Hercules is a city in Contra Costa County, California, United States. The population was 19,488 at the 2000 census, but has since grown significantly; the Census Bureau estimated that its population was 24,776 in 2006. Formerly just one of many small bedroom-communities along the I-80 corridor in Western Contra Costa County, the city is undergoing a metamorphosis into a transit-oriented, mixed-use town. It is located about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of San Francisco, and approximately a half-hour drive (without traffic) from either Oakland or San Francisco. Neighboring towns are Pinole to the southwest, Rodeo to the north, as well as Martinez to the east via CA-4.
The city's ethnically diverse population generally ranges from middle class to affluent. Hercules is home to a small amount of light manufacturing and high-tech industry (most notably Bio-Rad Laboratories, a Fortune 1000 company) as well as various commercial and retail activities. Most of the housing and other building stock is from the 1970s or newer. Attempts to develop mixed-use new development have begun in the waterfront district and around the intersection of I-80 and CA-4. The waterfront redevelopment includes the historic preservation and integration of a handful of buildings, some dating to Hercules's founding as a company town (see history below).
The town was established as company housing by the California Powder Works in 1881 when it relocated its operations from San Francisco. Hercules was named after the company's leading brand of explosive, in turn named after the mythical hero. Powder manufacturing was an extremely dangerous endeavor at the time, and uncontrolled explosions were frequent (indeed 59 workers died in the first 40 years of operation at this site). Hercules' isolated location at the time, plus its proximity to rail and water transportation along San Pablo Bay, made it an ideal choice. The explosives manufactured at Hercules played a significant and decisive role in the Army's efforts to contain the fires started by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, as recounted by General Funston.
Considerable study has been made of the heavy metal lead accumulated as upper layer soil contamination from prior air pollution stack emissions from the California Powder Works operations from this era.
Hercules contributed significantly to the production of explosives during both World Wars. By the Second World War, the plant had diversified to produce fertilizers and other chemical products. Eventually the facility was out-competed by foreign manufacturers, and the plant was closed in 1976. However, by this time the surrounding area was experiencing rapid growth as the commuter belt moved further outward from San Francisco. By the mid 1970’s Centex Homes and other developers began to build new subdivisions and changed Hercules into the residential suburb as it was known up until the late 1990s. Back in the 1970s, Hercules was one of the first cities in the United States to develop a comprehensive Noise Element of the General Plan. This work included the production of noise contour maps for all major highways and arterials, as well as a city wide mitigation plan.
Hercules incorporated in 1900. The first post office was established in 1914. By the 1940s Hercules organized its own law enforcement department and longtime Hercules Powder Company employee William Darke was named sheriff, becoming its first officer.
In the year 2000, the City of Hercules faced many challenges and chartered an urban-design-based land use planning effort. This plan attempted to balance the preservation of the city's undeveloped land against continued sprawl and to redevelop the city's formerly industrial waterfront.
The resulting Plan for Central Hercules aspires to transform the sprawling, suburban, Bay Area bedroom-community into a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use town. At present, however, Hercules remains a bedroom community. It scores "32 out of 100--Car Dependent" according to Walkabilitiy.com.
If the Plan for Central Hercules eventually succeeds, the results would trump two main criticisms of New Urbanism:
Much of the new construction is on formerly blighted reclaimed land, in contrast to the previously undeveloped land on which the most famous examples of New Urbanism have been built. Transformed from a past of heavy industry, the land has been remediated. A key component of the redevelopment will be a proposed all-in-one transit center that combines bus service by WestCAT, a new rail stop for the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train, and a new ferry terminal to provide direct service to San Francisco.
If the transit center gets built as planned, Hercules will succeed where the other two major New Urbanism towns in California (Laguna West and Mountain House) have failed. Hercules will be a New Urbanism town well served by public transit and not built on a greenfield.
On May 23, 2006, the Hercules city council voted unanimously to use its power of eminent domain to prevent Wal-Mart from building a store on an undeveloped 17-acre (69,000 m2) property overlooking San Pablo Bay which it deemed incompatible with the industrial waterfront redevelopment project. In 2009 the city purchased the land back from Wal-Mart and Hercules became another American city to block Wal-Mart from building there.
Hercules is located at at the southeast shore of the San Pablo Bay. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 18.3 square miles (47.4 km²), of which, 6.5 square miles (16.8 km²) of it is land and 11.8 square miles (30.6 km²) of it (64.59%) is water.,