One of our first interviews with Ben Tarver, Pleasanton's former mayor who died Monday, came with a blunt rejoinder after we talked about launching this weekly newspaper on Jan. 28, 2000. "I like the concept but you probably won't last long," he told us, "because Pleasanton is a small town and there's just not much news here." That was Tarver: say it as he saw it, even if it hurts. We've proved him wrong but there were few times Tarver lost in his passionate, deliberate, unyielding determination to change the seemingly uncontrolled growth of Pleasanton as a major residential, business, retail and corporate center. He championed the call for slow growth (though he would have preferred no growth) from the time he was appointed to the city's Planning Commission in 1986, to his election to the City Council two years later, and then as mayor in 1992, a post he held for the next eight years.
Tarver was a product of the 1960s, coming of age in an era of street demonstrations and anti-war protests. He was not a rabble-rouser, however, but believed strongly in environmental issues and like the Great Society, that government had a major role to play in quality of life issues, at the local level as well as in Washington. Among his first political victories was to block a proposed annexation of what is now part of the East Bay Regional Park District holdings in the ridgelands west of Pleasanton where a private partnership was moving forward on planned 2,400-home development around a golf course.
A hard-driven elected official who was very idealistic, Tarver felt strongly about what he believed in. Lacking support at first -- even failing to have any of the other four on the City Council vote for some of his growth-dampening proposals, he found allies beyond Pleasanton at a time when many California cities were questioning their own rapid growth that the state's infrastructure -- water availability, sewer capacity, parkland -- couldn't handle. When Tarver moved here in 1974, he saw the dilemma first-hand when Pleasanton's antiquated sewer system couldn't handle the growth occurring then, leading to a cut-off of new building permits until the problem could be solved. For many of those reasons, he later fought the development of the Hacienda Business Park, backing an unsuccessful referendum to block its construction, and later the annexation into Pleasanton of the Ruby Hill gated community development, which he thought was too far from the city's limits and years ahead of a time when development should occur that far east. He relented only when colleagues on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved Ruby Hill anyhow and he agreed that it would be better to make the proposed upscale community a part of Pleasanton rather than Livermore or to be left as a new, independent municipality.
Whether political friend or foe, those who knew Tarver respected him as an honest, straight-forward, you-always-knew-where-you-stood kind of guy, a strong-willed city leader who shouted his beliefs from the rooftops and aggressively fought to put them in play. His commitment was not only to Pleasanton's future as he wanted it to be but also to his employer, the city of Concord where he was Director of Information Technology. No one ever complained about his work ethic. In fact, it was not unusual to find him driving back to his office in Concord after a long night of City Council deliberations to finish work that needed to be completed. Like the late Mayor Warren Harding and former mayors Ken Mercer and Tom Pico, Tarver brought a sea change to Pleasanton's destiny that continues today.