Year in review: from BART to blight, and beyond

The city’s 150th birthday party, complete with a new statue of Don Salvio Pacheco, was among the news highlights in Concord this past year.
Here’s a look at the top stories from the pages of the Pioneer:


A decision on districts: To comply with the California Voting Rights Act, the Concord City Council voted on Jan. 2 to make the switch to district election races. The council then approved a map of the districts on Feb. 27, with the new districts going into effect for the November council election. Going forward, the council will hold several “best practices” workshops on how to work together under the new format.


Butting heads over BART: State Assemblyman Tim Grayson of Concord announced in February that he was co-authoring a bill that would force cities to allow housing on BART-owned land. Concord city officials opposed the plan, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Sept. 30. Concord Mayor Edi Birsan said the law could greatly reduce the role of city government. “Land use regulation is a constitutionally granted local government function of cities and counties,” he said.

In the swim: Olympic medalist Natalie Coughlin was on hand as Carondelet High School dedicated an Aquatics Center in her name. The center is part of a new Athletics Complex in the former Club-Sport Valley Vista. “I am so happy to see that this new facility will result in greater equity for female athletes, and truly, for all current and future students,” said Coughlin, a 2000 graduate.


Easy ridin’: On March 12, the city’s Infrastructure and Franchise Committee reviewed a $27 million street repair plan. The budget includes $4 million over five years for repair of potholes and base failures, in addition to maintenance already performed by Public Works. “These potholes generate a significant number of complaints,” said Aldrich Bautista, an associate civil engineer for the city.


Monitoring police response: Last spring, the Police Department ordered 154 bodycams for officers and 67 cameras for police cars. The $1.5 million system can record video and audio evidence to review intense situations. “Any piece of equipment that gives us a better idea of what transpires during a police action is more than worth the price,” said Police Chief Guy Swanger. Original plans called for the cameras to be in the field by September, however, now Swanger expects them to be ready by Christmas.

Fire under investigation: A $55 million, three-alarm fire on April 24 destroyed a downtown apartment building under construction. On May 30, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced it was arson. Surveillance video shows a slender figure in a white hooded sweatshirt jumping the fence and entering the building carrying what appeared to be a bag. About a minute later, he ran out of the building and vaulted the fence – just ahead of bright flashes coming from inside. He was not carrying the bag. The Legacy Partners’ Renaissance Square Phase 2 was about 60 percent complete before the fire; reconstruction of the 180 units on Galindo Street is currently underway.

New rules for cannabis: The Concord City Council established a Commercial Cannabis Overlay District that allows for the manufacture of medical cannabis, along with testing for both medical and recreational use. A flurry of amendments watered down the plan at the April 10 meeting. “We are starting slow. There are too many loose ends,” Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister told the Pioneer. According to Mayor Carlyn Obringer, the city has approved two licenses for medicinal manufacturing and two companies are currently applying for them. Recreational pot remains unregulated.


Changes at charter: Clayton Valley Charter High School Executive Director David Linzey and his wife Eileen Linzey, employed by the school as chief program officer, abruptly resigned under pressure from the board on May 11. As the new school year began in August, the school welcomed Jim Scheible as the new executive director. Board chair Kristy Downs said the school board was impressed with his “passion for student success and the enthusiasm he will bring to lead our staff and school community.” Both Linzey and his wife, Eileen, are under investigation by the district attorney for financial transactions disscovered during a forensic audit by the County Board of Education.

Field of soccer dreams: Local developer Mark Hall came to the Concord City Council on May 22 to extoll his vision for downtown: a 15,000-18,000 seat soccer stadium for a Division II professional team, a convention center, hotels, retail, office and multi-family units. “The team and the stadium give us an important component in the creation of an expanded, family-oriented, regional soccer ecosystem,” Hall said. The council asked Hall to continue researching the $600,000-$750,000 million plan, including conversations with BART about its downtown property. Mayor Carlyn Obringer said she expects Hall to bring the issue back to the council in early 2019 for further discussion.


Uproar over detention center: Citizens and government officials jumped into action after Time magazine published a leaked Navy memo reporting that Concord could house a detention center for 47,000 migrants. A huge crowd attended a special City Council meeting on June 27 to discuss the issue – then Community Reuse Planning Director Guy Bjerke found out the proposal was dead. “There will be no relocation camps in Concord or California,” he told a cheering crowd.

A boost for bike safety: The city installed new green bike lanes and bike boxes on Grant Street at the intersections with Willow Pass Road, Concord Boulevard and Clayton Road. “We appreciate the city’s work to build bike routes, and we look forward to expanding the network of safe transportation for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles to move through the city together,” Maryam Roberts of Bike Concord wrote in her Pioneer column.


Party on the Plaza: Residents gathered in Todos Santos Plaza to celebrate the 150th birthday of Concord and Independence Day together. The festivities included the unveiling of a statue of Don Salvio Pacheco, one of the city’s founding fathers. Councilman Ron Leone came up with the idea and worked with the Historical Society to raise funds. “I figured the statue would be a great way to celebrate the 150th anniversary,” he said.


A taxing turn of events: The City Council voted against placing a half-cent extension to Measure Q on the November ballot. The plan needed a 4-1 vote to pass, and only three council members were in favor. Passed in 2010 and extended in 2016, Measure Q has been a fiscal lifesaver for the city.

Viva la Veranda: The Concord Chamber of Commerce celebrated the city’s newest shopping center, naming the Veranda as Business of the Year. “At 375,000 sq. ft., the Veranda provides a diverse collection of tenants and also offers a place to bring your family to enjoy the choreographed water fountain and play structure, go ice skating in the winter, see a new movie and dine out,” chamber president Marilyn Fowler said.


Campus consideration: As part of the effort to bring a 120-acre university campus to Concord, the city formed a Blue Ribbon Committee of regional stakeholders. “This process allows for a lot of different content, ideas and discussion to take place,” consultant Daniel Iacofano told the City Council in June. Mayor Carlyn Obringer is spearheading the committee, which had its first meeting in September with 16 members. “We’re still in the conceptual stage,” said Obringer, who expects to bring a proposal to the council this spring.


Good cheers and good beer: The city’s first Oktoberfest filled Todos Santos Plaza with family fun, music and, of course, a beer tent on Oct. 12-13. The Brewing Network’s Justin Crossley hosted the family-friend event as a counter to his more adult-oriented Spring Brews. “Attendees raved about short lines, great food, an elaborate kids’ area and an abundance of craft beer,” Crossley said.

The war on blight: After the City Council rejected a plan that would more broadly define “blight” and increase penalties, they asked staff to better estimate the costs of the program and address the impact of enforcement on businesses. In June, the council said the current, complaint-driven code was too passive. The Housing and Economic Development Committee later decided to take a step back and work on communication, according to its chair, Mayor Carlyn Obringer. “Some centers that had a lot of code enforcement issues also had a lot of owners that did not speak English,” she noted. “We need to communicate better with them what we’re trying to accomplish.” Through a reallocation of resources in October, the city assigned one Code Enforcement officer to conduct shopping center outreach – in partnership with an Economic Development staff member. “We are trying to take more of a positive, proactive approach as opposed to issuing citations,” Obringer said.


Honoring fallen warriors: The Contra Costa Blue Star Moms continues its effort to place 12 monuments at local high schools to honor those who died in war. On Jan. 9, the group memorialized Army Capt. John L. Hallett III and Senior Airman Jonathan A. Vega Yelner at De La Salle. As the year progressed, they honored Clayton Valley graduate Major James. M Ahearn and Army PFCs Scott Barnett and Benjamin T. Zieske of Olympic High. Memorials also stand at Mt. Diablo, Concord High, Ygnacio Valley and Berean Christian. Inspired by the group’s efforts, the East Bay chapter placed their first monument at California High in San Ramon on Nov. 27. “The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Contra Costa co-chair Carol Prell. “With this project, we hope to ensure the sacrifice of our fallen and their families will never be forgotten nor taken for granted.”