Tassajara Valley housing plan gets Contra Costa County’s OK

Tassajara Valley housing plan gets Contra Costa County’s OK

To allow a 125-home development on 30 acres in Tassajara Valley, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 4-1 to stretch the urban limit line east of Blackhawk that voters set in 1990.

Developers have long sought to build homes there, and the latest proposal — by FT Land, LLC — swayed the supervisors to go along largely because the landowner promised to dedicate 727 acres for open space.

At least four of the supervisors had to approve the move because subdivisions aren’t otherwise allowed beyond cities’ urban boundaries. Supervisor Candace Andersen dissented.

Supervisors agreed that although their decision will allow development to stretch farther out, it ensures that a much larger swath of open space will remain, staving off the specter of a far more expansive housing project years down the road. The 727 acres will be dedicated to the East Bay Regional Park District.

“One of the things we wanted to do with the urban limit line is end sprawl development,” Supervisor Federal Glover said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Certainly the gifting of 700-and-some-odd acres would actually serve that purpose.”

Joe Calabrigo (bottom right), the Danville city manager, addresses the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday over plans to build 125 new homes in the Tassajara Valley, which is located east of the city. (Screenshot) 

The project has drawn the ire of conservationists and some environmental groups, such as the Greenbelt Alliance and the Sierra Club. An online petition with more than 5,000 signatures warns that shifting the urban limit line sets a precedent that threatens an additional 9,000 acres of open space. According to the ballot measure voters approved in 2006, though, the urban limit line can only be changed for parcels up to 30 acres at a time by a four-fifths vote of county supervisors.

Getting water to the homes could be a problem, however. The East Bay Municipal Utility District, which would need to expand its service area to supply water to the homes, has said it doesn’t have the capacity to do so, especially in drought years.

“The drought highlights the importance of preserving water sources of supply, including any remaining conservation for current and future customers in our service boundary,” Dave Rehnstrom, a manager at the district, said at the meeting.

Project representatives pressed the board to focus on land use, and not water, in determining the development’s fate.

“While water is a critical issue, it’s not the only concern,” said Nadia Costa, an attorney for developer FT Land, LLC. “The county does not have the luxury to ignore other considerations, like satisfying its housing obligations, protecting open space in perpetuity and preserving agricultural lands.”

Undeveloped land is seen in Contra Costa County near Danville, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group) 

Supervisor Andersen didn’t buy the argument. Although the property lies within Supervisor Diane Burgis’ district, Andersen represents San Ramon and Danville, which are directly west of Tassajara Valley.

In addition to a four-fifths vote, movement of the urban limit line also hinged on the crucial legal condition that the “majority of cities” involved in the developers’ agreement to preserve open space need to support it.

San Ramon, the only city included in the agreement, favored developing outside the urban boundary. Danville staunchly opposed the project, but it was omitted from the final agreement after participating in early discussions, City Manager Joe Calabrigo said at the meeting.

Andersen seized on that point to warn that the project ultimately may not hold up legally, since, as Calabrigo said, “one is not a majority of two.”

“I don’t believe that this end justifies the means of how we’re going about (expanding the boundary),” Andersen said. ” If we’re going to move the urban limit line, I really think it should be up to the voters… I feel this method that we’re using is very contrived.”

In an interview Wednesday, Calabrigo said the Danville council will soon discuss its next options for potentially challenging the project.

“We were left out of the (preservation) agreement because if they included us, then the board wouldn’t be able to make the finding they needed to make,” Calabrigo said.

The county’s Planning Commission last month recommended in a 4-2 vote that the supervisors reject the proposal, saying any new housing in the county should be built much closer to existing developments inside the urban boundary.

The developer received union support after promising to hire local labor for the homes’ construction. And park district officials were enthusiastic about the promise of open space that can almost never be touched once its dedicated for preservation.

“If you really want to preserve property, you have to buy it or you have to have it dedicated,” Bob Doyle, the retired former general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, said at the meeting.

Some neighboring residents who called into Tuesday’s meeting were also supportive of the project.

Related Posts