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East Bay | Environment & Forest Defense

The fight to save the Alhambra Hills
by Alessandra Bergamin
Friday Sep 13th, 2013 2:20 PM
In an effort to preserve a beautiful, yet unknown piece of land- the Alhambra Hills- from development, Martinez locals have formed the Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee to fight for it.
jamiealhambrahills.jpeg
jamiealhambrahills.jpeg

Between Mount Wanda and Briones Regional Park, on a ridge surrounded by patchwork housing lies the undulating Alhambra Hills.

Currently private land and unknown to most, the hills are home to majestic oaks, endangered species and as recent first hand accounts state- perhaps even John Muir himself.

For the past two years, a quiet battle has been unfolding in the council chambers, newspapers and farmers markets of Martinez. Led by the Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee (AHOSC), the group has been gathering community support to save this historically significant piece of land from development.

“We came together around the concept of trying to find a way to buy these hills as open space because they’re so iconic,” said Tim Platt, a member of the Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee. “There’s beautiful wildlife up there, the oaks are tremendous, there are endangered species like the Alameda whip snake and there is even talk about it being a pathway for mountain lions.”

The land, currently owned by developer, Richfield Investment Corporation, is set to become a 110 home division that was first approved by the Martinez City Council in 2011.

Recently, the AHOSC discovered the Muirian footprint on the land with first hand accounts from Ross Hanna, Muir’s grandson and David Hanna, his great grandson, confirming the find.

According to David Hanna, the Muir’s owned around 2,600 acres of land in the Martinez area including what they referred to as the ‘East Hill’- now the Alhambra Hills. Both David and Ross Hanna have fond memories of tramping around the hills as children.

“I’ve been all over those hills,” said David Hanna, adding with a chuckle, “like [roller] coasters we used to come down those fire trails as kids.”

While family records and first hand accounts have confirmed the history of the land, the AHOSC is now searching for county deeds and official records to help solidify their case against development.

The Alhambra Hills development was first proposed in the 1970’s but it wasn’t until 1990 that the City Council finalised a plan. Over ten years later the Alhambra Highlands project was approved.

The original 1990 plan included three separate subdivisions with a total of 216 units. But when the presence of the threatened Alameda whip snake was confirmed, the proposal was downsized and now includes 218- acres of whip snake habitat.

“They’re going to be large lots with a fair amount of landscaping and a lot of iconic trees will be gone. That’s a tough issue” explained Platt.

Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee member, Jamie Fox believes the land not only has potential as a open space, but to serve as a nexus of trails. The Alhambra Hills would serve as a connection from the Canal Trail and Mount Diablo to Briones Regional Park and Mount Wanda- an idea he proposed at a Martinez Council meeting last year.

“A good trail has views, it has shade and most importantly it’s kind of level,” said Fox during his city council speech. “It doesn’t go up a hill and down a hill, it follows the contours of the hill. And this trail does exactly that.”

Richfield Investment Corporation president Ricardo Sabella has promised he would forestall any grading or building until April 2014. While Richfield has said he is willing to negotiate a price for the property, a figure has not yet been discussed and most recently, red spray paint has appear on several of the oaks indicating- time is running out.

“What we’re trying to do is build the fire, build the heat,” says Tim Platt, “and build the public base of enthusiasm and knowledge about the land, and encourage the right people to get involved.”

For more information on the Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee, please visit:
http://www.alhambrahillsopenspace.org/

An extended version of this article was published online at Bay Nature- http://baynature.org/articles/could-ghost-of-john-muir-save-alhambra-hills-from-development/
§An Alhambra Hills wind- swept oak tree.
by Alessandra Bergamin Friday Sep 13th, 2013 2:20 PM
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