, plateau-like and open, the Los Medanos Hills form a vital natural greenbelt separating eastern and central Contra Costa County. Parks and other protected open spaces cover parts of the highlands, but there are significant gaps. The Inland Area of the Concord Naval Weapons Station occupies one of the largest.
At the western foot of the little range lies Mount Diablo Creek, one of the least developed stream courses in Contra Costa County. The stream begins in a rugged canyon on the northwest side of Diablo and runs between backyard fences in Clayton and Concord before emerging onto the weapons station. Farther downstream it reaches a second military precinct, the still-active Military Ocean Terminal Concord, where great cargo cranes loom above rich marshes.
Sidebar: Development Threats in Los Medanos Hills
Though much of the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) will likely be protected as parkland, the ridgeline to the east is part of the Faria property, 607 acres owned by developer Albert Seeno’s Discovery Builders and zoned for up to 1,650 housing units by the city of Pittsburg. (Open map in new window.)
The parcel spans a good third of the Los Medanos Hills crest overlooking the new proposed park. “Protecting that ridgeline is very important,” says Seth Adams of Save Mount Diablo.
One possible outcome is a land swap to allow development at Stoneman Park, near a golf course in Pittsburg, in return for keeping development off of the hills. “There’s some discussion of protecting ridgeline land in exchange for open space around the golf course,” says Adams. “We can’t say whether it’s a good deal or not. It all depends on what’s offered.”
Any deal will have to be carefully crafted, says Greenbelt Alliance’s Christina Wong, noting that some of the land along the ridge is too steep and slide-prone to be built on in any case. “We don’t want to see unbuildable land [in the hills] getting traded for an existing urban park,” she says. “We’d be losing protected public open space in town, so we better be gaining a lot more open space than we lose.”
Any deal would be struck by late 2011, when Discovery’s exclusive agreement to negotiate with Pittsburg on Stoneman Park expires.