It's not impossible to accommodate development and protect natural resources. It just takes a great deal of planning.

Managing Urban Growth, Resource Conservation, and Conflict


The East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Planning Association (HCPA) was formed by Contra Costa County and several of its cities to develop a regional strategy for protecting natural resources in the face of rapid population growth and urbanization. The HCPA asked our help to better integrate state and federal wildlife, wetland, and water quality protection requirements into local government land use planning.

Too often, state and federal requirements for wildlife, wetlands, and water quality protection are addressed only after a project has progressed through local land use planning processes and environmental reviews. Yet local governments typically lack the specialized expertise to protect imperiled species or other sensitive resources. At the same time, state and federal agencies lack the resources to engage constructively with local authorities.

The unfortunate result can be that environmental reviews of urban development projects neither efficiently protect sensitive resources nor address local land use planning priorities. Projects are often caught in a seemingly endless loop of local, state, and federal review. To avoid these pitfalls and establish a viable blueprint for change, we provided the following services:

Tools: We helped find and use key elements of state and federal laws that could be integrated with local land use planning.

Strategy: We worked with the HCPA and its consultants to develop a comprehensive regulatory compliance strategy tailored to local government-driven land use planning.

Plan Approval: We helped prepare and secure approval of a regional Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation Plan to meet the requirements of multiple species protection laws and create a framework to comply with the Clean Water and Porter-Cologne Water Quality Acts. The plan establishes an actively managed 20,000-acre reserve system to conserve the region’s most valuable wildlife habitat, wetlands, and waterways, and mitigate the impact of population growth.

Governance Structure: We helped the HCPA develop a governance structure and mechanisms to implement its plan, including formation of a joint exercise of powers agency—the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy—to oversee creation of a regional open space reserve system. We are now helping the conservancy structure and execute land transactions to create the reserve system.

By investing in a single blueprint, the communities of eastern Contra Costa County will preserve their natural legacy even as they meet the needs of their burgeoning population.