Students walk outside the new Pinole Valley High School campus. Bay Area growth has impacted Contra Costa County in many ways, and with such positive changes as new schools, homes and businesses has come challenges including more traffic congestion and a higher cost of living (Photo by Mason Montano)

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of student produced stories looking at the 2020 census.

From Richmond to Walnut Creek, the census will help shape the region’s future

The census has been coined “a snapshot of America.”

“The census is not just a decennial headcount. It is a snapshot of the nation that affects just about every important decision policymakers at the federal, state, and local level will make over the coming decade,” emphasized Dan Stein, president of FAIR, the country’s largest immigration reform group.

For Contra Costa County, that means learning about the need for new housing and how to help big and small businesses. The census provides important data to support planning for schools and aid for public services such as immigration, non-English communication, homelessness and mental health.

It also provides information so the political debate of whether there is too much growth or not enough growth and what kind of growth can be based on facts.

Five high school photographers went out to capture their own “snapshots” of Contra Costa County for CC Spin. Their images — showcased at the end of this story — reflect different issues for the region that will be impacted by the census.

BUSINESS

In 2017, total employment in Contra Costa County was 336,654, up 3.3 percent from the previous year, according to census data. In 2012, men-owned firms totaled 47,721, compared to women-owned firms at 34,296. Minority-owned firms numbered 35,831.

Daniela Wise of Dougherty Valley High School took photos of small and large businesses. The Lafayette Body Shop in Lafayette represented “the many small and old yet thriving businesses, especially along Mt. Diablo Boulevard,” she said.

Wise, a junior and social media editor of the school newspaper, The Wildcat Tribune, noted, “Lafayette hasn’t changed a whole lot; rather what keeps people coming are the small businesses,” (Rachel Decker is the adviser to the school newspaper.)

In contrast, Walnut Creek sports a massive outdoor shopping space at Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard that “illustrates the perfect dichotomy of the old and new,” said Wise. A large and eye-catching Neiman Marcus dominates the landscape, but there are also boutique shops along Heritage Walk.

Wise also explained that San Ramon’s changes include City Center at Bishop Ranch, a massive and upscale outdoor shopping mall that opened in 2018. She photographed children playing at Alexander Square, located in the center.

For Richmond High School Senior Alejandro Durate, businesses such as Frosty King are vital necessities of life. “I’ve spent quite a good amount of time eating at Frosty King on weekends when there’s nothing good to eat at home.”

Durate’s photographs are part of a visual essay titled “Home: A collection of pictures from my community that all relate to the theme of Home.” He said, “These are images of places where I feel happy and feel at home.”

(“Home” was produced as part of the Advanced Media & Communications class at Richmond High School taught by Maya Kosover.)

HOUSING

Housing is a highly controversial subject in the Bay Area because there isn’t enough and housing costs are so high. According to the Census Bureau, the median value of an owner-occupied house was $582,400 between 2014-2015. There were 2,907 building permits issued in 2018 and a total of 415,919 housing units.

To photograph new home construction in Dougherty Valley, a neighborhood in San Ramon, California High School Sophomore Jake Gerbracht used a drone. Gerbracht said his iPhone X was synced to the controller of the drone so he was able to view the photos taken while flying the drone.

“I got into drone photography because I love aviation as well as photography and drone flying blends both of those passions together perfectly,” said Gerbracht, who is a photographer for the student newspaper, The Californian. (Brian Barr is the adviser to the school’s newspaper.)

On this assignment for the census project, he said, “I included Mt Diablo in the background of one shot because I felt it would tie in the new houses and the school perfectly with the old time charm of Mount Diablo.”

TRANSPORTATION

It’s a common refrain: traffic has gotten terrible in the Bay Area, and some of the worst commutes are in Contra Costa County. For example, the county was included in four of the top 10 worst Bay Area freeway spots in 2017, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission:

• Interstate 80 westbound, all day, State Route 4 to Bay Bridge Toll Plaza (number 2)

• State Route 4, eastbound, p.m., Contra Costa County, Morello Avenue to Port Chicago Highway (number 5)

• State Route 4, eastbound, p.m., Interstate 580 to Wilder Road (number 9)

• Interstate 680, northbound, p.m., Sycamore Valley Road to Buskirk Avenue/Oak Park Boulevard (number 10)

Planners working on the future of the county’s freeways and roads and public transit depend on census data. For the period 2014-18, the mean travel time to work among workers 16 years old and up was 38 minutes, according to the Census Bureau.

Nima Pendar, a sophomore and photo editor for The Californian High School student newspaper, visited the Concord BART station, one of seven stations in Contra Costa County, while Wise captured two other modes of public transit: a bicycle lane and bus stop in Danville.

GOVERNMENT AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS

Contra Costa County’s estimated population is 1.1 million with a growth rate of 0.67 percent in the past year, according to the most recent census data. That makes the region the ninth largest county in California.

With that growth comes more pressure on city and county governments to manage services and to make decisions impacting their communities. They are aided by nonprofit and community organizations, without which many social services couldn’t be provided.

Duarte photographed the Ryse Center in Richmond, a nonprofit organization youth center “born out of the organizing efforts of Richmond and West County young people who were determined to create safe spaces for themselves and their peers,” the web site said. “Named by the founding youth council, Ryse is not an acronym but a bold call to action inclusive of the many diverse communities that we serve.”

“The Ryse Center is a blessing in disguise for the Richmond youth,” said Durate. “It has helped provide many opportunities for youth in Richmond who have wanted to reach some goal they might have thought unattainable before.

Not only has it helped the youth but all of Richmond with its fairs and fundraisers, but it has raised awareness to many issues and injustices that happen in our community.”

Duarte also took a photo of the Richmond City Hall, which he called “the heart of the city.” He thought the fountain “somewhat looks like a heart or veins, which sort of fits in with the idea of this being the heart of the city.”

Wise’s photograph of directional signs on Railroad Avenue in Danville reflect the civic life in a community she described as “homey and comforting.”

QUALITY OF LIFE

Farmer markets are plentiful throughout the Bay Area, and Wise captured one in Danville. She observed that they attract both older people and young families. She also captured some “quirky statutes and iconic things,” such as the Bullman with Bulldog statue in Downtown Walnut Creek along North Main Street.

SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION

Pinole Valley High School’s Mason Montano photographed the school’s new campus, which opened last year. He noted it was a tough six years for students who had to endure temporary structures while the new school was being built. Montand is a senior and the music editor on the school newspaper, Spartan Ink.

This story originally appeared as part of a special section in “CC Spin,” a county-wide student newspaper produced by students at participating Contra Costa County high schools.