Bickford Ranch: Future of Development?

Bickford Ranch

The Sunny Future of Home

By Ed “Redwood” Ring
July 24, 2001

Location of Bickford Ranch
Bickford Ranch location
in Northern California

With California’s population increasing by 500,000 per year, land development is inevitable. It isn’t a question of whether or not to build new homes, new streets, new industrial parks, new water & power infrastructure. It is only a question of where and how. A case in point is the “Bickford Ranch” a luxurious new community planned in California’s Sierra foothill country, one that will sprawl across nearly four square miles of grazing land. But along with mega-sprawl comes mega-watts; Bickford’s homes will generate more power than they consume during critical periods of peak demand, because nearly every home in the development will have photovoltaic panels integrated into their rooftops.

Depending on who you ask, the Bickford Ranch ( is either the one of the best examples of land use to come along in a long time, or one of the worst. The Sierra Club gave Bickford Ranch the ingnominious distinction of being one of what they’ve named “the two most badly planned projects in California.”

Bickford Ranch Site

To make this claim, Sierra Club points to other developments more to their liking, such as Ohlone-Chynoweth Commons in San Jose, and Village Green in Los Angeles, which are pedestrian-friendly, transit-friendly, and, most important, accomodate a high-density of residents in a development that is within an existing urban area. If you accept the premise that all new developments need to be high-density and surrounded by existing city, then Bickford Ranch is indeed the Great Satan of developments. If you don’t, then taking a closer look at how Bickford Ranch is slowly becoming a reality can exemplify how to make new developments as ecologically sound as possible.

As Bickford Ranch spokesperson Kevin Slagle says “we looked for logical places to develop where we wouldn’t stretch the infrastructure.” The area was designated by Placer County officials in 1994 as one of only two places in the county where development was to be approved. It runs along major transportation corridors and is adjacent to another development many times larger.

Unlike new developments in the past decades, the Bickford Ranch property will remain 58% undeveloped. Since currently the entire property is cattle rangeland, the areas that are slated to remain open will actually be improved, since grazing has destroyed many of the native oaks which can now regenerate. This is being done by Bitterroot Restoration (, a restoration firm based in Covallis, Montana with offices in Northern and Southern California. Spokesperson Laurie Riley said, “we were contracted to collect acorns on the Bickford Ranch and grow oaks; we’re currently growing 23,000 oaks to replant on the property.

Most remarkable about the Bickford Ranch however is that the rooftops of the development will produce two megawatts of electricity whenever the sun shines. Over 900 of the homes to be built will have solar-electric panels on their roofs. These “building integrated photovoltaics” are being installed by Atlantis Energy ( and the homes of Bickford Ranch will become, by far, the biggest “grid-connnected” development of their kind to date.

According to Bickford spokesperson Kevin Slagle “the cost of the home is $8,000 to $12,000 higher than average, but includes $15,000 to $25,000 in hardware.” US Homes works collectively with the homeowners to collect the rebates available, something that is a first of its kind. Moreover, US Homes intends to put in place a program for neighboring homeowners, outside of the Bickford Ranch, to also be able to purchase photovoltaic systems at the same volume rates, and streamlined rebate claims procedures. “US Homes wouldn’t have done this,” said Slagle, “if it didn’t make economic sense.”

Is Bickford Ranch an upward trend? Using electricity generating roofing materials certainly qualifies. Setting nearly 60% of the land aside to become restored oak woodland is also laudable. Like many environmental and land-use questions, there is no certain answer. But unless one believes our increasing population simply has to fit into existing urban areas, the Bickford Ranch is the next best thing.

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