Environmental groups sue California water boards to force compliance with Public Records Act

Publisher: Capitol Reports -- Environmental News Link
Reporter: No Byline

OAKLAND, CA (03/28/05) -- Three environmental group have sued the State Water Resources Control Board and all nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards to force compliance with the California Public Records Act. Riverlaw, As You Sow and the San Bruno Mountain Watch filed the lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court.

The groups claim the state and regional water boards have violated state law by implementing policies contrary to the Public Records Act. Specifically, the groups charge the boards have violated the Public Records Act by 1) preventing inspection of public records at all times during the boards' office hours, 2) burdening requesters with the task of retaining commercial services to obtain copies of the boards' public records, 3) neglecting to make requested public records promptly available, 4) failing to limit charges for copies of public records to the direct costs of duplication, 5) limiting the number of public records that may be reviewed, and 6) limiting the types of public records available for review.

The groups also say the water boards have also not forwarded their policies on access to public records to the California Office of Administrative Law for required review.

"Government transparency is vital to democracy," said Iryna Kwasny, Director of RiverLaw. "The water boards' restrictive policies seriously burden all Californians, including environmental organizations, who wish to monitor the effectiveness of our state's water policies."

RiverLaw is an alliance of the Environmental Law Foundation, Friends of the River and the South Yuba River Citizens League. As You Sow is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the protection of the environment and human health and the improvement of worker and consumer safety, and it promotes environmental education and corporate accountability. More information is available at www.asyousow.org. San Bruno Mountain Watch is a 2100-member nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of San Bruno Mountain and its unique resources.

Lofty plans for former landfill: Developer proposes commercial district for Baylands property

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Ulysses Torassa

One of the last large tracts of developable land on the Peninsula could become a major shopping and commercial district under a plan being proposed by the land's owner.

The Brisbane property known as the Baylands includes a former landfill, rail yards and lock factory on 540 acres just west of Highway 101. It is contaminated with toxic chemicals and has sat vacant for years while various proposals, including a golf course and water park, have been floated and discarded.

The owner of the land, Universal Paragon Corp., submitted an application and a $50,000 deposit with the city Friday to start the approval process for a planned 1 million square feet of commercial and retail space on a 330-acre chunk of the property.

Possible uses include shopping centers, offices, auto malls and hotels. The project will not include housing because the site is too contaminated for people to live there. About one-quarter of the land would be set aside for open space.

But cleaning up the property to make it safe enough for even commercial use won't be cheap. The company has already spent $20 million on cleanup efforts and expects to spend another $20 million more, Universal Paragon spokesman Bill Chiang said Wednesday.

Brisbane officials are cautiously optimistic about the proposal, which will be the subject of a lengthy environmental review and several public hearings before it comes up for approval.

"I think there are great potential benefits to mitigating of contamination in the Baylands,'' said Mayor Michael Barnes, adding that more usable parkland and open space wouldn't hurt, either.

Still, he said, there are worries that big-box retailers and chain stores may conflict with the character of the small town. The City Council has formed a committee to look into those issues.

Chiang said the project would be a boon to Brisbane and the surrounding area by cleaning up a health hazard and eyesore and creating jobs and open space. And, he said, the property -- which was created by filling in part of the bay -- would be partly restored to wetlands.

City Manager Clay Holstine said the city plans to hire an outside expert at the landowner's expense to make sure cleanup efforts are adequate. Brisbane will also require Universal Paragon to pay for additional staffers in the planning department to handle the project.

The plan will be presented to the City Council on Monday, and Holstine said the panel expects to hold its first public hearing on the proposal in January. Copies of the 193-page application will also be available to the public on CD-ROM.

"There are going to be multiple opportunities for residents of Brisbane to participate,'' Holstine said.

E-mail Ulysses Torassa at utorassa@sfchronicle.com.

South City condo plan offers jobs: Planners review third phase of Terrabay proposal

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Mary Albert

SO. SAN FRANCISCO -- The City Council and Planning Commission got their first peek Wednesday at developers' proposed plan for a massive mixed-use complex known as "Terrabay Phase III" or the "North Peninsula Plaza."

Surprised by the substantial differences between this plan and the one initially proposed years ago by Myers Development Company, many council members and planning commissioners agreed that current plans bear a lot of potential for new jobs and additional city revenue.

Even so, they had many questions. After scrutinizing the three-dimensional model of the proposed mixed-use development, which boasts two massive high-rises -- one primarily for offices and the other for residential units -- parking, a child care center, performing arts center, valley trail, retail shops and a movie theater all linked by a "main street," council members and commissioners peppered the developers with questions.

Mayor Karyl Matsumoto asked the developers if they had secured commitments from potential retailers, while Vice Mayor Ray Green inquired about the previously discovered Indian shell mound.

Kazuko Morgan of Cushman & Wakefield responded that Borders, Barnes and Nobles, Williams Sonoma and restaurants such as Pasta Pomodoro have all expressed "strong interest" in the project.

Jack Myers, CEO of Myers Development, took on the latter question, explaining that the land, on which historic shell mounds were found, has been turned over to San Mateo County for protection and public use.

Myers also agreed to extend the soundwall promised to residents living near the Terrabay Phase II project after several residents complained that it is still not complete.

Antonio Rodriguez, for example, explained through a translator that the soundwall does not provide adequate protection.

He and others, such as teenagers Rebecca Camillo and Jessarela Orozco, also asked Myers to consider building a park for children who live in nearby Terrabay II.

Myers agreed to consider building one.

Building what he and architect Norman Garden of RTKL Associates described as a "classic and lasting" plaza, with landscaping and "a genuine sense of neighborhood," should begin by mid-2005.

Crews whack weeds on San Bruno Mtn.: Invasive gorse a fire hazard to nearby homes

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Mary Albert

BRISBANE -- For Brisbane's Carolyn Parker, it is a relief to hear that work crews are taking a different approach this year to eradicating some of the highly flammable "gorse" weeds on San Bruno Mountain.

Parker's home in the Altamar on the Ridge estate development sat precariously close to a controlled burn that went out of control in July 2003.

Flames licked so close to her home that "I didn't know if I was going to have a house or not," said Parker, who evacuated her three pets when she started to smell smoke.

Now she is delighted to hear that work crews are tackling the invasive species near a residential area of Daly City with heavy-duty weed whackers and "brontosaurus" trucks.

"I think it is fabulous," said Parker.

Paid for with about $325,000 in Proposition 12 bond funds, crews launched a four-year project Oct. 4 and are about halfway done with their goal for the year, said Jen Zarnoch of May & Associates, Inc., which was hired by the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation to hack 31 acres of prickly weeds located on parklands above Daly City's Carter Street.

Their goal was to eradicate the area's mature gorse, seedlings and re-sprouts by 2006, and then re-vegetate the land with native species such as willow, elderberry and dogwood.

The crews will also begin restoring a small wetlands zone next summer, Zarnoch said.

In groups of about four, contractors from May & Associates have been hacking away at the weeds that not only pose a fire danger to the homes nearby, but are also strangling native plants that house the mountain's endangered Mission blue, Callippe silverspot and elfin butterflies.

Then, because the species of weed is so hearty and can grow back within months, crews are attacking the stumps with powerful herbicides.

"This is nasty stuff," said Sam Herzberg of the San Mateo County Parks and Recreation.

Friends of San Bruno Mountain's Doug Allshouse echoed Herzberg's comments, explaining that gorse is nicknamed "greasewood" because of the number of volatile oils within it.

In years past, California's Department of Forestry has conducted controlled burns to combat the species. One was scheduled for July in a different part of San Bruno Mountain near Juncus Ravine, but was postponed due to weather conditions.

San Bruno land set aside: Site was once used as Native American burial grounds

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Mary Albert

The Bay Area's oldest bones can rest easy now that San Mateo County has acquired almost 26 acres of archeologically and environmentally valuable land.

On Thursday, the county purchased the open space because it is home to Native American burial grounds dating back to 3,200 B.C. as well as several federally recognized endangered species, according to national conservationist organization The Trust for Public Land, which coordinated the effort.

The acquisition ends years of efforts by environmental, political and preservation groups to save the eastern side of San Bruno Mountain, located between U.S. Highway 101 and San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, from commercial development by San Francisco-based Myers Development Company.

Now, the land where endangered Mission Blue and Callippe Silverspot butterflies flutter and Slipskin Ohlone peoples lived continuously for 5,000 years will be protected by San Bruno Mountain State and County Park.

"This is a great achievement for the county," said Mark Church, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. "It is a huge step forward to protect the habitat of San Bruno Mountain."

Also, he said, the acquisition sets a "good precedent" for ongoing efforts to expand open space because it is the first time a comprehensive conservation plan has been implemented anywhere in the United States.

Original plans called for building three hotels and an office tower, according to The Trust.

But groups like San Bruno Mountain Watch had resisted development as early as the 1960s, said Executive Director David Schooley. In 1999, they took their objections to Myers' plans to court.

"This has been 30 years of effort to protect this area," said Schooley. "This is the final move."

Purchasing the property -- valued at $1,285,000 -- would not have been possible without funds from several sources. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed about $860,000 of federal dollars through "section six" funding, said Assistant Field Supervisor Al Donner.

In addition, the San Francisco Foundation and Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council each contributed $50,000, and the Caltrans Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Fund chipped in $325,000, according to The Trust.

Staff Writer Justin Nyberg contributed to this report.

Parks to open again in middle of the week: As budget look better, board bows to public

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Ulysses Torassa

Four San Mateo County parks will soon be open during the middle of the week again after the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to restore $186,500 in park funding that had been cut from the budget.

This summer, the county closed the Edgewood, Junipero Serra, San Bruno Mountain and San Pedro Valley parks on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as a cost-savings move. At the time, supervisors expected a $56 million shortfall in the county budget, but that estimate has shrunk to about $27 million, according to Supervisor Jerry Hill, who sponsored the measure to restore the park funding from reserves.

The weekday closures prompted a grassroots campaign by citizens and parks groups, who said the parks were treasured destinations for the community.

"It's appropriate and important for us to bring back the quality of life we enjoy and our citizens expect," Hill said. "In many cases, it's a silent majority that use the parks, enjoy the parks and support the parks, and you don't hear from them until you take the parks away or try to limit their use. Then they speak very loud and clear, and we've heard that for the last few months."

The closures also led to more vandalism and to problems for schools and other groups that use the parks, Hill said. The parks even lost out on landscaping maintenance work donated by people in the community who could not get inside during the week.

Activists who rallied to restore the funding said they were gratified by the supervisors' vote, which was unanimous.

"We're really thrilled," said Ellen Schuette, executive director of Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks, both in Woodside.

Those two parks were not among those that were closed during the week, but her group participated in the effort to get the funding restored. "To me, it means the supervisors understand the parks are truly a treasure," Schuette said.

Ed Pike of San Francisco, a former Peninsula resident and avid parks user, was a major force in drawing people and groups together to fight for more funding. The next step, he said, is to find a long-term solution for funding parks, instead of relying just on the annual county budget.

Hill agreed, saying the county was working with the local cities to develop a stable funding source. That might turn out to be a separate park agency, similar to the East Bay Regional Parks District, that relies on its own tax levies to operate and maintain their sites.

Also Tuesday, supervisors voted to restore funds for an anti-gang and street crime task force for the Sheriff's Department.

Although the county still faces a budget shortfall, it has about $120 million in reserves, Hill said. That's because county officials socked away money during the dot-com boom, knowing tougher times would inevitably return.

"We have prudent and excellent management," Hill said. "We didn't do what the state did. We saved the money just for that rainy day."

E-mail Ulysses Torassa at utorassa@sfchronicle.com.

San Bruno Mountain and three other San Mateo Co. parks to re-open soon!

Publisher: Friends of Edgewood Park
Reporter: Bill Korbulz

At the September 28th final hearing for San Mateo County's 04-05 budget, the Supervisors approved unanimously a motion to add $187,489 to the Parks Department's budget in order to enable them to keep all parks open 7 days/week through June 30, 2005. In making the motion, Supervisor Jerry Hill spoke eloquently of the reasons for keeping parks open, including supporting the work of the Parks Foundation in raising money for an Interpretive Center at Edgewood, supporting the volunteer efforts at all of the parks, preventing vandalism, maintaining standard operating levels, and, importantly, committing to SMC Parks as a County priority. A couple of events came together to facilitate this outcome. First, the County's General Fund is $29M larger than expected and than it was last July at the last budget hearings, due to reduced takeaways from the State and to County operating surpluses from last year. Second, the Supervisors responded to the 100+ letters and emails they received urging them to reopen parks. Each of you who wrote or emailed or otherwise supported this issue should be proud of your participation in this decision-making process. I'm sure the Supervisors would appreciate a thank-you letter for their action." Please go to the County's website for contact information. Thank you. .

San Bruno Mountain land acquired for park

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: No Byline

San Mateo County and the Trust for Public Land have purchased 25 acres on the eastern side of San Bruno Mountain and donated the land to the San Bruno Mountain County and State Park.

The land includes a 5,000-year-old Ohlone Indian shell mound as well as wetlands and habitat for two federally listed endangered butterflies, the Mission Blue and the Callippe Silverspot.

The funds came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caltrans, the San Francisco Foundation and the Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council. The land previously belonged to Myers Development, which had planned to build on it before a settlement was reached with the Indian tribe and San Bruno Mountain Watch.

Butterfly paradise lost?

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Emily Francher

SAN BRUNO MOUNTAIN -- In 1983, local officials adopted a plan to save the fragile habitat of the endangered butterflies on San Bruno Mountain.

Two decades later, the butterflies are just as threatened as ever -- a fact not lost on officials who are in the middle of crafting an update, or amendment, aimed at strengthening the habitat conservation plan.

"If you have limited money, fighting nature is not easy," said Mike Wilson, a trustee who oversees the conservation plan for the mountain, along with other city and county representatives.

There's a growing consensus that the shortage of funds, conflicting science, and evolution of the mountain from grasslands to coastal scrub are taking a toll on the butterflies' habitat.

Everyone seems to agree on the problems, but no one seems to have a solution.

Home to several endangered butterfly species, San Bruno Mountain was the first place in the United States to adopt a habitat conservation plan (HCP), in the wake of the federal Endangered Species Act. The plan allows for developers to build on the mountain in exchange for preserving an equal amount of land as open space.

Successful at saving the majority of the mountain's 3,600 acres as open space, the plan nevertheless has failed to significantly preserve the grasslands where the butterflies' host plants thrive.

"What we're trying to do may be impossible," County Manager John Maltbie, a trustee of the mountain. "After the HCP expires, it could be you'll see a natural evolution of the mountain and an extinction of the species."

The HCP will expire in about a decade, but in the meantime, all agree it's underfunded, with about $120,000 a year from homeowners and developers in the area. That money goes to weed out invasive plants, replant native species, monitor the butterfly population and other efforts.

More money could come from grants, a special assessment on the ballot or from an endowment from a developer. Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine said he expects Brookfield Homes to approach the City Council in the next two months with a plan to build fewer than 168 homes on the mountain, as well as provide some money for an endowment -- perhaps a few million dollars.

"I think the next five years will be critical," said Holstine. "We've go to put more resources into preserving the habitat."

One idea to solve the constant money crisis is to transfer the mountain to the federal government, perhaps the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, but some say budget constraints may make that idea unrealistic.

Meanwhile, the environmental review of a major amendment to the HCP will begin next week. The amendment itself must be finished by next July. As part of the revision, the endangered Callippe Silverspot and the threatened Bay Checkerspot butterflies would be added to the plan, which already includes the Mission Blue and San Bruno Elfin. The revision would also incorporate a few endangered plant species and look at butterfly-counting techniques, grazing and controlled burns, and weed-control plans.

As part of the process, a public meeting on the environmental review of the amendment will be held July 29 from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m at 475 Mission Blue Drive, and from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 250 Visitacion Ave.

Staff writer Emily Fancher can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or efancher@sanmateocountytimes.com .

County park users upset by three-day-per-week closures

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Emily Francher

SAN BRUNO -- Under a bright blue sky, Otaviano Junior stood beneath a stand of eucalyptus trees in Junipero Serra County Park on Monday, having just finished his daily wanderings in the woods here.

Junior comes to this 108-acre park every day, but starting today he'll face a locked gate at the entrance if he tries to stroll in for a daily shot of fresh air and Bay views.

"I come here to pray, to walk, to read," said Junior, who lives in San Bruno. "I like the place."

Junipero Serra and three other County parks -- San Pedro Valley in Pacifica, Edgewood in Redwood City and San Bruno Mountain near Daly City -- will be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for an indefinite period, casualties of the County's shrinking parks budget.

"People are calling us and are really upset about it," said Philip Batchelder of San Bruno Mountain Watch.

San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Division targeted these four parks because they're lesser-used, but that's no consolation to those shut out of their stomping grounds. The department estimates that the closures will affect just 5 percent of visitors -- roughly 100,000 people a year.

The closures will save money in staff time spent opening the gates and cleaning bathrooms and will enable the department to keep open more heavily used parks.

The department had its budget cut 42 percent over the past three years, leaving it with $7 million to manage 16 parks spread over 15,000 acres, said Superintendent Gary Lockman. That's not nearly enough money, park advocates say. That's why they're working on creating a Countywide parks district that would fund ongoing maintenance and operations, if approved by the voters.

Lockman said the department appreciates calls from volunteers who have offered to help out, but that rangers are needed to keep these areas safe and sanitary.

"We're going to ask people to respect the closure signs," Park Ranger and volunteer coordinator Nick Ramirez said, adding that visitors will be asked to leave on affected days. "If people are repeat offenders, they could be subject to a citation."

But some are concerned that people won't respect the signs.

Bruce Grosjean, who likes to walk daily in San Bruno Mountain County Park, said he's worried that people will walk their dogs, which is forbidden, when the park is closed.

Batchelder is fearful that with fewer eyes watching, more bicyclists, motorcycles and illegal dumping will hit the mountain.

Bill Korbholz, a board member of the Friends of Edgewood Park, said his organization supports the County's decision but is saddened by it. He encourages residents to let the County know how the closures affect them.

Julia Bott of the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, which raises money to help fund the parks, said many people want to know what they can do to help the parks crisis.

"Everybody's heartbroken by it," said Bott. "People are interested in ways to address the problem."

Chris Hunter of the Pacifica Tribune contributed to this article.

Staff writer Emily Fancher covers Daly City, South San Francisco, Colma and Brisbane. She can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or efancher@sanmateocountytimes.com .

Power line route raises concerns for health

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Ryan Kim

Twenty-seven miles long and brimming with energy, PG&E's proposed transmission line is poised to power San Francisco and the Peninsula for years.

Or, if you believe some concerned residents and local officials who have protested the proposal, it's a coiled snake that poses a serious health threat.

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission will vote on an alignment for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s $207 million Jefferson-Martin Transmission project. The line will travel north from the Jefferson Substation west of Redwood City to the Martin Substation.

The controversial 230,000-volt line, a combination of underground and overhead wires, will create a link between substations in Brisbane and Redwood City, adding electrical capacity.

PG&E is touting the project as a way to meet rising demand and to provide a hedge against blackouts.

"As time goes on in all communities in the United States, demand for electricity continues to grow," said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. "The growth sometimes slows or increases, but we have to build infrastructure to meet that. "

On Thursday, the PUC will select an alignment from two proposals that are nearly identical -- except that one explores the possibility of a detour over San Bruno Mountain, away from several Daly City schools.

The project, six years in the making, has raised questions about the danger the line might pose to residents. Critics are concerned by the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) created by the lines, part of an evolving area of scientific research that has yet to reach consensus on the potential health threats to humans.

According to a 2002 scientific review by the California Department of Health Services, which surveyed published studies, these fields might cause increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and miscarriage. However, scientists said there is still no conclusive link tying EMFs to these diseases.

PG&E officials have pointed out the lack of a causal relationship, but residents said there is enough evidence to warrant caution.

"There are a lot of people here who are very concerned about EMFs," said Katie Carlin, an organizer with the 280 Corridor Concerned Citizens. "This issue is not going away. New studies are being released, and scientists are redoing their old studies and finding not only associations but (eventually) causations."

Carlin's organization represents several hundred households along Skyline Boulevard in Burlingame, Hillsborough and unincorporated San Mateo County, where the line is scheduled to travel underground near homes.

The citizens group has proposed running the line a mile to the west -- through the San Francisco Peninsula Watershed -- and although its plan is not being considered by the PUC, residents have continued to lobby individual commission members.

On nearby Trousdale Drive in Burlingame, residents also protested an early draft of the plan that had the line running along their busy road. On June 9, however, a PUC administrative law judge noted the potential EMF threat to Trousdale residents and ruled out that alignment.

But residents there said the issue still needs to be dealt with along the entire length of the project. Dennis Zell, co-chair of Concerned Residents of Burlingame, who fought the Trousdale alignment, said the commission should also heed administrative law judge Charlotte TerKeurst's suggestion to update its EMF studies, its maximum exposure standards for EMF in residential areas and its mitigation measures.

"We feel like we dodged a bullet," Zell said. "But the broader question is: When is the PUC going to recognize the danger EMF poses to children and pregnant women, and when are they going to change their rules?"

PG&E's Moreno said the people are exposed to EMFs from television sets, computers, lights and other electronic equipment. He said PG&E also will be spending millions of dollars to minimize the threat of EMFs.

"The fact is we live with EMFs every day," Moreno said. "If these people were really concerned about EMFs, they'd turn off their electricity in their homes and homeschool their kids. It's like complaining about secondhand smoke while puffing on a cigarette."

But critics are still not buying it. Daly City Mayor Sal Torres, for one, said the issue is too uncertain and fraught with hidden dangers to plod ahead blindly. He is pushing for a detour over San Bruno Mountain that will keep the line away from three elementary schools and one middle school.

While PG&E said the wires would not be close enough to register any EMFs at three of the four schools during median electrical loads, Torres said it's too risky.

"There are enough question marks for me," he said. "I can tell you with absolute certainty that running the wires over (San Bruno Mountain) will not be near these children and adults, and that is a heck of a lot better than running them under humans and taking a chance. It's like rolling a dice and hoping that in 20 years we'll have a good roll."

But Torres' plan has angered environmentalists, who say it would do serious damage to endangered animals and plant species.

"We're talking about adding huge towers and significant ground disturbance and, frankly, PG&E has a miserable record of mitigating for damage to habitats," said Philip Batchelder, program director for the San Bruno Mountain Watch.

Baylands site may finally be set for development

Publisher: Baylands site may finally be set for development
Reporter: Emily Fancher

BRISBANE -- At first it seems like a developer's dream: 530 vacant acres in San Mateo County with views of the Bay and San Bruno Mountain.

But on closer inspection, there's a good reason no one has yet developed the Baylands in Brisbane: The toxic legacy left by the Southern Pacific railyard and the city's landfill made this site an environmental mess.

But after years of cleanup and preparatory work, the site might soon be ready for development.

The owner, Universal Paragon Corp., is stepping forward with plans for the Baylands, bordered by Highway 101 to the east, Bayshore Boulevard to the west, Sunnydale and Beatty Avenues to the north and the Brisbane Lagoon to the south.

Bill Chiang, a representative of the project, said the company hopes to submit a specific plan to the city by July for the first phase, covering 330 acres. He said plans call for an outdoor commercial retail center and some office space, with about 110 acres of open space. He said the first phase will only cover the closed landfill, not the contaminated railyard areas.

Holstine said the plan will trigger an environmental impact report that could take up to two years to complete, and a groundbreaking might be up to four years off.

Chiang estimated that Universal Paragon has spent $20 million on cleanup over the last 10 years. The toxics on the site include industrial oil and heavy metals in the soil; also, methane gas is emitted from the landfill.

Many Brisbane residents want the tax revenue and local jobs that developing the site could bring, while others are wary of building on contaminated land.

"This is going to be the biggest change in the history of Brisbane," said resident Karen Evans Cunningham. "This is an incredible opportunity for Brisbane, but we need to be careful how we proceed."

Cunningham said she hopes the city does a thorough job of investigating the site so that residents aren't exposed to toxins or to lawsuits. The city has already held several environmental workshops and plans to hold three more in coming months, including one on May 19.

"Universal Paragon is extremely interested in what the community has to say in the community meetings," said Chiang.

Holstine said the city is gearing up to hire the consultants and staff necessary to handle a project of this magnitude, and the developer will reimburse the city for the costs associated with the project.

Ignacio Dayrit, a consultant for the California Center for Land Recycling, said that though many sites are more contaminated than the Baylands, it is one of the largest toxic sites he's worked on.

"This is a unique site in the type of contamination and also in its potential," said Dayrit. "It's a challenge."

Staff writer Emily Fancher covers Brisbane, Daly City, South San Francisco and Colma. She can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or efancher@sanmateocountytimes.com .

Earth lovers weed San Bruno Mountain: Brisbane residents celebrate Earth Day by plucking non-native plants

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: David Burger

BRISBANE -- French broom, a plant with yellow foliage, got its name because its branches were once cut and made into brooms.

But hundreds of French broom plants were on the opposite end of a spring cleaning on Saturday, as they were removed from San Bruno Mountain by more than 70 Brisbane residents celebrating Earth Day.

"French broom is an invasive species," said Brisbane Mayor Michael Barnes. "The city needs to manage this land so that the community is protected from fire danger and indigenous species are protected from extinction."

The city held its first San Bruno Mountain Habitat Restoration Day on Saturday to coincide with the 34th anniversary of Earth Day.

In recent years, Brisbane has bought more than 20 acres of undeveloped land on the mountain. The city learned that non-native plants were destroying the ecosystem on the slopes and surrounding valleys of the mountain.

"It's incumbent on us to protect our public lands," said Lisa Pontecorvo, Open Space and Ecology Analyst for Brisbane. "And we also want to promote the concept of community stewardship and give a sense of ownership."

Scout troops, school groups and other residents of the area set their sights primarily on removing French broom, a bushy plant that can grow up to eight feet tall. Because it is spring, the legume plant is easily identified by its small pea-like yellow flowers that bloom along the stem in twos and threes between April and June.

"French broom is the official flower of Brisbane, because it's everywhere, unfortunately," said Doug Allshouse, President of Friends of San Bruno Mountain. "Ecologically, the mountain is in a lot of trouble."

Allshouse said that rare native plants like Diablo Rockrose and Franciscan Wallflowers and three endangered butterfly species depend on a mountain free of invasive species.

French broom was originally planted to hold down a ledge of dirt that was created to protect Brisbane from quarry dust. Grazing cows kept the broom from overgrowth, but now that the cows are gone, the broom has been allowed to grow unimpeded, said Brisbane resident Dennis Busse.

Busse said Brisbane is different now, with an active city leadership that has turned the town that was once founded on a landfill into an attractive Bayside community.

He did have one request, though: "Bring back the cows."

Actually, Mayor Barnes noted, goats have been imported onto parts of the mountain to eat the invasive species. But he said the city needs to be proactive while the pilot program is still being tested.

"Proactive" would describe 12-year-old Brisbane resident Brian Alexander Miles, who began weeding the mountain at 8:30 a.m. and planned on staying until the end of the event at 4 p.m. With dirt on his knees and sweat on his brow, he used a small version of the weed wrench to remove roots while avoiding the poison oak that also has infested the mountain.

They've told me, this is our back yard, and we're glad to get to know it better, she said.>

Reach staff writer David Burger at (650) 348-4329 or dburger@sanmateocountytimes.com .

Brisbane embraces Earth Day

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Sabrina Crawford

BRISBANE -- Swaying on the hillside, the extended brushy arms of French broom plant blanket San Bruno Mountain. But though the exotic plant, with its petite yellow blossoms, is deceptively lovely in spring, local environmentalists say it's the No. 1 threat to the diverse natural habitat and, therefore, to the flutter of the endangered mission blue and silverspot butterflies that call the mountain's airy hilltop home.

"Invasive plants are second only to outright physical destruction when it comes to the loss of habitat," said Philip Batchelder, San Bruno Mountain watch program manager. "That is just starting to be grasped by policy makers, and greater public awareness and caring for the environment and other species is growing."

With that in mind, the city of Brisbane, which owns more than 20-acres of the hillside as protected public open space, is honoring Earth Day by sponsoring the first-ever San Bruno Mountain Habitat Restoration Day this Saturday.

On April 24, local environmental protection and education groups, residents and city officials are coordinating an eco-friendly afternoon of mountain air, environmental education and hands-on native plant restoration.

"The City of Brisbane has to date purchased over 20 acres of undeveloped land on San Bruno Mountain, using grant funds that restrict the use of the land to open space," said Brisbane Mayor Michael Barnes, in a flyer urging his fellow residents to dig in, volunteer and help restore harmony to their natural surroundings. "Now, the city needs to manage this land so that the community is protected from fire danger and indigenous species are protected from extinction."

To celebrate the 34th anniversary of Earth Day, the city is joining together with local groups like the San Bruno Mountain Watch, the Friends of San Bruno Mountain and the Native Plant Society, to rally residents to help tackle aggressive invaders like French broom and fennel, to keep those acres in pristine condition.

The last fragment of what was once the Franciscan Region ecosystem, San Bruno Mountain is one of the largest urban open spaces in the United States with 3,300 acres undeveloped, according to San Bruno Mountain Watch.

Local environmentalists say they hope Saturday's event will better inform the community about the mountain's native habitat and spark ongoing interest in community-minded restoration.

Call 415-508-2118 for more information.
Copyright 2004 San Francisco Examiner

Conservation efforts fall short: Federal push for habitat plans increases locally

Publisher: Contra Costa Times
Reporter: Mike Taugher

Across California, a state full of imperiled wildlife and ceaseless growth, old adversaries are quietly writing sweeping new plans to clear the way for development while preserving thousands of acres for nature.

From the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe, six such blueprints are simultaneously under development, including a pair in east Contra Costa and Solano counties. If approved, these six plans alone would help shape the future of 4,300 square miles in Northern California's high-growth regions.

Much of California could eventually come under similar agreements negotiated by homebuilders, landowners, environmentalists, biologists and officials from local, state and federal governments.

The trend cuts against the grain in a state where residents have always had a strong preference for local control, and where local officials rebuff most efforts to impose regional plans.

"This is a back-door regional planning process," said Stephanie Pincetl, the author of a book on California land use, a professor and the director of UCLA's Urban Center for People and the Environment. "And it has occurred in an absolutely astonishing manner. The Endangered Species Act was never intended to be used for land-use planning on the urban fringe."

Habitat conservation plans are coming to California in a big way, and with broad support. But the large-scale, long-term efforts remain untested.

The plans amount to 30- to 50-year contracts among environmental regulators and cities, counties or other public agencies that spell out where land will be preserved to help protect wildlife.

In areas with endangered species, development now often involves costly and uncertain negotiations that frustrate developers and produce ineffective patchworks of wildlife reserves.

Habitat plans offer an alternative. They do not change land-use designations set by cities and counties. Instead, they rely on willing sellers and willing developers. Participation is entirely voluntary.

Developers who choose this course are charged a fee for any project within the plan area, and that money pays for land that is permanently protected. Funding can come from taxes and grants as well.

For developers, the plans offer a way to know in advance how much environmental mitigation will cost and what rules they must follow in order to build.

In turn, wildlife agencies receive a commitment that key and contiguous properties will be preserved.

Habitat conservation plans began modestly in the 1980s as a legal tool to allow development on private land where there are endangered species.

Today, more than 400 such plans exist across the nation. But most address just a few species or cover small land areas. Many deal with activities other than development, such as logging.

Over the last decade, the federal fish and wildlife service has increasingly pushed habitat conservation plans as a way for builders and local agencies to comply with endangered species laws. Large-scale plans first appeared in Southern California in the mid-1990s. They later gained steam in Northern California.

Each habitat plan of this new generation encompasses hundreds of thousands of acres and addresses the needs of dozens of species, while requiring decades-long commitments of builders and communities.

As with many environmental trends, California is leading the way.

"California has a lot of (threatened or endangered) species that live where people want to live," said federal wildlife biologist Michelle Morgan. "We have other hot spots that are developing habitat plans, such as Florida and Texas, but California has cornered the market on regional, multi-species plans."

Uncertainty remains

The results so far of the few large-scale habitat plans already in effect are not encouraging. And critics question whether the new regional habitat plans will deliver on their promise to restore threatened wildlife to thriving levels.

In San Diego, home to one of the state's first and most publicized habitat plans, the Center for Biological Diversity sued over what it considers a lack of protection for wildlife and inadequate funding.

"Most of these plans barely prevent extinction of the species, but don't provide a conservation benefit," said center spokesman David Hogan.

A federal judge four years ago tossed out the plan in the Natomas Basin, north of downtown Sacramento, over concerns that it wasn't adequately funded and did not aggressively save habitat for the Swainson's hawk, the giant garter snake and other species.

Proponents revised the plan. But last month, the same environmental groups that sued in 1999 -- the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Planning and Conservation League and a local group concerned about the hawks -- took the Interior Department back to court.

In Washington, D.C., a federal judge has ruled that regulators must reconsider key provisions of habitat plans. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects its program to survive intact, but the ruling has thrown the plans' critical "no surprises" policy into uncertainty.

In San Joaquin County, which adopted its program three years ago, plan managers have collected more than $7 million in fees from enthusiastic developers. But they have preserved less than 1,000 acres.

Wary farmers in San Joaquin, it turns out, have shown little interest in selling land or easements for permanent wildlife habitat.

If the county fails to protect enough land, wildlife agencies could retract the permits that allow development to proceed.

"Farmers just want to farm the ground as long as it's economically feasible and when it's not, we want the opportunity to do something else with our land," said Tracy-area farmer Phil Martin. "I don't see my family participating in this plan."

A failed experiment?

The nation's first habitat plan was approved on the San Francisco Peninsula in 1983, and critics point to San Bruno Mountain as an example of what can happen when these plans fall short.

During the past two decades, 90 percent of the development allowed under the plan has occurred, and 800 acres have been preserved for extremely rare butterflies. That is what the plan was supposed to do.

But while the butterflies got the acreage, the quality of their habitat has degraded. Non-native weeds have choked out the plants that the butterflies need because the $25 a year charged to homeowners in the plan area isn't enough to restore or properly manage the habitat.

The activist group San Bruno Mountain Watch recently convinced a judge to order a reassessment of the plan, which San Mateo county officials expect will result in a dramatic upgrade later this year.

Mountain Watch chief Philip Batchelder expresses doubt about the outcome.

He called the county's biological monitoring program pathetic and said money has been misspent on a private consultant.

"The environment and rare species are not winning this battle," he said. "No one can argue that habitat conservation plans are written to protect butterflies. They are written to allow development."

Benefits touted

Despite these difficulties, advocates say regional, multi-species habitat planning makes sense for both developers and wildlife.

For builders, the plans eliminate long and costly conflicts that arise when developers propose to build in sensitive wildlife habitat.

Granite Construction, for example, obtained a permit to expand its gravel pit near Tracy in San Joaquin County in less than six months. Prior to the plan adoption, the company had tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to secure the permit.

"We were just about out of business here," said Granite manager Hop Essick. "The impacts never changed, but the rules and the people involved kept changing."

A Lathrop developer with plans for an 11,000-home development called River Islands found that the San Joaquin County plan saved both time and money.

"We do not have to negotiate directly with the agencies about how to mitigate for the species covered in the plan," said River Islands manager Susan Del'Osso. "It was all spelled out. We just pay a fee."

Planners and biologists, meanwhile, say these plans improve habitat quality because they target contiguous property instead of saving land project by project, which often results in reserves too random, small and disconnected to benefit wildlife.

And abandoning habitat planning will do nothing for wildlife, supporters say.

"If you don't do these planning efforts, development doesn't stop just because there's endangered species habitat. Developers still work out deals with the agencies," said John Hopkins, director of the Institute for Ecological Health in Davis.

Contra Costa's plan

Of the new generation of plans in Northern California, few have advanced as far as that of East Contra Costa. The $300 million blueprint could become final next year.

The plan, which has been under development for six years, provides developers and county and city planners a 30-year road map for land conservation in a swath of up to 34,000 acres in the center of the county.

The plan alerts everyone ahead of time about what regulators require to comply with the Endangered Species Act and helps avert conflicts that could derail construction plans later.

Developers will know in advance what environmental restrictions they will face and the fees they must pay. And they will also find it easier and quicker to get permits.

At the same time that development proceeds, larger chunks of land near existing parks and open spaces -- up to 54 square miles -- will be set aside for wildlife habitat.

"The plan is basically going to define where development occurs in the east county and where conservation occurs over the next 50 years," said Carl Wilcox, habitat conservation manager for the state Fish and Game Department.

Not everyone in Contra Costa County thinks that's such a grand idea.

Antioch, the largest city in the eastern half of the county with substantial growth plans on the books, has refused to join.

City officials say the plan violates local control and further solidifies the county's urban limit line, a boundary that Antioch vehemently opposes as an unconscionable violation of local control.

Developers within Antioch city limits instead will have to use conventional negotiations with regulators to obtain construction permits rather than pay a fee.

Proponents believe the plan can succeed without Antioch. But one official at the East Bay Regional Park District noted the consequences in leaving a hole that large.

"The largest developments in the east county are in Antioch, and they're not part of it," said park environmental program manager Brad Olson. "The largest impacts that will generate the largest fees are not part of it."


So far, "in theory" is the most common phrase heard in discussions about the new wave of regional habitat conservation plans.

In theory, most believe they will produce higher-quality habitats, streamline the permit process and permanently preserve thousands of acres of open space for agriculture, wildlife and recreation.

In theory, the plans promote smart growth -- the move to redirect new homes, offices and shops into existing cities, near transit and away from the urban fringe.

But few people appear ready to predict outright success. Many admit that they simply don't have a better idea.

"The jury is still out on these types of plans," said Smart Growth America policy director Beth Osborne. "If in 10 years, we find out that these plans resulted in a major bounce-back for species, then no one will question it.

"But if it results in a major loss, then it will be a loss for the smart-growth movement too. Growth policies that minimize the impact on land consumption and habitat are core to smart growth."

Mike Taugher covers the environment. Reach him at 925-943-8257 or mtaugher@cctimes.com. Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers transportation and land-use. Reach her at 925-945-4773 or lvorderb@cctimes.com.

Eating and bleating their way to success: Goat herd clears land and prevents fire on San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Lizzie O'Leary

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- In a wind -- and at an angle -- that might have discouraged most landscapers, Jared Lewis and his staff of 500 relaxed on the flank of San Bruno Mountain on a recent morning. The crew had cleared an acre of weeds and scrub brush from the Juncus-Tank Ravine area, and was poised to clip another swath o fland -- with their teeth.

Lewis's "employees," a heard of Beor and Spanish goats, are part of a three year experiment in plant-species restoration and fire mitigation under the supervision of Thomas Reid Associates, which administers the mountain's Habitat Conservation Pan. They are scrubbing a 5-acre plot of the mountain clean of invasive plants, and at the same time removing fuel for wildfires such as the one that scorched the mountain on July 8.

Lewis and his human partners at Living Systems Land Management follow by reseeding the area with native plant species. As an added bonus, Lewis noted with a smile, the goats provide a natural fertilizer. Unlike human clearing efforts, there is no risk of an out-of-control burn, and the nimble goats can access the mountain's steep slopes much better than mowers.

The goats' double purpose of species restoration and fire prevention is unusual, said Patrick Kobernus of Thomas Reid. "We want to combine and do both," he said, adding that invasive European grasses are choking many of the native plants that serve as a habitat for the mountain's rare butterflies. The goats also are intended to prepare the area -- owned by Myers Development company -- to be donated to the County's parks department one the natural species return.

While animals area a common fire-mangagement device in the Bay Area, Lewis's goats are a first on modern San Bruno Mountain. But according to Sam Herzberg, a senior planner for the County's parks department, the mountain has a history of hoofed travelers. Herzberg said old aerial photos of the mountain show a network of cow paths, probably originating from Brisbane's dairy ranches. In addition, the area was likely once home to herds of roaming antelope or elk.

Herzber and others hope Lewis's goats act like a natural roaming herd -- clearing small patches of land and creating firebreaks in one area, then moving on to the next without overgrazing or eliminating important native plants. Overgrazing has been a concern of environmentalists, particularly in the EastBay, where local groups contend that grazing cattle have degraded the environment.

So far, the response to the goats on San Bruno Mountain has been positive. "Most of the people have been pretty excited about it," said Kobernus.

Doug Alshouse of Friends of San Bruno Mountain noted that in the the wake of the recent fire, residents were particularly receptive to alternative methods of land clearing, but cautioned that the goats are still in a testing phase. "They are one piece of the puzzle of what we would call good stewardship," he said, adding that Friends is currently testing a variety management and restoration tactics, as is Thomas Reid. "We'll know more next year."

Federal funds to help save endangered butterfly habitat: Indian shell mound site also falls under26 acres to be purchased with $860,000 grant

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Justin Jouvenal

The federal government has ponied up $860,000 to help purchase 26 acres on San Bruno Mountain to protect both major habitat for endangered butterflies and an archaeological site for local Indian tribes.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put up the money for the Ohlone Shell Mound site, which is the northern Peninsula's largest remaining tract of habitat for three endangered butterflies: the callipe silverspot, the mission blue and the San Bruno elfin.

The shell mound is also a major cultural site. It is one of the largest and oldest shell mounds in the Bay Area and was created by the Costanoan/Ohlone Indians beginning around 3,200 B.C.

"(This grant) is a victory for all those who work to protect our natural resources," said Congressman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, in a written statement.

Lantos said he urged Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to fund the grant last April.

The 26-acre parcel currently is owned by Meyers Development Co., which plans to sell the site to the County Department of Parks and Recreation for $1.28 million. Meyers already has begun clearing out invasive plants that threaten the butterflies' host plants.

The grant was awarded after the county Parks and Recreation Department received $325,000 from Caltrans toward a redraft of the 20-year-old San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan. The plan was created to protect the mission blue and San Bruno elfin butterflies while also allowing development on the mountain.

Parks and Recreation Department Senior Planner Sam Herzberg said the federal grant money will go a long way toward helping plan the future of San Bruno Mountain.

"It's going to help us be more strategic about how we maintain the habitat," said Herzberg.

While the parks department received good news about the federal grant this week, Herzberg said state funds are in jeopardy because of the California budget stalemate in Sacramento.

The money expected to come from Caltrans could be eliminated, depending on which budget draft receives the final approval. But Trust for Public Land spokesman Tim Wirth said Friday other funds would be sought to replace any lost state money because the state funding makes the purchase proposal eligible for the federal grant, the money would need to be replaced for the County to keep the federal funds.

- wire services contributed to this report

Never-ending battle for control of San Bruno Mountain: Lawsuit agreement seen as a compromise and a threat

Publisher: The Independent
Reporter: Michael Flaherty

BRISBANE - Despite reaching a legal settlement with federal attorneys in January, environmentalists fear that the landmark plan designed to preserve San Bruno Mountain is as endangered as the species it was intended to protect.

The ongoing frustration among environmentalists, coupled with efforts by state and local officials to amend the San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan, reveals that the two sides remain opposed after nearly 20 years of negotiations.

San Mateo County Senior Planner Sam Herzberg, one of the habitat administrators, says that while changes are needed, the plan is working.

"At one point, all of San Bruno Mountain was proposed for development. The HCP has curtailed a lot of development," said Herzberg.

But Philip Batchelder of the environmental organization San Bruno Mountain Watch says the plan is "grossly under-funded" and failing. And to make matters worse, he alleges that the plan's administrators are hoping to add another butterfly to its endangered species list.

Adding the callippe silverspot butterfly to the conservation plan would allow developers to kill the endangered species as long as they provide habitat for it to survive elsewhere on the mountain.

In the fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a grant that would allow the county and its environmental consultants $100,000 to amend the plan. Changes to the plan would include not only adding the silverspot but would create something more "comprehen- sive," according to Herzberg.

Batchelder, however, believes that the amendment would be a death sentence for the silverspot.

"This species is barely hanging on. It can't afford to be compromised. We're fundamentally opposed to adding another species to what we consider to be a failing plan," he said.

Environmentalists such as Batchelder fear that the amendment would open the door for Brookfield Developers to add more homes to the mountain's northeast ridge. The developer is currently prohibited from expanding because parcels along this ridge are habitat for the federally endangered silverspot. The only way for the housing project to expand would be adding the butterfly to the Habitat Conservation Plan.

"The plan sounds nice," said David Schooley, a member of San Bruno Mountain Watch. "But what it means is that a developer can kill that habitat as long as they are planning to recreate that habitat. Exactly what does that mean?"

Herzberg argues that environ- mentalists want the .Habitat Conservation Plan to be black and white. But this was never the intent of the agreement.

"The Habitat is nothing if not gray. It's a compromise," he said. The compromise was the first of its kind internationally, according to Herzberg. Since the conservation plan was crafted in 1986, more than 300 similar plans have followed,

"Has the plan done everything that environmentalists want? You know what, most of the mountain is open space Herzberg said.

The mission blue butterfly was the original endangered species listed on the conservation plan, which allowed developers to build on its habitat. But when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposed adding the silverspot to the plan, San Bruno Mountain Watch sued. The organization filed its lawsuit on July 11, 2000, charging the federal agency with deliberately jeopardizing an endangered species

After a lengthy legal battle, U.S. Fish and Wildlife settled earlier this year. The agency agreed to pay San Bruno Mountain Watch $130,000, which the organization says will go towards paying legal fees.

In addition to the payment, Fish and Wildlife agreed to conduct formal biological studies pertaining to endangered plant and animal species on the mountain. The agency also agreed to investigate the effec- tiveness of the San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan and the adequacy of its funding.

While the settlement was a victory for San Bruno Mountain Watch, the organization continues to cast doubt on Fish and Wildlife following through with its promise. Meanwhile, the mountain's stewards will wait and see if the amendment goes through.

"We've settled, but we're not feeling too settled," said Batchelder. "We were willing to settle with the service, but we still have to see if they can put together a good plan."

Local environmental group mulls open space district

Publisher: Independent Newspapers
Reporter: William Chiang

BRISBANE - The seemingly perpetual fight among environmentalists, property owners and developers over open space is about to get uglier, more complex and more expensive. In addition, the battle lines could expand well beyond Brisbane on the east side of San Bruno Mountain and spread to include South San Francisco, Colma and even Daly City.

The time has come for "creative, proactive solutions," said Philip Batchelder, project coordinator with San Bruno Mountain Watch, which for three decades has struggled against burgeoning urban encroachment onto the mountain.

"We all have to work together," he said. "And to that end we're looking at the possibility of forming an open space district, an independent governmental entity with an elected board of directors. Its primary role would be preserving as much as possible of the remaining privately held open space on the mountain."

And because the mountain borders on multiple cities, he said, such a ballot measure would likely involve neighboring communities.

The idea of an open space district on San Bruno Mountain, he explained, is based on recent City Council passage of adjustments to Brisbane's zoning regulations governing development in Brisbane Acres.

Councilmembers approved earlier this year a program granting property owners the right to transfer development rights to another landowner. The receiving property can receive up to three such transfers, establishing a development density of four homes per every 20,000 square feet.

Brisbane Acres' previous limit was one house per 20,000 square feet.The original land would remain as open space. Any financial considerations would be a private transaction between property owners.

Carole Nelson, Brisbane's director of community development, said currently no one has applied to take advantage of the new program. Approximately 20 parcels of the 138 acre Brisbane Acres are developed, she said, with some 50 residential units in 32 buildings.

"What the city was trying to do was to encourage people who own property with very strong open space and environmental values to transfer density to another property that was less (environmentally) sensitive," she said. "For most properties (higher up on the mountain) there are no roads, no sewer, no water and no electricity. Infrastructure is very expensive to bring in."

In addition, she said, there are the "environmental constraints, the endangered species, the slopes are very steep, with canyons and water courses."

Batchelder said his group holds nothing against density transfer, which he described as a "well-regarded planning technique," ecologically sound in terms of grouping development to protect open space. He also commended City Hall's preservation efforts, such as its purchase of some 19 parcels in Brisbane Acres for preservation.

"But we don't want to start with the premise of housing development in Brisbane Acres." he said. "We're looking at open-space preservation first."

To be successful in creating an open space district for all of San Bruno Mountain, Batchelder will likely have to persuade voters to pass some sort of property tax to provide the district with operating funds as well as money to pay for land. Approval would require a two thirds majority by voters within the proposed district's boundaries.

As a comparison, the Mid peninsula Regional Open Space District, first formed in November 1972 on a 65 percent ballot landslide in Santa Clara County, became the only such district in San Mateo County in 1976 when south county residents voted to join. It now covers northwest Santa Clara County, southern San Mateo County and a small piece of Santa Cruz County.

Residential and commercial property owners in San Carlos down to Los Gatos pay 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed value, said spokesperson Kristi Webb. The district collected nearly $17.2 million for fiscal 2001-02. and boasts more than 48,300 protected acres.

Batchelder conceded it would be a next-to-impossible project to achieve something similar for northern San Mateo County.

"Some believe this is total pie in the sky." he admitted. "But ultimately we would want to have a lot of mixed jurisdiction. The crux is that in the greater context, it's incumbent upon those interested in protecting open space to come up with long term solutions."

Contact William W. Chiang at 652-6739 or wchiang@smindepen- cfent.com