Billionaire Jess Jackson's controversial bid to rename a prominent mountain in Alexander Valley comes before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, although ultimately it will be up to a federal body to decide.
Jackson, through his company Jackson Family Enterprises, applied last year to change the name of Black Mountain to "Alexander Mountain," prompting an outcry from many longtime residents.
But county administrators are recommending supervisors remain neutral on the issue because it does not directly impact county services and operations, said community affairs and government manager Jim Leddy.
The brief background report prepared by a county analyst noted that the Windsor and Healdsburg city councils both opposed the change, citing the historic nature of the Black Mountain name.
But the report also said there is not agreement among private land owners on the issue, adding there is "an apparent lack of consensus within the local community for changing the name."
"In my opinion, that is incorrect," said Gary Wilson, a Healdsburg accountant whose family owns property on Black Mountain and is staunchly opposed to the renaming of the 3,128-foot-high peak.
Wilson gathered a petition with almost 350 signatures against the name change. He noted that a Press Democrat online poll last year found 76 percent of 900 votes cast were against renaming Black Mountain.
Others on Friday also agreed the prevailing sentiment is against changing the name of Black Mountain, which dates back to the late 1880s.
"Property owners I know on the mountain are across-the-board in favor of keeping it and I would concur," said Rody<NO1>(cq)<NO> Jonas, whose family owns a ranch near the top. "Multi-generational people up there are in favor of keeping the name."
He said changing the name could also cause confusion among fire departments and emergency responders that consider it a landmark.
Black Mountain looks more like a long ridge, compared to its more northerly neighbor, Geyser Peak.
Jackson's company last year petitioned the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to rename the mountain, saying it would distinguish it from many others in the country named Black Mountain.
Pete Downs, the company executive who filed the application, said it also would honor the heritage of pioneer settler Cyrus Alexander for whom the valley was named.
But after the application was filed, he acknowledged the prime reason was to bolster the case for a new American Viticulture Area named "Alexander Mountain," designated for the ultra-premium grapes grown on Jackson's 5,400-acre estate on the flanks of Black Mountain.
Jackson already is using the name "Alexander Mountain" on some of his wine labels. He began using it after he bought the Gauer Ranch on the mountain in the 1990s.
Jackson's company, with about 30 different wine brands, is the largest wine group in Sonoma County and produces the flagship Kendall-Jackson wines.
The Board of Supervisor five years ago passed a resolution singling out the easterly face of Black Mountain for its grape-growing qualities and deserving of the distinct "Alexander Mountain" designation.
But county officials have said it did not address the issue of changing the peak's name, or other slopes of Black Mountain, which includesa number of parcels owned by others.
The only official body to endorse the name change so far has been the Cloverdale City Council, which did so a year ago, before the controversy erupted.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here