Events Make for a Stronger Neighborhood

Rancho San Miguel is an attractive enclave of Eichler homes in Walnut Creek -- and well organized too. Photo by David Toerge

In the Eichler neighborhood of Rancho San Miguel, a home remodeling fair is about more than remodeling homes, just as a classic auto show is about more than autos. The get-togethers are also about building a united community with some clout.

“I work in government and know government processes,” says David German, president of the Rancho San Miguel Association in Walnut Creek. “I’ve been saying to the board and in the neighborhood, ‘We are a neighborhood. We are stronger by being a collective organization. City Hall will listen to use more.’ ”

Case in point, the voluntary association’s recent annual membership meeting near the start of the year, which featured the Home Remodeling Forum. Yes, it was about remodeling. But it was also about pulling people in, getting them to know their neighbors, getting them to join the association.

Hunter Wimmer, who lives in an Eichler in Concord and writes a popular Eichler blog, discusses remodeling with participants. Courtesy of Rancho San Miguel Association

The association has monthly board meetings, and quarterly meetings featuring speakers, not to mention other events such as Easter Egg hunts and a car show.

German, who has been president for 18 months and works for the city of San Francisco, has seen some success. The board, and membership chair Pat Wolfe, have increased membership in the association from 150 to 300 in the past year or so. About 100 people joined or renewed at January’s meeting alone.

Rancho San Miguel, a well preserved enclave of 375 Eichler homes and about 160 ranches, is on busy Ygnacio Valley Road not far from bustling downtown Walnut Creek and faces major challenges in the coming years, German says.

These include massive new residential developments, including a “transit village” near the downtown BART station – with the threat that many of these newcomers will buzz down already congested Ygnacio Valley Road once a giant new Safeway is built there along with a Whole Foods market.

German is also concerned about the impact new development could have up the street at Shadelands Office Park.

Participants listen and engage with the speakers during the remodeling forum. Courtesy of the Rancho San Miguel Association

It is far from coincidental that some of the speakers who attend Rancho events are Walnut Creek movers and shakers, like city councilmen and the police chief. And German is pleased to recall what the mayor told him during the neighborhood’s car show last summer.

“She said we’re the most active neighborhood in Walnut Creek.”

The next events should feature the city manager and city traffic engineer, German says. While neighbors will learn a thing or two from the city officials, you can bet city officials will hear as well from the neighbors.

German recalls the genesis of the Home Remodeling Forum, which was organized primarily by Pat Wolfe.

“We were thinking, what can we do that would be different, that would draw lots of the new people who are moving to the neighborhood,” he says, noting the area’s many new arrivals, many of whom work in tech fields. “People are putting a lot of money into their Eichlers and they are doing it in the right way.”

The original sales brochure for Rancho San Miguel

“We decided to do it without inviting any vendors. No vendors,” he says. “It would be a neighbor-to-neighbor discussion. We’d bring in people who have done particular things to their homes.”

“We said, this would be an informal discussion. We’re not interested in making recommendations for any vendor, or trashing any vendor.”

About 50 attended the forum, which featured a handful of homeowners talking about their remodels, some do-it-yourself jobs, others involving contractors. Hunter Wimmer, who lives in an Eichler in nearby Concord, and writes a popular blog, moderated, along with Dean Lundstrom, a Rancho association board member.

People discussed replacing rotten beams, replacing heating systems, doing floors and bathrooms. “We had hoped to have somebody on solar but the guy who did an amazing system had to bale at the last minute,” German says.

They also had a discussion that focused on ranch homes, since many people in the neighborhood live in Jordan & Reed ranchers.

“It was a very open conversation, the experiences people have had in working on their homes,” German says. “Eichlers are very unique houses. Once you start working on them yourself, it’s always a surprise. 'Look what’s in this wall!' ”

“People would say, oh, I did it this way, I did it that way.”

He adds, “There’s a lot of pride about Eichlers.”

Mature trees add to the neighborhood's charm. Photo by David Toerge.

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