The flaggers were out this morning stopping traffic on Highway 26 where a sidewalk is being constructed between the Rancho Calaveras clubhouse and Driver Road. The crews are making rapid progress. Already there’s a stretch of brand new concrete sidewalk near Driver Road. Interestingly, there was some controversy over this safe-routes-to-school project that will enable children to walk or ride bicycles to nearby Jenny Lind Elementary School. The controversy focused mostly on exactly what route to use. No one said a safe route was a bad idea. But the plan to build a sidewalk stirred emotion. And I can’t help but wonder if that emotion was due, in part, to the deeper symbolism of seeing a sidewalk here, amid the rolling hills.
Really, it is the end of an era. Now that there’s a sidewalk, it’s clear that this is a suburb, an extension of Stockton, really, and not the wild western countryside of our imaginations. I realize that people who’ve gone to urban planning school always recognized that Rancho Calaveras was a suburban housing development. After all, the lots are too small for agriculture, even though a lot of the kids here do 4-H projects. There are no ranchers in Rancho. People here earn their livings by commuting to jobs in the city, or draw retirement pensions. But if you ask people here why they came to Rancho Calaveras, they will say they wanted to “live in the country,” and they are not being ironic.
It is a suburb with great views, which makes it seems country like. And it is un-city-like in that the infrastructure is lousy, with septic systems, bumpy roads, and long water lines that are maintenance headaches for Calaveras County Water District. It is an unusual suburb in that its controlling document, called a special plan, bars the construction of stores, gas stations or other services that might make it more convenient to live here. So you’ve got the crumbling infrastructure of a large-lot suburb, some degree of rural isolation, and lots too small for ranching, but without the conveniences of an urban area. For those conveniences, residents must drive to nearby Valley Springs or even to Stockton.
Maybe, just maybe, the new sidewalks being built right now will eventually be connected to bicycle trails that could allow carless Rancho Residents (ie. children, and many of the working poor) to get as far as Valley Springs. Rancho residents already live a suburban lifestyle. Maybe now that there’s a sidewalk, they can also enjoy some of the benefits of suburbs.