WALNUT CREEK -- The grasses are growing, the temperature is ticking up and residents whose homes surround the Acalanes Ridge Open Space miss the cows who for years chomped on the fire-fueling grass.
"The grasses seems awfully high, and people are worried," said Frank McCormick, a resident who lives in the housing development Summit Ridge.
This is the second year residents perched on the edge of the 178-acre open space have called on the city to do something to protect their homes after cattle grazing was outlawed in the area beginning in fall 2010. The fire district and city provide some weed abatement, but residents say it's not enough compared with the cows.
Last year, goats were brought in to munch
That mildly assuages McCormick, who has for more than a year rallied 100 neighbors to call for more fire protection. But Tom Watson, who lives on Beacon Ridge, across the street from Summit, sees no such relief. If a fire starts on Pleasant Hill Road, his home is right in the line of fire, literally, he said.
"Obviously whoever makes the loudest noise gets grease on the wheel first," Watson said about Summit getting goats. "I am still sitting up on the point and still very concerned about the fire."
Complaints are not what drives the decision on goats, Dollard said. The city looks at each area of the open space and assesses what is the best course of action. Because there are homes in Summit Ridge that sit on a hill potentially in the line of fire, it made sense to have goats graze, she said.
"We plan on using the goats as long as they are necessary to the extent they are necessary," Dollard said. "We will always do what is appropriate for an individual situation -- 3,000 acres are getting just as much attention as that seven."
What both Watson and McCormick really want is for the cattle to return, as do many of their neighbors.
"Walnut Creek has budgetary problems, and now they have been spending money on the goats instead of getting money from the rancher," Watson said. "I think let's go back to economics."
Last year, the goat grazing cost the city about $6,000, but that doesn't include any additional cost for weeding. Walnut Creek used to make about $5,000 a year from grazing leases, but city leaders said that didn't offset the damage the cows caused.
The city's Park, Recreation and Open Space Commission decided in October 2009 to end cattle grazing in the Acalanes Ridge and Sugarloaf Open Space areas beginning in fall 2010. That decision stemmed primarily from an open space vision report, which cited users complaining about the cattle trampling the trails and attacking dogs and people.
That decision was upheld by the same commission last year after the fire concerns at Summit Ridge. And neighbors were told they could not appeal that decision to the City Council.
McCormick believes elected leaders should have the final say on whether cattle grazing should be allowed in the open space. He says he plans to make it a political issue in this year's council election.
The city is looking at allowing cattle to graze in the Lime Ridge Open Space because it's a much larger area and there wouldn't be conflicts between cows and people, Dollard said.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.