Growing for the Future

The City of Pittsburg, CA
Written by Robert Hoshowsky

Situated at the juncture of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, less than forty miles northeast of San Francisco, the City of Pittsburg maintains its historic charm while boasting many of the advantages of larger centers.
The City of Pittsburg is part of California’s scenic East Contra Costa County, which derives its name from Spanish for ‘opposite coast.’ The area was created as part of a 10,000-acre land grant from Mexico to the United States in 1839. It underwent several name changes over the years including New York of the Pacific and New York Landing. It was also called Black Diamond, following the discovery of coal in 1855.

The area was renamed Pittsburg – but without the ‘h’ – in 1911, after its Pennsylvania counterpart, following the founding of the region’s first steel factory. The City of Pittsburg has grown in both population and range of industries, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, and has over 70,000 residents today.

The city has a five-year capital improvement program (CIP) that oversees the construction, refurbishment, expansion or replacement of city-owned assets. This is a multi-year planning instrument that serves as a guide used by city staffers ‘for project prioritization to accomplish community goals.’

The current program – for the fiscal years 2015/16 through 2019/20 – is revisited and updated annually and details new priorities, completed works and changes to projects and funding. It covers water and sewer projects, storm drains, street and traffic signals, building projects, power works, the marina and other areas.

Pittsburg is known for its marina which is located between San Francisco and Sacramento, and the city adopted a marina master plan a decade ago to provide direction for waterfront development.

“The plan includes some guidance for circulation around the area, including parking, how the boat launch interacts with the land and the marina promenade,” says Pittsburg Planning Manager Kristin Pollot. “It also includes some direction related to signage in the area, planting, lighting and some guidance regarding development sites located out there.” Pollot has been with Pittsburg for the past twelve years, directly overseeing the Planning Division for the last two and a half years.

The Planning Division is in charge of maintaining and enforcing the General plan and zoning code for the City, reviewing development proposals for new construction projects, housing and subdivisions, and examining new businesses coming through to ensure they are compliant with zoning regulations.

The Pittsburg Marina is much more than an ordinary place along the waterfront as it contains a range of restaurants, a farmers market and nearby entertainment venues.

The strategically located, 575-slip municipal marina is referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Delta,’ as it provides boaters with a convenient means of accessing the rivers’ upper delta all the way to San Francisco Bay. Over the years, works have included replacing covered berths and restrooms and improvements in areas such as parking and the launch pad at the marina promenade.

Manufacturing and chemical processing businesses that come to the area require skilled employees, and Pittsburg is home to the Los Medanos Community College (LMC), founded in 1974. LMC is one of three Contra Costa County community colleges, and offers popular majors that include electrical and instrumentation technology, process technology, physical and biological sciences, nursing and other in-demand courses.

In LMC’s process technology program, also known as PTEC, students learn how to work as operators in the high-paying chemical, refinery and other related industries. The course has an eighty-seven percent placement rate and is eighteen months long. Starting wages for graduates average between $45,000 and $65,000, with some graduates earning $100,000 annually. PTEC was developed to provide companies like Dow Chemical, Chevron Corporation and Shell Oil with trained workers.

A workforce development board, marketing to other communities and working with manufacturers are instrumental initiatives for Pittsburg’s young students going on to skilled jobs in technology, advanced manufacturing, hazardous waste abatement and even alternative energy.

“We were an industrial town originally, and we had Dow Chemical, the Steel Mill, Johns Mansfield – high-paying jobs, and often three generations of families were employed at these companies in our community,” says City of Pittsburg Mayor Merl Craft. “What happened is, because those jobs are no longer here, our kids leave, and they don’t come back. So you either have a new influx of people coming in, or an older population of our original families. We would like to be a thriving community again where we have jobs within our community. We would like to have a higher-end community, a more balanced community, where Pittsburg is once again the City to ‘Live, Work and Play.’”

Pittsburg was granted 185.4 acres of tidelands and submerged lands by the California Legislature (Senate Bill 551, Chapter 422, Statutes of 2011), meaning granted lands, also called Trust lands, are held in trust for the people of California, with Pittsburg operating these granted lands in conformance with the California Constitution. Along the northern waterfront, the city oversees industrial, commercial, park-zoned shoreline and residential lands, leases and activities.

For businesses, the advantages of the trust lands arrangement are many. Industries do not have to go through time-consuming secondary steps they would face in other cities as state land leases are facilitated through Pittsburg. The city hosts industrial giants including American multinational Dow Chemical, steel manufacturer USS-POSCO, NRG Energy (includes GenOn) and others.

“Right now, we have all of our industrial users under a lease,” says Assistant Director of Economic Development Kolette Simonton. She has been with the City for the past nine years.

She says that much of the property is state land, and Pittsburg works to ensure this arrangement benefits not only the community but the entire state of California.

The city is an integral part of East Contra Costa and works with other cities in the region for the benefit of the region. “There are four cities here, and we work together a lot,” says Simonton. “If our city is not a fit for a certain industrial user or users in general, we try to pair them up with the correct community. For instance, when a business comes in and they are highly focused on agriculture and agricultural land, that’s not something we have a lot of here in Pittsburg, but that is something that is bountiful in Brentwood, so we will send them over there.”

“We know that we stand stronger as one hub of a region than we do individually. If you look at us as a region, we’ve got over 300,000 people; when you look at us as individual communities, a lot of times we may get overlooked, because of our sizes,” says Mayor Craft.

This collaboration acknowledges that new companies coming into Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley or Brentwood will help the whole region, especially since the cities are so close to one another. If a new facility opens in a nearby community, it is likely workers will migrate there from Pittsburg as well as the other communities.

“Everything kind of flows together in this area,” comments Simonton.

Perhaps one of the best examples of partnership is the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, commonly known as BART. “In the greater Bay Area, the BART system is our main transit system, and there are a number of stations,” says Pollo. BART serves the public transportation needs of about 433,000 weekly passengers in the San Francisco Bay Area and links San Francisco to cities in Contra Costa, Alameda and San Mateo Counties. The system has five rapid transit lines, one automated guideway transit (ATG) line and forty-six stations.

The BART system is vital to the continuing business success of Pittsburg and other cities. Two BART stations are presently under construction. One is in Antioch, and the other, slated to open early next year, is in Pittsburg. The thirteen-mile extension from Pittsburg to Antioch has a budget of about $150 million.

Mayor Craft believes that the BART system is one of the keys to future economic development of the region. Although the area is linked by Highway 4, the new BART station will make it considerably easier for workers to skip the freeway and avoid fighting traffic going in and out of the city. The region will be better connected, particularly to Oakley and Brentwood.

“This will help those riders have an easy access point to get to those areas without having to drive, which will help free up Highway 4 traffic, which for industrial uses makes it easier,” says the Mayor. “We’ve already seen the improvements as our highway was widened from two lanes to four lanes on either side.”

A master plan is in place for the regional agency. Improvements will see the redevelopment of current surface parking and surrounding land for an existing station on the other side of town to create a mixed-use, transit-oriented village. The objective is to have planning infrastructure in place to support residential growth and, ideally, additional office space. Changes to zoning and building development within a half-hour radius of the new BART station means more vacant land is available for development.

“Even though the BART station is not open yet, we are definitely getting a lot of interest from developers to start building projects under that plan,” comments Pollot. “Pittsburg is a very business-friendly town, transit is one of the big advantages, and we have lower lease rates for tenant spaces because we are in the eastern county.”



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