The secluded Alamo neighborhood was developed about 25 years ago, speckled with California ranch-style homes that back up to the wilderness of Mount Diablo.
Most of the houses were built with roof shingles made of cedar wood shake. Now, the roofs are reaching the end of their lifespan, and homeowners are faced with having to replace them. Only, they have a different material in mind: tri-laminate asphalt, which they say is less expensive, lasts longer and is less likely to catch fire.
Trouble is, the homeowners association will not allow it, saying the material doesn't fit with the look of the neighborhood.
"The (asphalt) shingles are aesthetically inappropriate," said Dave Blomquist, chair of the HOA architectural committee. "They clearly have a different texture, different pattern, different appearance."
Aesthetic harmony is a key part of the neighborhood's appeal, he said, and the liberal open space between homes makes rooftops extra visible.
But at a time when wildfires are running rampant throughout the state, using wood shake is akin to "putting kindling on your roof," said Steve Saucy, spokesman for concerned residents. He lives in Bryan Terrace, one of three neighborhoods that comprise the greater Bryan Ranch area, along with Bryan Ranch and Bryan Meadows.
"If there's ever a fire out here in Mount Diablo, houses are going to go up like a tinderbox," said Bryan Terrace resident Jay Fischer, calling the HOA's position an "abuse of power."
Slate and tile are also acceptable materials by HOA standards, but residents say they are too heavy to be realistic choices, especially in Bryan Terrace where roofs tend to have a steeper slope.
The State of California's recently updated fire severity maps and building codes require roofs in the area to meet Class A standards. Shake roofs are typically Class B, but can be supplemented with a fire-resistant underlayment to bump them up to Class A.
"All the fire safety concerns are satisfied," Blomquist said. "There's no gain in going to asphalt shingles."
But residents say treatments cost thousands of dollars, on top of the already high cost of the material. Shake shingles cost twice as much as asphalt - roughly $300 per square vs. $145 - and lasts half as long, said Fischer.
Tony La Russa, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals and former manager of the Oakland Athletics, figured it was worth eating a $25,000 fine to put asphalt shingles on his roof three years ago, said Saucy.
One resident discovered her insurance agency will not insure homes with wood roofs in the neighborhood, which is considered a brush area. Saucy suspected the incident is "just the tip of the iceberg," a trend which, if continued, could hurt resale prices.
After 145 signed petitions were collected, enough to force a vote, ballots were mailed out to homes in the area. They are due back Aug. 18, and a vote count will follow shortly after.
A 75 percent majority is needed to get the rule changed - a chunk that's tricky to get even with widespread support, residents lament.
"The board just laughed and said no way, you can't get 75 percent of the people to do anything," said Fischer.
But those passionate about the issue are determined to try. They've been e-mailing and calling residents, knocking on doors, distributing and hanging fliers to get the word out.
Fischer said he recently saw the president of the Bryan Ranch HOA's board of directors, Monique Martin, ripping down one such flier. She told him it's against the rules to post signs in the neighborhood.
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