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When local environmentalists heard about DeSilva's plan to mine Apperson's property, they readied themselves for another public battle. Some believed they could fend off Apperson just as they had done in the late '60s. They didn't realize that this time they'd face a far more savvy and formidable foe.
For the last two decades Edwin Oliver DeSilva has arguably been the most politically influential private businessman in the East Bay. The 73-year-old, who lives in Orinda and operates several businesses in Dublin, is close to many East Bay politicians, including state Attorney General Bill Lockyer. His best pal in politics is state Senator Don Perata.
For most of the past twenty years, DeSilva has been the Senate leader's single biggest campaign contributor. Since 1998, the developer, his family, the top executives of his companies, and their wives have contributed at least $289,750 to Perata's various campaign funds and those closely associated with him. DeSilva also has twice forgiven large loans to Perata during the past decade one for $50,000, another for $25,000. Most recently, he wrote a $25,000 check for the senator's legal defense fund, which Perata set up last year after the FBI began investigating him for public corruption.
But DeSilva was steeped in East Bay politics long before he befriended Perata in the late '80s. "Big Ed," as he was called back then, stepped easily into the shoes of his late father Oliver de Silva who spelled his name differently a longtime road builder and quarry operator who also had considerable influence, especially in Hayward. By the early 1980s, Big Ed had taken over as president of Oliver de Silva Inc. One of his political allies was then-County Supervisor Don Excell, whose district included Apperson Ridge.
Over the years, DeSilva learned from William Apperson's failures, and devised a plan by which both men could make millions from the property. According to Apperson, when the developer approached him with the idea in the early '80s, DeSilva assured him he wouldn't have to do anything. Apperson was weary of dealing with politicians and environmentalists, so DeSilva promised to handle all the details.
It was a good deal for Apperson. Oliver de Silva Inc. would get eighty years' worth of mining rights to a 680-acre section of the ridge. In exchange, so long as DeSilva could secure a county permit, Apperson was guaranteed an annual allowance of $100,000, regardless of when the quarry opened, property records show. They renegotiated in 1989, boosting Apperson's annual take to at least $150,000. If and when the mine opens, Apperson will pocket $150,000 or 6 percent of the mine's annual gross, whichever is greater, each year.
Given DeSilva's connections, winning approval from the county supervisors would be the easy part, so long as he could outflank the park district and the environmentalists. His solution: divide and conquer.
In his first move, DeSilva did what Utah Construction had refused to do years earlier. He struck a compromise with the park district. Cash was the key component, just as Apperson's lawyers had alleged in 1969. According to a copy of the terms, DeSilva promised to pay the park district six cents for every ton of rock he rips from Apperson Ridge. Over the next six decades, the district's take would amount to about $120,000 a year. In return, district officials vowed in writing that they wouldn't oppose the quarry.
Bob Doyle, the park district's assistant general manager, defends the deal. He essentially argues that district officials had no choice; that DeSilva's political juice was too strong. Officials believed they had to get the best deal they could when they had the chance. "The park district was very concerned that it was going to get approved despite our objections," Doyle said of the mining operation.
DeSilva has a different recollection. He said earlier this month that park district leaders at the time understood the importance to the Bay Area economy of the rock buried beneath Apperson Ridge. There's so much quality rock there that it could lessen the need for other mines in the region, he said. "This deposit will be the deposit for the San Francisco Bay region," he said. "It's a very, very important deposit."
But Hans Peeters, a Sunol-area naturalist who battled DeSilva back then, still thinks the district sold out. "It's a sacrilege to put a quarry there," Peeters said. "Once the East Bay Regional Park District got its financial settlement, it was over. That was our biggest ace in the hole."
With local park officials out of the way, DeSilva turned his sights on the Sierra Club, and soon also persuaded its officials to promise not to sue him, Apperson, or the county in exchange for several "mitigations." Among them were DeSilva's promise to pay for a survey of raptors including golden eagles in the Sunol-Ohlone region, and to finance the reintroduction of peregrine falcons to the area. He also offered to pay to move the elk herd to another suitable habitat. In 1984, DeSilva got his county permit and quickly made good on his first two promises, but it looks as though he may never have to fulfill the third.
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