Voters to decide if Brentwood’s boundary should expand for big housing project

Blackhawk Nunn proposes building 2,400 homes in next 20 years

Judith Prieve, East Bay Times, July 26, 2019

Original link

Brentwood voters will get to decide in a special election this November whether the city’s boundary should be extended so a developer can build a large subdivision just west of town over the next two decades.

Blackhawk Nunn Partners wants to build up to 2,400 homes — 80 percent for people 55 and older — at an 815-acre site that’s currently on the county side, west of the Shadow Lakes golf course community and north of Balfour Road.

Because boundary line extensions require voter approval, the developer took the first step this spring by collecting signatures from at least 10 percent of registered voters, which the Contra Costa County Elections Department later certified.

Though the City Council in late June had ordered an independent review of the proposal’s impacts, details of the just-completed report were barely mentioned at a special meeting Thursday. That’s because the City Council, per election law, could only accept the report and set a date for a special election or include the measure on the next general election ballot, in 2020.

A divided and impassioned crowd at the packed meeting spoke their piece on the proposal for more than three hours before the council unanimously approved a special election this fall. Proponents of that move wanted the issue settled in a timely manner, noting the project will bring construction jobs and road improvements. Opponents argued more time is needed to study the proposal and a general election is preferable to a special election.

“My opinion is that you put this election where the most people in Brentwood will have a voice because it is a very important issue,” resident Linda Smith said. “I think when most people will vote is when you do it … and that is the general election.”

Haley Currier, a Greenbelt Alliance representative, agreed. “Placing the initiative on the general election is the more democratic and equitable choice,” she said.

Currier noted that the public comment period for the draft environmental impact report ends on Sept. 3, giving little time for reading the documents, which number more than 2,000 pages.

Seemingly to underline that point, Rod Flohr of Alliance for Better Brentwood provided visual examples of the bulk of documents voters would need to sift through to make an informed decision.

“There’s nothing in this report that indicates that there’s any reason to rush this,” Flohr said.

John Darymple, however, said an earlier election would allow voters to focus more on the issue.

“Though it may be our wish that they will be more involved, the reality is that they are going to be smothered with mailer after mailer and our struggle is to try to get through to them on a particular issue and it’s incredibly hard,” he said. “The reality is, the best chance for a full democratic debate is to have it this November — when the focus will be on this issue.”

Local olive grower and developer Sean McCauley, who lives near the proposed development, said safety is a good reason to vote as early as possible because the developer has promised to make area road improvements.

“There is a bigger issue on the west end of Balfour (Road),” he said. “That road is today the same as it was 45 years ago….How many people need to die? That road needs to be fixed. Improve the road, and the only way that is going to happen is with development.”

Blackhawk Nunn plans to finish the loop of American Avenue, which runs past Heritage High School and dead-ends at Adams Middle School, causing traffic troubles. Developer Ron Nunn has said he and his partners would start that work as soon as the project begins.

The developer also would add two lanes on the north side of Balfour Road, where the new homes are planned.

Former Brentwood police officer Kevin King agreed that the developer’s promise to fix roads near Heritage High made a strong case for the earlier election.

“American Avenue and Balfour Road have been a problem since the opening of Heritage High,” he said. “… This project gives the city the ability to get that critical incident issue a chance to be at least partially resolved.”

After hearing more than 30 residents speak, the council finally got its chance but took only minutes.

Councilwoman Karen Rarey noted that the facts of the proposed development and issues surrounding it have been distorted on social media.

“We’re in the black –we’re doing great — but I’m being told we are in the red and need to pay our bills,” she said. “No one looks at the facts.”

Rarey said when she counted the emails and speakers, their preference was for a special election.

Councilwoman Claudette Stanton simply said she wasn’t in favor of spending public money to put the boundary line question on the ballot.

A special election this fall could cost between $104,232 and $173,870, while including the measure in the 2020 general election would take between $43,467 and $60,584, according to a city staff report. However, the developer has agreed to pay for the election if it’s held this fall, City Manager Gus Vina said.

What they all agreed on, though, was the need for workshops to inform voters about the proposal’s details.

“I want every voter to have an opportunity to weigh in on this,” Vice Mayor Joel Bryant said. “We have very smart voters – you know very clearly what you want Brentwood to be and you speak very loudly at the polls to let us know what you want. This belongs in the hands of the voters – that is the democratic process.”