THE EXAMINER: Daly City Signals Support for San Bruno Mntn. PCA

The Examiner
Brendan P. Bartholomew - correspondent
February 15, 2015
link to original article

In a unanimous vote by the City Council, Daly City has passed a resolution supporting the establishment of a priority conservation area around San Bruno Mountain.

Brendan P. BartholomewOther Peninsula cities that have either passed similar resolutions or are expected to include Colma, Brisbane and South San Francisco.

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Kris Jensen said San Mateo County is petitioning the Association of Bay Area Governments to create the priority conservation area to protect and enhance open space, and having those cities on board could make it easier to win approval.

The association's application process is opened every few years, Jensen explained, and the current window of opportunity will close in May. If the application is approved and the conservation area is created, it would give the county potential access to various funding sources that could be used for improving access to the state park located on the mountain, as well as conserving and promoting it.

Improving access is a top priority for Daly City Councilman David Canepa, who said he supported the resolution because it might make funds available to create contiguous bicycle and pedestrian paths that would connect the mountain to the Bay and Pacific Ocean.

Canepa noted that while it is currently possible for bicyclists to take advantage of bike lane improvements on John Daly Boulevard and ride from the ocean to Mission Street, the path those bikers would then need to follow to get to the mountain is "very convoluted."

If the priority conservation area is established, additional funding sources might become available through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said Canepa, who sits on that organization's board of directors.

No new developments should be allowed adjacent to San Bruno Mountain's state park, according to Canepa, who said the resolution sends a message that his city values open space and will fight to prevent development from encroaching on the mountain.

But Jensen noted that the potential conservation area would not prevent private-property owners from developing their land. He noted, however, that in cases where a government might be interested in purchasing land in order to protect it from being developed, having the property be part of a priority conservation area can make it easier to obtain funds for the purchase.

One area where such a purchase might be considered is on the north side of Sign Hill in South San Francisco, Jensen said. While Sign Hill is not considered part of San Bruno Mountain, some community members and activists interested in preserving the mountain have also taken an interest in Sign Hill, which currently contains plots of privately owned land that are for sale and could be developed.

Peninsula students getting lessons on the outdoors thanks to local nonprofit

Peninsula students getting lessons on the outdoors thanks to local nonprofit
The Examiner
April 28, 2014
Brendan P. Bartholomew

Middle school students from Peninsula communities are hitting the outdoors for lessons on science, ecology and land stewardship through excursions to San Bruno Mountain with a local nonprofit organization.

San Bruno Mountain Watch's Middle School Environmental Education Program currently works with students at Lipman Middle School in Brisbane and Robertson Intermediate School in Daly City's Bayshore neighborhood, but it may expand to include other schools if funding becomes available.

Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, which is dedicated to preserving the mountain, said that in a typical school year, participating students receive five lessons in indoor classrooms and an additional five lessons are given in outdoor settings. With funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, McIntire has been able to hire an environmental educator to help with the lessons, and additional help comes from the Mid-Peninsula Boys & Girls Club, which provides vans and drivers to transport the youths to the mountain.

Lipman Middle School science teacher Holly Rios said her collaboration with McIntire began several years ago when he asked if her students could make posters supporting his campaign to stop developers from building luxury homes on a section of the mountain in Brisbane. Rios told McIntire that while she couldn't involve her students in a political struggle, he was welcome to teach the youngsters about the mountain.

The teacher touted the educational opportunities the outdoor adventures have offered her students.

"I'll say I want my kids to learn about photosynthesis, for example, and Ken will develop a lesson," Rios said.

Activities have included removing some invasive plants on San Bruno Mountain and replacing them with native plants, which Rios said has been fun for the students.

"Their favorite thing is to pull the weeds," Rios said, "They love it, especially the boys. They have their tools and they feel like warriors."

Sixth-grade teacher Eddie Arias said the education program is a welcome addition at the underfunded Robertson Intermediate School, where about 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

McIntire said that for some of Arias' disadvantaged students, the program provides their first real exposure to nature.

"You get a certain number of kids who are a little nervous about being surrounded by plants -- they're not used to balancing on trails with rocks and uneven surfaces," McIntire said, "It can be a hard sell getting them interested, and a lot depends on how skilled the teacher is. Eddie is very skilled."

Arias said that through the outdoor program, his sixth-graders are creating environmental education lessons for fourth-grade students at Bayshore Elementary. The educator is also organizing a native-plant sale featuring plants grown by his students.

Routine fires on San Bruno Mountain could help, environmentalist says

Brendan P. Bartholomew
Special to SF Examiner
September 23, 2013
link to original article

The recent grassfire that scorched more than 40 acres of San Bruno Mountain made headlines as one of the many burning around the state at the time, but it was not necessarily bad for the health of the mountain or the sensitive species that live on it, according to an environmentalist that works to preserve the open space.

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Ken McIntire said fires are a natural part of how wilderness systems periodically renew themselves, and he lamented the fact that routine, controlled burns are no longer done on the mountain.

McIntire said fire authorities are reluctant to do controlled burns — used in forestry management to restore habitats and to burn off vegetation that might otherwise fuel more destructive fires — on the mountain, because the last one, done several years ago, got out of control.

Cal Fire Division Chief Rich Sampson said the last controlled burn on the mountain had been planned as a 7-acre burn, but had expanded to 14 acres. However, he said the fire had remained within control lines. Another controlled burn in 2003 also grew out of control and scorched more than 50 acres.

Sampson said the construction of new condominium complexes around the mountain has made it harder to do controlled burns without potentially endangering homes. He said, however, that if controlled burns are not done, those homes could be endangered by the accumulation of dry, combustible foliage.

"The city of Brisbane has been taking a significant interest in fuel conditions on that mountain," he said.

Sampson agreed with McIntire that controlled burns would be beneficial for the mountain's ecology, but that the decision not to burn is also being driven by stricter air quality standards, as well as the likelihood that smoke would interfere with planes approaching or leaving San Francisco International Airport.

Sampson said Cal Fire is not allowed to interfere with airport traffic. He added that when his organization fought the Sept. 7 blaze its air tankers had to fly low over Interstate Highway 280 in order to avoid airport flight paths.

San Bruno Mountain Watch restoration stewards Loretta Brooks and Chuck Heimstadt, who were working on the south side of the mountain when the fire started, said the fire and other controlled burns will be good for the mountain's flora and fauna – a position they hold despite their Toyota Camry Hybrid being partially melted by the conflagration.

Heimstadt said an endangered butterfly, the Callippe Silverspot, would benefit from controlled burns, which would clear out the coastal sage scrub that encroaches upon the animal's host plants.

Hilldale School buys slice of Daly City dunes

reprinted with permission:
Carolyn Jones — Staff Writer
Lea Suzuki — Photographer
San Francisco Chronicle
published September 13, 2013

Joe Cannon, biologist and San Bruno Mountain Board member, walks along the ancient dunes on the mountainDuring the Pleistocene age, the Pacific Ocean lapped at the edge of an island not far from present-day San Francisco. There were sand dunes, wildflowers, wind and fog - all the usual trappings of the California coast.

Fast-forward 125,000 years. The sea level dropped and the island became San Bruno Mountain. Most of those dunes are covered by houses and shopping centers now, but a 10-acre stretch in Daly City remains, an ancient beach landlocked by suburbia.

The Daly City dunes have escaped development so far, but those days could be numbered. A private K-8 school called Hilldale purchased a slice of the dunes - less than an acre - in April and is considering building a soccer field, parking lot and classrooms on it.

Conservationists are trying to stop it, circulating petitions and lobbying Daly City and San Mateo County politicians. Ideally, they'd like to see the dunes become part of the adjacent San Bruno Mountain State Park, and provide a trailhead to open space for the densely packed Blossom Valley and Hillside neighborhoods.

Lessingia, an endangered plant grows only on these dunes and in the PresidioSprouting in those dunes - a good 5 miles from the coast and about 300 feet above current sea level - are some of the rarest plants in the region. The dunes are home to half the world's population of San Francisco lessingia, a spiky yellow wildflower that's on the state and federal endangered species lists. The only other place where the plant grows is the Presidio.

"You don't have to travel 1,000 miles to see an endangered species. You have one right in your backyard," said Del Schembari, who sits on the board of San Bruno Mountain Watch and has been working on local open-space issues for 40 years. "It's an open-air museum. For educational purposes alone, this is a no-brainer."

School officials say that their plans are better than the alternative: homes. The school bought the property from a developer who planned to build eight houses at the site, which worried residents and environmentalists alike because the property is near a reservoir that in 2012 saw a pipe rupture, causing a river of water to flow through the neighborhood.

The school has not yet decided what to do with the property, but officials said the 64-year-old campus desperately needs more parking and play space for its 100 or so students. Officials also wanted to prevent homes from being built on the site because those blocks are already overly congested, said the school's business manager, John Sittner.

"It'd be nice to put this land in the public domain, but at this point that's not realistic," Sittner said. "We felt if we didn't buy this land, we'd be losing an opportunity we'd never get back."

The rest of the Daly City dunes are owned by the city and other private landowners, but the school's portion is the only segment facing an immediate development threat.

"This is about saving an endangered species, but it's also about open space," said Ken McIntire, director of San Bruno Mountain Watch. "That part of Daly City is very crowded, and people work really hard. The dunes is someplace you can go that's very, very peaceful."

San Bruno Mountain development causes dustup

SF Examiner article about the Daly City Dunes and the continued threat from development.

by Brendan P. Bartholomew
Special to the SF Examiner
July 11, 2013
San Bruno Mountain development causes dustup

A private school's land purchase on San Bruno Mountain has set the stage for a fight between people looking to develop the plot and conservationists who say building there could harm an endangered plant.

Michael Koozmin, SF Examiner, 2013The 1 acre of land causing the dustup is in Daly City's Hillside neighborhood and was purchased by Hilldale School in April. Tucked up against the northwestern corner of San Bruno Mountain, the site is home to an endangered species of lessingia plant. 

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Ken McIntire said that among the weeds and invasive ice plants in the land are tiny yellow flowers of Lessingia germanorum, which survives only on San Bruno Mountain and in the San Francisco Presidio.

McIntire is constantly battling to stop developers from encroaching upon the mountain. Driving his Toyota Prius through the Northeast Ridge in the hills above Brisbane, he points out a battle the group lost. There, workmen were grading the hillside to erect new homes.

"It's hard for me to come up here," McIntire said.

Hilldale School's owner, John Sittner, said the school's new property had been zoned to have nine houses built on it, which would have been far worse for the neighborhood. Although the school has not yet decided what to do with the land, one possibility is that it will be converted into a soccer field, according to people familiar with the issue.

"If we can utilize that property in a less impactful way than nine houses, that seems like a win-win," Sittner said.

Sittner added that the lessingia is probably on less than 5 percent of his new property, and he said he's committed to protecting the endangered plant.

Although Sittner said any decision about the property's use would be made in concert with his K-8 school's neighbors, he and McIntire seem far apart.

The property is in the middle of a system of ancient sand dunes that formed 80,000 to 125,000 years ago, when the ocean extended into the area. The property also sits above an Ohlone shell mound believed to be 10,000 years old. McIntire said the lessingia needs shifting sand dunes in order to spread and grow, and he said it's impossible to develop Sittner's property without affecting the sand dunes and shell mound.

"As soon as you start messing around with this site, the infrastructure you have to put in to maintain it starts to affect the surrounding ecosystem," McIntire said.

Sittner said it was inevitable somebody would buy and develop the property.

"I think it's important for people to recognize the fact that if a property hasn't been put into use, that doesn't mean it's public," Sittner said.

Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa said it was too early for him to comment specifically on the matter, because it had not yet come before the City Council.

Speaking more broadly, Canepa said, "I'm committed to making sure San Bruno Mountain maintains its open space so people can recreate and enjoy all it has to offer. ... In an area as built-out as this, San Bruno Mountain is an oasis of open space."

A Letter to the Editor by Del Schembari, a major player in this SBMW advocacy effort, was posted on July 23, 2013:

Mountain dunes should be preserved

A special area in Daly City that we at San Bruno Mountain Watch call The Dunes is in danger of being developed. In your recent article, Hilldale School's owner, John Sittner, declared that his expansion would be better for the area than the previous proposed development. In my view it would be the same destruction, if not worse, than the eight homes proposed for the area before.

Sittner has told San Bruno Mountain Watch that he would like to build classrooms, a soccer field and a parking lot on a rare inland sand dune, on native plants and on a federally listed endangered flower (lessingia). This is just below a million-gallon reservoir that sprung a leak last November above Hillside Park. What could go wrong?

An SBMW biologist has found that the severe grading required for this area would severely damage the native plant populations and possibly alter the water table here and for adjoining properties. This was told to Mr. Sittner before he recently purchased this unique property. He responded that he "couldn't build anywhere else".

The best use for this rare dune is for open space between three heavily congested Daly City neighborhoods. This site is perfect for an open-air museum where kids from the seven surrounding schools, and community, could learn about natural history including an archaeological site, help to remove invasive weeds and restore native ones.

Del Schembari, SBMW Board Member, South San Francisco

Volunteers help grow native plants at Mission Blue Nursery in Brisbane

Mission Blue Native Plant Nursery, operated by San Bruno Mountain Watch, was visited on Wednesday by John Green and staff. They were there to check out our volunteer workday at the nursery. Come down and join us on our regular Wednesday workdays! 

Volunteers help grow native plants at Mission Blue Nursery in Brisbane
San Jose Mercury News, April 3, 2013

More information about the nursery can be found at our Mission Blue Nursery pages.

Watching out for Frogs and Native Plants in Brisbane

Jim McKissock from Earthcare Now and his volunteers have been working on preserving and restoring the wetlands found along the Crocker Trail in the Crocker Industrial Park in Brisbane.  More information can be found about the Crocker Trail Wetlands Project at our Crocker Trail webpage, including information about the weekly workday on Tuesdays at 10:30.

Watching out for Frogs and Native Plants in Brisbane - San Jose Mercury News, February 6, 2013