SAN RAMON -- For Diane Schinnerer, the need for San Ramon to become its own city was as clear as the high-caliber shots that rang out in the middle of the night in the hills near her home.

Crouching on the floor with her children, on the phone with the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, her pleas for assistance were met with a request that she write down the license plate of the shooters.

That experience was the tipping point for her.

"We were sending lots and lots of money to the county and getting very little, little services in return," she said.

After a few failed attempts and opposition from some county leaders, in March 1983 the area's residents approved incorporation by 3,825 to 1,254 votes and elected Schinnerer the new city's first mayor.

The AT& T headquarters is located  in  Bishop Ranch business park on Thursday, March 21, 2013 in San Ramon, Calif.  (Jim Stevens/Staff)
The AT& T headquarters is located in Bishop Ranch business park on Thursday, March 21, 2013 in San Ramon, Calif. (Jim Stevens/Staff)

The Dougherty Valley/San Ramon Rotary Club will honor these "city pioneers" April 10 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of San Ramon becoming Contra Costa County's 17th city.

"This idea of this event is really to recognize the people who have been instrumental in creating San Ramon, who have worked hard toward incorporation," said Dorn Driggs, the Rotary chapter's committee chairman.

The event, which is open to the public, will fete former city council members, fire and police personnel and city employees and include a presentation on the history of San Ramon and the incorporation process, wine from area vintners and a performance by a Dougherty Valley High School ensemble band.


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Now a burgeoning city that 72,148 people call home according to the 2010 U.S. Census, a sign boasting "Population 100" lasted well into the 1960s.

"We didn't even have stop lights and stuff -- just a stop sign" back then, said Earl Smith, whose family opened Windmill Farms Produce in 1974 on San Ramon Valley Boulevard, then a two-lane road. "There wasn't any need for traffic signals."

Smith, who credits his business' longevity with fulfilling a niche as the "original farmers market," recalls a couple gas stations, a small fire station and an A&W Root Beer establishment dotting the landscape at the time.

The Brass Door Restaurant (which first opened its doors in 1945 as an eatery with steamed beer and a row of nickel slots), a strip club known as the Wicked Eye (now a rental car agency) and the Outpost Casino (currently a restaurant) were also among the city's roster of businesses at the point of incorporation.

For Schinnerer and the other inaugural members of the council, the priority was to make careful and steady decisions that would help unify the areas of the city that were formerly represented at the county level by homeowners' organizations.

"We wanted to make the city cohesive," she said.

Herb Moniz, the city's former longtime manager, said the city's initial leadership and staff focused on the three P's: parks, planning and police. In the formative years, the city built a library, opened a senior center and constructed the first of many parks adjacent to schools that could be used by students and the community in partnership with housing developers.

Moniz said the city employed a comprehensive approach to issues such as public safety, with leaders recognizing that it meant not only cops patrolling, but clean streets, well-lit parks, partnering with the school district and getting citizens involved.

"I think San Ramon is an example of what can happen when businesses, community and the local government work together to form an understanding of what a city can really be," he said.

Although once nicknamed "San Remote," the city eventually became a business hub with the opening of Bishop Ranch. At the time of incorporation it remained outside the city lines, but it was annexed in 1987 -- just one of a few contentious land battles that would take place over the years.

As for the future, current City Manager Greg Rogers said the city is slated to break ground this summer on Rancho San Ramon Community Park -- a 30-acre planned park in Dougherty Valley that will feature a community building and all-weather sports fields -- begin repaving Crow Canyon and Bollinger Canyon roads and continue planning for the proposed 40-acre city center project currently delayed by the economy.

Schinnerer no longer needs the help of Girl Scouts and senior citizens to clean the debris from those late-night shenanigans of partyers in the hills. And her grandchildren are busy playing at the parks, which now total 56.

IF YOU GO:
What: "San Ramon Turns 30" celebration
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10
Where: Bridges Golf Club Pavilion Room, 9000 S. Gale Ridge Road, San Ramon
Cost: $15
Details: More information and to buy tickets: http://dougherty-valley.rotary5160.org

San Ramon milestones
1983 -- City incorporates
1987-1988 -- Bishop Ranch is annexed to the city. The 585-acre, 10 million-square-foot office park's tenants include Fortune 500 companies Chevron, AT&T and Bank of the West.
-- First San Ramon Street Faire takes place. The fair later becomes the Art & Wind Festival, the city's signature annual event held over Memorial Day weekend
-- San Ramon Olympic Pool begins operations
1989 -- San Ramon Library opens
-- San Ramon Community Center opens at Central Park
1992 -- San Ramon Senior Center opens. The center was expanded in 2007 and renamed the Alcosta Senior and Community Center, Park and Gardens.
1994 -- Dougherty Valley Settlement Agreement approved by the city and county. The 6,000-acre area is slated to include 11,000 homes at build-out.
1997 -- Ruth Boone bequeaths Forest Home Farms to the city. The 16-acre farm now houses the David Glass House, a Victorian-style home built in 1877.
-- Citizens approve City Charter
2000 -- First elementary school in Dougherty Valley, Coyote Creek, opens, becoming one of the first in the state designed and built by developers
2002 -- Memorial Park dedicated to San Ramon resident Tom Burnett and other victims of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
-- Iron Horse and Pine Valley community gyms open in joint effort between city and school district
2005 -- Dougherty Station Community Center and Library opens
2007 -- San Ramon Police Department moves in-house. The department previously contracted with the county for services.
-- Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center and Aquatics Center open
2009 -- Public Services Department opens second service center in Dougherty Valley for maintenance and operations