Development hopes dashed
for bucolic Anderson Ranch

A year-around pond named “Jason’s Pond” in memory of a deceased family member and habitat for the endangered ­­red-legged frog will be preserved. The 95-acre property on the ridge above Morgan Territory Road has been slated for 40-46 luxury homes since 1971. (Photo by Scott Hein)

Save Mount Diablo has purchased the historic 95-acre Anderson Ranch in Morgan Territory for $800,000, ending any possibility of development on the land.

The ranch, at the north end of Morgan Territory Ridge east of Clayton, was approved for a subdivision in 1971, but access and environmental issues have discouraged development.

Development on the ridge would be costly. The property is in an area of unusual geology with small volcanic domes and is habitat to several endangered species. Access to the property would require building a bridge across Marsh Creek.

The property was tentatively sold to a developer for $5.5 million in 2004, but the deal fell through when several species on the endangered species list were found on and near the property.

The property languished on the market, with the county extending the subdivision approval every 10 years or so. The asking price eventually dropped to $1.3 million in April 2017.

Last winter, when Morgan Territory Road washed out, the county arranged with owners for a temporary access road across the property. Fearing developer interest would pick up with the new visibility, SMD stepped in and started negotiations. An independent appraisal set the value at $800,000, and SMD made an offer. The owners, anxious to finally sell, accepted the offer provided SMD could come up with all cash and close in 90 days. The sale closed Nov. 18.

“I think this is great,” said Paul Guilke, a real estate broker who lives on a ranch next to the acquisition. “Save Mount Diablo will take good care of the land, and it will be preserved.”

‘Park-like appearance’

SMD is a non-profit land trust founded in 1971. The Anderson Ranch is the latest acquisition in SMD’s program of piecing together parcels with segments of Marsh Creek – the second longest, least disturbed creek in the county and one that is incredibly important to wildlife around Diablo. Anderson Ranch includes 2,100 feet of Marsh Creek.

The high point of the property is 890 feet, but the views suggest much higher elevations. Mount Diablo looms to the west, past rolling grasslands and oak-covered woodlands.

“It’s a remarkable plateau with incredible views, a park-like appearance and great natural values, including a beautiful section of Marsh Creek,” said Meredith Hendricks, director of SMD’s land programs.

A working ranch

Anderson Ranch has its own chapter, “Caretakers of the Past,” in Anne Homan’s history of Morgan Territory. According to “The Morning Side of Mount Diablo,” Chet Anderson heard about Morgan Territory from his friend Sylvester Olofson.

“He first came out from Oakland to visit the area in 1918 and promptly fell in love with it,” Homan wrote.

In 1938, Chet and Gertrude Anderson paid Mary Corredo Azevedo Cardoza $12,000 for 435 acres on Morgan Territory Road. After tearing down the old ranch buildings, the Andersons built a barn and then a garage. They lived in the garage while their house was built at 4135 Morgan Territory Road.

“The Andersons raised horses, sheep, cattle and pigs and grew hay to feed the animals. Their hayfield was the level plot just north of their house site,” the author reported.

Varied development plans

In later years, the Andersons sold all the property in Morgan Territory except for the five acres that included the house. Developers purchased most of the ranch in 1971 and proposed the Mountain Meadows subdivision. The first phase included 21 lots on the northern mile of Morgan Territory Road.

In 1977, Mountain Meadows Unit II proposed 69 lots on the 95 acres that SMD purchased. In 1981, Contra Costa County approved a revised tentative subdivision map for 46 lots. Time and again, the project failed to move forward.

In 2004, Robert Pacini entered into a contract to sell the property to the Land Preserve, LLC, for $5.5 million. The developer planned to build a 40-lot subdivision. Threatened species, including the California red-legged frog, the California tiger salamander and the Alameda whipsnake, stalled the project.

Pacini died in 2007, and ownership passed to a group of trustees. A disagreement rose over further extensions of the development contract, and the deal eventually fell apart.
According to Hendricks, there are no plans to open the land to public use.

“We’re being visionary and taking a chance by stretching to protect an important property while it’s available,” she said.

In the coming months, the group will be stepping up fundraising efforts to replenish reserves depleted by the cash purchase of the Anderson Ranch.

For more information, to become a member or to donate, visit