Home on the Range 

Howard Bowles built his dream home in rural Byron, right next to the dream home of Ron Downs' gun club.

Page 5 of 6

Come next year, the supervisors may not be able to delay a vote any longer. Once the second EIR comes back, public comments will be limited. Of the supervisors polled, none offered a clear-cut opinion, opting instead to wait for the facts to come out. Supervisor Gayle Uilkema deferred: "I like to support the supervisor whose district this is in. She's the one out there talking to her constituents."

An aide to the current Byron Supervisor, Millie Greenberg, said her boss hasn't yet considered the topic, and wouldn't be good for a comment one way or the other. "When it actually makes its way to her desk, then she'll review the issue," the aide said.

For the residents, a majority yes vote on the five-member board would effectively end their efforts. Under California state law, once the county approves the deal, the club owners can't be sued over noise concerns. Still, that may not stop Silver Hills resident Rick Kendrick, who says the homeowners will sue if they lose. "Legal," he said, "can last for a long, long time."

Meanwhile the Contra Costa Water District, which owns an easement bordering the gun club's land, has told Downs that it won't allow any grading, which the club may need for the baffles the county would require. According to Downs, the water district's attorneys alerted him they'll go to court over the issue, but they're waiting for the supes to approve the deal first.

"I'm sure just when we think we've got it done, something else will come up," Downs said. "Always does."

Howard Got His Gun

One morning at home, Howard Bowles offered to test-fire one of his guns, just to make his point. This is one of his favorite things to do for visitors who might make a difference in the debate. Two years ago he invited then-Supervisor Joe Canciamilla out for a testing, and when Bowles walked down into the club's valley and fired, Downs called the county sheriff to have him arrested for trespassing. No one left in cuffs, but Downs sent Bowles a letter ending his club membership.

"There was nothing to discuss," Downs said later. "He said he didn't get a chance to tell his side of the story, but there was nothing to tell. He came on to this property and shot his gun when he didn't have permission -- end of story."

Bowles doesn't mind much. "So they told me I couldn't be in their little club anymore," he said. "That was fine with me."

On this morning, Bowles grabbed a deer rifle he won in a raffle, and pocketed three shiny bullets. That he could even fire at will was a testament to the law of the unincorporated land; in the city, he'd probably get himself shot for this stunt. Out here, he's within his rights -- as long as he's shooting straight.

Bowles wiggled his feet into a pair of topsiders on the back porch and trotted out about fifty yards under dark skies toward an oak tree at the edge of his land, a few hundred feet from where the gun range might sit. He assumed the ready stance and aimed toward a soft mound of dirt. He fired, and a sonic blast ripped across the country like a jet fighter, then tailed off. A team of horses, half a mile away but clearly visible from Bowles' perched estate, skittered and pranced in circles.

Then came the second shot, followed by the terrified caws of birds. By now the confused horses were galloping in several directions.

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