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Video postscript to Sunday’s story on Diablo Grande

Jim Wasserman

Slideshow: An empty lot has a commanding view of the partially built Diablo Grande in the hills west of Patterson. Nicotine patch mogul Donald Panoz spent $120 million to bring his dream — including two golf courses, a vineyard and winery — to life. The project filed for Chapter 11 in March after the anticipated Bay Area transplants failed to materialize.

I was stunned when I first saw Diablo Grande, the giant residential project in the hills west of Patterson, three weeks ago today. I had no idea it was so big, and so far along.

Colleague Dale Kasler and I had motored up into the rolling landscape off Interstate 5 to research our Sunday story on luxury San Joaquin Valley projects hitting hard times. The story tells how big dreams and golf-course communities at Diablo Grande at Patterson and others in Fresno and Bakersfield sunk their developers into bankruptcy.

Why? The Valley economy won’t support these huge dreams of the really good life. And they all hit the market just before the housing bust.

Diablo Grande, however, near Patterson, is the one that’s well off the ground and may succeed in the long run. It’s the last place on earth you’d expect to see a development like this, with a major golf course, a posh clubhouse and a scattering of regular and luxury homes. It is seriously in the middle of nowhere.

But I was struck by comments of all the people we talked with: they WANT that. Most were from the Bay Area. They make what I think of as horrendous commutes. One homeowner who runs a car dealership in San Jose said he’s putting 1,300 miles a week on his cars. They drive nine miles to a Save Mart for food and to Modesto for the mall. But in this car-crazy state no one seemed to mind.

They all said this, instead: “Listen.”

And they were right. You can hardly hear a thing. The stars at night are unbelievable, people said. Of course the newcomers who bought at foreclosure prices were a lot happier than the pioneers who have lost value since buying in 2005. But all like the setting where they live.

Diablo Grande reminded me of what the Bay Area might look like if there was no Greenbelt Alliance. You can’t develop hillsides there like they did in this project. Whether that’s right or wrong depends on your point of view.

Anyway, Diablo Grande has a new owner now, a big Mexican firm that runs resorts. So we’ll see what develops in years ahead. Meanwhile here is a panoramic video I shot of the landscape from high up near the luxury houses. All you can hear is the wind.

This article was originally published in the Sacrament Bee.

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