SAN RAMON -- Driving through the Henry Ranch neighborhood, it looks like a massive landscaping project is underway. The grass at many homes seems to have been rototilled, and piles of dirt lie across walkways.
But this is no improvement project. It's the work of a wild pig wrecking crew that is laying waste to yards, and racking up thousands of dollars of damage on nightly raids.
"I was surprised at how much damage the pigs can do so fast," said Adiba Azim, who moved in to this neighborhood of million-dollar homes last year. "We moved here to be in a nice area with good schools. We didn't expect this."
She sighed as she showed a visitor her lawn, which has been transformed into chunks and patches over the past two weeks. Her husband replanted the patches after the first raid but gave up after the pigs dug them up again.
The wild pigs have had their way lately at more than 20 homes in the Henry Ranch subdivision, in the west San Ramon hills at the interface of housing developments and open spaces.
It's places like this where the pigs -- which can weigh up to 300 pounds -- wreak havoc across California, looking for bugs and grubs under manicured lawns.
San Ramon homeowners have struggled, with limited success, to stop the onslaught.
Some residents tried motion-sensor lights to scare off the wild pigs; the pigs ignored them.
The homeowners association installed temporary fencing to stop the nightly porker invasions, but the gang of pigs mowed down two fences as if they were blades of grass.
Valerie Von Sosen installed motion-detector talking Halloween skulls on trees above her lawn. She believes the creepy voices reduced the damage.
Of course, the pigs may have simply meandered down the road to rip up other lawns.
"The pigs can wipe out a lawn in a few minutes," said Jonathan Christensen, a resident whose home security camera captured a pig raid on a video he posted on YouTube.
Christensen complained that homeowners got little or no help, at least initially.
But a trapper hired by the city of San Ramon and the Henry Ranch Homeowners Association has trapped four pigs in the past few days, after failing to capture any for a week, a city official said.
The $8,000 trapping bill is being split by the city and the homeowners association, although each contends it's not their legal obligation to help the homeowners protect their private property.
"Technically, it's the homeowners' responsibility," said Jeff Galt, the operations division manager for the city's public services department. "But it's a higher priority when the problem gets to this point. We feel it's the right thing to do."
Wild pigs in California are non-native descendants of domestic pigs released into the wild in the 1700s by Spanish and Russian explorers and wild boars imported from Europe in the 1920s by hunters.
Hunting is used in many rural areas to thin the wild pig numbers, but cities typically have a ban on firing guns within city limits, said Janice Mackey, spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The department issued depredation permits allowing the trapping and killing of the pigs at Henry Ranch.
To minimize pig problems, the department recommends homeowners not leave food outdoors and consider fencing their properties.
Von Sosen said she doesn't want the pigs killed and would prefer the homeowners association fence the pigs out of the development.
However, Jason Marquez, the homeowners association's manager, doubts fences will work because so much open space borders the homes. "Most of the homeowners we're hearing from want the pigs trapped as soon as possible."
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267. Follow him at Twitter.com/deniscuff.