Kyle Szymanski, The Brentwood Press, August 29, 2019
The hotly contested debate over the proposed urban limit line expansion initiative in Brentwood is heating up even more, with both sides recently submitting their official ballot arguments in advance of November’s community vote.
The proposed measure — spearheaded by a group of local developers, including longtime Brentwood farmer and developer Ron Nunn — would move the mark at which urban development must stop, clearing the way for a proposed 815-acre project of up to 2,400 residential units (at least 80% age-restricted, active adult-specific), with other elements, situated north of Balfour Road, east of Deer Valley Road and west of the Shadow Lakes and Brentwood Hills neighborhoods.
The measure’s proponents and the official initiative opposition party — the Alliance for a Better Brentwood citizen action group — have submitted their respective arguments and official rebuttals to their opponents’ arguments, with the dueling viewpoints scheduled to appear in ballot materials for the Nov. 5 special election.
“You’ll see in the ballot pamphlet their arguments for, our argument against, our rebuttal to their ‘for’ and their rebuttal to our ‘against,’” said Brentwood resident Kathy Griffin, creator of the action group. “That is very advantageous for us.”
Griffin, whose opposition group is now an official political action committee, indicated her contingent will present the project as a detriment to the area, further straining fire and emergency medical services, worsening traffic, burdening schools, raising the area’s job-to-housing imbalance, cause irreversible environmental damage and removing city control of the project.
“Because this initiative becomes law, it removes the ability for Brentwood residents and our city government to control the project,” Griffin said. “It removes or overrides all of the controls, because they are embedded in the initiative.”
Griffin notes the current resource-stretched, three-station fire district already struggles to meet appropriate response times, and the current state of affairs has caused homeowners’ insurance rates to rise.
Additionally, she points to an independent report on the project’s impacts — ordered by the city council earlier this year — which suggests the potential additional homes will contribute to existing and ongoing capacity issues at Brentwood schools, and add 14,970 additional daily vehicle trips in the area, possibly affecting several Brentwood intersections.
Measure leaders, however, contend the project will address concerns and benefit the community.
They say it will add $175,000,000 in direct revenue to critical public services, including funding for fire district staffing and a new station, road construction and water line extensions; create hundreds of permanent local jobs, including over 200 healthcare careers at John Muir and Kaiser; facilitate the widening of Balfour Road and extension of American Avenue; preserve 225 acres of land on the subject property itself, in addition to 1,500 acres of open space between Brentwood and Mount Diablo; and provide millions of dollars for schools, while not adding “many students” to Brentwood schools.
“This measure, should it pass, is an economic engine for the City of Brentwood and for East Contra Costa Fire,” said Steve Beinke, a member of the development group, last week.
The group is in the process of hashing out a memorandum of understanding involving fire protection for the potential housing project.
Additionally, the proposed project incorporates several roadway improvements, including extending American Avenue, which currently terminates in front of Adams Middle School, to form an additional intersection with Balfour Road.
Widening of Balfour Road is also listed in the plans, from near its intersection with American Avenue to the southwestern corner of the project site. Deer Valley Road safety improvements would also be included, according to project documents.
Griffin, however, questions the merits of the stated benefits.
The California Highway Patrol, in a letter to the city as part of the project environmental impact report process, stated it believes additional improvements are needed to State Route 4 to address the traffic impacts.
“Without substantial infrastructure upgrades, this project could have a negative impact on our operations due to the increased traffic congestion, which could lead to a potential increase in traffic collisions; increased response times; delays in emergency services; and a negative impact to the safe movement of people, services, and commerce within our jurisdiction,” the agency stated in the letter.
Eric Volta, superintendent of the Liberty Union High School District, has also questioned the benefit of the American Avenue upgrades.
“In my opinion, I don’t believe a loop road would have much of an impact, due to the fact that the same number of cars would be going through the Balfour/American Ave./ West Country Club intersection,” he said. “My opinion is based on the number of times I’ve driven on Balfour to Heritage and Adams as a parent and school employee. However, I do recognize that I am not a traffic engineer.”
Beinke, however, recently pointed out that the improvements are a matter of safety, with currently only one way in and one way out of the schools.
“We are actually proposing adding a loop road so that if something does happen there, that there is a way in and a way out,” he said.