Fearless managed-growth advocate retires after 33 years in local and regional service

Fearless managed-growth advocate retires after 33 years in local and regional service

Fearless managed-growth advocate retires after 33 years in local and regional service
Julie Pierce now has time to prune the roses. “It’s good work,” she says pictured here with husband Steve. Pierce retired from the city council and her regional committees after a long and storied career in local and regional ­government. (Photo Tamara Steiner)

CLAYTON, CA—Take a look around the small town of Clayton. Like what you see? The library? The gym? Oakhurst? Clayton Station? The Grove? Cardinet Trail? Open space?

No matter where your gaze lands in the four-square mile town, it’s likely Julie Pierce’s fingerprints are all over it.

A titanic force in local and regional government for more than 33 years, Pierce decided last June not to run for a seventh term on the Clayton City Council – where she served as mayor six times.

When she retired in November, she stepped away, not just from the council, but from positions on the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA) and the executive board of the National Association of Regional Councils, all powerhouse regional organizations.

Smallest city in Contra Costa

Although she represented the smallest city in Contra Costa County, Pierce served as CCTA chair for 28 years and ABAG president for four years.

“I don’t think people give her enough credit,” said recently retired CCTA executive director Randell Iwasaki. “The board makes funding decisions for millions of transportation dollars. She isn’t that tall (barely 5 feet) but stands tall in the eyes of her fellow elected officials.”

Honoring the local community

Julie Pierce received a keepsake gavel from CCTA in honor of her 33 years of service.

Described by most who know her as tireless, tenacious, congenial and a team player, Pierce is, above all, a visionary. And resolute. She is unwavering in her belief that good land use policy brings communities together.

“Good planning honors local priorities, offering opportunities and making room for all, while preserving the natural environment for future generations,” she said.

Nowhere in Clayton are these values more visible than the Oakhurst development. In 1984 When A.D. Seeno came to the city with plans to build 3,000 homes on the surrounding hills, the city rejected the plan and it sat in limbo for several years.

In 1992, Presley Development presented a plan for half as many homes, a golf course and other amenities. By that time Pierce was on the planning commission and Oakhurst was approved in just 14 months.

27 years

During Pierce’s 27 years on the council, Clayton also saw the annexation of Dana Hills, Dana Ridge and Clayton Woods, completion of nearly a dozen major subdivisions, downtown commercial development and establishment of the Urban Limit line protecting hundreds of acres of open space.

“Julie has an incredible mind that understands complex issues and can articulate them clearly and with determination,” said Amy Worth, mayor of Orinda and Pierce’s colleague and friend for more than 30 years.

Not everyone, however, wants to hear the complexities. Clayton, like every city in the county, is subject to state high-density housing laws that often go toe-to-toe with the desires of locals. Last year while mayor, Pierce was at the center of a controversial decision to approve a three-story, 81-unit apartment complex in the Town Center.

Denial of the project without legal grounds would leave the city open to expensive lawsuits, said Pierce, who took heat from residents opposed to the project.

Interests from sewing to gardening

Pierce’s accomplishments (two pages, typewritten, single spaced) are not limited to local and regional government.

Raised in Ames, Iowa, her father was a professor and her mother was a homemaker. She attended Iowa State University, majoring in textiles and home economics. She designs and sews custom wedding dresses.

Pierce can walk 20,000 steps in the 4th of July parade and has been seen unplugging a stopped-up toilet during a summer concert. She will serve 200 burgers at Clayton Cleans Up, then dumpster dive to salvage the recyclables.

She has a volunteer tomato plant that grows more tomatoes than she can give away. Also, she raised two Eagle Scouts and has been married to the same man for 50 years.

While she says elected office is not in future plans, she does not rule out something at the regional level.

Retirement during quarantine has been particularly hard, Pierce says. But it is leaving time for more reading, cleaning out her sewing room and sleeping late.