Jeff Ackerman: ‘Managed growth’ and our ‘soul-less’ communities |

Jeff Ackerman: ‘Managed growth’ and our ‘soul-less’ communities

Mention “sustainable communities” and Phil Car- ville’s eyes light up so brightly they penetrate his fashionable reading glasses.

By way of full disclosure, Carville is a friend of mine. I know … “We’ve always said Ackerman was a friend of developers and this proves it!”

Never mind they know very little about Carville, other than the fact that he’s been trying for the past six years to build a model community within the 452 acres known as Loma Rica Ranch (so much for the so-called “rubber-stamp” City Council).

Never mind there is no comparison to Carville and the classic “developer” who blows into town on a private jet, builds a few hundred homes with very little sensitivity to the needs of the community, and blows out of town when the money is in the bank.

Carville really and truly believes in the notion that you can build a community where residents have very little need to drive because most everything they need is within walk- ing or biking distance. The problem in Nevada County today is that we continue to build housing projects miles from stores and schools and jobs, requiring folks to take two and three trips to “town” every day.

“Communities without souls,” as Carville once describ- ed them to me. I live in one of those “soul-less” communities. It’s nice and peaceful, the neighbors are great and it’s been a wonderful place to raise my kids, but my garage door opener gets a workout because we can’t walk to anything where there is food, a high school or job.

If Carville has his way … and persistence is his middle name … residents of Loma Rica Ranch will also have their own farm. That’s right … walk right down and pick a ripe tomato for the spaghetti sauce. There is a beautiful organic farm operating on the property as we “speak” and it’s really something to behold.

I could get into something like that. Get up in the morning, walk or bike to work, get home and head out to the farm for a little “back-to-the-earth” therapy. It’s what gardens and farms were made for. There’s something about digging in dirt that is quite therapeutic.

The history of Loma Rica Ranch is colorful, dating back to Errol MacBoyle, principal owner of the Idaho-Maryland Mine. He purchased what was then Loma Rica Nursery in 1936 and got into horse racing and breeding in a big way, building one of the premiere racing stables (Loma Rica Ranchero) in the country. MacBoyle is credited with building Loma Rica Airport, which he used to transport his gold to what was then Mills Field in South San Francisco (it would eventually become SFO). The gold would end up in the San Francisco Mint.

MacBoyle suffered a stroke in the 1940s before he had a chance to build his dream mansion at the ranch. That would begin a series of development efforts that included a teacher retirement fund plan to build 800 or so homes with 14 acres of open space. That effort was bitterly fought by a group called the Loma Rica Preservation Committee. In the end, the teacher investment fund (TMI) group effort fell apart, “not because they were defeated,” said Carville. “The economy went south in 1989-1990 and they were left high and dry.”

Fred Knoop, who sold the ranch to the investment group, would eventually get it back in 1990 and try to put together his own housing project. That began another series of disputes, with opponents demand- ing parks and lots of open space. It’s important to note here that none of those de-manding the parks and open space offered to buy the land from Knoop at fair market value. There are a lot of people who are really good at telling others what to do with their money and their land. Knoop tried to compromise, reducing his plans from 400 to 180 homes and a business park. After months of bickering with the likes of Laurie Oberholtzer (who was on a county planning committee at the time), Knoop would eventually put the word out that he wanted to sell.

Bill Newsom (a former state appellate judge and father of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom) heard about it. He was a trustee with the Getty Foundation at the time and he contacted Carville to ask his opinion. “I knew him (New-som) from my work at North- star,” said Carville. “I told him of the concept of a walkable, bikable community with lots of open space.”

The Getty Trust would eventually buy the 452 acres for $6.8 million six years ago and contracted with Carville to head the development efforts.

Since then Carville says they’ve spent more than a million dollars on various itera- tions. The first one included 925 dwelling units (including apartments upstairs from retail shops) and lots of mixed-use (residential and commercial). “There was a need for affordable housing,” said Carville. “The market was kicking ass and we were proposing smaller lots, walkable, narrower streets, less asphalt and less carbon. Green wasn’t a buzzword yet.”

It’s important to note that Carville was probably the only so-called “developer” who was a Green Party member. He is also a Sierra Club member.

The city would eventually require Carville and other proposed annexation projects (Northstar, Kenny Ranch and Southill) to pay for a $200,000 economic study that took almost two years to complete. And we wonder why builders can’t build affordable homes.

Several meetings later, Carville got approval for no more than 700 homes. He believes the so-called “Managed Growth” initiative is targeted at his project. “It destroys the opportunity to do a mixed-use, green, sustainable development,” he said. “It forces us to go back to the standards of the 1980s … low- density sprawl subdivisions. I suppose we could just build 180 high-end homes, put a gate around our 80-acre community, with no access to the meadows or creek and maybe put in a half-acre park outside the gates with a couple of benches.”

Or, if the initiative passes, there’s a good chance Carville could get enough votes in a special election that would create 300 acres of open space (which his project includes), trails and open streams. “People would have access to the property they haven’t had in 70 years,” he said. “It would put Grass Valley on the map in terms of the greenest, most forward-thinking projects around.”

Unfortunately, there are many among us whose idea of “forward” thinking is status quo. They are the ones who scream the loudest, drowning out the efforts of those with the vision, passion and resources to make dreams come true.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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