Joaquin Moraga Adobe Faces Development

Hannah Tennant

Situated directly below Moraga Country Club’s golf course and atop the neighborhood surrounding Del Rey sits the Joaquin Moraga Adobe. Last year, the land was sold and the new owners and developers are trying to pass permits to place 13 houses on this 20-acre property. This development would affect the historic Adobe and the Del Rey neighborhood below the property.

The Adobe was built in 1841, has been a California State Historic Landmark since 1954, and an Orinda City Landmark since 1995. In addition, the Adobe is the oldest landmark in the East Bay, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jose Joaquin Moraga was a part of the De Anza Party, an expedition that founded the Presidio in San Francisco in 1776.  Jose Joaquin Moraga then went on to found the city of San Jose. His son, Don Joaquin Moraga, and nephew, Don Juan Bernal, received a land grant from the Mexican government for the area that now includes Orinda, Moraga and Canyon. They named the region “Rancho

Laguna de los Palos Colorados.” The Adobe was built by 300 Native Americans from the local mission.

In 2009, Michael Olson, along with partners Peter Branaugh and John French, purchased the 20-acre property. This team is also involved with the Wilder development.  Their original plan involved building 16 houses on the land, but has since been modified to 13.

Friends of the Joaquin Moraga Adobe was founded in 2009 to combat these changes and protect the Adobe. The organization consists of 70 community members from both Orinda and Moraga. They are concerned that if the land is developed, the historic integrity of the site would be jeopardized.

Safe Streets Del Rey was recently founded to focus specifically on the issue of traffic and safety hazards that would affect the Del Rey community if this development would come to pass. According to the TJKM Transportation Consultants, “the proposed project is expected to generate approximately 153 daily trips on a typical weekday, with 12 trips during the a.m. peak hour and 16 trips during the p.m. peak hour.” The proposed development would include paving a road to connect both sides of Donna Maria Way, where a path currently lies.

An old barn that sat next to the Adobe has already been torn down, as well as a caretaker building that sat on the property. Neither of these buildings were historic landmarks, as they were built after the original Adobe. The barn was hastily demolished, as it was viewed as a fire safety hazard.

In addition, three old eucalyptus trees that stood on the property were cut down. One was 72 inches in diameter, and although it wasn’t protected, it had historical value. It is estimated that this tree had been standing since the Gold Rush.

Jim and Charlotte Smith live next to the road that leads up to the Adobe. On the edge of their property lies a large oak tree. The couple recently sent in an application to the city to protect the tree as a Heritage tree. When a tree receives this title, an arborist must be present if any grooming is done to the tree, or if any construction is done surrounding the tree. The roots and the limbs must remain protected. At a recent city council meeting, Branaugh stated that his plans would involve harming this tree’s root system during the process of building roads up to the Adobe. The application has been postponed, as it is “not in the convenience of the developer.”

FJMA and Safe Streets Del Rey hope to spark community protest and halt this project. In Pleasanton, a similar adobe, built during the same time period, was facing a development. The surrounding community rose up in protest and stopped the development. The developer handed over a portion of the property, and the community turned the site into an educational facility. The Alviso Adobe is now a community park, where people can come and learn about the history of the Adobe and the early settlement of California.

FJMA sees this as the best possible outcome for the Joaquin Moraga Adobe. They would like to see the site turned into a museum facility, where people could come to learn about the history of the Adobe and Lamorinda.

On Friday, May 21, a team of FJMA members met with Olson, Branaugh, and Emmanuel Ursu, Orinda’s City Planner. At this meeting, FJMA proposed their desired outcome for the property. FJMA would like several acres to be set aside for the purpose of maintaining the Adobe and creating a public access space. Olson and his team currently plan to set aside one acre for the Adobe.

“We and the developers have pretty different perspectives on our ideas for the property. We have our work cut out for us,” said Kent Long, President of FJMA.
FJMA meets on the third Monday of every month at the Moraga-Orinda Fire Station. Safe Streets Del Rey’s meets are held at Del Rey School. Both organizations welcome anybody concerned with the cause.

“Simply standing up in city council meetings and saying ‘I agree with what was previously stated’ will make a huge difference,” said Smith.

Smith has begun a YouTube video contest for the purpose of protecting the Adobe. Contestants should send in videos focusing on the preservation of the Adobe to The first place prize is $200, second place is $100, and third is $50.

“We need to be connected to where we live,” said Bourke Harris, a member of FJMA. “When you’re on the site, try and take yourself back to the early land. This is a perfect opportunity to protect a piece of history, and we’re so lucky to have it right here. We need to change the hearts and minds of our community.”