Before Francis Bret Harte moved to San Francisco and gained recognition as one of California’s most famous writers, he worked as a tutor in the Tassajara Valley south of Mount Diablo. In 1856, he wrote to his sister about the ranch where he worked near Alamo Creek: “There is nothing of the rural character of a farm; saving the corral at the bottom of the field and the haystack at the top, the whole place is as wild as the God of nature made it.”
Over the last 150 years, much of that wild land has been tamed into farms and ranchland, but further development has been stopped with regulations imposed by San Ramon, Danville, and Contra Costa County. All have urban limit lines that were renewed by voters in 2006, but those lines didn’t stop developers Tom Koch and Samir Kawar from proposing “New Farm,” a 185-unit housing development with hobby farms on two properties totaling 771 acres east of San Ramon. “Now the developers are using the proposal as a scare tactic to deceive voters,” says Save Mount Diablo‘s Seth Adams.
On November 2, San Ramon residents are being asked to approve Measure W, a general plan update that includes bringing 1,600 acres of the Tassajara Valley into the city’s zone of influence, including the largest portion of the proposed New Farm south of Camino Tassajara. City officials say the valley’s inclusion will ensure local, rather than county, control. Save Mount Diablo and Greenbelt Alliance say the expansion would actually pave the way for development by removing important protections. “More than half the land in question is owned by developers,” says Adams.
When Harte was working in the Tassajara Valley, California’s population was less than 380,000. Today, the state has 38 million people and the total may reach 45 million by 2020. Almost every election cycle sees a battle over whether cities must expand or keep development concentrated to protect open space and agricultural land.
Voters in several communities will have a chance to weigh in this November. Santa Rosa’s Measure O aims to protect that city’s existing urban growth boundary through 2035. In Petaluma, voters will be asked to approve Measure T, which would extend its current urban growth limits until 2025. For more information go to greenbelt.org.