West County + East County – Not the Frontier – Not Anymore

While most of CCCBA’s membership practice in Central Contra Costa County, there are a number of us who both reside and prefer to practice in the outlying areas. Before there was substantial development in Central County, there was bustling, booming economic development in the other parts of Contra Costa which continue to thrive.

This edition of the Contra Costa Lawyer is intended as an introduction to those parts of the county that are not on the “L” (Martinez south to Walnut Creek/Danville, west to Orinda). We have included some practical information for those who are unfamiliar with either the new Arnason Courthouse, named for Judge Richard Arnason, in Pittsburg, or the long established George C. Carroll Courthouse in Richmond. Thank you to Paul Rives (Pittsburg) and Lorraine Walsh (Richmond) for their descriptions and suggestions.

East County is defined for this edition as those cities, towns and communities beginning with Pittsburg and Antioch and sprawling east and north to the Delta. While this area is now more heavily populated than West County, it certainly wasn’t that way until recently, when roads and improved transportation have made residential growth inevitable.

Just like West County, East County was, and is, identified by its proximity to the Bay. But, unlike the West County area, it remains defined by agricultural uses: first ranching and livestock, later field crops and orchards when water became more available to farmers. Courtesy of its proximity to the water, there continue to be some industrial uses, but people came first for the land. As the railroads were built in the 19th century, large scale ranching become profitable with the ability to get livestock to distant markets. Later, as the roads developed, the same applied to trucking with the ability to move crops. Brentwood remains famous for its sweet corn; Oakley for its wine grapes.

It remains the rolling hills and open space that continue to define East County, where there is still land available for all kinds of development. While West County has more regional parks, East County has larger ones. According to the East Bay Regional Park District, over one-third of the land in the City of Antioch is dedicated open access Regional Park. That does not include the city parks and green spaces, just EBRPD land. And, if you have some time to explore, the historic Black Diamond Mines in the Antioch hills provide a fascinating retreat from the summer heat.

The entertaining articles by Marie Quashnock and Richard Hobin highlight the pleasures and challenges of practicing in East County and are much appreciated.

West County wraps around the Bay’s shoreline from El Cerrito on the southwest to Crockett and Port Costa on the northeast. While originally ranch lands, with the advent of World Wars I and II, this area quickly developed into a major industrial and commercial powerhouse: shipyards, oil refineries, steel mills, auto-manufacturing, dynamite, chemical and food processing plants to name only a few. Richmond is still home to one of the larger railyards on the west coast and West County is served by the Southern Pacific, BNSF, Amtrak and BART. The Atlas and Giant Powder companies provided dynamite for WWII, the Hercules Powder Company manufactured explosives until the late 1960s. Richmond still hosts the massive Chevron Refinery and various chemical companies, and C&H Sugar still operates in Crockett on the site of its original 1906 factory. Of late, both the United Parcel Service and Amazon have huge package transfer stations in West County, employing three shifts of workers and making use of the rail access and the proximity to Interstate 80.

Richmond’s current shipping port is the third largest in the state in annual tonnage with the Port of Richmond having 18 terminals and five dry docks. The re-development of the marina areas of Richmond with the old Ford auto plant now the Craneway Pavilion, the Red Oak Victory ship now a museum, and the ‘Rosie the Riveter/WWII’ National Historic Park now has West County becoming a tourist destination. And, in the past several months, it’s become a commuter hub as well with the opening of the new ferry terminal to San Francisco.

Of note, there are only five cities in West County. Many of the communities retain their independent identities and are not incorporated: Port Costa, Crockett, Tormey, Rodeo, El Sobrante, Parchester Village, and Kensington with other large areas having San Pablo and Richmond addresses but being outside of city limits. As a consequence of the large areas of unincorporated communities, West County has had more older and lower cost housing than either East or certainly Central County, but the affordability has changed recently with the post-Recession expanded economy.

West County has a total of nine regional parks, shorelines and preserves with several more in development, and one of the nation’s largest and best rated ‘dog parks’ (Point Isabel). It also has a proud legacy of ethnic diversity and the opportunities that presents, plus a robust and complicated housing market. Thank you to Dennis Phillips for his article on navigating the City of Richmond rent control ordinance.

Law practice in West County provides not only for representation of businesses large and small but also of people, many of whom are new to this country, to this state and to the Bay Area. Languages and cultural differences can be barriers but with a network of people working together, nothing is insurmountable. Thank you to Harpreet Sandhu for her article on the Family Justice Center which provides services not only to those who can pay but also to those who can’t.

We are blessed in Contra Costa County to have an abundance of everything for business and personal development. As lawyers, we spend vast amounts of time in pursuit of results for others. Frequently, however, we neglect ourselves and our own needs for fulfillment. One of the nicest things about practicing in both West County and East County is that those of us who do share an enjoyment of where we do it. These notes are offered not only as an introduction but also as an invitation.