When Julie Pierce moved to Clayton back in 1984, she and her neighbors went after the developer of their subdivision, who had reneged on building a green area that young mom Pierce was looking forward to sharing with her two sons. The developer ultimately put in the park
Then there was the big remodel on a house behind her home, for which Pierce helped convince city planners and the owner to rearrange an invasive deck that would tower over her bedroom windows.
Before long, Pierce was a familiar face at city planning meetings, and soon, she was asked to join the planning commission. The has led to her 20-plus years on the Clayton City Council, where she now serves as mayor.
Politics was the last thing this custom dressmaker wanted, but it has paid off well for Pierce, the city of Clayton and now the entire Bay Area, as she will take over the presidency of the prestigious Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in January.
With representative from all the local and regional governing bodies of the nine Bay Area counties, ABAG is a regional voice for planning, housing and economic growth.
“It’s a great honor, and very exciting,” Pierce says. “Plus, it’s great for Contra Costa County that we are getting more voices on regional organizations like ABAG.”
Currently its vice president, Pierce says that she will continue to focus on Plan Bay Area, the ABAG-driven initiative that is helping determine growth patterns in the Bay Area.
Public transit hubs
“We are seeing that more young people want smaller houses, closer to work, transportation and shopping,” she says. “Plus, with the aging of the Baby Boomers, who want to downsize, we’re not going to see the big suburban sprawl of the last 20 years or so. There won’t be as much a demand for single-family homes in the suburbs.”
She says that developments like The Mercer in Walnut Creek and mixed-use developments at the Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek BART stations are just the sort of projects she expects to see more of in the coming decades.
“Our demographic projections show a huge shift in the make-up of who lives in the suburbs,” she says. “There is a ‘silver tsunami’ of Baby Boomers who want to be free of the constraints of big homes, and who want more flexibility to travel. Add that with a young workforce who doesn’t need or want a car, and these projects make a lot of sense.”
She also wants to focus on helping bridge wage gaps of workers, offering more vocational and specialized education to those without four-year college degrees.
“I’d like to see more partnerships with big corporations coming into schools and colleges and helping train this next generation of workers. If we do it on a regional level, we’ll have a lot more success.”
‘Strong and effective leadership’
With her quiet enthusiasm, Pierce seems like a logical choice to bring disparate sides to agreement, something her friends and political colleagues recognize.
“I cannot think of another candidate to be ABAG president who could exhibit as much leadership that Julie offers,” says former Clayton Mayor Bob Hoyer, who served with Pierce on the Clayton City Council. “ That organization needs strong and effective leadership that Julie can provide.”
He says that “Clayton and Contra Costa County can be proud to provide such an intelligent and dedicated citizen. Over the years she has worked tirelessly for our city. She is known as a leader by the Contra Costa County Mayors conference and was elected chair of that group several years ago. Julie always does her ‘homework’ by studying the issues and convincing others of the right ones to put into action.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Michoff. “Julie is a skilled listener and an excellent communicator,” she says. “She has the leadership, knowledge base and organizational skills to lead ABAG for the next two years.”
Pierce joins friend and Orinda City Council member Amy Worth – who is president of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – as another Contra Costa leader heading up a major regional body.
“I don’t want to interfere with local cities, but rather, enhance their ability to get things done, by working together on common goals.”
In the past ABAG has been criticized by focusing more of its resources on San Francisco and other large cities in the area, but lately there has been more of a focus to outlying suburban areas, since that’s where most of the growth occurs.
“I am thrilled to be part of this planning process,” Pierce says. “It’s all about quality of life, and how we want our region to be for our kids and grandchildren.”