History of Rancho San Vicente
Land Grant Era
Rancho San Vicente still retains the look of its namesake Mexican land grant—remarkable for a property located right next to San Jose’s heavily populated Almaden Valley.
The original Rancho San Vicente land grant dates from 1834, when the Mexican governor of the region granted the land to José Reyes Berryessa, whose parents had arrived in California with the de Anza Expedition of 1776. Not until 1848, when California became part of the United States, was there an attempt to create legal certainty about the boundaries and ownership of land grants. It was a lengthy, contentious process, but in 1861, a patent for Rancho San Vicente was granted to Berryessa's widow, Maria Zacarias Bernal Berryessa, for 4,438 acres.
Ohlone tribes were the first to recognize the bounty in the surrounding hills. It was they who discovered local sources of cinnabar, the rock containing mercury, or quicksilver, which was used to refine ore for gold and silver. By sharing their source with early settlers, the Ohlone inadvertently drew attention to the region surrounding Rancho San Vicente.
A nearby mercury mine dating back to 1845 attracted thousands of settlers to the area and created more wealth than any of California’s gold mines. Early mining companies gained control of the mine and eagerly purchased parts of what would become the original Rancho San Vicente. Apparently no cinnabar was found on the property itself despite its proximity to the mine, which operated intermittently until 1976, when it became neighboring Almaden Quicksilver County Park.
Rancho San Vicente Today
Since the land grant era, owners and boundaries have changed, but Rancho San Vicente’s 966 acres of rolling grasslands and rugged hillsides are still as pristine as they were 150 years ago. No residential or farm buildings remain from the settlement period, but a canal dating back to 1935 is still in operation. At that time, the Santa Clara Valley Water District secured an easement to build the Almaden-Calero Canal to carry storm water from Almaden Reservoir to Calero Reservoir. The canal divides the portion of the property within San Jose’s city limits from land in unincorporated Santa Clara County.
Previous owners envisioned development of up to 900 residential units and an 18-hole golf course on the land. When Rancho San Vicente Associates, LLC, bought the property in 1998 for $16 million, they scaled back those plans and proposed up to 300 densely packed units on the flat parts of the property and, more recently, an additional 16 large residences on individual 40-acre lots on the hilly portion.
These proposals required the City of San Jose to annex the County portions of the property into the South Almaden Valley Urban Reserve, contingent on the development of nearby Coyote Valley. However, the failure of necessary triggers for development in north Coyote Valley and the collapse of the real estate market significantly altered those plans. In June 2008, after a two-year dispute with the City of San Jose, Rancho San Vicente Associates lost its bid in County Court to subdivide 686 acres of the land into the 16 lots. They resubmitted another development plan, which is now pending with the city. In the meantime the landowners are now taking steps to sell the land to POST. Under POST ownership, the development plan with the city would become null and void, and the property would remain just as it is today—rugged, open and wild.
How You Can Make a Difference
It’s amazing that a property the size and beauty of Rancho San Vicente, so close to heavily populated areas of the South Bay, was still available for protection.
Protection of Rancho San Vicente removes the significant development threat to the land and preserves its stunning scenery, natural resources and outstanding potential for outdoor recreation.
POST completed the purchase of the property in June 2009 and transferred it to Santa Clara County Parks in November 2009 for permanent protection. With your help, we can ensure that places like Rancho San Vicente remain special long into the future. Please help us save our local open spaces and make your gift to POST today.