City looking into new law about BART development

A new law allowing BART to build homes near its stations will likely affect several projects in Concord – including redevelopment of the Naval Weapons Station and around the downtown  station.

The law puts the city at odds with the perceived needs of the greater Bay Area and those of Assemblyman Tim Grayson of Concord, who co-sponsored the bill with Assemblyman David Chiu of Sacramento.

Jennifer Ortega, Concord’s community relations manager, said city officials are working on an analysis of Assembly Bill 2923 to understand its impact. The Concord City Council had sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown opposing the bill, which Brown signed on Sept. 30.

“Land use regulation is a constitutionally granted local government function of cities and counties,” Mayor Edi Birsan said in the letter. “Every community has unique needs and characteristics that are best met by policies set by its local elected governing body; in Concord, that body is the City Council – not the BART Board of Directors in Oakland.”

The Concord City Council said the bill is trying to “solve a problem that does not exist,” noting the Concord officials have worked “diligently” to develop higher-density housing near the city’s two BART stations.

“In the last 10 years, Concord has processed, approved and/or is considering over 2,500 housing units within a half-mile radius of the downtown Concord BART station and almost 4,400 within one mile,” Birsan wrote.

The mayor said the city has been working with BART to facilitate development at the North Concord station as part of the weapons station project. “We are very concerned that AB 2923 would allow BART to take control of this now-vacant land through eminent domain …. disregarding the master planning underway for this new community after tens of thousands of community outreach hours.”

Grayson noted that the bill had an “amazing” coalition of supporters, including the state Building and Construction Trades Council, the California League of Conservation Voters and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“By signing this bill into law, the governor is sending a powerful message to residents throughout the Bay Area that the same old ‘Not In My Back Yard’ arguments will no longer be able to drown out their voices and calls for more affordable housing,” Grayson said.

Although the BART board took a “neutral” stance on the bill, BART general manager Grace Crunican said its passage addresses “the urgent need to build housing now. At BART, we could not agree more.”

AB 2923 could mean more than 20,000 new transit-oriented homes for the Bay Area. BART would have to incorporate local design guidelines into development agreements. “I want to assure community leaders and residents that BART is committed to continuing our collaborative approach,” Crunican said.