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By Tim Hunt

No surprise that the Tri-Valley is rising

Uploaded: Mar 10, 2015

The Bay Area Council Economic Institute formally said what many locals have known for many years—the Tri-Valley is ideally suited for a consistently growing economy.
It's been so since Interstates 580 and 680 connected at Dublin/Pleasanton and BART came to the valley in the mid-90s. Until the Silicon Valley boomed in the 90s through today (the bubble bursting and the Great Recession are exceptions), it was an easy ride down I-680 to the South Bay. The late San Ramon Mayor and City Attorney By Athan made that drive daily for 25 years while serving as a government attorney.
The council report, entitled "Tri-Valley Rising", was enthusiastically embraced by elected and business leaders in the valley. It noted that job growth has been robust and population is up 20 percent since 2000. That population growth largely has come from East Dublin and the Dougherty Valley in San Ramon with some units in Livermore.
Notably out-commutes to the South Bay, the Peninsula and San Francisco are up 66 percent since 2007. That reflects the reality that most Tri-Valley schools rank very well and, compared to the core Silicon Valley, housing prices are more reasonable in communities ideal for family life. That doesn't make them "reasonable" as prices have soared as new jobs have exploded within commuting distance. A San Francisco Business Times report last week highlighted the explosive tech job growth that tech companies based in the city were anticipating.
That growth has pointed some attention at Oakland as housing opportunities for the younger, single tech workers. Given the BART line, Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon and Livermore are ideal for tech workers who are a bit older and want a family-oriented community with quality schools to raise their children.
It will be interesting to see if the new start-up friendly organizations can effectively aid entrepreneurs in taking advantage of the research coming out of the two national laboratories in Livermore. Both have had tech transfer programs for decades and there are not too many large home-grown firms in the valley. Certainly there have been success stories, but few have located in our backyard.
The report also noted the constraints—transportation improvements have not kept pace. Highway 84 is improved and will get even better when it is widened with proceeds from the new one-cent sales tax for transportation, but the bottleneck at 580/680, particularly in the morning and on weekend afternoons when motorists want to go south on 680, will remain. Building a flyover for a direct connection is a huge challenge—likely billion dollar project. Of course, BART to Livermore is also a billion dollar proposition to say nothing of the governor's absurd bullet train that brings to mind the notion of hundreds of billions. The cut-down version is an estimated $68 billion—if it runs like the Bay Bridge, think of five or six times that amount.
Supervisor Scott Haggerty, the county's representative on regional transportation, argued that you cannot build your way out of congestion. Thinking in traditional ways, I might agree. But the new logistics terminal at the Port of Oakland and increased container movement by rail would make a huge difference in the afternoon commutes.
During the panel discussion after the report was formally released, both a Sandia vice-president and Layne Marceau, president of Shea Homes Northern California, pointed out that job growth without accompanying residential growth results in rising prices and people commuting from more affordable areas.
Marceau had the courage to point out that the urban limit lines for the county and Livermore that maintain the wide-open marginal agricultural lands north of Livermore as open space need to be revised. Some environmentalists, for perspective, labelled the Dougherty Valley as "sprawl." That mix of single-family and multiple units is located within bicycling distance of the huge job centers at Bishop Ranch in San Ramon (30,000 or more employees) and Hacienda Business Park and north Pleasanton (40,000 or more) to say nothing of the East Dublin offices that are even closer.
The same goes for the Las Positas Valley. That's land ideally suited for residential and retail growth instead of trying to grow winter wheat and putting housing on prime agricultural soil over the Altamont Pass.
Last week, the SF Business Times had a special section touting San Joaquin County for its business opportunities. For the right type of company (several were highlighted), it is ideal with a deep water port in Stockton, the Stockton airport, the rail lines and interstate freeways crisscrossing the area.
River Islands in Lathrop where I-205 connects with I-5 has been building homes for the last couple of years, but it has set aside 350 acres set aside as a technology campus. Whether tech companies will locate software workers there is an open question, but one that runs against the urban environment trend.
It's worth remembering that Silicon Valley technology companies have moved manufacturing activities out of the valley for years. Intel went to Folsom, Portland and Arizona while Hewlett Packard went to Roseville and Colorado.
They jumped right over San Joaquin County which is branding itself as the "Gateway to Growth." That certainly has been true for residential and retail—whether the area will ever attract significant technology firms remains to be seen.