Bit by bit | February 22, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Perspective - February 22, 2008

Bit by bit

The devil doesn't appear with a long, red, pointy tail, said a character in "Broadcast News"; he is nice and helpful and lowers the standards bit by bit. So development may come to the Tassajara Valley, despite the urban limit line passed by voters.

Word began to spread in the 1980s about the massive Dougherty Valley development coming to the unincorporated hills southeast of Danville. The planned community would provide much-needed houses near jobs, we were told, and prevent commuting to the Central Valley. Plus it would include trails, open space, amenities and affordable housing.

But how would the local infrastructure accommodate the influx? And how would the sudden increase in population impact the surrounding cities? Step by step the parties hammered out the details, and Dougherty Valley ended up with 11,000 homes on 6,000 acres. School board Trustee Joan Buchanan stepped forward to ensure the developers would be legally bound to build the schools they had promised, and the Dougherty Valley Oversight Committee was formed with representatives from San Ramon, Danville and the county to monitor the development.

Now Dougherty Valley has been annexed by the city of San Ramon, its schools have opened, and a shopping center serves the new population. Dougherty Valley High School with its state-of-the-art facilities and theater is a welcome addition to the district and the community. But a drive through the stucco forest makes it clear why residents passed the urban limit line a year ago November, and one appreciates Save Mount Diablo's work to preserve other undeveloped areas.

On Danville's east border on Camino Tassajara lies the sprawling Alamo Creek, a development that will include 1,400 homes, on county land. The inclusion of the Mustang Soccer Complex helped this project get approvals.

Next up: Tassajara Valley? Last summer the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to allow a $1 million study on a proposed development in the Tassajara Valley called New Farm; it would have 193 homes in a 770-acre project that would cluster homes and surround them by agriculture. The developers defined the project as rural-mixed use, but only Supervisor Susan Bonilla admitted it was aimed at finding a loophole for the urban limit line and voted against it.

Now San Ramon is applying to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to bring Tassajara Valley under its sphere of influence rather than the county's. In its Sphere of Influence Amendment Initial Study, San Ramon notes that an increase in residents and jobs is projected for San Ramon in the year 2020 and says, "Inclusion of Tassajara Valley in the Planning Area could improve the City's jobs/housing balance." Its 43-page environmental report concludes that changing the sphere of influence would have no environmental impact but it does not include the New Farm proposal.

We are not ones to say: We're here, close the gates. But neither should we automatically accept the arguments from developers that their proposals will keep the rural flavor of Tassajara Valley. We should apply the lessons we have learned over the years regarding smart growth and keep development inside the urban limit line.