The Pioneer newspaper looks back at 2023, a year of housing, homelessness and budget woes

New owners hoping to restore luster to Grayson Woods golf course
Improvement work continued in late November at Grayson Woods Golf Course in Pleasant Hill. (Photo by David Scholz)
Multiple cone zones in Concord show improvement projects' progress
Concord streets got some love with major improvements and fixes in 2023. (Pete Cruz photo)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Dec. 27, 2023) — As residents welcomed 2023 by singing that tried and true song, the area’s new mayors were also offering up a familiar refrain last January.

In Concord, Laura Hoffmeister said the city would focus on addressing the homeless, fixing potholes and, of course, developing the former Concord Naval Weapons Station.

Not much had changed over in Clayton either, where Jeff Wan wrote about filling open city positions – including the rotating door of the city manager’s office – along with tackling the looming city budget deficit.

Pleasant Hill Mayor Tim Flaherty talked about the upcoming General Plan review, foreshadowing the tough road ahead as the City Council faced state backlash about its Housing Element.

Here are some other stories the Pioneer covered in 2023:


Concord Launches Pre-Approved Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Program 
The City of Concord has officially introduced its pre-approved Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) program in 2023. (Photo courtesy City of Concord)

Making small improvements: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are one solution for the state’s housing crunch. To that end, Pleasant Hill-based Comfort Casitas is building small, modular homes in residential backyards. Robert Burtt said his 1,000 sq. ft. secondary dwelling offers him more flexibility with his property. “The entire thing has vaulted ceilings, so it feels much bigger,” he noted.

Clayton Chief of Police, Richard McEachin.

New top cop: After serving with the Clayton Police Department from 2005 to 2016, Richard McEachin has returned as police chief. “I often hear how much the Clayton community loves the police department, and my primary goal is to continue that partnership with the community,” he wrote in his first Pioneer column.


Third times the charm? At a marathon meeting held over two days, the Concord City Council rejected Concord First Partners’ Term Sheet – meaning the city parted ways with its second developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station. Over the summer, the city responded to a Contra Costa County Civil Grand Jury report about “missteps” with the project over the last 17 years. While denying parts of the report, the city did make some changes to the application process. Then in August, with only one applicant on the table, Brookfield Properties became the new Master Developer for the 5,000+ acre project. Brookfield’s BCUS Acquisitions is expected to return to the council in January 2024 with a Term Sheet.

Counting the 2023 successes for residents of Concord
Thanks to Measure V funding, Concord got started on an ambitious, five-year pavement improvement plan this year. Crew shown here painting bike path markings on the repaved Meadow Lane in December. (Photo by Pete Cruz)

Safer streets: Concord’s $4.2 million Downtown Corridors Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Project includes new bikes lanes, upgraded streetlights, and improved traffic and pedestrian safety measures – with most of the changes around Todos Santos Plaza. According to Jennifer Ortega, the city’s community relations manager, crews finished the pedestrian and bicycle improvements in late September. New traffic signal poles installed Oct. 18 were the finishing touch.

Tackling retail theft: Pleasant Hill police are responding to a rise in organized shoplifting, including multiple thefts on a single day at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Lt. Matt Kristic is seeing more cooperation from local businesses, who in the past haven’t always reported crimes. “We definitely have more businesses that are proactive in calling the Police Department when they’ve had a theft or are experiencing a theft in progress,” Kristic said.

Contra Costa County’s Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice appointed Co-Directors Dr. Kendra Carr and Mr. Peter Kim. (Photo courtesy Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors)

Equity and inclusion: Supervisor Ken Carlson says the new Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice (ORESJ) will mark “a transformational shift” in how Contra Costa handles discrimination and bias. “The ORESJ is an exciting step in shaping our county government to be more responsive and inclusive as we provide services and care,” he told Pioneer readers.


Help for Concord non-profits: The Community Youth Center and Monument Impact each received $1.5 million as the Concord City Council allocated $7 million in one-time federal funds to 22 non-profits. Acknowledging that many in need got left out, Councilmember Dominic Aliano said: “We distributed the dollars that we thought were the biggest impact for the city of Concord on how it was going to help our community through COVID relief.”

What’s cooking in Nana’s kitchen?
Cindy Gershen is an entrepreneur, chef and owner for 40 years of Sunrise Bistro and Catering in Walnut Creek. She has an abiding passion for health. (Dan Rosenstrauch photo)

Here’s to your health: New Pioneer columnist Cindy Gershen is “on a mission to break people of the sugar and processed food habit in the kitchen and the fast food habit in our culture.” In addition to offering advice and recipes in her monthly column, Gershen expanded her influence this fall by joining the new East Bay Health Clinic to help patients make good food choices. (Read Cindy Gershen’s Pioneer columns)

Addressing homelessness: The Concord City Council hired a consultant and established a diverse community group to come up with an action plan regarding the city’s unsheltered population. According to the January 2023 Point in Time Count, the number of homeless increased from 160 to 241 over last year. The Homeless Strategic Plan working group provided an update to the council in November and is expected to return in January 2024 with a draft plan.

New Mount Diablo trail connects Knobcone Point to Riggs Canyon
Riggs Canyon Trail. (Scott Hein photo)

A walk on the wild side: With the Knobcone Point to Riggs Canyon trail connection, hikers will have access to one of the mountain’s wildest areas. “All these trails we have built are portals that allow the public to enter nature and be transformed for the better,” noted Ted Clement, executive director of Save Mount Diablo. The group later acquired the 10-acre “Balcerzak Inholding” property in a rugged side canyon, protecting one of the few remaining private land inholdings within Mount Diablo State Park. And, the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association kicked off fundraising to revamp the Mitchell Canyon entrance to Mount Diablo with a new 1,500 sq. ft, $3 million visitor center.


Two decades of community news: Tamara and Bob Steiner celebrated 20 years as owners of The Pioneer, which began in Clayton and now also covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. In addition to reflecting on the early days with her co-conspirator Jill Bedecarré, Tamara offered her perspective on the future: “Local journalism is on life support. … But despite my dark words, it’s still light outside if we open the curtains. There are still great stories to tell with plenty of people to read them.”

Darting to the rescue: Local pilot Mike Grimes flew into action, literally, to head to San Bernardino County to help mountain residents trapped by snow. Grimes is part of the Contra Costa chapter of the California Disaster Airlift Response Team (CalDART). “We had helicopters available to take food, but no food,” Grimes reported. “They had no driver for a big flatbed. So, I jumped in the truck and picked up a load of food from a local church. We loaded the food into a helicopter, along with snow shovels.”

Mike Grimes (far right) and other CalDART Team members arrive at Lake Arrowhead by helicopter with supplies and are greeted by other volunteers. (Izzak Garcia photo)

There’s no place like home. Scott Vermillion began as a patrol officer with the Pleasant Hill Police Department in 2000. Now, the new chief is pleased he can continue to service the city. “In the world of law enforcement, Pleasant Hill is a great place to work as a police officer. It has a supportive community that has its values in the right and appropriate places,” Vermillion said.

Political priorities: Congressman Mark DeSaulnier sat down with The Pioneer to discuss his 35-year career in elected office, a tenure that included a switch from the Republican to Democratic party. “The party changed. I’m still the same,” he said, adding that he is proud of his ability to work across the aisle. “Two people who couldn’t get elected in each other’s districts are supposed to work together.”

No time for puttering around: The Pleasant Hill Planning Department approved a zoning permit for Kyin Chiou and Na Li to revamp the Grayson Woods Golf Course. Although vandalism set back their original timeline, the new owners hoped to reopen the clubhouse, two holes and the 18-hole putting course by summer 2023. They said the remaining holes would be ready in about a year. Chiou did not return phone calls requesting an update, but Vice Mayor Sue Noack said plans were behind schedule. “They hired a professional golf designer to work with them, so I think that may have slowed them down a bit,” she said.


District elections for Pleasant Hill: The City Council reviewed several maps that would divide the city into five voting districts. Pleasant Hill is among many cities in California responding to a potential voters rights lawsuit. In July, the council approved district boundaries that will be used beginning with the 2024 and 2026 elections.

Creating Clayton’s Memory Café a labor of love
Steve Gray (left) and neighbor, Ray Bauer, visit as they tackle one of the worksheets, one of a variety of activities put out on April 15 for the grand opening of Clayton Community Library’s Memory Cafe. (Photo by David Scholz)

Giving memories a boost: The Clayton Library’s monthly Memory Café features activities like painting and playing cards to help individuals experiencing cognitive decline. Participants could also don an Oculus Go headset to travel anywhere in the world without ever leaving the library.


Bret Prebula
Clayton City Manager Bret Prebula.

New leadership for Clayton: Bret Prebula is the city’s seventh city manager since 2019. Clayton has also gone through five finance directors and at least that many planning directors. “With this kind of inconsistent leadership, it’s lucky the organization didn’t seize up completely,” Prebula told The Pioneer.

Tightening up on tobacco: Aiming to reduce tobacco use among younger residents, the Concord City Council approved stricter amendments to the Tobacco Ordinance. Violators will face citations, with the dollar value of the fines increasing each time. Repeat offenders could lose their tobacco sales licenses.

Taking Pride: Clayton’s Pride Parade had more than 50 entries and lasted more than two hours. “It’s important to show that we are welcoming to all,” said CW Wolfe, who emceed the event. Meanwhile, in the All the Colors column, Kadeth Pozzesi emphasized that all people deserve the same rights. “When we say we need laws to grant us the same rights as others, it is not ‘extra’ or ‘privilege’ … it’s because we do not have those rights.”


Friends and family remembered beloved volunteer and ­retired principal of St Agnes School Karen Mangini in October. (Photo courtesy the Mangini family)

Remembering an education advocate: Karen Mangini, a fourth generation Contra Costan, died at age 80. In addition to being the long-time principal at St. Agnes School, Mangini was passionate about the St. Bonaventure Food Pantry. To honor her, organizers hosted the Peace, Love & Hope Benefit Concert in October.

Big plans for big game: Developer Albert Seeno Jr. is constructing a private warehouse and museum to showcase his large collection of antiquities, art and taxidermy. The museum section of the 90,000 sq. ft. building in Concord will not likely be open to the public.

Not a movie theater or a skating rink; big building on the hill is Seeno private museum
Artist rendering shows the front of the private museum and warehouse that will house Albert Seeno Jr’s, big-game trophies. Building also includes dramatic lobby and banquet facilities. (Contributed illustration)

Headache for homeowners: With more insurance companies halting new fire policies in California, homeowners are often left scrambling for coverage. Many in high-risk areas, such as Clayton’s Morgan Territory, are turning to the California FAIR Plan or secondary carriers.

Movin’ on up: Assistant city manager Ethan Bindernagel now has the top job in Pleasant Hill. “This is a wonderful, vibrant city, and I am very excited to work with the City Council, the community and city staff to help it continue to grow,” he said.


Concord Pavilion drives away with new sponsor as Toyota paying City $613,895 for naming rights
The Toyota Pavilion at Concord was unveiled in August at the start of a 4-1/2-year naming sponsorship agreement arranged by Live Nation. (Tamara Steiner photo)

Toyota is driving the show: The outdoor music venue on Kirker Pass Road is now called the Toyota Pavilion at Concord. The City Council approved an agreement with Live Nation for a 4½-year sponsorship deal that is estimated to pay the city $613,895.

Celebrating Japanese culture: After a three-year hiatus, crowds returned to the Diablo Japanese American Club’s Summer Festival. “Since the pandemic, I think a lot of people have really missed the festival,’’ said club president Karen Sakata. (Related story: Tamori family helped bring Japanese culture to Concord.)

The 2-day summer festival had games for kids among the many attractions. (Jay Bedecarré photos)

Housing battle in Pleasant Hill: The state Department of Housing and Community Development rejected the city’s Housing Element proposal, even after the City Council included two controversial tracts of land – Morello Terrace and Paso Nogal. “What they are asking for is difficult to achieve considering we are pretty built out. I understand the goal, but I am not sure how we can do it,” Vice Mayor Sue Noack said at the time. In a phone call with The Pioneer in November, she said the state approved an amended proposal on Nov. 22. The city has until the end of January to complete zoning requirements.


Controversial fee increases: The Clayton City Council voted 3-2 to update its Master Fee Schedule, with the added costs directly affecting the Clayton Business & Community Association and the Clayton Pride Parade. The city says the new fees are straightforward “cost recovery.” Despite a 30% discount for non-profits, some have called the new fees “punitive.” The rules came after organizers canceled the BBQ & Brews Festival over concerns about increased fees.

Grayson Creek desilting project defense against future flooding
Work on the desilting of Grayson Creek shown in this view from the bridge on Imhoff Place. (David Scholz photo)

Keeping flooding at bay: Contra Costa County’s Public Works Department embarked on a desilting project in Grayson Creek. The goal of the $1.5 million plan is to reduce flooding during heavy rains, as occurred last winter.

Going green: The Clayton City Council is paying Climatec $2.1 million for environmental projects, including improved water main infrastructure, electric vehicle charging stations at the library and upgrades at city offices. “The solar PV structures alone are projected to offset the site’s electrical load 100%, including the library, City Hall and maintenance facility, creating a Net Zero Energy site,” said Councilmember Kim Trupiano.


Sunday in the park with Creative Concord
Art and Music Jam in the park. (Tamara Steiner photo)

Artistic endeavors: Creative Concord and Local Edition Creative hosted a two-day Art and Music Jam in Todos Santos Park. The event also included the temporary installation of giant sculptures around town. “The giraffes will be a lovely and unexpected sight,” said organizer Sage Loring.

Geller’s volunteer spirit brought together Clayton community
Howard Geller. (Photo courtesy CBCA)

Music for the soul: Howard Geller brought the Clayton community together for 15 summers of Concerts in The Grove. Now, he has stepped down from organizing the music series, with the city taking over booking. “What I liked to see is 2,000, 3,000 people having a good time. And that’s why they came to the concerts: to meet with their friends, to have a snack or a lunch or dinner,” Geller said.

Looking out for renters: About 50 community advocates rallied outside Concord City Hall to support proposed city protections for renters. The City Council has committed to adopting Rent Stabilization and Just Cause for Eviction Ordinances by year’s end. “The goal of the new regulations is to stabilize the community and minimize displacement of residents, while also allowing property owners to make a fair return on their investments,” said Jennifer Ortega, the city’s community relations manager.


Activists gather to push for tenant rights in Concord
Vice Mayor Edi Birsan spoke in support of renter safeguards, calling on his personal experience with housing instability at a tenant rights rally Sept 28. (Norm Hallquist photo)


Working toward a better tomorrow: Monument Impact’s new guaranteed income program is giving 120 single-parent families a boost on their journey to economic independence. Organizers also hope to change the conversation about poverty in America. “We want to see people for their strengths, their initiatives and their own pathways to get ahead,” said Rachel Barnhart of UpTogether.

In November, ELEVATE Concord Project Manager Julia Quintero, connected with families participating in ELEVATE Concord, Monument Impact’s family economic equity pilot. (Photo courtesy Monument Impact)

Helping out the hungry: The Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano geared up for a busy holiday season, expecting a 20% increase in need. The end of pandemic-era benefits has heightened concern for many struggling residents. In this season of giving, there’s still time for you to pitch in – whether it’s offering a donation or volunteering with a local organization to help those less fortunate. Working together, we can help make 2024 a better year for all our neighbors.


Clayton City Council member Holly Tillman.

Creating defensible space: Clayton Councilmember Holly Tillman hosted a forum to discuss the value of creating Firewise Communities. “The only component property owners can control is the fuel,” said Marsh Creek rancher Sue Thompson. “So, removing the fuel source by clearing 100 feet of defensible space and getting rid of landscaping adjacent to buildings is vital to protecting your home from a devastating fire.”

Bolstering the fight against cancer: John Muir Health’s new $300 million, three-story Walnut Creek facility will bring together cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care coordination at one site this February. CEO Mike Thomas said it will be a place where “patients receive exceptional care, groundbreaking research thrives and a sense of optimism pervades.”

Cutting-edge treatment hub debuts in 2024 as John Muir’s $300 million Behring Pavilion opens
The Behring Pavilion is slated to open Feb. 12, It will be home to the newly named UCSF-John Muir Health Jean and Ken Hofmann Cancer Center. (David Scholz photo)

Books on the move: Contra Costa County’s new Rolling Reader hit the streets to visit underserved communities, prioritizing literacy for children 0-5 years old. “The goal is to instill a lifelong habit of reading and love for libraries,” said county librarian Alison McKee.

New library literacy van rolling to where need lies
Leila Havenar-Daughton, 5, points out a character on the Rolling Reader van to her grandmother, Barbara Havenar, during a scavenger hunt as part of Contra Costa Library’s kickoff for its new literacy program for underserved communities. (David Scholz photo)
Bev Britton
Bev Britton
Copy Editor at The Concord Clayton Pioneer |

Bev Britton graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota and moved to the Bay Area with her soon-to-be husband Jim in 1986. She was features editor at the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek before becoming managing editor of the Contra Costa Sun in Lafayette in 1995. She retired from newsrooms in 2001, but an ad for the Clayton Pioneer drew her back in. The family moved to Lake Wildwood in the Gold Country a few years ago - but working at the Pioneer keeps her in touch with her old neighborhoods in Concord and Clayton.