Last summer, Pittsburg pulled out of the East Contra Costa Regional Fee and Financing Authority (ECCRFFA). City officials felt that while they were chipping in money each year, Pittsburg was ignored when it came time for improvements. At the most recent meeting of TRANSPLAN, a group of East County officials who plan the construction funded by money from ECCRFFA, Pittsburg was shot down in its effort to operate on its own funding source instead of contribute to the authority.
This move could hurt not only Pittsburg, but the rest of East County. Until last year, the city contributed $2.5 million annually to ECCRFFA. That money, along with cash from Antioch, Oakley and Brentwood, paid for projects such as the Highway 4 Bypass, the widening of Highway 4 between Pittsburg and Antioch and the potential eBART station at Hillcrest Road in Antioch.
Pittsburg Assistant City Manager Joe Sbranti said at that meeting that the proposed fee program should be a valid substitute, as it was based on ECCRFFA standards and is identical to the regional program. Sbranti sent a letter on Jan. 27 to TRANSPLAN officials, noting that he would like to continue working amicably with the committee despite his city’s withdrawal from ECCRFFA. Pittsburg’s membership in the authority began in August of 1994.
“It has the exact same list of 26 projects that all of us here have a goal of getting completed,” Sbranti said, pitching his city’s funding plan. “Every dollar that comes into Pittsburg’s regional fee, just like every dollar that comes into ECCRFFA’s regional fee, must be spent on those projects. There’s no question that that is exactly what Pittsburg’s intention is.”
TRANSPLAN members worried that splitting off would weaken the overall strength of the committee. Joseph Weber, the TRANSPLAN representative from the Brentwood Planning Commission, pointed out that all four cities have worked well together in the past and this schism could cause major trouble down the road. He felt that it would be a “grave mistake” for Pittsburg to operate on an independent funding source yet still contribute to a regional decision-making board.
Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor echoed Weber’s feelings, fearing that if Pittsburg splits, conflicting motivations could arise on the committee. “We’ve been working on this a long time,” Taylor said. “There is a voice and a power in all together and one for all. If we break into segments, we become weaker. After much thought, I appreciate everything Pittsburg is trying to do, but I think we could have our own agendas. … I think we need to be together.”
Contra Costa County District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover has a similar view. “We knew a number of years back that the only way we were going to be successful is to speak with one force,” he said. “It was very difficult to get to that place where we could agree on some concepts to get us moving and to bring revenue in.”
According to TRANSPLAN documents, the widening of Highway 4 – estimated at $705.9 million – is the committee’s top priority at the moment. The first project exclusive to Pittsburg isn’t found until No. 14 on the list, a widening of California Avenue, estimated at $19.8 million. Work on the Pittsburg-Antioch Highway, a $13 million project, is No. 12 on the list.
“You have three voters who vote on these projects – we have one,” Pittsburg City Councilman Ben Johnson said. “We talk about regional camaraderie. Well, the regional camaraderie is three cities to the east of us that get to vote and they have the votes to make whatever changes they want to make. Pittsburg doesn’t have the vote to do that. We’re here. We want to work together as a team, but the bottom line is, we don’t see the money.”
Pittsburg officials such as Sbranti would like to see the major project of a Buchanan Road Bypass bumped up toward the front of the line. After the Highway 4 widening and Bypass projects, other improvements projected include a Laurel Road extension benefiting Antioch and Oakley, and work on Main Street/Brentwood Boulevard, which enhances the commute in Oakley and Brentwood.
ECCRFFA project manager Dale Dennis admitted that it could take a few years before any work starts on projects exclusively in Pittsburg.
Despite its withdrawal from ECCRFFA, Pittsburg is still a member of TRANSPLAN, though its action does cloud the future for both parties, according to committee chair Brian Kalinowski, an Antioch City Councilman.