Most of the way through her first four-year term in office, Diane Burgis believes she deserves a second term as the supervisor representing the east end of Contra Costa County, where agriculture, the environment, fire protection, homelessness, beefing up county services and improving the jobs/housing balance are key issues.
“I feel like I’ve been a good representative of a very diverse district,” said Burgis, 53, who faces a challenge from fellow Oakley resident Paul Seger. “I think I’ve done a really good job.”
Seger, 55, is a board member with the Diablo Water District, which supplies and treats water in the Oakley-Knightsen-Bethel Island area. He also has been an officer with the Sierra Club, and he makes plain that his primary areas of interest relate to the environment, and humans’ effects on it. A key element of that, he said, is controlling suburban sprawl.
“We do need to bring about new parameters and have a conversation about this,” Seger said. Burgis, he said, hasn’t done enough to put limits on development in East County.
A growing district
District 3 includes two cities, Brentwood and Oakley, that in the past 30 years have experienced massive growth. Brentwood’s population grew seven-fold between 1990 and 2010, and in 2018 had more than 63,000 residents. During that same 20-year period, Oakley’s population doubled.
The migration of county services eastward, Burgis said, has not kept up with that population growth, and while the situation has improved — she is a board member of the Family Justice Center that opened in Antioch in 2019 — more needs to happen.
“We’re doing more out here now than before, but there’s definitely more we can do,” Burgis said.
Such county services will be needed to better serve East County’s growing homeless population. Burgis said East County’s CORE (Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement) outreach teams have been effective in helping the homeless obtain needed services, but that more of those services need to be based in East County. Seger largely agrees.
East County also remains home to substantial blocks of farmland, and Burgis praised progress on reforming agricultural land use policies to better allow for more diverse uses — farm-to-table restaurants to bed-and-breakfast businesses — and keep rural lands rural.
Fire services a key issue
Finding funding for adequate fire protection in East County has also been a significant issue. East County voters have rejected three tax measures in recent years to fund the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District; during that same period, the district has closed five of its eight stations.
Seger said he has favored the recent funding measures, and would favor another, especially if it had to be renewed every few years by voters.
Burgis said county officials “can’t just keep putting a band-aid on” the fire funding situation, and that she is optimistic local attitudes are changing, and that solutions are in the offing.
Both Burgis and Seger want to bring more jobs to East County, both to improve the local economy and to help reverse the westward flow of commuters to East Bay job centers.
Burgis points to the county’s Northern Waterfront Economic Development Initiative, designed to encourage modern industry and research; the recent groundbreaking for the Contra Costa Logistics Center in Oakley is a good manifestation for that, she said. She also is working to bring “emerging technology” businesses to the county airports in both Byron and Concord.
Seger is a staunch proponent of the “Green New Deal,” and favors eliminating carbon-based energy in Contra Costa by 2030. He knows that’s a big ask.
“But if you never work toward it, you’ll never get there,” he said.
Extending transit’s reach
Both favor expanding BART eastward toward Brentwood, and also favor a “heavy rail” service over largely dormant railroad tracks between Brentwood and Martinez to connect to other trains there. That service could, in theory, be established sooner, and for less money, than extending BART, they say.
Burgis supports Measure J, a 35-year half-cent sales tax to pay for improvements to various county highways and to mass transit. Seger opposes it, saying “it is not ready for prime time,” and needs refinement, including more specifics about reducing vehicle emissions.
Both are also firmly against any version of the “Twin Tunnels,” or one tunnel, or a “peripheral canal,” that would divert water from the Sierra around the Delta and south to the Los Angeles area. Any of those, Burgis said, is a “plumbing system” that doesn’t tap new sources of water.
Groundwater recharging and desalinization are alternatives that need more study, she said.