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Discovery Bay

Discovery Bay, the East County town whose name is synonymous with water-skiing, boating and, increasingly, upscale suburban living, has come a long way in its 35-year history.

As more people move farther east into Contra Costa County in search of refuge from the Bay Area’s bustling cities, the town — Discovery Bay is not a full-fledged city — is enjoying its status as a growing community while dealing with the obstacles that come with rapid growth and mixed ideals. But 40 years ago, Discovery Bay wasn’t even on a map.

Until the late 1960s, the 6,500 acres east of Byron known as Byron Tract was little more than fertile cropland. Protected by levees, it played host to potato, sugar beet, corn, onion and barley fields. That all changed in 1966, when developer William Baldwin bought the land from an investment company. He began to carry out his plan to dig bays out of the Delta farmland and construct a recreational community on waterfront lots.

The first deep-water parcels went on sale in October 1970 for $15,000, and Discovery Bay’s first house was finished in 1972. It didn’t achieve town status until 1998.

Today, Discovery Bay is home to about 15,000 residents. Though it boasts an 18-hole championship golf course and yacht club, Discovery Bay is no longer purely a recreational resort community as it was once billed. It’s not uncommon to encounter a Discovery Bay resident commuting two hours each way to work in San Francisco or the South Bay. With increased population comes a higher degree of anonymity among residents; gated neighborhoods are the norm.

Because it sits on the eastern edge of the county, Discovery Bay’s growth has significant effects on the cities and communities to the west. The main arterial out of town, Highway 4, channels drivers through the streets of Brentwood and Antioch. Vasco Road, to the southwest, funnels commuters through Livermore before connecting with Interstate 580.

After attending elementary school in Discovery Bay, the town’s students must travel to Byron for middle school and Brentwood for high school.

Town leaders don’t expect Discovery Bay to grow much beyond 18,000 residents in the next couple of years, but the town’s urban limit line would allow one additional development that could increase the population to 28,000. But that’s probably a decade off.

Town leaders still put an emphasis on preserving the Delta marshlands that so many residents appreciate. Depending on the time of year, the surrounding wildlands are habitat for howling coyotes, countless species of birds, spawning salmon and 20 endangered species including mice and smelt. The East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan, which the town adopted earlier this year, ensures that future development would be countered by open space conservation.

Just a decade since it became a town, Discovery Bay is definitely on the map.

(Information Courtesy of The Contra Costa Times-Where We Live Series)