The Large Ohlone Shell Mound at San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter GLS
Reporter: Fred Andres

Shell mounds found on San Bruno Mountain were made over enormous spans of time, even millennia, from the remains of countless shellfish feasts and dinners from convenient estuaries, rivers, and lakes. These mounds are sometimes called "middens," an unfortunate term, by academics, developers and the state government. "Midden" has derogatory connotations and the preferred term is shell mound. Few of these Ohlone Shell mounds, which once numbered as many as 600, have been spared the bulldozer. One such San Bruno Mountain Mound, spectacular in size and over 5000 years old, is in imminent danger of being developed. Part of what once was the area�s largest Ohlone village (called Sipliskin) the mound is over 2 acres in size, and reaches a depth of over 290 cm or 9-1/2 feet. It is located on the property of SunChase Development, on the near the border of Brisbane and South San Francisco.

In 1989, an archeological report (only now available) commissioned by the owners previous to SunChase dated the shell mound and found that "dozens or perhaps hundreds" of human burials exist there. Rosemary Cambra, chair of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe, adds "What is significant to my people is to respect these holy sites." Cambra believes the mound is 10,000 years old and contains the remains of 10,000 people.

Sterling Pacific Management Services, the manager of the SunChase property, refused a1996 an offer of $2,000,000 by the Environmental Mitigation Exchange Company for 30 acres of land, including the Sipliskin mound. An official with Sterling also refused in 1996 to turn over the land to the state or a nonprofit for protection as well as educational and cultural use. He said he would consult with archaeologists, but not with members of the Ohlone tribe.

SunChase's plans for development of the land on which the Sipliskin mound lies will be voted on soon by the council members of the City of South San Francisco. The plan is to put a business park with a hotel of at least 300 rooms and several roads, essentially cutting the Sipliskin shell mound from San Bruno Mountain. The mound itself is to be planted with native plants and trees, much like the mudflats in the recently approved Blackpoint luxury subdivision in Novato. David Schooley, founder of the nonprofit educational organization San Bruno Mountain Watch, whose goal is to preserve San Bruno Mountain, at the least wants the Sipliskin Mound to become attached to San Bruno Mountain State and County Park.

Interested persons can give their comments to SunChase by contacting Jim Sweeney, SunChase, 6001 North 24th Street #A, Phoenix, AZ, 85016 and Ronald E. Strausberger, Manager of Loans, Sterling Pacific Management Inc, at the same street address. Letters to the Mayor and Council Members of the City of South San Francisco go to P.O. Box 711, South San Francisco, CA 94083.

An excellent source of information on San Bruno Mountain, State Reserve and County Park and the entire HCP debacle (the nation's first HCP was instituted on San Bruno Mountain) is: David Schooley, San Bruno Mountain Watch, 415-467-6631. Hikes and nonnative plant removal work on San Bruno are done on Saturdays and Sundays. For a copy of the abbreviated 1989 archaeological report, please call Fred Andres at 821-9759. Lastly, a superb and fascinating book on the Ohlone peoples: The Ohlone Way, by Malcolm Margolin.