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.