Contra Costa growth measure finally finds a champion

For a while, Contra Costa County’s much-ballyhooed growth initiative was headed for the Nov. 7 ballot with no one at the campaign helm.

But today, Martinez City Councilman Mark Ross officially formed a Measure J campaign committee that will promote the next generation urban growth boundary in Contra Costa County. His wife, Dianne Dunlap, will serve as its treasurer.

The measure extends until 2036 an urban growth boundary that voters originally adopted nearly two decades ago. It was imposed on the county in a voter-approved, 2004 half-cent transportation sales tax, which conditioned local agencies’ receipt of their road maintenance money on the adoption of the boundary.

The county and its cities fought bitterly for almost two years over where to place the line, eventually prompting Antioch and Pittsburg voters to adopt their own lines last year. Both allowed expansions of the line that county leaders opposed.

An urban limit line redirects new homes, businesses and shops into areas with existing infrastructure and stems suburban sprawl.

Ironically, the resulting line that voters will see in November was the product of so much compromise that almost no one emerged from the process with much enthusiasm. The environmentalists felt it didn’t go far enough, while property rights advocates view the line as an unfair restriction on the use of their properties.

The Board of Supervisors placed the line on the ballot but government agencies are not permitted to use taxpayer dollars on political campaigns except to provide factual information. In most cases where public agencies agree to put issues to the voters, private citizens or elected officials acting on their own form campaign committees and raise money.

The board voted on the measure months ago but until today, it had no campaign organizers and to date, there is no opposition force, either.

Barring a significant no-campaign, few expect the measure to lose. The urban limit line is wildly popular in Contra Costa County.

And cities stand to lose a great deal if it fails: Each receives a share, based on population, of the sales tax proceeds to use for local road repairs. It amounts to millions of dollars at a time when communities face deteriorating roads and declining sources of cash.

“We don’t want to take voters for granted,” Ross said. “We need to tell them why they should vote for this measure and why it’s important for the future of the county.”

Lisa Vorderbrueggen