Brisbane hearing on plan in butterfly habitat

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Peter Fimrite

Brisbane hearing on plan in butterfly habitat

By Peter Fimrite

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The quest to build homes on San Bruno Mountain has once again stirred into action local conservationists who claim approval of a proposed development will ruin habitat for endangered butterflies.

The Brisbane City Council will hold a public hearing tonight on whether to approve additional language in an environmental report that would allow 71 homes to be built on the mountain, 80 fewer than had been previously approved.

Members of the conservationist group San Bruno Mountain Watch are opposed to the plan despite the reduction because they say it will cut off habitat for the endangered Callippe silverspot butterfly.

The butterfly, exclusive to grassy hills around the Bay Area, remains in only two locations, San Bruno Mountain and in some hills in Cordelia, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The plan does not leave a viable corridor for the butterflies, thus isolating them and preventing biological diversity," said Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, which has been fighting proposed developments on the mountain for years.

The development would allow 71 homes of between 2,800 and 3,500 square feet on a ridge with no public transportation, McIntire said. He said the homes would cut off the historic butterfly migration route and prevent the insects from breeding with butterflies from elsewhere, reducing genetic diversity.

The butterfly, with its orange-brown coloring and black spots, is native to San Bruno Mountain, where the Canadian developer, Brookfield Homes, has already built 428 of the 578 homes that were approved by the council in 1989. The original plan in 1982 was to build 1,250 condominiums.

The company was planning to build 108 town homes and 43 single family homes until 1997 when the Callippe silverspot, named for Calliope, the ancient Greek muse, was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Under pressure from Fish and Wildlife, Brookfield officials agreed to cut the town homes out of the plan and instead build 28 single-family homes in an area on the northeast ridge that is less sensitive habitat for butterflies.

Brisbane City Council members said the proposed change in the environmental report reflects a willingness on the part of the developer to consider the plight of the butterflies. Rejecting it, they fear, would mean the 80 additional homes that were originally approved could be built.

"The original plan is already approved, so if you don't approve this I believe it would revert back to the original project," said Mayor Clarke Conway.

"I think the lesser number of units is better than a greater number of units," said Councilman Steve Waldo.

Not true, said McIntire, who pointed out that the California Environmental Quality Act would require a review of current conditions if the addendum is rejected, including impacts from climate change, traffic, the need for affordable housing and water conservation. Besides, he said, returning to the 1989 project plan would require PG&E to move 15 high voltage transmission towers, which itself would require an Environmental Impact Report.

San Bruno Mountain, where the Gold Rush era outlaw Joaquin Murietta once hid after robbing stage coaches between San Francisco and San Jose, is the northernmost portion of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It contains the 2,326-acre San Bruno Mountain State Park and the 83-acre San Bruno Mountain Ecological Reserve on the north slope.

The hearing will be held at 7:30, at the Brisbane City Hall, 50 Park Place, Brisbane.

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle