Prior to the June primary election in 1982, Danville was an unincorporated community, like its neighbors Alamo, Blackhawk and Diablo.
During that year's election, a majority of residents voted "Yes on B", the measure to incorporate Danville into its own municipality run by its own elected government, rather than as an unincorporated area served by the county.
The rest is history, and so are the efforts that led up to the successful campaign --and election of the first town council charged with governing the new incorporation. In the present day, the election is being commemorated at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley's "Danville at 40" exhibit, which has been on display since last month.
"By the time we incorporated, Danville was 125 years old, and people celebrated that heritage," said Dick McNeely, one of the five members of the inaugural Danville Town Council. "San Ramon was always different, which is not to say better or worse, just always different and this kind of heritage is what the town grew out of. And people are still very proud of it."
The passage of Measure B by voters in 1982 came on the heels of several unsuccessful efforts to form an incorporated city in the San Ramon Valley. However, it was the first in which Danville was proposed to stand as its own municipality, rather than being grouped into a city along with its neighboring communities such as San Ramon and Alamo.
Prior to 1982, the most recent incorporation effort had been in 1976. Beverly Lane, who'd moved to Danville with her family in 1973, first became interested in the incorporation debate at this stage. She went on to be a vocal advocate and facilitator of the 1982 measure, as well as a member of the inaugural council.
"It was going to be the City of the San Ramon Valley, and San Ramon was very happy with that, and Alamo and Danville were not," Lane said.
Lane went on to work with the Danville Association and other interested community members and groups, including McNeely, on a measure to incorporate just Danville into its own town, by lobbying individual members of the county's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).
"What happened was the association and lots of other people said 'let's talk about incorporation in only Danville', so the response from the executive director at LAFCO, which had to approve the boundary, was only if you have Alamo and San Ramon in it," Lane said.
"Those of us who had gone through the 76 boundary conversations … I didn't work that much on the campaign, but the one thing that I and several other people said was you've got to get the Danville boundary only and you're not going to get it in a recommendation from the executive, so you have to get the votes on the commission."
McNeely said that despite the difficulty this posed, he, Lane and other proponents of incorporating Danville had become savvy enough over the years to take on the task.
"We had learned how to politic, from appealing things to the Board of Supervisors, and how to influence government, and who you talk to and what you do," McNeely said.
"We just made the point that there had been three elections doing the exact same work that LAFCO staff had insisted upon and the commission had accepted, and give us one chance," Lane said. "Then they told me that they were going to give Danville one chance."
Despite the failure of previous incorporation efforts that included larger portions of the San Ramon Valley, McNeely and Lane noted that there was demand for incorporation in Danville during that era, as the community sought to maintain the town's heritage and individuality amidst fears of suburban sprawl. In addition, as an unincorporated area governed by the county Board of Supervisors, early proponents of incorporation leveraged a strong economic case for a shift to municipal government.
"People who talked about incorporation had opinions, shall we say, about how the county was making these decisions," Lane said.
McNeely called the early, local incorporation advocacy in Danville a "crash course in civics" for himself and others.
"There's only one member of the board that represented Danville and the other four were from the rest of the county," McNeely said. "That was the governing system that regulated planning in Danville. People got frustrated that they had no real representation in front of the Board of Supervisors, and that if there was a Town of Danville, it would control planning and Danville would elect all five of the decision-makers, not just one. So that got a number of people excited."
Lane, McNeely, the Danville Association and other advocates of incorporation, ultimately built a convincing case that Danville would be better served by a town government than by the county, by pointing to minimal services provided by the county in certain areas.
"The county services here were really lacking and it was clear that wasn't going to change any time soon, especially in police protection," McNeely said. "We had about 23,000 to 24,000 people … and we had the benefit of one half of one part-time beat that the county sheriff could provide, because they're spread incredibly thin."
Lane noted that this point gave way to what they'd called the "four P's" during incorporation efforts – police, parks, planning, and public works.
"So that drew some attention from people, and then we looked at … flood control and public works, and we found that things were much closer to a balance there, but still a town could do a better job," McNeely said.
One reason for this was that Danville, as a relatively wealthy area with very little need for services compared to other parts of the county, was paying more to the county than it was receiving for services as an unincorporated area.
"The math for Danville turned out that for every dollar that we sent to Martinez we got 25 cents back in services and things," McNeely said. "And that's the way that form of government works. There are going to be places where there is not enough money but there's great need. And then there are going to be places where there's money but not a great deal of need."
McNeely said that initially, his passion for the 1982 incorporation effort in Danville prevented him from considering a run for council.
"It was really important that we incorporate for a whole lot of reasons, and I had concluded early on that it would be detrimental to the incorporation effort if any of us who were in the public eye proposing the incorporation were running for council," McNeely said. "Because I thought boy, it could look like here's this young punk trying to form a city so he can run for office."
However, McNeely was ultimately persuaded to launch a reluctant bid for the inaugural council when the head of a group of developers – who were concerned about what incorporation might mean for their projects – made an offer to step aside from the incorporation campaign if he were to run.
For Lane's part, she said her motivation to run for council had come from seeing the missteps of campaigns during the failed 1976 incorporation effort.
"I never was planning on running for office – women didn't," Lane said
"I was pretty critical of a lot of those candidates in 76, so that sort of sat on my shoulder and then when this came to the ballot in 82…by that time I had nerved myself enough that I was willing to do it," Lane continued. "So that's how I ended up on the ballot, with my family marching around neighborhoods in 100 degree weather."
Lane stayed on the Council until 1993, following her initial election in 1982, and served as mayor three times during her tenure. She went on to be elected as the Ward 6 director for the East Bay Regional Parks District in 1994, where she is finishing her final term before retiring at the end of this year.
Lane had long been interested in history, having studied the subject along with English in college. She said that it was a visit to historical landmarks on the East Coast with her children, however, that made her look towards learning about and commemorating local history in Danville in the way that older cities on the other side of the country are known for.
Lane fostered this interest as a docent at the Oakland Museum of California, where she went on to work on some local history projects. However, her interest as a historian was in Danville in particular.
"I said if I was going to work on some history, it would be where I live," Lane said.
Lane went on to be founding president of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley shortly after Danville's incorporation, in 1985. In addition to informing her role as an elected official on the council and parks district, Lane's interest in local history has led to the publication of several books.
"After you start doing some research the logical thing for most people is to do some writing, and then the museum got started and I was involved in the museum," Lane said.
McNeely, who spent a term and a half on the council, said that he'd only briefly considered running for elected office again, and never seriously.
"People asked me why I never ran again, and the problem was that my experience with these guys in Danville was so wonderful that I didn't want to jeopardize that experience by trying again somewhere else," McNeely said. "It just would never ever rise to what we did here and what a wonderful experience that was. It would be like any other city, and Danville is not like any other city."
"Danville at 40" remains on display at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley through July. More information, including museum hours, is available here.