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Current Council Agenda and Past Meeting Information

Past Agendas
December 14, 1999
Community Development
Review and Comment on Notice of

(Mitch Oshinsky)

Preparation of an Environmental Impact
Report for Contra Costa County General
Plan Amendment for Potential Modifications to the Urban Limit Line



COMMENTS:  The City has received a formal Notice of Preparation (NOP) (attached) from the County regarding an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to be prepared to analyze the proposed Urban Limit Line (ULL) modifications which the Board of Supervisors has been discussing for some time.  The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that an NOP be sent to all persons, organizations and agencies which may be affected by an action for which an EIR will be prepared.  Comments can then be made by those sent an NOP, and the EIR preparers' are to consider those comments. 

Summary of Key Points in the NOP

The ULL derives from the County General Plan (1991).  The line implements the Contra Costa 65/35 Land Preservation Plan ordinance (Measure C), an initiative approved by voters countywide in 1990.  The Measure C Plan is intended to carry out voters’ desire to both preserve agriculture and open space land, parks, wetlands, hillsides and ridgelines, manage growth to protect the quality of life, and provide for the County’s fair share of affordable housing.

Measure C provides that the ULL “shall limit potential urban development in the County to 35% of the land in the County and shall prohibit the County from designating any land located outside the ULL for an urban use.”  For lands outside the ULL to be developed would require a General Plan Amendment to adjust the location of the ULL.

Lands eligible for location outside the ULL include the following:

·        Land having Class I or II agricultural soil.

·        Open space, parks and recreation areas.

·        Land with slopes over 26%.

·        Wetlands

·        Other areas not appropriate for urban growth because of physical unsuitability for development, unstable geological conditions, inadequate water availability, the lack of infrastructure, distance from existing development, likelihood of substantial environmental damage or substantial injury to fish or wildlife or habitat, and other similar factors.

Procedure for Modification of the ULL

The ULL can be changed by a vote of the people, or by 4/5 vote of the Board of Supervisors after holding a public hearing, subject to making one or more of the findings listed below.

Required Findings

One or more of the following findings, based on substantial evidence in the record, must be made in order to modify the ULL:

1.      a natural or man-made disaster or public emergency has occurred which warrants the provision of housing and/or other community needs within land located outside the ULL;

2.      an objective study has determined that the ULL is preventing the County from providing its fair share of affordable housing, or regional housing, and the Board finds that a change to the ULL is necessary and the only feasible means to enable the County to meet these requirements of state law;

3.      a majority of the cities that are party to a preservation agreement and the County have approved a change to the ULL affecting all or any portion of the land covered by the preservation agreement;

4.      a minor change to the ULL will more accurately reflect topographical characteristics or legal boundaries;

5.      a five year periodic review of the ULL has determined, based on the criteria and factors for establishing the ULL, that new information is available (from city or county growth management studies or otherwise) or circumstances have occurred, that warrant a change to the ULL;

6.      an objective study has determined that a change to the ULL is necessary or desirable to further the economic viability of the East Contra Costa County Airport, and either mitigate adverse aviation related environmental or community impacts attributable to Buchanan Field, or further the County’s aviation related needs; or

7.      a change is required to conform to applicable state or federal law.


If any of the potential ULL modifications under study is implemented, that boundary change would presumably support and reinforce the initial purpose of the ULL, such that any land that is shifted from one side of the ULL to the other would be found more appropriately classified after the modification than it was previously.

ULL Changes Affecting Brentwood

As stated in the NOP:

            “Following the Board of Supervisors’ January authorization of the General Plan Amendment study of possible ULL modifications, the East County cities of Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley, and Brentwood were given an opportunity to propose changes in the location of the ULL in the East County that would reduce the amount of land available for their urban expansion under the current General Plan or accept a modification of the ULL to coincide generally with southern boundaries of the four cities.


            The September Board of Supervisors’ direction sets forth a “proposal” that either coincides with the city’s southern boundaries or involves only a slight (underlining added) departure from those boundaries, placing land area outside the ULL, and an “alternative” that generally leaves a larger area within the ULL.


            These choices, to be addressed at an equivalent level of analysis, are presented as numbered options in the description of this set of potential modifications.


            The modifications under any of the options meet ULL modification criterion 5, above (five year review/changed circumstances).”


As shown on Figure 1E on page 13 of the NOP, the County would shift 2,981 acres to outside the ULL, to coincide with the boundaries of incorporated Brentwood on the west, south, and east, with two exceptions:

·        Along the southern boundary of Brentwood, most of Special Planning Area (SPA) J (Cowell Ranch) and all of SPA’s G and H would be moved outside the ULL; and

·        In northeast Brentwood, the ULL would be realigned to exclude the unincorporated area east to the city limit on the south side of Delta Road west and north of Marsh Creek.

Alternate Proposal

As shown on Figure 1F on page 14 of the NOP, the County would shift 2,349 acres to outside the ULL:

·        Along the southern boundary of Brentwood, the ULL would be as described for Figure 1E above, still putting most of SPA J (Cowell Ranch) outside the ULL;

·        On the southwest side of Brentwood south of Balfour Road, the ULL leave most of SPA’s G and H within the ULL, to include most of the land (the lower elevations and flatter areas) that lies within the ULL currently, leaving the westernmost portion of these lands (the hilly terrain) outside the ULL; and

·        In northeast Brentwood, the ULL would remain unchanged, so that the unincorporated area described in the second bullet above for Figure 1E would remain within the ULL.

Initial Study Comments

In reviewing the Initial Study prepared by the County for the EIR, it appears that there are some significant mistakes.  Potential effects of the ULL proposals on four of the most important items, land use, transportation, schools and housing, have all been found to have no impact by the County.  Each of these errors is discussed below:

1.  There is some conflict between the language used in CEQA and that used by the County.  Regarding Land Use and Planning on page 26 of the Initial Study, the County combined conflicts with land use plan or policy with avoiding environmental impacts.  This appears to be a miscue.  The suggested CEQA format asks if the proposal would conflict with general plan designation or zoning, then has a separate criteria for whether the proposal conflicts with applicable environmental plans or policies.  By combining these criteria, the County has excluded the single potential impact of conflict with land use plans or policies, by conditioning it that it also has to have been adopted for avoiding environmental impacts.  The County then finds no impact due to the ULL proposal.  If the questions had been separated as suggested by CEQA, the County should have answered that this would result in a potentially significant impact, because the County proposal would conflict with the Brentwood General Plan designation on SPA’s J, G and H, which allow for development.  The proposal to place these SPA’s outside the ULL would conflict with Brentwood General Plan land use plans and policies, because development would no longer be allowed.

In speaking to the County planning staff on December 6, 1999 they said this question should have been and/or.  That would separate the effect on a general plan from being bound up with avoiding or mitigating environmental effect, and therefore, the County should have found a potentially significant effect for this.  That means impacts on land use plans and policies would have to be examined in the EIR, a major point.

2.  Under Population and Housing, the County found no impact on inducement of substantial population growth in an area, because none of the affected land is general planned or zoned by the County for urban use.  That is true for the County (but as discussed above, City General Plan policies do allow urban uses), but could be changed to allow for residential use as long as the land is inside the ULL.  The action of the County to delete the land from the ULL would effectively eliminate the possibility of housing, therefore this item should have been found potentially significant, because deleting land from the potential housing stock in Brentwood could force a shift of housing to outlying areas in the San Joaquin Valley.  In raising this point to County staff, they noted their mistake.  They did find it could cause an indirect effect, and therefore should have found this impact potentially significant, rather than no impact.  Again, a major point to be included in the EIR.

3.  Under Public Services, the County found no impact on schools.  However, both SPA J and H contain High School designations on Brentwood’s General Plan.  Deleting these areas from the ULL would cause a potentially significant effect by decreasing the potential sites for a needed third High School.  The County should amend the Initial Study to reflect this major issue.

4.  For Transportation, the County also found no impact, however during my discussion with their staff, it was noted this was a mistake, and should have been checked potentially significant.

These four comments should be forwarded in writing to the County.  In addition, it would be appropriate for Council to provide their comments to me tonight, so that I can forward them to the County by the December 18 deadline.

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