Contra Costa County, California
Contra Costa County was one of the original 27 counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. The county was originally to be called Mt. Diablo County, but the name was changed prior to incorporation as a county. The county’s Spanish language name means opposite coast, because of its location opposite San Francisco, in an easterly direction, on San Francisco Bay. Southern portions of the county’s territory, including all of the bayside portions opposite San Francisco and northern portions of Santa Clara County, were given up to form Alameda County effective March 25, 1853.
The land titles in Contra Costa County may be traced to multiple subdivisions of a few original land grants. The grantee’s family names live on in a few city and town names such as Martinez, Pacheco and Moraga and in the names of streets, residential subdivisions, and business parks. A few mansions from the more prosperous farms have been preserved as museums and cultural centers and one of the more rustic examples has been preserved as a working demonstration ranch, Borges Ranch.
During World War II, Richmond hosted one of the two Bay Area sites of Kaiser Shipyards and wartime pilots were trained at what is now Concord/Buchanan Field Airport. Additionally, a large Naval Weapons Depot and munitions ship loading facilities at Port Chicago remain active to this day, but with the inland storage facilities recently declared surplus, extensive redevelopment is being planned for this last large central-county tract. The loading docks were the site of a devastating explosion in 1944. Port Chicago was bought out and demolished by the Federal Government to form a safety zone near the Naval Weapons Station loading docks. At one time the Atlas Powder Company (subsequently closed) produced gunpowder and dynamite. The site of the former Atlas Powder Company is located at Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, part of the East Bay Regional Parks District.
Early Postwar Period
With the postwar baby boom and the desire for suburban living, large tract housing developers would purchase large central county farmsteads and develop them with roads, utilities and housing. Once mostly rural walnut orchards and cattle ranches, the area was first developed as low-cost, large-lot suburbs, with a typical low-cost home being placed on a “quarter-acre” (1,000 m²) lot — actually a little less at 10,000 square feet (930 m²). Some of the expansion of these suburban areas was clearly attributable to white flight from decaying areas of Alameda County and the consolidated city-county of San Francisco, but much was due to the postwar baby boom of the era creating demand for three- and four-bedroom houses with large yards that were unaffordable or unavailable in the established bayside cities.
Later Postwar Period (1955–1970)
A number of large companies followed their employees to the suburbs, filling large business parks. The establishment of a large, prosperous population in turn fostered the development of large shopping centers and created demand for an extensive supporting infrastructure including roads, schools, libraries, police, firefighting, water, sewage, and flood control.
The establishment of BART, the modernization of Highway 24, and the addition of a fourth Caldecott Tunnel bore all served to reinforce the demographic and economic trends in the Diablo area, with cities such as Walnut Creek becoming edge cities.
The central county cities have in turn spawned their own suburbs within the county, extending east along the county’s estuarine north shore; with the older development areas of Bay Point and Pittsburg being augmented by extensive development in Antioch, Oakley, and Brentwood.
The effects of the housing value crash (2008–2011) have varied widely throughout the county. Values of houses in prosperous areas with good schools have declined only modestly in value, while houses recently built in outlying suburbs in the eastern part of the county have experienced severe reductions in value, accelerated by high unemployment and consequent mortgage foreclosures, owner strategic walk-aways, and the too-rapid conversion of neighborhoods from owner-occupancy to rentals.