Contra Costa County has become California's eighth-largest county. We have seen an explosion of residential development that far exceeded our ability to keep up with the demand for public services, including roads, schools and public protection.
Today, many of our communities continue to struggle with the changes and demands on our physical and social infrastructures that have come from growing so quickly.
To try and protect our rapidly disappearing open space along with at least some of our agricultural heritage, dramatic action was needed.
For nearly 14 years, our county has enjoyed the protections afforded by our adoption of a new limit line on growth and development, our own Urban Limit Line (ULL). That line protects and preserves land across our county, but today, in a misleading and desperate attack, those long-held protections may soon be lost for thousands of acres in the Tassajara Valley.
Shortly after being elected to the Board of Supervisors, we were faced with traffic predictions from the Contra Costa Transportation Authority showing a minimum 200 percent increase in commute traffic just from developments that had already been approved across the county.
We had expert projections showing the demand this growth was going to place on law enforcement, schools and other support services, and we knew the resources were not there to meet them.
Today, from one end of our county to the other, we see the truth in those predictions as we struggle with increases in congestion, crime, pollution and deterioration in our streets, schools. Local governments are forced to the ballot to ask voters for higher taxes and fees just to keep up with the ever-increasing demands from their residents.
Working alongside planning experts and with public input and support, we developed a plan that adjusted the voter-approved Urban Limit Line later that year and protected more than 14,000 agricultural acres in far East County and the Tassajara Valley from urbanization.
While not solving the problem of all that we knew was coming, we were able to keep it from growing even worse.
To their credit, Contra Costa voters have rebuffed efforts by developers in Brentwood and San Ramon to break those lines and destroy what is left of our valuable agricultural lands and open space.
Today, with another economic boom fueling a demand for more expensive "high-end" housing, longtime proponents of the so called "New Farm" project in Tassajara Valley are making their boldest and most cynical move yet.
These developers are proposing to develop 30 acres outside of the urban limit line; and they say if given this exemption, they will protect the remaining portion of the Tassajara Valley owned by other property owners using a "preservation agreement." They are using this non-binding agreement, as well as designating park land, to gain support or silence from the park district and local environmental groups.
The Board of Supervisors will have to find, by a four-fifths vote, that this development meets a very narrow exception with the voter-approved ULL. These very narrow exceptions were intended to be used only when they could be found to be in the public interest, not in the interest of developers who want to build multimillion-dollar homes
While there's not enough space here to explore all of the legal issues, of which there are many, we don't believe that the public will be fooled by this charade, and certainly hope that the Board of Supervisors won't be, either.
Violating the line with this project sets a dangerous precedent that developers can and will use to bypass our long-standing, voter approved, agricultural protections.
As the original authors of these protections, we urge the public to share their concerns with the Board of Supervisors and urge them to hold the line.
Donna Gerber and Joe Canciamilla are both former members of the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.