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February 27, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, February 27, 2004

Ruby Hill abounds with children, charity and friendly neighbors Ruby Hill abounds with children, charity and friendly neighbors (February 27, 2004)

Gated community on east side of town has been 'a wonderful addition'

by Geoff Koch

It is a neighborhood so full of children that two Wheels buses pass through every day to shuttle students to and from Pleasanton schools. It is marked by the undeniable material wealth and jaw-dropping generosity of its residents. It is home to technology executives and professional athletes, as well as to community college instructors and writers.

In short, Ruby Hill defies some people's expectations.

Ken Mercer was mayor when Pleasanton annexed Ruby Hill in 1993. Mercer, now a vice president at ValleyCare Health System, said that Ruby Hill brought more than tax dollars to town.

"It has been a wonderful addition, bringing open space, beautiful homes and vineyards, and a homeowners association that provides needed support to charities in the Valley," he said.

Donna Garrison is one of the homeowners to whom Mercer is referring. After a successful career at Microsoft in Seattle, Garrison moved to Ruby Hill with her husband David to raise their three children. She was one of the early organizers of the Ruby Hill Giving Thanks Charity Committee.

"We wanted to give back to the community and set an example for our children," she said.

Through charity balls and other events, the committee has distributed over $1.5 million to Tri-Valley organizations that support children and families, including Hope Hospice, Open Heart Kitchen and Valley Care Health System's pediatrics group.

Laura Wu, longtime Pleasanton resident and president of the homeowners association, considers Ruby Hill to be a part of the larger community. She said several of the accomplished Pleasanton Rage girls' soccer teams practice on Ruby Hill's athletic field and that the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce presented a panel discussion among the candidates for the Pleasanton school board at the Ruby Hill Golf Club prior to last November's election.

Wu's time on the board is spent studying roads, streetlights and open spaces in the development, all of which are maintained and paid for by the homeowners.

Ruby Hill has been the subject of much controversy in its brief history. Issues have been raised on everything from sewage to schools to salamanders. On this last point, Signature Properties, the developer of Ruby Hill, spent over $1 million to comply with the Clean Water Act and set aside habitat for the tiger salamander.

While much of the controversy has passed, the issue of Neal School remains. Two years ago the school district signed an agreement with Signature Properties. The district agreed to pay $8.5 million for the school. Signature Properties, which would build the school, would pay any additional costs.

Today the estimated cost to build the school is $13.5 million and the two sides, the district and Signature Properties, are in court in a dispute over the language of the contract.

Several Ruby Hill residents expressed concern about school overcrowding and hope that the Neal School issue would be resolved soon. Resident Julie Testa emphasized that this is not just a "Ruby Hill issue" but one that affects many families new to Pleasanton.

"Our neighborhood is fractured into as many as five different elementary schools," she said. "Next-door neighbors may not send their children to the same school and new families are told their elementary-age children may go to three different schools."

Controversies, past or present, do not appear to have dampened demand for lots and homes at Ruby Hill. Ali Lane, a sales associate at Ruby Hill Realty, reported that the project is "75 percent done" of the 850 original home sites.

According to Lane, the 12 lots recently released by Signature Properties sold briskly for an average price of $600,000. She said that, as Ruby Hill approaches its 10th anniversary, several resale properties are available. Prices and square footage for these properties start at $850,000 and 2,600 square feet, respectively.

Ruby Hill is home to a few Pleasanton literati. Kathleen Antrim, mystery novelist and former columnist for the ANG Newspaper Group, lives in the neighborhood. Antrim recently won the prestigious Robert Hughes writing award and her debut novel "Capital Offense" has received rave reviews.

Antrim, who has lived in the neighborhood for seven years with her husband Jeff and their two daughters, says she is one of Ruby Hill's old-timers.

"When we first thought about buying here, the neighborhood was just a big plot of dirt with no trees," she said. Though the neighborhood has grown up around her during the last several years, Antrim still spots the occasional deer and coyote when she breaks from her writing.

Tom McMahon, another Ruby Hill resident, has been teaching psychology at Ohlone College since 1976. But that's just his day job.

McMahon's syndicated "Kid Tips" column appears every week in newspapers across the United States. His 1998 book of the same name was a bestseller and featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. His earlier book "Teen Tips" was updated and re-released this year.

Residents say that one neighborhood characteristic that does not defy expectations is its friendliness.

Garrison gave examples of Easter egg hunts and Halloween parties for the children along with wine clubs and progressive dinners for adults.

McMahaon, who moved to Ruby Hill five-and-a-half years ago from Fremont with his wife Nancy and their two daughters, said that friendliness isn't limited to special occasions.

"It's always easy to find someone to lend a hand on a weekend project," he said.

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