THE SAN MATEO DAILY JOURNAL: South City Works to Preserve Sign Hill

Austin Walsh/Daily Journal

Austin Walsh/Daily Journal

The San Mateo Daily Journal
Austin Walsh
March 6, 2015
link to original article

A movement is underway to preserve Sign Hill Park as officials agreed to nominate the home of the signature "South San Francisco The Industrial City" declaration for conservation and restoration through a regional grant program.

Austin Walsh/Daily JournalUnder approval by the City Council, Sign Hill Park and other public spaces in South San Francisco are now part the ongoing effort to dedicate natural lands as Priority Conservation Areas, and make them eligible to compete for money that would aid preservation.

Councilmembers unanimously approved nominating Sign Hill Park, a portion of San Bruno Mountain, Orange Park, Centennial Way, Oyster Point Marina, the Bay Trail and connecting bike routes from public transportation hubs to open spaces for conservation at a February meeting.

Three privately-owned pieces of land on Sign Hill will be exempt from inclusion in the designation, as the owners elected to exclude their land from the preservation effort.

Kirk Syme, who represented the owner of two parcels on Sign Hill at the meeting, said he supported preserving the public spaces, but chose to not include the private property, citing concerns regarding how his property value might be affected.

A third 14-acre parcel of privately-held land is currently on the market.

Del Schembari, a San Bruno Mountain Watch Conservancy board member, said at the meeting there is no downside to participating in the preservation effort, as inclusion will have no impact on the zoning or land use classification of involved parcels.

The advocacy group has been working with the county parks department to preserve the more than 3,000 acres of public space on the San Bruno Mountain, which includes Sign Hill Park, through grant funding allocated by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

Kris Jensen, executive director with the group, lauded South San Francisco’s efforts to move forward toward protecting public space in the city.

"We think it’s amazing what South San Francisco did," he said.

Jensen also said he understood why private property owners would elect to not participate in the designation.

"Some folks are hesitant to be included, and that’s reasonable," he said.

But Jensen noted the inclusion would not have any impact on property owners’ ability to develop their property.

Should the privately held parcels ever transfer back to public property, that property would be included in the application for preservation, which is the impetus for advocates asking private property owners to participate in the program, according to the San Francisco Peninsula Open Space Coalition.

Mayor Richard Garbarino said he respected the wishes of private property owners, but could not relate to their hesitance to participate.

"I don’t understand their reluctance," he said. "It doesn’t have any effect on them."

He said the language of the recommendation approved by the council clearly stated private property would not be impacted.

"I think if they read it, they would find it was not intended to stymie developing property," he said.

South San Francisco will go forward and apply to ABAG to request funding for their protected areas, which could result in grant funding for improvements such as maintenance on the trail ascending Sign Hill Park, said Jensen.

ABAG, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District established the program 2007 to identify lands for environmental conservation.

Last month, Daly City made a similar approval to preserve San Bruno Mountain. Should it be selected, the region would join other previously established local Priority Conservation Areas such as Miramontes Ridge, Ravenswood, Teague Hill, Purisma and El Corte de Madera Creek, Tunitas Creek and La Honda, Windy Hill and Coal Creek as well as Russian Ridge, Skyline Ridge and Long Ridge.

San Bruno Mountain also serves as repository for three endangered butterflies, rare amphibians and snakes and numerous rare plants, according to a city staff report.

Garbarino said he appreciated the protection effort, because it worked to conserve the limited public space in South San Francisco.

"There is a certain degree of open space, and I think it’s important we preserve that," he said. "With the tremendous amount of development that is going on ... we need to never forget that our residents need a place to go and have some open space."

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