Danville Express

Cover Story - June 8, 2007

Danville's destiny

25 years ago, activists worked hard to incorporate the Town of Danville

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

A McDonald's in Danville's classy new Livery and Mercantile? This proposal in the late 1970s struck horror into the hearts of residents.

Add to that the new three-story Diablo Bank, rising like a sore thumb on Diablo Road and Rose Street amid the picturesque one-story businesses in the Old Town area.

People feared what the county Board of Supervisors might approve next for Danville, and members of the Danville Association were ready to undertake the massive effort to become independent.

Incorporation had been voted on four times already, an attempt to combine just Danville and Alamo in 1964, and proposing a valley-wide city in 1967, 1973 and 1976.

"The Danville Association was created after the failed 1976 incorporation effort," recalled Beverly Lane, its first president. "It was a homeowners and business owners association."

Planning for Danville

The group was single-minded in its dedication to orderly planning for Danville, Lane explained, as well as preserving its natural beauty.

"As soon as we were organized, the county told developers they had to go through the Danville Association," Lane said. "We committed ourselves to not being a totally 'no' organization, but to do what was best for the future of Danville."

Danville Association members fought to stop the invasion of the golden arches, and in their victory realized they could make a difference. At the same time, in 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, which put a cap on property taxes, thereby putting to rest fears that a new city would impose more taxes.

Proponents of incorporation suspected that tax money from Danville was being spent by the county in other places. Also they felt land use issues could best be handled by local residents and that an incorporated Danville could provide better parks, planning and police services. Danville residents were being served at the time by 13 special districts, with individually elected boards, and by seven county service areas. Although previous broader incorporation efforts had failed, now Danville residents were ready to go it alone.

"It was apparent to us we needed to create a geographic area that just involved the area that people associated with Danville," recalled Dick McNeely, an attorney who was the second president of the Danville Association. "One of the reasons it failed before was nobody wanted to give up their local autonomy."

"Danville was blessed with great representatives through the years but the system was off," he added. "It made no sense that people living in the rest of Contra Costa County had more to say about what was going on in Danville than I did."

Huge tasks lay ahead: A feasibility study was needed; the Local Agency Formation Commission, LAFCO, had to be convinced to give its blessing to the endeavor; and final boundaries had to be established for the new town.

"LAFCO's role is to prevent small districts and non-viable cities from being created," Lane explained. "The executive director said he would never approve Danville, so we went to the commission members."

The Danville Incorporation Study Group was formed in April 1980 to undertake the mission. It comprised 14 residents with experience on local commissions and associations.

"People will probably appreciate how exciting it was," McNeely said. "Everybody was pushing hard to achieve the right results, so it didn't seem like work at all."

There was a discussion over whether to call Danville a town or a city.

"Legally there is no difference but it was the committee's desire to indicate the small-town character we wanted to preserve," recalled Lane. "It was a very brief discussion."

Setting the boundaries

McNeely was instrumental in determining the boundaries for the new town of Danville. The study group started with streets in the Danville ZIP code, 94526.

"One of the fights was whether to include Sycamore Valley," McNeely said. "It was another compromise we had to make with the Board of Supervisors, that we would not disturb the county's plan already adopted. We inherited that and had to oversee the build-out."

"It was not that easy to draw a line around the town," McNeely added. "We were approached by people around the periphery who wanted to join us, and by others from the same neighborhoods who didn't. The decisions were based on a lot of things, and a lot were raw politics."

He explained that because they were anticipating a close election, they drew boundaries to include neighborhoods friendly to the incorporation efforts. Blackhawk and several properties on the north end of Danville were left out for this reason.

"We met with the Blackhawk folks," McNeely recalled, noting that some wanted to join Danville while others did not.

"A lot of services we were to provide they were providing through other means," he said. "The streets were not public anyway, and they had police protection Ö. They achieved a new designation - unincorporated urban area - and a sign at the border that says, 'Blackhawk.'"

The study group found that some people on the border with a San Ramon ZIP code felt they were in Danville, and these streets were added.

"Their mail didn't change for years," said McNeely. "We had help from Congress; it was a big project to make that happen."

The feasibility of a town

A 68-page feasibility study completed in May 1981 outlined the incorporation proposal, the services the city would provide, and the projected revenues and expenditures for its first full year of operation.

Beverly Lane wrote the feasibility study with research help from volunteers Gay Wyne, Candace Snyder, Chris Winter, George Filice, Bill Highfield, Don Sledge, Susanna Schlendorf, Ken Samuels and McNeely. The study stated the proposed town of Danville could finance government services, and it cited reasons to allow its residents to vote on incorporation.

The committee, with help from Supervisor Eric Hasseltine, convinced the Board of Supervisors to put incorporation on the ballot without having to go through the exhausting petition process that had been used for the other efforts.

Committee members also persuaded the five LAFCO commissioners that Danville would be a viable town. LAFCO executive officer Dewey Mansfield finally recommended the vote although he added in his report that Danville should be the only city in the valley; he wanted San Ramon and Alamo to join Danville at a later date for what he saw as a better financed valley-wide incorporation. In reality, San Ramon was about eight months behind Danville in its own incorporation efforts and, indeed, used the argument that Danville had been allowed to incorporate, so why not San Ramon?

LAFCO approved the proposal Dec. 9, 1981, and the Board of Supervisors set the election for June 8, 1982. Both sides got to work.

The election - Yes on Measure B

The first town council election was also on the June 8 ballot, with 12 candidates who filed for the five seats. The incorporation vote was labeled Measure B.

The Danville logo with an oak tree bordered by an arch over the name Danville was designed by Howard Fites who worked for Jim Eastman at Eastman Printing; he said it could only be used by the supporters of incorporation. After the election, the town adopted the logo.

"One thing we did was to agree it would not be a huge sign campaign," McNeely said. "We decided signs people used were not informative. All they do is make Danville look ugly, and we didn't think that was a good way to begin a new town."

Opponents organized under the name The People Against Incorporation of Danville. Their main argument was that cityhood would add another layer of government plus they feared council members would become corrupt. They believed the new city would only actually receive about 60 percent of the $4.4 million in tax revenues being predicted by the backers of incorporation.

"Then the Saturday before the election, they put up thousands of signs that said, 'NO INC,'" McNeely recalled. "People aware of the sign ban were angry with the anti-incorporation campaign. Many people attribute our success to a backlash."

Now he observes there is something to be said for having signs after all. "They remind people there's something out there to study," he said, plus add an element of excitement to an election.

Meanwhile the 12 candidates walked the town, educating people about the value of incorporation as well as their own worth. They handed out white pencils with green lettering and the Danville logo, as well as orange balloons with green letters.

"All of us were optimistic, perhaps a little naive, thinking it would be easier," Lane said. "There is always a huge group saying this isn't a political campaign, it's an education campaign. They wanted information to be put out there as opposed to it being an emotional issue."

The results are in

The pro-incorporation forces gathered at Dick McNeely's house to wait for the election results on the evening of June 8, recalled Susanna Schlendorf, who ran for council.

"It took a very long time, of course, late into the night," she recalled. "It went back and forth. It was not a slam dunk."

Finally they found out they were victorious, and elected council members were John May (5,402 votes), Lane (5,182), McNeely (4,520), Schlendorf (4,311), and Doug Offenhartz (3,254).

"We were both exhausted and jubilant at the same time," Schlendorf remembered. "We knew we had a lot of work to do."

Out of 16,936 registered voters, 10,923 went to the polls with 5,809 voting yes and 4,952 voting no.

The new Danville Town Council was installed July 1, 1982, with John May, 63, sworn in as mayor. The meeting took place at the Education Center on Old Orchard Road, with a large crowd in attendance. County Supervisor Robert Schroder opened the meeting by declaring, "The first meeting of the Town of Danville will come to order."

The Rev. Martin Werfelmann of Immanuel Lutheran Church led a prayer and noted that it was a time for healing the divisions the race had caused. Superior Court Judge Max Wilcox Jr. administered the oath of office to the new council members, and Schroder presented them to the audience who burst out in an ovation.

"The installation was hilarious," Lane remembered, holding a program of the event with the signatures of all five new council members. "None of us expected people to come up with their program and have us autograph it."

Offenhartz, 34, who placed fifth in the voting, only 76 votes ahead of Al Guzman, removed his coat, necktie and shirt to reveal a T-shirt, reading, "I may be No. 5 but I'll try harder."

People were delighted to find out in the ensuing months that the new council members returned their phone calls, Lane said. But they had to made some decisions that were not easy for longtime residents.

"Extending Railroad Avenue to San Ramon Valley Boulevard was a difficult decision," she said. "We went through the Danville Lumber Co. on the corner."

That also meant eliminating the crossroads of Hartz and Love Lane, which upset people who liked having the signs together reading "Love" and "Hartz."

"People used to have their pictures taken under it," Lane recalled.

Lane, who is also on the board of the East Bay Regional Park District and curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley, said she regrets that two historic buildings were not saved - the old Duane Elliott house on Prospect, and a building with a false front from the 1920s on Hartz Avenue.

"But good things were going on that I'm very happy with," she added. "The fact we are doing well and providing services is a credit to the stewardship of the councils."

"Danville is far more successful than we ever dreamed," said McNeely, who was 33 when the town was incorporated. "We were very conservative in our income projection and rather liberal in expenses. We were very concerned about this thing we were working so hard on, concerned if it ended up an economic disaster."

He said they only provided for police and parks, not envisioning a leisure services division or public works.

"Shortly after incorporation, California changed one of the formulas that funded cities," he explained. "Our (income projections) were based on the old formulas."

Offenhartz had favored incorporating the entire San Ramon Valley or at least Danville and San Ramon, as one city that was more efficient and less parochial, but he concedes now that perhaps he was being unrealistic.

"I regret that the differences between the two communities have strengthened as a result of the separate incorporation campaigns, but that may have been unavoidable," he said.

He recalled the early days of cityhood as a fun time.

"There was a strong sense of camaraderie and shared purpose to do the best possible work with our egos set aside," he said.

He recalled the first town manager, George Gaekle, guiding them along the way.

"Things were very hands on, as we drafted ordinances that were cut and pasted from those adopted by other cities," he said.

He also recalled that they mainly appointed the well known activists to commissions and committees, and perhaps gave a cliquish impression.

Schlendorf, who was 36 at the time of the election, said incorporation insured that Danville became the special place it is today.

"Of course none of us knew that this many people would gravitate to the area," she said. "But I would have expected nothing less than that the community looks just the way it looks - so many services for the people and to have the sense of place that it has."

"I am very proud to have been a part of the incorporation and a part of the community," said Schlendorf. "I consider that to be one of my greatest accomplishments, without question."

Presenting the Past

The bi-weekly Presenting the Past features on May 4, May 18, June 1, June 15 and June 29 in the Danville Weekly chronicle the story of incorporation efforts throughout the San Ramon Valley. These articles are available at DanvilleWeekly.com under those issue dates.


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