Belden Burt came to California from Orange County, New York, as a 49er, seeking wealth in the goldfields of Placer County. After one season, he left the prospector’s life and became a merchant, first in Sacramento, then adding operations in Placer, Nevada, and Napa Counties.
In 1875, Burt came south, choosing Riverside for his new home. He and his brother, Benjamin Franklin Burt, set up B. D. Burt & Brother, building the first brick building in the city at the corner of Main Street and University Avenue.
Highly respected as a businessman, Burt was president of the group that convened on May 12, 1883, to begin the process of Riverside’s incorporation as a city. One of the issues of that led to the proposal to incorporate was the request to the board of supervisors for an increase in water rates by the Riverside Land and Irrigating Company, led by S. C. Evans. Evans insisted that the fees paid for water failed to support the costs of the water system, though the water system itself made it possible for his development company to pursue land sales. City and county government had been made responsible for setting utility rates in California in a constitutional convention in California in 1879 and the supervisors turned down Evans’s application. Evans decided to bide his time, convinced that he would be able to prevail in a court action that would allow him to recover his costs plus a return on his investment in the canal system. Landowners using irrigation water were determined to have control of the water supply and rates in the future and they saw incorporation as a city as their way to ensure it.
Burt was in the unusual position of being both a leader of the movement for incorporation and a vice president of Riverside Land and Irrigating Company.
The incorporation committee decided to include all of the area served by the local irrigation canals, a total of 57 square miles. This boundary meant that property owners would gain authority for setting water rates for their own property within the town boundary. The election, held September 25, 1883, passed 228 to 147. B.D. Burt was elected city treasurer in the same election. Benjamin B. Handy, also at Evergreen, was elected a trustee at the same time.
The Riverside Land and Irrigating Company instituted a lawsuit to compel the city to raise water rates and relations between Evans and the city were acrimonious until the water users bought out the company in 1885.