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Living - June 1, 2007

Presenting the Past: Danville votes to incorporate as a town (Part 1)

by Beverly Lane

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Town of Danville. A citizen effort promoting home rule for Danville began in 1980 and won voter support on June 8, 1982.

Attempts to create a city in all or part of the San Ramon Valley had come to a vote in 1961, 1964, 1967, 1973 and 1976, and all efforts were defeated. It was clear that most voters did not want to have a valley-wide city.

The community of Danville had been part of every one of these votes. The 1980 effort shared many characteristics of the earlier ones:

* Confidence that local citizens were capable of deciding land use issues themselves;

* A suspicion that the County Board of Supervisors was spending a large proportion of Danville-generated tax monies in other parts of the county; and

* A desire for better parks, police services, planning and public works.

The final votes on early incorporation efforts foundered on the issues of community identity, fears over increased taxes, objections to "another layer of government," disagreements on boundaries, residents' resistance to change, or just plain indifference. In addition, developers actively opposed each election since they worried about decisions that would be made by an unknown council.

Feeding Danville's interest in incorporation were two events in 1980. A McDonald's was proposed for the new Livery and Mercantile shopping center, which many people opposed. They fought it successfully at the San Ramon Valley Regional Planning Commission and with the County Supervisors. A large number of these activists wondered why five Supervisors in Martinez (with only one elected from Danville) should be making planning decisions on local matters.

The second event was the appearance of a three-story bank building, the Diablo Bank, at the corner of Diablo Road and Rose Street, the entrance to Danville's Old Town. The bank building was so clearly out of proportion that it became a portent of Danville's future as part of the county - and a symbol for the pro-incorporation forces.

The drive to incorporate came from people involved in the Danville Association, a group of homeowners and business owners that began in 1978. It had these goals: to conserve the natural beauty of Danville, to encourage orderly planning, and to encourage measures for the safety and general well-being of Danville residents.

The Association listened to all sides of planning issues and presented positions to the County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors with regard to the Peters Ranch and Sycamore Valley developments, among others. The 11-member board focused on planning issues and served as a forum for community concerns such as fire services and flood control. And the Association enabled small homeowners' groups to get broad community support when problems with the County surfaced.

The Association led the opposition to both the proposed McDonald's and the size of the Diablo Bank Building and became increasingly politically astute. Eventually this sense of political efficacy found some of them discussing the issue of incorporation for Danville. At the same time the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which put a cap on property taxes, ended the anti-incorporation argument that a city would raise property taxes.

Incorporation discussions began in 1980. A letter from Supervisor Eric Hasseltine was part of the impetus for the discussion; he pointed out that the community should re-examine its current structure and could count on his help. Susanna Schlendorf (a San Ramon Valley Area Planning Commissioner), Dick McNeely (a member of the R-7 county service area committee), and George Filice (a longtime resident and specialist in police services) were involved early on.

Later Beverly Lane, Bick Hooper and Tony Stepper from the Danville Association, Joe Hirsch (an Area Planning Commissioner) and Ed Laczynski (San Ramon Homeowners Association) joined in the conversation. Schlendorf, Lane, McNeely, Hooper and Stepper were all Danville Association Presidents. An ad hoc committee, called the Danville Incorporation Study Group, was formed in April 1980.

The Study Group decided early on that Danville should try to vote on incorporation with Danville-only boundaries. This would be the first time Danville voters had the chance to incorporate without Alamo and San Ramon voters included. The Danville-only effort faced a challenge, since the staff in charge of new city boundaries was adamant that only a San Ramon Valley-wide city should be incorporated.

Beverly Lane, a longtime Danville resident, is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon."

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