Brentwood sees economic highs during recession

August 3, 2011 7:13:13 PM PDT
City leaders in Brentwood say, despite the recession, they're experiencing surpluses and growing economies.

It's ten-year housing boom was disrupted by the bad economy, but despite this, Brentwood is in a financial position that most other Bay Area cities would envy.

Alex Greenwood is Brentwood's director of economic development. Greenwood points to the new $28 million city hall as just one example of the relative wealth his community enjoys.

"We have a 30 percent budget surplus, one of the few cities to have that," Greenwood said, "We've kept our permit counter open 45 hours per week. We've had no cuts in services as far as police and public safety, and that resonates with the business community."

Greenwood credits taxes from the 80-store Streets of Brentwood shopping center, which is 95 percent leased.

There's also revenue generated by new companies that have recently moved to town, like Tactical Command Industries, the company that makes headsets for police and the military, which brought with them 50 new jobs.

"The city is obviously a pro-business city," said Don Medine with Tactical Command Industries. "They want businesses to come to Brentwood and they're very, very supportive of the process."

John Muir Health also has a 110,000-square foot outpatient campus in Brentwood with more than 300 employees.

"The dynamics of Brentwood are perfect for our population," said Jacqueline Hanel with John Muir Health.

But amid the success, Brentwood has had its share of struggles too. Around the city, the commercial vacancy rate is about 20 percent, and the current budget surplus can be attributed to, at least in part, the dismissal of about 30 employees, or 13 percent of the city's staff.

"It was a painful move in the short-term, but today it's paying off in dividends," said Greenwood.

At 9.8 percent, Brentwood's unemployment rate is lower than that of Contra Costa County as a hole, but it's foreclosure rate -- one in 76 homes in June of this year -- is higher than surrounding communities like Antioch.

"We're looking at families where both spouses are unemployed and living on unemployment benefits," said housing counselor Elaine Brooks-Cox, "and unemployment benefits do not pay the mortgage."

Several planned projects in Brentwood have been put off indefinitely as well, now that Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill to eliminate redevelopment agencies and the funding that goes along with them.

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