Here's a thought from my morning walk — we are a city divided, have been for some time. Divided by ideology, culture, income, all kinds of things.
We are also a city divided by geography. There is old-town Martinez, generally delineated as north of the Santa Fe railroad trestle, though old town also extends, it could be argued, to those homes just to the south. Anyway, as you head south, you drive right past the Alhambra Hills, smack dab in what one would call the new Martinez. That is the part of the population that does not relate much to the downtown, to the issues there or the folks. South Martinez does its shopping and socializing in other places — Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Concord. And a lot of kids in the south go to schools in the Mount Diablo School District, which drives us further apart. How to bring these two areas together has been a challenge for many years.
And now there is a potential answer. The Alhambra Hills.
Yes, the Alhambra Highlands have been on the table for decades, and the project has come as no surprise to many. Though two-thirds of the proposed 300 acres has been set aside for open space, the thought of losing up to 625 mostly old-growth oaks and nearly 80 acres of scenic ridgelines is hard to bear. Still, the preservation group that met Sunday was composed mostly of old town folks. There were a few people from the south, but not that many.
It would seem to me that the preservation of these hills would benefit everyone in the city. And the owner is, according to an article in the Martinez News Gazette, willing to consider selling the property for open space. So there is no inherent controversy. No one is pounding on the table, demanding the right to build homes. The owner just wants a fair return on investment, as is reasonable. The surrounding neighborhoods would breathe a lot easier knowing that 112 homes are not going up above and around them, on ground that already is unstable. And the citizens of Martinez would have generations of enjoyment of some of the most beautiful land around, including oak forests and eye-popping views.
If the folks from the north of town could find a way to reach out and involve the folks in the southern part, to organize and raise funds and find a way to purchase those hills for open space, a lot more could blossom than just open space. Such an endeavor, if the relationship could be nourished, would result in any number of changes for the city, all for the better. It certainly would create a seismic shift in the political landscape because the two sides of the city no longer could be played against each other. Perhaps folks in the south could be convinced to check out the downtown and its many amenities. A new identity could emerge from such a movement — a stronger and richer identity, as people grew to know and appreciate each other and the place they all call home.
The Alhambra Hills are a very special piece of real estate, and if beauty exists on the planet, it certainly exists up there. But the hills could have more than just exterior beauty if the movement to preserve them can bring a divided city together. That's beauty on a much larger scale.