May 5, 2003

THE POTLUCK PARTY at the Kilkare Woods Clubhouse Sunday truly deserves the word "special." Over 90 people gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the countywide referendum that defeated an 85-home development on the ridge above Sunol. The party was hosted by Save Our Sunol, but the focus was on the accomplishment of Sunolians who gave their all to save the town's rural character some ten years before SOS was formed.

Virginia McCullough, always active in the preservation of Sunol, has collected press clippings on land use issues here that she shared at Sunday's gathering, some from as early as 1973. It was then that the development of Pleasanton Ridge via the Nipper property was first proposed. Nipper planned a community of some 700 homes, but by the end of 1977, protests and environmental studies had reduced the project to 50 homes and there it languished until 1982. Nipper, through the Sunol Development Company, proposed a new approach: 85 luxury homes and a controversial sewage system.

Sunolians showed up at every Alameda County Planning Commission meeting regarding the development. At a mid-November 1982 meeting, 25 Sunol Glen students appeared before the Commission and sang an original song to the tune of "What the World Needs Now." Morgan Miller, mother of one of those singers, wrote the words, which praised Sunol's unique beauty and appealed to the politicians to save it for all to enjoy.

Mary Marshall was there that day, representing SCORE - Sunol Residents Organized Regarding the Environment, a group started by Mary, her husband Robb, and Frank and Diane Fries, Amy Awtry, and Lynn Bowers in 1974 to fight development of the ridgelands. Kilkare Woods residents and KWA president Patricia Stillman attended early SCORE meetings and later organized regular Friday potluck meetings to work on the referendum.

Every newspaper in the Bay Area covered the struggle from November 1982 through its successful conclusion in the spring of the following year. County planning commissioners approved the proposal in January and county supervisors argued the pros for months. Sunolians were unflagging in their efforts to stop the development.

The Marshalls, Pat and her husband Bart, Kathy Capitani, Peggy and Gary Carpenter, Marlon Kuntz, Eileen Taufer, Ron Smith, Geraldine Baldassarre, Malcolm and Becky Douglas, Pam Peeters, Ralph Nielsen, Jane Winsted, Hazel Roraback, Cotton and Al Heitmann, and Joseph Barrett are some of the Sunolians whose names appear in press coverage of the petition drive. Margaret Tracy, chairperson then and now of Preserve Area Ridgelands Committee stood by her friends from Sunol and strongly opposed the project.

On April 8, 1983, the county supervisors approved Rancho Sunol to the outrage of some 120 Sunol residents at the meeting. Within minutes of the vote, Sunolians wearing t-shirts printed with "The Ridge - Save It for Later" began circulating petitions to make the development a county referendum issue. The collection of over 38,000 signatures in one month would be required, and Sunol's protectors swore they would get them.

The following evening, a candle-lit dinner in the clubhouse began the historic challenge to collect the signatures. Teenagers signed up to baby-sit so adults could hit the streets. Kathy Capitani's house served as referendum headquarters, her calendar marked each day with the group's hope of another 2,000 signatures collected. Volunteers from the Sierra Club, Fremont, Ashland and other county communities offered to help. Signatures were gathered at every area shopping center, library, college and even Oakland A's games, where a plane hired by the group circled the Coliseum trailing a banner asking fans to "Save the Ridge."

On May 6, 1983, the petitions, bearing over 50,000 signatures, were delivered to the board of supervisors. Rather than holding a costly special election, the supervisors rescinded their approval of Rancho Sunol on May 25. The following month, the Ridgelands Park Committee began circulating petitions for the Pleasanton Ridge Park Initiative, which resulted in preservation of the ridgeland above Sunol and Pleasanton as permanent parkland.

Many of the referendum workers attended the anniversary celebration. Neil Davies and Bruce Rogers recalled collecting the first 1,000 signatures. The Marshalls, Frieses and Douglasses, Virginia, Pat, Dan Reasor and Bob Several were among those who shared memories. Banners, news clippings, posters and photos covered the walls of the clubhouse. It was a fine day and a moving tribute to a fight well fought and justly won.

REMINDERS: Please come out for the Sunol Business Guild's blood drive Wednesday at the Color Spot Nursery, 3540 Andrade Road from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Each donation saves at least three lives.

And don't forget the Annual Fremont Steelhead Festival and Watershed Awareness Fair on Saturday Niles at the Community Park, 3rd and H Streets from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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