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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Two men with competing visions

Uploaded: Feb 7, 2012
During my career as a daily journalist in the Livermore Valley, I have chronicled and commented on politics.
Two major players—with greatly differing perspectives, passed on from cancer in the last few months.
Most recently, Don Miller, whom I've labeled the "guru of the Livermore no-growth movement", died this month. Miller moved to Livermore in 1956 and led the no-growth movement through the more than four decades of battles over a vision for Livermore and the valley.
One of the leaders pushing a different pro-economic growth vision, Gib Marguth, passed away last August. Both men were effective although-- giving credit where credit is due—lots of Miller's vision has prevailed in Livermore. The Las Positas Valley, marginal land good only for dry-land farming, still lies vacant north of Livermore—Miller battled development plans there since the 1960s. Of course, what doesn't lie vacant is premier farm land in Tracy, Manteca, Patterson and other San Joaquin Valley communities.
During my time as an editor, I had the opportunity to deal with both men. Gib was known for his optimistic attitude and his record of public service—school trustee, councilman and mayor, Zone 7 water district director during valley-wide battles over infrastructure as well as a one-term Assemblyman before redistricting collapsed his district.
Notably, Gib worked for several employers including Sandia and Lawrence Livermore labs as well as Livermore Data Systems, a company he founded. He had both private sector and public sector experience that guided his decision making.
By contrast, Don spent his 45 years at the lab during a time when it was largely immune from the economic realities that it deals with today. It was important work to defend the nation against the Soviet Union with annual raises given routinely. Professionally, he was widely published and taught at universities.
Miller's style of politics was similar to the late Al Davis', "Just win, baby." I admired his ability to write a concise (two or three sentences) letter that nailed a sharp point.
He was known for his steadfast refusal to compromise—a trait that led some of his former allies to separate themselves over the years. Miller battled for years to uphold the so-called scenic corridor ordinance that forbid building on the hills along I-580 if the structures were visible from the freeway. The irony that his home sat on a ridgeline visible from the freeway didn't make a difference.
That ordinance drove developers building what's now the Tri-Valley Technology Park crazy—Costco had to excavate more than planned to preserve sightlines. Of course, those rules all were ignored when it was critical to Las Positas College to have a second access road—Shea Homes was able to build to the heights it wanted.
One additional irony: the North Livermore Avenue gateway to Livermore is a revenue cash cow for Livermore with its mix of auto dealers, big box retailers, fast food stores and gas stations. Nothing about it qualifies as scenic.
Miller's influence expanded beyond Livermore. He also led a law suit against Pleasanton when it approved Hacienda Business Park, a fixture in the city today that has allowed Pleasanton to enjoy a huge revenue flow compared to its population.
Over the last number of years, Livermore politics has evolved substantially with a group of curious bedfellows advocating the large regional theater downtown, while former allies have disparaged that plan. Until last fall's council election, Miller and his allies had dominated council seats for a decade.
Looking back, both men gave freely of their time and talent to serve the public and did some with sharply differing visions.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Thoughts, a resident of another community,
on Feb 7, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Another difference. I have never heard the name Gib Marguth until now.

Don Miller, on another hand, is a legend. He is known throughout the Bay Area and beyond. He was a brilliant, dedicated, and talented environmentalist and without him, Pleasanton, Livermore, Sunol and Dublin would now look like Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley from houses lining ridgeline to ridgeline.

He started the SAVE movement, Citizens for Balanced Growth etc. and tried to save Dougherty Valley from being developed. Though that lawsuit was lost, the city of Livermore and CBG now have millions of dollars from that lawsuit to acquire open space.

[Wouldn't Tim Hunt love houses and corporations stacked next to each other ridgeline to ridgeline? Yes, YES! Of course. It is his ultimate dream, I'll bet!]

Posted by Tim Hunt , a resident of Castlewood,
on Feb 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Yes, Don Miller is a legend to some folks. I think history will tell the tale--the Las Positas Valley is grossly under-utilized and prime land in the Central Valley grows houses. If his view had prevailed on Hacienda Business Park, Pleasanton and the valley would be vastly different. Hacienda was a drive in attracting the Ruby Hill investment as well as lots of other businesses that provide sales taxes and other city revenues for the very high level of city services residents receive. I've never advocated filling the valley with housing--the trade-off of irrigated agriculture for housing in the South Livermore Valley sparked the revival of the wine industry in the valley that was shrinking so much that the Wente family members had to organize a group to save Concannon Vineyards when its corporate owner was selling it.

Posted by Thoughts, a resident of another community,
on Feb 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm

The Las Positas Valley (North Livermore) and South Livermore Valley are both for designated for agricultural and open space use, not massive housing subdivisions like East Dublin.

It is the presence of an Urban Growth Boundary in Livermore that means urban sprawl in both the Las Positas Valley/North Livermore and the South Livermore Valley has not caused leapfrog development after leapfrog investment.

That has allowed there to be downtown revitalization and a very nice walkable community within Downtown Livermore.

Compare the difference -- the Downtown-less Dublin with its strip shop centers and constant sprawl westward toward Castro Valley with the Seeno development and the sprawl eastward toward Livermore vs Livermore itself Web Link

So I'd say the Las Positas Valley is not grossly underutilized at all. Instead its protection has been a key component so that investment at Livermore's center...downtown it has been re-energized and re-vitalized.

Posted by Thoughts, a resident of another community,
on Feb 9, 2012 at 11:00 am

Tim Hunt posed the following responses in a new thread regarding where are the Vineyards in the Las Positas Valley. That thread is restricted to comments for registered users so rather than comment on that, it makes sense to continue the conversation here.

Tim Hunt's new thread:

"It is interesting one comment equates the Las Positas Valley with the South Livermore Valley. The tradeoff in the South Valley?more than 2,000 units of housing for more than 4,000 acres of irrigated agriculture in the South Livermore Valley?has been a major driver in the number of local wineries growing from six to more than 40. Where is that agricultural growth in the Las Positas Valley? I haven?t seen any major winery raising its hand to develop vineyards in the Las Positas Valley."

**** Response: The Las Positas Valley is owned by two land speculator companies: Weyerhauser and the Lins. Ask them why they have not brought the vineyards to their vast properties.

More of Tim Hunt: "The downtown Livermore redevelopment has been well received by residents, but a dismal failure from a business standpoint and a city revenue standpoint. Check out the churn of businesses in that area?it?s remarkable.

Couple that with sales tax revenues that have yet to rebound to levels recorded in 2001, despite millions of dollars in public expenditures. The earlier numbers were enhanced by a more profitable Groth Bros. auto complex?but they are telling. The gross sales tax revenues to the city are still lower than they were in 2001 despite new buildings and public infrastructure spending and the Bankhead Theater.

With the state government now having eliminated redevelopment agencies?the financing mechanisms for projects such as Livermore?s regional theater as well as the rest of the downtown public improvements?the public financing leverage is gone."

**** Response: Tim Hunt, there is more to life than dollars and tax revenue for government bureaucracies to grow and grow. Your adjective describing Livermore's downtown as a "dismal failure" may be your opinion, but have you asked Livermore residents what they think of their downtown? Many are proud of it. Many Pleasanton residents wish their downtown matched Livermore's. San Ramon and Dublin have no downtown.

Don Miller removed the garish signs of downtown billboards in Livermore, led the way for the city to have multiple fountains, worked to pass a park impact fee to developers so that the city would have money to build parks, worked to collect signaturesa dn pass countless initiatives including SAVE, the UGB, etc. with the end result that downtown in Livermore is a pleasant and aesthetically pleasing downtown.

More of Tim Hunt:

"A few more thoughts on Don Miller and Gib Marguth:

1. For the person who responded?it?s unfortunate you did not know Gib?it was your loss. He was a first-class guy who served with the broader societal good in mind?remember he was elected to the school board, the city council, the Zone 7 water/flood control agency and the state Assembly. That?s quite a record of broad public service coupled with both semi-government at the lab and Sandia plus private sector.

2. Both Gib and Don were men of faith?different ones from the same root?Gib a Christian and an elder at First Presbyterian Livermore; Don, a founder of Jewish Temple Beth Emek.

3. As one of his daughters described Don?a man of contrasts?lifelong liberal, yet an avid gun owner and researcher on things ballistic and an NRA member."

**** Response: Don Miller was also on the Livermore city council, and he founded Citizens of Balanced Growth, and provided leadership for a broad range of issues that benefit all Tri-Valley residents to this day.

And Don Miller strongly advocated for both the First and Second Amendments of the Bill of Rights so he was not really a man of contrasts, but of consistency.

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