Nine months ago a dozen demonstrators gathered at San Ramon's Country Club Village Shopping Center to protest a Walmart Neighborhood Market scheduled to move into a vacant retail space that previously had housed a Ralphs grocery store and later an Asian food market.
The signs they carried sent a clear message: "No Walmart in San Ramon."
Conversations in online chat rooms further reflected the community's concern.
"I moved to San Ramon 32 years ago, and I didn't move here to be close to a Walmart," one resident wrote.
"I would rather see that place stay empty indefinitely than see something so base move into our neighborhood," wrote another.
About the same time, Saranap residents chafed over Sufism Reoriented's plans to build a 66,000-square-foot sanctuary, two-thirds of it underground.
This issue was so volatile that when it went before the Contra Costa County board of supervisors, the hearing required two sessions and had to be held in the Lesher Center's Hofmann Theatre to accommodate the 700 people who attended. Homeowners worried that the construction noise and traffic for a project that size would detract from their quality of life and diminish their property values.
I visited both locations last week to see for myself what havoc the projects had left in their wakes.
The parking lot in front of the Neighborhood Market was at least half full -- perhaps 60 vehicles in all -- on a weekday afternoon, and judging by the makes of the cars (Mercedes, Lexus and Cadillac among them), the shoppers to whom they belonged seemed to be doing all right in a down economy.
The store is bright and inviting, with helpful employees and fully stocked shelves. I was so impressed I bought 10 pounds of potatoes ($2.97) and a loaf of Sara Lee bread ($2.68).
"I haven't heard anything negative about the store," said City Manager Greg Rogers. "Their grand opening was well attended, and when I've walked through the store, it looks like quite a few people are shopping there."
Rogers said he's even heard words of gratitude from residents in the nearby Sunny Glen Senior Community.
"They're glad they have a grocery store nearby so they don't have to drive so far," Rogers said.
It's considerably harder to evaluate the inconvenience caused by the Saranap project because a lot of construction is still to come. A tapped Cyclone fence hides most of the work on the three-acre plot, but a huge hole visible from the street suggests that primary excavation is completed. The one Caterpillar digger at work when I visited barely could be heard from the street, and the only trucks were pickups belonging to construction workers.
Property values are easier to gauge. Real estate agents Lynda Dimond of Keller Williams and Ellen Osmundson of Better Homes and Gardens both have $700,000-plus listings within a few hundred yards of the dreaded construction.
"I don't believe property values have suffered," Osmundson said, flatly.
Dimond concurred: "I get a call every week from potential buyers if my pending sale should fall apart." She added that some prospects are actually attracted to the area because of the proximity of the sanctuary.
Things could always change, but from what I can tell, the mountainous worries of nine months ago may have been over molehills.