ECT, East County Today, July 28, 2019
During 3-hour special meeting of the Brentwood City Council on Thursday, the council unanimously voted to hold a special election this November for voters to decide if they would allow expanding the urban limit line for development.
If approved in November, it would allow for development of 2,400 homes in an 815-acre area on Balfour Road just outside city limits. Of the 2,400 homes, 80% will be restricted to those 55 and older over a total of 555 acres. The project will also encompass commercial uses envisioned for agricultural and farm-to-table related civic and commercial uses and functions, community recreation uses, and at least 225 acres of open space. The entire build out of the project could take more than 20-years to complete.
According to the 792 page document, there is planned roadway improvements such as American Avenue would be extended to the west and north to reconnect to Balfour Road, creating a continuous loop road. Balfour road would also be widened from two lanes to four lanes.
The council’s only role Thursday was to pick an election date. This Initiative was launched with the intent that it would go directly to the voters for a decision.
The petitioner circulated a petition to voters within City Limits, on May 16, the petition was filed with the City Clerk and completed a review of signatures in which 5,120 had been collected. By May 31, Contra Costa County Elections certified the Initiative Petition which then allows the City Council to act on the petition.
With the completion and submission of a 9212 Report to the City Council, the council was required to call for an election—either a special election this year, or call for the election in the November 2020.
During Thursdays meeting, many residents voiced concerns that a November election was too soon and that people were not paying attention. By going to November of 2020, it would allow more voters to have a voice. They also voiced concerns against growth.
Sean McCauley, however, offered a different perspective than what many of the other public speakers were stating. He urged the council to move quickly.
“One thing I don’t understand is if they have 5,000 signatures, why don’t you want the people to vote on it?” asked McCauley. “Let them vote. If they vote it down, they vote it down. If they approve it, they approve it. It is what the citizens want. Put it on the ballot.”
McCauley also stated there was a bigger issue on the west end of Balfour which was Public Safety.
“There has been 27 accidents out there. Two of them ran into my gate. Two fatalities. I don’t understand why the people don’t want that road improved. When I moved out here, that is the same exact road it is today as it was 45-years ago. It has not changed, and something needs to happen fast,” stated McCauley. “How many more people need to die out there in order for people to understand it needs to be fixed. I don’t understand why people want to vote this down and don’t want development there and have four lanes stopped right at Country Club Plaza and funnel down to two lanes. It is a disaster everybody… it needs to be fixed. The only way the roads are going to be fixed is through development.”
Haley Currier of the Greenbelt Alliance, encouraged the council to place the initiative on the November 2020 General Election Ballot because of the Democratic Process calling it more “equitable choice” which results in a higher voter turnout. She also highlighted the public needs time to digest the documents while sharing her concerns that the developer has agreed to fund a special election. She noted the developer preferred a special election because of the lower turnout and believed they would be more successful based on the lower voter turnout.
Kathy Griffin spoke about the impacts of the project.
“What Blackhawk-Nunn is proposing is basically to build their own mini-city and yet they want to annex into Brentwood,” said Griffith who encouraged the council to send this to the general election and pointed out all the flexibility the report will provide to the developers such as market conditions and how residential development may be permitted.
Bob Nunn read a letter into the record submitted by Save Mount Diablo that was sent to the mayor and city manager stating the only purpose tonight was when to have an election.
Nunn stated through the letter that save Mount Diablo has been “actively engaged” and noted the land that could be protected is of “extremely high conservation and aesthetic value” while stating support for placing the Initiative on the November 2019 ballot.
Annette Beckstrand highlighted how several years ago when they were in a crisis with regional transportation Blackhawk-Nunn stepped forward and pay the developer fees and roadways fees at hundreds of thousands of dollars years in advance of pulling a shovel out.
“They do want to do the right thing,” said Beckstrand. “The improvements they made at Balfour Road and America Ave they said they will do before they pull a building permit, they will do. In my experience, they will do. Fire safety, we will see substantial improvements in these services but if we don’t have this money on the table that comes from this project, we won’t.”
Beckstrand stated she had faith in Brentwood voters as 70% vote absentee and do their homework while stating there was no reason to push this project backwards.
Matt Beinke of Blackawk-Nunn reminded the community that tonight was about process, not the project and they were requesting the initiative go on the November 2019 ballot. If approved, they will embark on a public planning process with the Planning Commission and City Council.
“You have heard from the opposition group who have a lot of people here tonight, so they have done a good job, a lot of familiar faces from prior hearings where this has been a stop the process atmosphere and tonight it is a delay the process atmosphere,” stated Beinke. “They are a no tonight, and they will oppose it later. So, what is the difference, lets vote now. If the no is a no, we are done. We go away.”
The council then weighed in.
Councilman Johnny Rodriguez scolded those in attendance.
He explained how he was “disappointed and frustrating to see people yell when people are talking when the other side is not doing that to them. I think one of the things about this community that I have known for all my life is that regardless of where you come from you should respect everybody that is up there speaking. On top of that, that is the beauty of this process that if you disagree with somebody that is fine but at the end of the day at least you can respect each other.”
Councilwoman Karen Rarey stated she received 40-emails supporting a special election while 19 were against a special election. She combined all those who spoke on the topic, she had 50 in support of a special election and 36 in favor of a general election.
Rarey responded that she understood that people needed time to read the EIR which was 792 pages from 4:00 pm yesterday to this meeting today while doing research—she called it a task.
Rarey then shared her frustrations with social media.
“I have been watching social media and trying to stay out of the conversations as I try to talk to people privately. I don’t say anything online, under the Brown Act I am not allowed to do that so I need to do things privately,” explained Rarey. “But I have watched how telephone talk happens and that a conversation about how Brentwood finances are happening, were in the black, we are doing great, we have a 30% reserve, we have a budget stabilization fund but I am being told we are in the red that we need this money because we are in the red and we need to be able to pay our bills. I just watch how the telephone talk goes and nobody looks at the facts. People go off what they have read on social media and it keeps getting degraded, by degraded by degraded. Since March, we have had 9 news articles… of that, we have had 2 network news stories on this. All of those have been publicized on Google News.”
“I get frustrated when somebody says its your obligation to put those who put you in office. That is right, for those that put me in office. Like I said, I read the numbers off for those who were in favor and those that are against as well as the people who got up to speak in favor or against, and if we were basing it strictly on that the numbers would say the public is saying we should put it in a special election, but that is not what it is about,” said Rarey who noted they had 4,138 people sign a ballot. (EDITORS NOTE: She meant to say 5,100)
She further continued saying of those that signed the ballot, only two people told her they signed it because they wanted more information. She explained how they heard people claim they were lied to, but no one has told her that they didn’t know what they were signing.
“If we look at the date that this was submitted in May to the elections office and extrapolate that out to a General Election in 2020, we are looking at 18-months from when these people signed this petition,” said Rarey. “We will have to wait in order to wait on it, it could fail… We are turning neighbor against neighbor; we are attacking each other from both sides. What do you think is going to happen in 18-months when we continue to attack each other.”
Rarey then stated if people wanted to read the documents, it would average 17 pages per day until the election—about 45-minutes per day. She then broke down the documents further by highlighting if one was to read the full document over more than 1,000 pages, it came out to 37 pages per day.
“I am concerned that misinformation. We are watching telephone talk where social media is being construed and put out as if it is real information. It is not real information. Both sides. I am not saying it is one side or the other,” said Rarey. “I would like to see if we do a special election, that we do 2-3 workshops between now and a special election for these people who want information and don’t understand the document… I’d like to see it whether we do a special election or a general election.”
Councilwoman Claudette Staton stated one of the things she heard was there was not enough information but by law this initiative will be on the ballot.
“I am not taking a position on the initiative, but I have a problem and I am not in favor of spending our citizens money to help a developer put an initiative on the ballot. That money can be used for some of the concerns I’ve heard here today,” said Staton stating public safety, seniors, new playground equipment. “I am not in favor of spending our citizens money to help a developer put an initiative on the ballot. The voters are the one who are going to make the decision.”
Staton said the information is available and a summary and ballot sent to every registered voter in the city.
Rodriguez asked city staff if the city is having to pay for this special election or any of it because he was under the impression the city was not paying for any of this.
City Manager Gus Vina stated the sponsor is paying for a special election, not the city, and per the staff report, the city council would then allow the city manager to negotiate and the agreement was in place.
Rodriguez then asked Vina to confirm no tax dollars would be used for this election. Vina confirmed.
The crowd then erupted for further confirmation because it would be a negotiation between Brentwood and the developer. Brentwood Police then warned many members of the public or they would be removed.
Vina then restated his comment.
“The developer will pay for a special election for November 2019,” said Vina.
Vice Mayor Joel Bryant stated this decision will impact all 63,000 residents in Brentwood as well as business and schools noting their decision tonight was a special election in November or in the 2020 General Election.
Bryant stated he wanted every voter to weigh in on this because this decision belongs to the voters because it requires the moving of the Urban Limit Line.
“If the voters want this, this will pass. If the voters don’t want it, it will not pass,” said Bryant. “Most of you are probably aware of what has or hasn’t passed in the last 20-years. You probably are the ones to cause it to happen or not happen. That is the democratic process. That is what a Republic is about.”
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor, who was calling in from Tennessee, said the citizens of Brentwood will make the decision. He agreed with Rarey that there needs to be some workshops because he wanted people to be informed.
Bryant then made the motion to move forward with a November 5, 2019 Special Election where the City manager would negotiate with the petitioner to cover the cost of the election. The motion was seconded by Rodriguez.
In a roll call vote, the Council voted 5-0.
Below was taken from the Staff Report
Option A (November 5, 2019)
If the special election option is selected, staff would request the Council adopt a Resolution calling and giving notice of an election, as required by the provisions of the laws of the State of California relating to general law cities and for the submission to the voters a question; setting priorities for filing written arguments regarding a City initiative; directing the City Attorney to prepare an impartial analysis and directing the City Attorney and City Clerk to prepare the necessary documents to place the initiative on the ballot; and requesting the Board of Supervisors of the County of Contra Costa to hold the election.
Staff has received estimates from the Elections Department for a special election ranging from $3.00 to $5.00 per registered voter, for an estimated cost of between $104,232 and $173,870. The sponsor has indicated they would reimburse the City for costs associated with a special election. Should Council choose this option, staff would request Council provide authorization to negotiate an agreement with the sponsors of the Initiative for reimbursement of costs associated with the election as a part of the accompanying resolution.
Option B ( November 3, 2020)
Should Council select to hold the election on the next General Municipal Election, staff would request that Council adopt a Resolution calling and giving notice of an election, as required by the provisions of the laws of the State of California relating to general law cities and for the submission to the voters a question; setting priorities for filing written arguments regarding a City initiative; directing the City Attorney to prepare an impartial analysis and directing the City Attorney and City Clerk to prepare the necessary documents to place the initiative on the ballot; and requesting the Board of Supervisors of the County of Contra Costa to hold the election on the established November 2020 election date.
Staff has received estimates from the Elections Department for the cost of adding an Initiative to the next General Municipal election. These estimates range from $1.25 to $1.75 per registered voter, for an estimated cost of between $43,467 and $60,584.
The costs of the various options before Council tonight are estimated below:
Option A Special Election: $104,232 – $173,870
Option B General Election: $43,467 – $60,584
The costs identified above will be paid by the General Fund; however, as part of the accompanying resolutions, staff is requesting authority from the Council to enter into an agreement with the sponsors of the Initiative for reimbursement of the costs of a special election.
While under the law the City does not have the ability to require an initiative’s sponsors to fund election costs, the sponsor of the Initiative has verbally agreed to repay the City for costs associated with a special election, should one be ordered, and have indicated their willingness to execute a reimbursement agreement contemplated by this staff report. Similarly, the sponsor of the Initiative had verbally agreed to repay the City for the preparation of the 9212 report, and such an agreement has been executed allowing the city to recoup the entire cost of the 9212 report, estimated to be $60,000.
Given the variety of costs and options available to the City Council, along with the potential for reimbursement of costs from the proponent, staff has not included a budget amendment with this report. Any necessary budget adjustments resulting from this process will be included in the mid-year budget report to Council in January 2020.