Magazine News Volume 70, Issue 4

Housing Development in Unincorporated Walnut Creek Divides Community

By Lukas Carbone

Housing is a long pressing issue in California. Rents have sharply fallen in the Bay Area, associated with newly-minted telecommuters leaving for more affordable regions. According to RentCafe, an apartment listings website, the average price of a Walnut Creek rental listing on its website has fallen by 7% compared to December 2019, from $2,524 to $2,354 a month. According to Zumper, another rental listings website, rents are also falling much more sharply in other Bay Area cities, with Zumper describing a 20% decline in San Francisco rents as “among the largest yearly decreases Zumper has ever recorded in our history of tracking rental prices.” This pandemic has offered relief to some renters, but skyrocketing housing prices and displacement continue to characterize housing in California. The average price of a single-family home has now reached $706,500, the highest ever recorded, according to the Orange County Register, and just as some renters feel relief, millions of unemployed persons now fear eviction. Without federal rent relief or an extension and strengthening of eviction moratoriums, as many of one in 10 California residents face eviction, according to the Mercury News.

Closely associated with this housing crisis are some of the nation’s toughest political fights over housing. This includes discussions regarding housing developments that proponents say will alleviate the housing crisis, while others argue that housing developments are out of scale with community character and will fail to solve this housing crisis.

Each proposed zoning ordinance and development, though not necessarily earth-moving in their own right, exemplify in microcosm many of the development battles that occur in cities and suburbs and play an essential role in shaping the fabric of cities, now and in the future, and just as if not more importantly, in the lives and homes of their residents.

In unincorporated Walnut Creek and Contra Costa County, battles over zoning and individual developments have intensified in recent months. Battles over zoning in unincorporated Contra Costa County are growing as the County prepares its Envision Contra Costa 2040 Plan for unincorporated areas through 2040. East Bay for Everyone, a group that advocates for building more housing in historically wealthy areas, is one group seeking to influence this Plan. In a letter to the Contra Costa Planning Commission republished with permission and emailed to The Page, East Bay for Everyone described itself as “concerned about the lack of attention, and the lack of change, recommended for unincorporated Contra Costa County’s most advantaged communities, the ones with the highest area median income, specifically, Alamo, Castle Hill, Diablo, and Blackhawk [in the 2040 Plan].” Eight members of East Bay for Everyone signed this letter, including Kevin Burke, the letter’s primary author raised in Alamo, and Jessee Lovegood, a resident of Contra Costa Centre. The letter described its other six signatories as community members of Alameda, Berkeley, Danville, and Oakland.

Just as East Bay for Everyone is fighting to advance its goals at the larger County level, so too are neighbors fighting over individual developments in unincorporated Walnut Creek. One example of a controversial development is a proposed retirement community and senior living center at open space at Seven Hills Ranch, adjacent to Heather Farms Park.

Amongst other venues, the popular neighborhood website Nextdoor has served as a venue of discussion and comment for residents – many of whom, including all quoted in this piece, have agreed to republish their comments on this project to The Page.

Some commenters on Nextdoor have supported the project. Dave Cardinal said that “senior Housing is a great idea in the area [because it is] somewhere close so they can be close to town and services,” and that senior residents “are generally very quiet, very good neighbors.” Marillyn Cole agreed, and said, “One positive benefit of a senior development in this area is that it might be an attractive option to many seniors who would be willing to release their large single family homes to young families,” as did Chelsea Schaefer who said, “I have been looking for a bigger house for the past year for my growing family, and I have been disheartened at the prices, inventory, and competitiveness to buy to say the least…[and] we desperately need more housing of all kinds to solve this housing crises, in my opinion.”

Others vociferously opposed the project, citing concerns of traffic, open space, schools, and a general anger over what they considered overdevelopment. 

For example, Chen Liang said that “[Walnut Creek residents] should all stand up and say no to further apartment construction in the city.” He continued and said that new apartment construction is “more than enough” and “picking up roads…[and] packing up our good schools.” 

Denise Kalm agreed, and said, “[Walnut Creek] is running out of places to build…[and] our roads can’t handle more people and we’ve certainly built enough stuff in the past few years.”

Ted Klauber said that the project was “insane” and that “[there is] a…disappointing and disturbing…rush to turn [Walnut Creek] urban and approve every high density project…We need these open spaces to break up the already massive construction of hundreds of multi-unit developments, each with dozens or hundreds of units. Where are the plans for expanded parks, schools, roads etc. to balance all the developments already completed or planned?”

Summarizing the sentiment of anti-development residents, Frank Napoli described Walnut Creek as “maxed out.”

Resident Comment:

  • Dave Cardinal
    • “ Looks like a great project and great use of space.  Senior Housing is a great idea in the area.  Somewhere close so they can be close to town and services.  I don’t think the tenants are going to generate a huge amount of traffic.  I understand open space is great, but I have been to a bunch of these places and they are generally very quiet, very good neighbors.”
  • Marillyn Cole
    • “One positive benefit of a senior development in this area is that it might be an attractive option to many seniors who would be willing to release their large single family homes to young families.”
  • Chen Liang
    • “As a Walnut Creek resident, we should all stand up and say no to further apartment construction in the city. We have more than enough!!!!! Stop packing up roads!! Stop packing up our good schools!!”
    • “There are both direct and indirect negative impacts this project will bring to our community.”
  • Denise Kalm
    • “Our City Council is in bed with realtors and developers.  They’re running out of places to build.  I’m sure they’ve rushed this thru with little input from neighbors or the school.  It’s crazy.  Our roads can’t handle more people and we’ve certainly built enough stuff in the past few years.  Enough!”
  • Frank Napoli
    • “WC has maxed out…… No more development.   I will email city council.  Thanks for the heads up.”
  • Ted Klauber
    • “This is insane. This rush to turn WC urban and approve every high density project is disappointing and disturbing. There seems to be lack of long term vision in WC. We need these open spaces to break up the already massive construction of hundreds of multi-unit developments, each with dozens or hundreds of units. Where are the plans for expanded parks, schools, roads etc. to balance all the developments already completed or planned? Plus our wildlife and mother nature need open space to thrive. I am strongly opposed to an oversize development at Seven Hills Ranch.
  • Chelsea Schaefer
    • “I have been looking for a bigger house for the past year for my growing family, and I have been disheartened at the prices, inventory, and competitiveness to buy to say the least. Having to make a quick, risky decision to put our home on the market to then try to purchase with a contingent offer to avoid being homeless or stuck in a rental…. it’s impossible. We desperately need more housing of all kinds to solve this housing crises, in my opinion.”