The late wine mogul Jess Jackson's bid to rename a prominent mountain that loomed over his Alexander Valley estate has been rejected by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.
On Thursday, it voted 11-0 to keep the name Black Mountain, citing no desire to remove the long-standing name of the 3,128-foot ridge.
The request to rename it to Alexander Mountain was made several years ago by Jackson Family Wines, owned by Jackson. He died in April at the age of 81 from cancer.
Jackson's representatives said they wanted to honor the legacy of pioneer settler Cyrus Alexander, and also distinguish it from three other Black Mountains in Sonoma County.
But the request drew strong opposition from some local residents as well as city councils in Healdsburg and Windsor.
"I did find Sonoma County people have a strong attachment to local history," said Gary Wilson, a Healdsburg accountant who fought the name switch and cheered Thursday's decision.
Members of the geographic board said there was no compelling reason to mess with the historical name of the mountain, which derived either from its dark appearance, or a family named Black that ranched in the vicinity.
"When a name's been in use for a long time — and those records showed it in use back to 1875 — then our predisposition is to keep the name," said Jon Campbell, a representative from the U.S. Department of Interior who sits on the board.
The California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names last summer recommended against the renaming. It gave a number of reasons, including citizen opposition and the appearance of an ulterior motive.
"There seemed to be a commercial implication in that the application has been made to create an Alexander Mountain wine appellation," committee chairwoman Barbara Wanish stated at the time.
Wanish also testified Thursday on the subject at the annual Geographic Names conference held in Honolulu.
Jackson's bid was seen by skeptics as part of the billionaire's effort to bolster his wines' prestige and part of a separate application to establish a new wine appellation known as Alexander Mountain.
He lived on the sprawling estate below Black Mountain, but bottled some of his wines under the name Alexander Mountain. Jackson also changed the name of the road leading into his estate to Alexander Mountain Road.
Families like Wilson's, who have owned property on Black Mountain and nearby Geyser Peak for many years, were staunchly against changing the name.
"Our family ties go clear back to Cyrus Alexander, to his ranch foreman Franklin Bedwell," Wilson said Thursday. "He worked for Cyrus, got a land grant and then brought the rest of the family from Missouri."
Keeping the Black Mountain name, he said, helps preserve that past.
Pete Downs, vice president for Jackson Family Wines, on Thursday was not willing to say the board's ruling will end the matter. "I don't know what the process is. I have to look into it," he said.
But the board's unanimous decision appears to be the final say.
On rare occasions, it will revisit a decision if the proponent can provide information that was not available at the time of the discussion, or if the applicant can demonstrate that one or more interested parties reversed its opinion, according to Jennifer Runyon, a BNG staff member,.
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