Battle Brewing Over Daly City Dunes

This November 26, 2012 article by Joshua Melvin at discusses the proposed development on these rare dunes and the community's concerns after the the disastrous November 13 mudslide caused by a broken waterline.

"Daly City:  Battle brewing over plans to develop historic dunes", by Joshua Melvin.

For more comprehensive information about the dunes, please see our Daly City Dunes pages.

Dirt Biking Concerns Conservancy Group

Reprinted with permission of SouthSanFranciscoPatch

San Bruno Mountain Watch members investigated dirt bike tracks behind Terrabay neighborhood on Monday morning.


Walking through the Terrabay neighborhood Monday morning, three San Bruno Mountain Watch members looked for clues to where a dirt biker is entering the park.

South San Francisco residents Loretta Brooks, Chuck Heimstadt and Ken Oborn, all members of a San Bruno Mountain Watch conservancy committee, noticed the illegal tracks a week ago.

Brooks says dirt biking can destroy lupine, a primary food source for the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly, which is native to the mountain.

"We are trying to find a way to protect open space around here," Brooks said.

The group suspects that the dirt biker entered the park at the end of Highcrest Lane, off of Hillside Boulevard, where there is parking and easy access. A sign clearly marks that motorized bikes are prohibited in the park.

The sun peaked out from behind the clouds as water trickled down the verdant canyon and ravens circled overhead.

While hiking up the steep ascent, Brooks and Heimstadt pointed out a variety of invasive species, like fennel, radish and Italian thistle.

"The whole food chain is interconnected," Heimstadt said. "By bringing in the non-natives, it breaks up that food chain."

Native species like Blue-Eyed Grass, Sticky Monkey, and California Aster also sprout along the trail, but in fewer numbers.

The group wants to help the San Mateo County Parks Department weed out invasive species in the area but is waiting on a permit.

Heimstadt said there are multiple paths leading up the mountain, but all of them are steep.

"This was never a built trail," he said. "It needs to be switch backed."

The couple looks forward to a proposed east-west bike trail that would go from Oyster Point Marina to the ocean at Fort Funston. A new trail would be built from the base of San Bruno Mountain at Sister Cities Boulevard up to the Ridge Trail.

Hiking up the spine of the canyon past the blooming yellow petals of San Francisco Wallflower, the bike tracks became visible. The tracks zigzag on the mountainside between some rock outcroppings.

Two hikers made their way down, and Brooks asked if they've heard any bikes.

"It's against the law and it can ruin the habitat," she said. The hikers said they haven't seen anyone riding here but will contact authorities if they do.

"There's enough erosion on this mountain without [dirt biking]," Heimstadt says, " and then it's unsightly."

He says the county may be able to install a gate that would stop dirt bikers from entering.

Elias Frangos, park aide for the parks department, said he hadn't received any reports of dirt biking but they will look into it.

"We can definitely go check it out and keep an eye over there," Frangos said.

Have you seen dirt biking or any other illegal activity on San Bruno Mountain? Report to SFPatch here.

Last Dance on San Bruno Mountain

Reprinted by Permission of Bay Nature Magazine, January-March 2011 Issue

"The Besieged Island." Left to right: two Callippe silverspots, Mission blue (male, left; female, right), San Bruno elfin. Painting by Liam O'Brien.

by Linda Watanabe McFerrin  

Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly

Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly,
And the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking.
Which was the real--the butterfly or the man?
Who can tell the end of the endless changes of things?
The water that flows into the depth of the distant sea
Returns anon to the shallows of a transparent stream.
The man, raising melons outside the green gate of the city,
Was once the Prince of the East Hill.
So must rank and riches vanish.
You know it, still you toil and toil--what for?
--Li Po

The world around us is aquiver on the Summit Loop Trail, the dusty 3.1-mile footpath that climbs through the chaparral, coastal scrub, oak woodland, and riparian habitats that cover San Bruno Mountain. I'm told that winds up here often reach 30 miles an hour, just shy of gale force. At around 1,300 feet this spot on the ridgeline at the northern end of San Mateo County looks out over most of the hyper-developed bay-centered core of the Bay Area. My hiking companion and I gaze northeast to the chalk-colored crenellated sprawl of San Francisco and southwest to suburbia and the cemeteries of Colma. We can just make out the traffic along the roads and freeways that crisscross the landscape below, but we can't hear it. "It's so quiet up here," I whisper. The leaves around us, shaking like minuscule flags, let loose a febrile rustle. The only other sounds are the whoosh of warm wind under my hat brim, the crunch of rock beneath our boots.

It might seem deserted, but it isn't. San Bruno Mountain State and County Park is densely populated, not with humans but with a vast array of wildlife, including a number of rare and imperiled plant species. I come here for the butterflies, to check up on a habitat essential to their existence, though I don't expect to see them flying around at this time of year, early fall. They should be well hidden as tightly wound pupae, sequestered beneath the carpet of vegetable litter that blankets the hillside, overwintering in dreamy diapause, dormant until spring. This is one of the last places on the planet where, if you know where and when to look and what to look for, you can see San Bruno elfin, Mission blue, and Callippe silverspot butterflies--all listed as endangered species, which is a terrible distinction as it is the last step before the end of the evolutionary road. The endangered bay checkerspot, too, once called the mountain home, but it has not been seen here in over a quarter century.

These are not large butterflies; they are small and discreet, certainly not flamboyant in the manner of monarchs and swallowtails, but still exquisite in color and design. Even so, it is not my intention to actually see them. I like that they are hidden, safe from harm in their pupal slumber. And, in any case, I have always been far more interested in the earlier, seemingly more durable stages of these insects' development. The adults in their mature imago form have always been ghosts to me; their fleeting presence, while beautiful, signals little more than doom. They represent a dilemma, a dangerous beauty, the alluring specter of transience; they mean hope for their kind in the ever-unfolding drama of life, but for the individual butterfly, nothing but death.

As a child I saw them as something fragile that, once caught, rarely lasted. When I was six, a small girl in England in a country landscape that was rich in flora and fauna, I filled glass jars with the interesting little creatures that slithered and crawled in the fields around my home. I collected creepy things: snails, slugs, beetles, spiders, and beautifully colored, magnificently furred caterpillars that I

liked to believe were patiently feeding on the blades of grass (in most cases a totally inappropriate food source) with which I had imprisoned them, unintentionally consigning them to an early death. Sometimes my captives were prettier and more active: ladybugs, honeybees, and the occasional unfortunate butterfly. The butterflies were quick to expire, their swift demise eventually reenacted by the other members of my glassed menagerie. Later, in the wild landscapes of northern Japan when I saw uniformed schoolchildren scouring the meadows with white butterfly nets, it would strike me that their enthusiasm was nothing more than a deadly innocence, the one perfect image of summer in a season that passed far too quickly, that was always too short.

I learned the facts about butterflies in high school: that they are members of the phylum Arthropoda; the class Insecta; the order Lepidoptera; and that in the course of their short lives they undergo metamorphosis through four stages--egg, larva, pupa, and adult. I remembered crying years before when one of the lovely caterpillars I'd gathered "died." It turned brown, shapeless, and still as a corpse, nestled in the greenery with which I'd stuffed its jar. Saddened, I threw the whole mess out. It wasn't until I saw a photograph years later of the next phase of a caterpillar's life that I realized my once-wriggling prisoner had simply entered another phase of its existence, not its last . . . that is, until I threw it out in ignorance. I wept all over again.

Here on San Bruno Mountain the butterflies' precarious hold on existence transcends the lives and deaths of the individual insects in each species. Parts of the mountain are currently protected, but the tenuousness of that preservation is written in the development encroaching from below. This 2,300-plus-acre patch of public land is surrounded by houses and subdivisions and has long been the focus of battles between developers and environmentalists. Inside the park another kind of intrusion threatens. Invasive species--eucalyptus, gorse, ivy, broom, fennel, cotoneaster, blackberry bramble--proliferate. The plants upon which the threatened butterflies feed compete with these hardy nonnatives for space.

On our slow ramble up and down the mountainside I contemplate all of this, and I feel a rising sense of pessimism. "If I were to write a butterfly song right now," I say, "it would be a lament, maybe even a dirge." I try to pick out the flora that constitutes the insects' specialized food sources: violets, stonecrop, native plantain, perennial lupines. What I see most are the transplants: ivy, fennel, and blackberries, blackberries everywhere. These plants, like humans, are opportunistic. They muscle out the less flexible species, devouring the natives' space.

That's when I see them. One, two, three--they are careening on winds so rough that I think their tiny bodies should be torn apart. Their appearance seems almost impossible and absurd to me, what with the fierce gusts and the lateness of the season, though adult butterflies can actually live for months. "Look," I say, my spirits lifting ridiculously even though I see the butterflies' erratic dance on the gales as nothing more than a frenetic totentanz.

The smallest of the three finds a sunny resting spot on the rocky path a few feet ahead of us. It flattens its wings, which tremble only slightly as I sneak up to take a closer look. I believe I recognize the markings. It's a checkerspot, but probably not the endangered bay checkerspot, which hasn't been seen here on San Bruno Mountain since the early 1980s. It's almost certainly the much more common cousin, the Chalcedon checkerspot. Still, for a moment, I feel the irrational joy again, to have found these persistent though delicate insects on this windswept hillside. And then the blast of sorrow that generally accompanies this joy--the realization that even as I observe it, the butterfly's life is ending, that the things I cherish--this parkland, the imperiled plants and animals that inhabit it--are in constant and unassailable jeopardy.

I am too close. The butterfly reacts, takes flight, another flitting bit of nature, blindly celebrating the expendability of forms. It's hard to resist that reckless dance and, for an instant only, I slip into its trance; and finally, blessedly, there is only this: the butterfly, the wind, the moment.

San Bruno Mountain Watch advocates for open space on the mountain and sponsors habitat restoration work parties every week. Learn more at, or call (415) 467-6631.

Linda Watanabe McFerrin has been traveling since she was two and writing about it--in poems, short stories, essays, and novels--since she was six. Her latest novel, Dead Love (, was published by Stone Bridge Press in 2010. She also leads workshops in fiction and creative nonfiction writing (

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San Bruno Mountain Development OK'd after Legal Battle

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Shaun Bishop

San Bruno Mountain Development OK'd after Legal Battle

By Shaun Bishop

August 29, 2010

It appears the endangered callippe silverspot butterfly is going to get some new neighbors on San Bruno Mountain.

A San Mateo County judge’s ruling will allow a 71-home subdivision of a decades-old development plan to go forward, despite the protests of a local environmental group that says the new houses proposed by Brookfield Homes will harm the butterfly.

San Bruno Mountain Watch, which sued to require the developer to conduct a full environmental impact report, is “in conversations with our board and with our attorneys about whether it makes sense to file an appeal,” Executive Director Ken McIntire said. The group has until early October to decide.

“She didn’t address any of our main arguments,” McIntire said of Judge Marie Weiner. “Justice isn’t the same, necessarily, as the truth, especially in environmental issues, because the environment is so complex and judges are not trained as biologists.”

Developer Brookfield Homes did not return several calls seeking comment. The county counsel’s office also could not be reached for comment.

At issue is a plot of land on the Northeast Ridge of the mountain that the county approved for development in 1989, following a 1982 habitat conservation plan that set aside 2,800 acres of the 3,300-acre mountain for conserved habitat.

After the callippe silverspot butterfly was listed as an endangered species in 1997, the original plans for151 homes on 40 acres were later reduced to less than half that number of homes on 20 acres, with the rest conserved as habitat. The developer is also required to create a $4 million fund for habitat management.

County supervisors approved a final revision of the plan in 2009, triggering San Bruno Mountain Watch to sue the county to force an environmental impact report of the development.

Weiner also said a 2007 modification to the plan “deletes dozens of houses from the development to foster greater freedom of the callippe silverspot to travel and protect its host plants.” She also pointed out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the mitigations would result in “no significant impact” to the butterfly.

On the mountain San Bruno Mountain has 14 species of rare or endangered plants along with several endangered or threatened butterflies, including:

Butterflies -San Bruno elfin -Mission blue -Callippe silverspot -Bay checkerspot

Plants: -Coast Rock Cress -Montara manzanita -Pacifica manzanita -San Bruno mountain -Franciscan wallflower - San Francisco owl’s clover  -San Francisco campion

Source: San Mateo County Parks Department

Judge turns away 21-year attempt to stop San Bruno Mountain development

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Judge turns away 21-year attempt to stop San Bruno Mountain development

By Julia Scott

Posted: 08/23/2010 10:28:37 PM PDT Updated: 08/23/2010 11:25:57 PM PDT

BRISBANE -- A San Mateo County judge has cleared the way for a 71-home subdivision to be built after more than two decades of controversy on a mountain ridge environmentalists say is prime habitat for the endangered callippe silverspot butterfly.

Earlier this month, San Bruno Mountain Watch lost its bid to have a San Mateo County Superior Court judge stop the development by Brookfield Bay Area Builders, Inc. and order the county to prepare an environmental impact report for the project.

The luxury homes, destined for 20 acres on the Northeast Ridge of San Bruno Mountain, have been under intense scrutiny by local and regional environmental groups since they were proposed in 1989. Since then, the size of the subdivision has been whittled down to less than half the number of homes originally slated for the site, largely due to the controversy surrounding the potential loss of butterfly habitat.

Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, said his group has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. "We were really disappointed. We didn't feel like anything we were talking about was really addressed," McIntire said.

The callippe silverspot has been listed as an endangered species since 1997, eight years after the county approved a major subdivision on the Northeast Ridge. McIntire's group has long argued that the homes and the six-lane road on San Bruno Mountain that were built since the 1980s have already taken their toll on the butterfly's ability to migrate over the mountain. They contend that this project deserves an environmental impact report to document potential threats to the remaining butterflies.

The group sued not only Brookfield, but the San Mateo County Parks Department and the Board of Supervisors as well, for permitting the project.

"It wasn't enough for us to have witnesses that say they may be harmed," McIntire said. "You have to have witnesses that prove the butterflies will be harmed, which we could not do. If we knew that was the standard of proof going in, we would not have filed a petition."

The county counsel's office did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did a representative of Brookfield.

Judge Marie Weiner's decision offered highly technical arguments for why the latest phase of the subdivision did not count as a separate project from the master plan the county approved in 1982.

She did not address the question of whether it would affect the butterfly population on the Northeast Ridge, other than to note that according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the project is "not likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of the callippe silverspot and other butterflies on the mountain. Environmental groups have questioned the science behind that assertion.

The callippe silverspot population crash is attributed to the loss of their host plant, the Johnny jump-up. The project site hosts the most concentrated population of callippes on the mountain but not the largest one. The rest live on the Southeast Ridge in a protected grasslands area.

Brookfield is unlikely to begin construction until next spring, after the rainy season ends. The developer has not applied for a building permit, said Brisbane Senior Planner Tim Tune. Brookfield seems to never have doubted the outcome of its application. All 71 homes in the future community, dubbed Landmark, have already been sold.

Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.

Brisbane approves San Bruno Mountain development, outraging butterfly supporters

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Brisbane approves San Bruno Mountain development, outraging butterfly supporters

By Julia Scott

Posted: 02/17/2010 07:32:37 PM PST Updated: 02/17/2010 08:31:26 PM PST

BRISBANE — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow a developer to build a new neighborhood in the midst of prime habitat for the endangered callippe silverspot butterfly on San Bruno Mountain.

The controversial vote capped off three emotionally charged public hearings on the issue and left two women from Brisbane sobbing in the audience. Moments before the vote, a man disrupted the proceedings by standing up and walking toward the council with a thick binder in his hand, his finger jabbing at a page.

"You're making a mistake!" he cried, lifting the binder above his head as police removed him from the meeting.

The debate over the 80 homes destined for the mountain's Northeast Ridge was framed by opponents as a life-or-death decision — for the endangered butterflies, who survive today only on sequestered parts of the mountain, for the environment, and for the soul of Brisbane.

"If the callippe silverspot vanishes, all levels of government will be at fault," declared David Schooley, co-founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch, a Brisbane group that may decide to sue the city and the county for allowing the project to go forward. The group bombarded the City Council with an intense letter-writing campaign and collected hundreds of signatures on a petition. They urged the council to deny the development and order a new environmental impact report that would contain more accurate, updated information about the callippe's whereabouts and ability to breed despite obstacles such as homes and roadways. The last environmental review was conducted in 1983 and may not account for the effects of development that have taken place since then.

To a certain extent, the council's hands were tied by the fact that a 579-unit development was approved for this part of the Northeast Ridge back in 1989. Many of those homes have been built, although this particular subdivision faltered when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the callippe silverspot as an endangered species in 1997. The callippe, one of several sensitive butterfly species on San Bruno Mountain, relies on native plants that grow along the project site.

The Fish and Wildlife Service approached developer Brookfield Homes about reducing the building footprint, and Brookfield agreed to cut the subdivision down from more than 108 units to 80 units. Brookfield also agreed to sign over its development rights to Callippe Hill, a nearby 20-acre site that hosts an even richer population of the butterflies. The land will be protected by the county.

Finally, the developer offered a $4 million endowment to strengthen the county's Habitat Conservation Plan, a management tool that funds county efforts to remove invasive plant species such as coastal scrub that crowd out the plants used by the butterflies throughout San Bruno Mountain. About 1,250 acres of native grasslands remain, down from 1,800 acres in the 1930s. About 5 acres of grasslands disappear each year, biologists say.

Brookfield also offered Brisbane $1.8 million to pay for city services and projects, including a new library.

"If we requested a new EIR, the developer would do the 1989 project. To me, I don't see that as an option," said Brisbane Mayor W. Clarke ¿Conway. "I think it's the better project. I know a lot of people will disagree with me."

The Fish and Wildlife Service gave its stamp of approval to the revised project in May, saying that it would not cause irreparable harm to the callippe silverspot based on the agency's review of biological studies. That set the stage for an unusual situation in which environmentalists lined up against an unprecedented opportunity to restore San Bruno Mountain at the expense of losing some butterfly habitat.

Meanwhile, many speakers who opposed the project accused the Fish and Wildlife Service of being a shill for development and sacrificing an endangered species for money.

Cay Goude, assistant field supervisor in the agency's Sacramento office, denied the charges.

"We would not have issued this permit if we did not think it was the best mechanism for the long-term survival of the butterfly on San Bruno Mountain," Goude said. "Without funding of that site, I don't think it would persist over time."

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

Developer bulldozes butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Developer bulldozes butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain

By Julia Scott

Posted: 10/04/2009 11:00:00 PM PDT Updated: 10/05/2009 09:50:55 PM PDT

BRISBANE — A developer bulldozed an area containing endangered butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain last week, catching city officials off-guard and enraging environmentalists who plan to file a lawsuit to prevent the company from preparing the land for homes to be built.

Although the bulldozing appears to be legal, environmentalists with San Bruno Mountain Watch say the mechanized removal of vegetation on a portion of the Northeast Ridge owned by Brookfield Homes was a cynical attempt to wipe out the last vestiges of habitat for the endangered Callippe Silverspot and Mission Blue butterfly species.

Their concerns prompted a site inspection by Brisbane and county officials on Monday afternoon to make sure that the work was in line with what was approved by the county. The officials' conclusions were not available by press time.

The developer removed the vegetation early last week on part of a 20-acre site slated for 71 townhouses on a hill overlooking San Francisco.

A county consultant approved the work in mid-September, ostensibly for erosion and sediment control of the hillside above a roadway and existing development.

On Sept. 22, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors issued a separate and unrelated permit that would allow construction to proceed starting early next year, pending final approval by the Brisbane City Council.

Last week's site work was, therefore, expected at some point, and Brookfield Homes prepared for it in August by uprooting 250 Johnny Jump-ups, the host plant of the Callippe Silverspot, and moving them to a safe place on another hillside.

It was the timing of the work that surprised Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch.

He wonders why Brookfield Homes chose to remove native vegetation and replace it with special grass seeds to minimize erosion when the developer could have left the hillside alone until next spring, when grading will occur in earnest.

Leaving the property alone would have prevented erosion and given the butterflies a few more months to propagate, said McIntire.

"Why are they spending all this money to scrape away plant material that was preventing problems and spend more money to replace it with mechanical, artificial ways of doing the same thing?" he asked. "Next spring they'll be doing a heck of a lot more than scraping, so why do it twice? I think they wanted to get rid of the habitat as quickly as possible. Now Brookfield can say that there's no butterfly habitat on their building site any more."

Brookfield Homes Vice President Kevin Pohlson did not return calls seeking comment.

San Bruno Mountain Watch founder David Schooley discovered the soil where the plants had been last Sunday while on a nature walk. The hillside near a sparse grove of eucalyptus is now bare but for some rocks and dirt. Workers have installed a "waddle" — a long flexible barrier to catch sediment — at the base of the cutting.

"I looked at the spot where the Silverspot and Mission Blue are — the place I'd been checking for years. It was sheared off. I was horrified," he said.

Schooley called Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine, who was surprised at the news. He said the city had told the developer to "button up" the construction site by Oct. 15 — in other words, cover it for the winter — but he said he had no reason to believe Brookfield Homes was planning to touch the hillside zone known as a protected area.

"We would have said, `Why are you doing that now? You're not going to be doing any construction until next spring,' " said Holstine.

City and county officials seemed to disagree about who has final responsibility for approving work of this nature.

Holstine said the Brisbane Public Works Department did not sign off on the bulldozing work ahead of time because it's not part of the process.

"The city staff isn't out there overseeing where the work is going to be done — that's not their responsibility because that's what the county does."

San Mateo County Parks Planner Sam Herzberg said the county sent a consultant to the site to "fine-tune" the plan just before the vegetation was removed.

Herzberg said the review approval he issued was based on erosion control measures approved by Brisbane — the lead agency in such matters. Whether or not the work should have been done is beyond the county's purview, according to Herzberg.

"It's for the erosion control engineer and the city of Brisbane to determine. I didn't come up with this plan."

Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.

Development threatens wilderness on San Bruno Mountain

Listen to the Public Radio Show 'Crosscurrents' Broadcast About This Story:
Development Threatens Wilderness on San Bruno Mountain

From the early 1900s until the late 1960s, San Francisco dumped its garbage into the Bay near the small town of Brisbane. For this, Brisbane owes a San Francisco a hearty thanks. Really. For a long time, the overpowering smell stopped development, keeping the wilderness around Brisbane intact. After that, grassroots efforts convinced politicians to set aside what has become 23 hundred acres of state and county park. KALW’s Judy Silber reports that more recent years, the pressure to develop has built up, threatening the wilderness and the species that live there.

Please note: this story contains a factual error. The founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch is David Schooley - not David Schooner. KALW News apologizes for the mistake.
Show Aired 9/29/09 6:12 pm  

Board approves development on San Bruno Mountain despite threat to endangered butterflies

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Board approves development on San Bruno Mountain despite threat to endangered butterflies

By Julia Scott

Posted: 09/22/2009 06:00:21 PM PDT Updated: 09/22/2009 08:30:11 PM PDT

REDWOOD CITY — Ignoring protests from environmentalists, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to award a permit that would allow development of a section of San Bruno Mountain known to contain endangered butterfly habitat.

The controversial vote was one of the final hoops Brookfield Homes will have to jump through on its way to breaking ground on a 71-home subdivision on the Northeast ridge of San Bruno Mountain in Brisbane. The county, which protects and restores parts of San Bruno Mountain, was asked to amend its Habitat Conservation Plan to allow some endangered Callippe silverspot butterflies to be killed to make way for the single-family homes. The permit next goes before the Brisbane City Council for final approval.

Opponents of the project have fought hard to protect the butterfly and its habitat, the final known remaining habitat for the Callippe silverspot on earth. An extensive letter-writing campaign orchestrated by San Bruno Mountain Conservancy resulted in 180 letters to the county, and many Brisbane residents spoke with great passion at Tuesday's meeting (one Brisbane resident was in favor). Nevertheless, no one seemed surprised by the Supervisors' vote.

"It's just another major chip away at the habitat of an already severely imperiled species," said Philip Batchelder, a board member of San Bruno Mountain Conservancy, speaking after the meeting.

The project has in fact been planned for years and is part of a much larger development on the mountain's Northeast ridge, a development environmental advocates have fought tooth and nail since the 1980s. The listing of the Callippe silverspot as a federally endangered species had the effect of cutting the planned development down from 151 homes to 71 homes on 20 acres, which will be built as one neighborhood instead of two. Another 20 acres next to the construction site where more homes would once have been will be conserved as butterfly habitat.

Those concessions seemed to influence the supervisors' decision to approve the special permit, as did a promise by Brookfield Homes to give a $4 million endowment to the county for natural habitat restoration elsewhere on San Bruno Mountain. The endowment would triple the amount of money the county could spend each year on habitat maintenance.

"There's been inadequate funding in the past to protect the butterfly — I believe this funding will help us do that (better)," said Supervisor Mark Church. "This is a compromise. We're giving up a lesser habitat and gaining a significant habitat."

Kevin Pohlson, vice president of Brookfield Homes for the Bay Area, reaffirmed his funding commitment at Tuesday's meeting and seemed anxious to gain approval after more than a decade of delays. "Our developments have been reduced in half. The process has been lengthy, very difficult and has affected our property greatly," he said.

A total of 476 Callippe silverspot butterflies were counted on San Bruno Mountain in 2008 by a firm hired by the county to monitor their population. Project opponents dispute the scientific process used to reach those conclusions, just as they dispute a finding of "no significant impact" issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this May — the equivalent of their stamp of approval for the development plan, notwithstanding any effects on the butterflies.

Batchelder and his group want a full environmental review of several questions they say were glossed over in all the reports prepared for Tuesday's meeting, and they are prepared to sue to force the county to conduct one. Paul Carroll, the attorney for San Bruno Mountain Conservancy, submitted a letter to the county on Tuesday that asserts the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not ordering a full Environmental Impact Report based on new evidence that suggests the development could destroy a crucial pathway for the Callippe silverspot by fragmenting it with homes.

Batchelder said the group is discussing whether or not to mount a lawsuit against the county over the matter. If so, they have 30 days to file a notice of intent to sue.

"What we're really trying to draw attention to is that the development as proposed would severely encroach on the ability of the butterfly population on the Northeast ridge to migrate to the rest of the habitat on the mountain," said Batchelder.

County planner Sam Herzberg said butterfly advocates are making a big deal over a development that would remove no more than 1.7 percent of Callippe silverspot habitat.

"We know what significant habitat we need to protect, and we're dealing with the habitat restoration we need to do. The Callippe silverspot is doing well on the mountain overall," Herzberg said.

Herzberg added that people often forget that 2,828 acres of San Bruno Mountain are protected as permanent conserved parkland thanks to the county's Habitat Conservation Plan, which was created in 1982.

"Before the HCP was adopted, the entire mountain was proposed for development," he said. "Other mountaintops in the Bay Area have been completely developed."

Deadline nears for comment on plan to protect butterflies on San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Sean Maher

Deadline nears for comment on plan to protect butterflies on San Bruno Mountain By Sean Maher

Posted: 08/29/2009 06:20:00 PM PDT Updated: 08/29/2009 07:28:27 PM PDT

SAN BRUNO — Monday is the deadline for county residents to speak up about likely changes to a plan that deals with protecting endangered butterflies on San Bruno Mountain, officials said.

At stake is an amendment that would allow the final stage of a decades-old plan to build housing on the northeastern ridge of San Bruno Mountain, which is home to two endangered species of butterfly: the Callippe Silverspot and Mission Blue butterflies.

The San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan is about 27 years old, and would allow Brookfield Homes to complete a housing development by building 71 houses on 20 acres of land, which is about half the scope of the developer's original proposal.

Habitat conservation plans are documents required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from anyone from developers to research scientists whose work could affect endangered species. The Brisbane City Council approved the proposal in March 2008, and the plan was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service this year.

Kevin McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, a nonprofit that has been fighting the development plan, called habitat conservation plans "loopholes in the Endangered Species Act that allow for development in ways that damage endangered species."

McIntire said the San Bruno Mountain plan, which was first drafted in 1982, is based on outdated research that doesn't assess the current condition of the butterflies Advertisement or their habitat, and called for additional research before any final decisions are made.

The revised habitat conservation plan also includes a $4 million trust fund to be created by Brookfield and managed by a board of trustees who would all be city managers of cities surrounding the area, according to Dave Holland, director of the San Mateo County Parks Department.

"The grass the butterflies live on loses 51/2 to 8 acres per year because of other aggressive plant species like coastal scrub," Kevin Pohlson of Brookfield wrote in an e-mail. "The county doesn't have funds to combat that, and this would create that funding."

If the county approves the amendment to the habitat conservation plan the proposal for construction would then go to the city of Brisbane for approval before Brookfield can break ground.

"We're pretty sure they'll pass final approval for the project," McIntire said. "If that happens, it will be up to us to decide whether we feel we have a lawsuit we could win that would block development, or modify development. We're trying to be realistic, and they will probably get some kind of project there."

Anyone wishing to submit a comment before the hearing can contact Sam Herzberg of the San Mateo County Parks Department at 650-363-1823,, or by mail at 455 County Center in Redwood City, 94063. The county Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on the issue Sept. 22.

Best of the Bay: 2009 Local Heroes: David Schooley

Publisher: San Francisco Bay Guardian
Reporter: Sarah Phelan

Best of the Bay: 2009 Local Heroes: David Schooley

By Sarah Phelan

Posted on Thursday, July 29, 2009

"He's a visionary. He's very determined. He never gives up."
That's how Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, describes David Schooley, who founded the Mountain Watch nonprofit four decades ago.
"For many years, David led every Sierra Club hike, organized every restoration party, and even took the bus to community fairs up and down the Peninsula so he could set up a table and distribute fliers about San Bruno Mountain," McIntire recalls.
Now snowy-haired and allegedly semiretired, Schooley, 65, remains as nimble as a goat when it comes to hiking across his beloved mountain, which rises and cuts across the Peninsula just south of San Francisco in San Mateo County — and whose ecosystem has been identified as one of 18 global biodiversity hotspots in need of protection
Schooley's love for the mountain — which is covered with low-growing grasses, coastal sage, and scrub year-round and is dotted with wildflowers each spring — led him to found SBMW in 1969 and fight the expansion of the Guadalupe Valley Quarry and the growth of nearby Brisbane. Both were threatening to destroy the biggest urban open space in the United States and the habitat of rare butterflies, including the San Bruno elfin.
As Schooley explains, while the mountain is often hit with strong gusty winds and enveloped in thick fog, it is a great butterfly habitat and the last fragment of an entire ecosystem — the Franciscan region — the rest of which has been buried beneath San Francisco's concrete footprints.
Two years ago, Schooley had the pleasure of once again finding the tiny raspberry-colored elfin caterpillars on some sedum (its host plant) on the north-facing upper benches of the quarry.
"It's a miracle," Schooley told me at the time, delighted by this living example of nature's ability to overcome human-made damage on the mountain.
At the time, Schooley was hoping the state park system would annex the property where the elfins were found. That hasn't happened yet. But as McIntire says of Schooley (who dreams of a wildlife corridor that runs from the bay to the ocean), "David is always pushing for more open space around the mountain, for more nature and less development, and trying to reach a bigger audience." (Sarah Phelan)

"He's a visionary. He's very determined. He never gives up."
That's how Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, describes David Schooley, who founded the Mountain Watch nonprofit four decades ago.
"For many years, David led every Sierra Club hike, organized every restoration party, and even took the bus to community fairs up and down the Peninsula so he could set up a table and distribute fliers about San Bruno Mountain," McIntire recalls.
Now snowy-haired and allegedly semiretired, Schooley, 65, remains as nimble as a goat when it comes to hiking across his beloved mountain, which rises and cuts across the Peninsula just south of San Francisco in San Mateo County — and whose ecosystem has been identified as one of 18 global biodiversity hotspots in need of protection
Schooley's love for the mountain — which is covered with low-growing grasses, coastal sage, and scrub year-round and is dotted with wildflowers each spring — led him to found SBMW in 1969 and fight the expansion of the Guadalupe Valley Quarry and the growth of nearby Brisbane. Both were threatening to destroy the biggest urban open space in the United States and the habitat of rare butterflies, including the San Bruno elfin.
As Schooley explains, while the mountain is often hit with strong gusty winds and enveloped in thick fog, it is a great butterfly habitat and the last fragment of an entire ecosystem — the Franciscan region — the rest of which has been buried beneath San Francisco's concrete footprints.
Two years ago, Schooley had the pleasure of once again finding the tiny raspberry-colored elfin caterpillars on some sedum (its host plant) on the north-facing upper benches of the quarry.
"It's a miracle," Schooley told me at the time, delighted by this living example of nature's ability to overcome human-made damage on the mountain.
At the time, Schooley was hoping the state park system would annex the property where the elfins were found. That hasn't happened yet. But as McIntire says of Schooley (who dreams of a wildlife corridor that runs from the bay to the ocean), "David is always pushing for more open space around the mountain, for more nature and less development, and trying to reach a bigger audience." (Sarah Phelan)

Foggy Mountain

Publisher: Terrain Magazine
Reporter: Ralph Dranow

It's foggy and drizzling, but David Schooley's weather-burned face is animated as he strides over the muddy slopes of Buckeye Canyon, on San Bruno Mountain. He tears off bits of mint and California sage, inviting me to savor their fragrance, then points out the soap plant, which Ohlone Indians used for washing.

Charred plants and oak trees testify to the severe fire that swept through Buckeye and Owl canyons during the summer of 2008. Last fall, Schooley began planting native grasses to restore damaged areas. "The Native Americans were firemakers," he says. "They burned the land steadily."

Schooley is 65, with a full white beard and a burly build. He speaks softly and exudes warmth and vitality. For the past forty years, he's led the fight to preserve open space and save rare and endangered species on San Bruno Mountain, on San Francisco's northern peninsula. A rare ecosystem of fog, oak forest, scrub, and grassland, the mountain is home to 22 endangered species.

A million years ago, San Bruno Mountain and San Francisco were islands separated by ocean, enveloped in a particular foggy habitat unlike other Bay Area mountains. When the ocean subsided and humans moved into the neighborhood, San Bruno Mountain provided the setting for a thriving Ohlone village.

All that changed by the early 1900s, when the bayside flat land south of San Francisco seemed like a perfect dumpsite. The resulting noxious smells turned out to be the mountain's saving grace; the stench was such that developers avoided the area for decades. By 1970, due to the persistent campaign of Save the Bay, the smell was gone. David Schooley arrived just in time to draw shut the mountain's protective cloak against the developers who were beginning to take an interest in building on the site. As early as 1969, he began to draw attention to the rare species and fragile island environment that existed on the mountain.

Schooley had always loved the natural world and felt most at home knocking about outdoors. Growing up in San Pablo, he had seen oak forests disappear and creeks destroyed. "I didn't realize the immensity of the [human] advance," he says. "When you step back from what I saw then and what I've seen on San Bruno Mountain, it's like a cancer, a massive explosion."
David Schooley looking through a stone wall: Hotvilla Hopi Resevation. Arizona, 1978.

After a trip to Europe in 1969, Schooley "happened to get on a bus going down to the Peninsula. The first thing I saw was a little nestled town surrounded by San Bruno Mountain." Schooley knew nothing about the mountain or about the nearby town of Brisbane, but he was struck by the incongruity of the tiny town and its mountain in the shadow of San Francisco's urban clutter. The 25-year-old Schooley got off the bus, started exploring, and never stopped.

It wasn't long before he discovered an unmarked shellmound in Buckeye Canyon and realized that San Bruno Mountain-itself a unique environment-contained treasures, both natural and historical. To developers, the mountain offered other treasures: undeveloped land with beautiful views of San Francisco Bay. Schooley began fighting development plans the year he arrived, when he and others birthed the Committee to Save San Bruno Mountain to protest plans by the Crocker Corporation to shave off the mountain's top and build a city on it. Though that plan was scrapped, Schooley and other residents have tussled with developers ever since. Their record is mixed-and Schooley bemoans the losses-but 2,300 acres of parkland, a substantial part of the mountain's 3,300 acres, have been preserved, including the 5,000-year-old Ohlone village site and Buckeye and Owl canyons.

The effort is a life's work, one that has changed Schooley from a no-holds-barred brawler to a negotiator, from anger to quiet caution. Back in the late �60s, Schooley's committee organized a strong grassroots movement, going door-to-door and staging protest marches, stymieing development for over a decade. Years of fighting sharpened some members while blunting others, until the brawl came home over a landmark mitigation scheme hatched on San Bruno Mountain.

But first, tragedy struck: Schooley suffered brain damage in a 1979 construction accident. "I woke up in a hospital and looked out the window, and there was San Bruno Mountain," Schooley says. "I had to learn to speak again, to work. The best thing I had was the mountain. I went for walks, taking my time. I got closer to it, approaching it in a more personal, deeper way. Before that I was out there with political people, fighting, a lot of protest energy. After the accident, it was more like an entering way. Now it's quieter, more centered, a living presence [in my life]. This miraculous�presence helped me as well as my helping it."

Says longtime friend Daniel Marlin, "It was a devastating event, but it also forced him to find his deepest powers of resilience and regeneration. I think the experience of profound loss helped him to focus on what he found really valuable and worth living for. In spite of the challenges to his speech, writing, and reading, David's analytic and organizing skills were as potent as ever."

Those skills soon had a target and an unexpected adversary. In 1982, when developer Visitacion and Associates wanted to build on endangered Mission Blue butterfly habitat on the mountain's lower slopes, Congress passed an amendment to the Endangered Species Act. Called the San Bruno Mountain Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), it allows developers to build on endangered species' habitat if they attempt to restore that habitat elsewhere-it has since been applied all over the nation. Schooley vehemently opposed the HCP, claiming it opened the door to killing rare species without sufficient study to ensure protection.
Schooley sought the help of the California Academy of Science's curator of botany Elizabeth McClintock. "She was the one who knew San Bruno Mountain," he explains. "McClintock and her colleagues had heard about the plans to build, and they knew there were endangered species on the mountain. The HCP sounds pretty good, right? They're saying they can destroy rare species if they're going to try to recreate what they've destroyed, for example, to try to plant lupine, the plant used by the Mission Blue, in another location.

Elizabeth McClintock and others said, `Wait a minute, this is not really scientific'-to destroy the butterfly's habitat before making any study of the area they're going to plant the lupine on. We started getting letters from all over the United States and from all over the world saying the same thing, that you have to be very careful."

Schooley's group split over the issue: "The original group we started had now incorporated and was agreeing with the HCP," he says. Fighting feelings of betrayal, in 1983 he and others left to form an opposition group, Bay Area Land Watch, later renamed San Bruno Mountain Watch. Schooley's point of view soon proved prophetic, as the HCP paved the way for hundreds of homes to be built on the mountain. As recently as two years ago, Brookfield Homes built 428 townhouses, flats, and large single-family dwellings on federally endangered Mission Blue and Callippe Silverspot butterfly habitat on the mountain's northeast ridge. San Bruno Mountain Watch challenged the development in court but lost. A decision is still pending on Brookfield's application to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to build 71 more homes. Says Schooley, "It's been almost thirty years of the HCP, and there's been massive destruction of rare species and habitat all over this country without any real study of what's vanished."

One way to counter that trend is to show people what's still living there. As part of that mission, Schooley leads groups of kids on hikes through the mountain's canyons and to the shellmound. "Every time I go up on the mountain with them and see it again, it's from their vision," he says. "It's something new and beautiful, a grounding in a being and place."
Schooley plays the drum during a San Bruno Mountain Watch gathering: Brisbane Community Park, 1999.

Recently, inspired by the growing popularity of land trusts in California, Schooley, San Bruno Mountain Watch board member Jo Coffey, and others explored the idea of creating a conservancy. The organization hopes to buy parcels of land in Colma, Daly City, and other parts of the mountain to expand the protections already gained. These areas would serve as wildlife corridors and be open to the public for hiking.

Meanwhile, a committee of environmental groups and local politicians is looking into creating a green belt across San Francisco's southern corridor; Schooley has long advocated opening up culverted creeks to create a wildlife corridor that runs from the ocean to the bay. "It started with David's vision. He keeps pushing and never gives up," says Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch and Conservancy-the group made the conservancy official at the end of March.

McIntire notes that Schooley now shoulders less responsibility in the group's activities. "His main passion for the past two years has been trail work and restoration projects, pulling non-natives," McIntire says. "He's been the person who's kept the trails open all these years, and it's a bigger job as he gets older. He's always pushing the board to expand its vision. He feels we need to have a national focus, so he speaks nationally about the HCP and endangered species." As part of the restoration mission, the group is growing its own native plants in a greenhouse in Brisbane; they'll be transplanted to their permanent mountain homes in the fall. The effort, a collaboration between several different entities, includes a company from Taiwan that is donating the greenhouse site.

Schooley has written a book of poems about the mountain, Nothing Need Be Said, accompanied by his own detailed drawings. "For me, poetry has always been the real vision," he says. When Schooley was young, his poetry was angry and confrontational, the poetry of protest. Now his poetry speaks to what transformed his life, the energy of the mountain and his deep connection with it. "Writing poetry [gives me] the way to be able to say to others what saved me," he says.

San Bruno Mountain Watch and Conservancy can be contacted by phone at (415) 467-6631 or by e-mail at The organization's Web site is

A new foundation for native plants

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Christine Morente

A new foundation for native plants
By Christine Morente
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 04/26/2009 05:58:59 PM PDT
Updated: 04/27/2009 06:56:43 AM PDT

BRISBANE - On private land demarcated by a metal fence lined with robust wildflowers, Paul Bouscal and Doug Allshouse removed weeds inside a concrete foundation that will become a native plant nursery.

In two months, the Mission Blue Nursery will be the backbone of the stewardship program for habitat restoration on San Bruno Mountain.

"It's biodiversity at our doorstep," said Mike Pacelli, a liaison between Brisbane and Universal Paragon Corp.

The Baylands' developer has loaned the land to Friends of San Bruno Mountain and the San Bruno Mountain Conservancy, which are both in charge of the nursery.

"It's pretty amazing that in a metropolitan urban area we have this natural feature. People are so committed to its preservation," Pacelli said. "I doubt people realize how much goes into this."

"Most people think it's a huge chunk of dirt," Allshouse, of Friends of San Bruno Mountain, added

So far, the plan is to have volunteers help cultivate about 200 diverse native species, including perennial wildflowers, native grasses, various scrubs, trees and creekside vegetation.

Joe Cannon, of the conservancy, and volunteers already have a bank of seeds ready for this year's propagation.

The San Francisco resident helped start one of the five native plant nurseries at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Presidio. It opened in 1995 and puts out about 100,000 plants a year, Cannon said Thursday.

"That's our model," he said. "That's where we hope to be in 10 years."

Inside the Brisbane's nursery, seedlings would be germinated in the enclosed green house.

When ready, they will be transferred to the shade house to get the seedlings growing and ready for full sun and natural conditions, Cannon said.

San Bruno Mountain Watch Conservancy Executive Director Ken McIntire said those involved in the project wished the plant nursery opened three years ago when South San Francisco closed the former Mission Blue Nursery in 2005.

"We need to support the grassland that supports the (endangered) Mission Blue, Callippe Silverspot and San Bruno Elfin butterflies," he said. "A green house becomes central."

Councilman Michael Barnes helped bring the nursery to its current site near the Brisbane Fire Station off Bayshore Boulevard.

He said he wanted the city's environmentalists to work with Universal Paragon.

Barnes was one of the volunteers that dug out foundation.

"I knew there was awareness that we need native plants for San Bruno Mountain, and establishing habitat on the Baylands," he said Friday. "I wanted to put the developers with the environmentalists to see each other as people. Everybody was open to the idea from the beginning."

San Bruno Mountain conservancy taking new approach

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

San Bruno Mountain conservancy taking new approach
By Julia Scott
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 04/26/2009 03:58:49 PM PDT
Updated: 04/26/2009 08:57:40 PM PDT


Looking out across an empty, rolling grassland pressed up against the Northeast Ridge of San Bruno Mountain, Ken McIntire sees hiking trails in place of a chain-link fence that reminds people that this site is private property. He also sees dollar signs.

"We're all broke right now, but we have to dream, you know?" said McIntire, executive director of the newly-renamed San Bruno Mountain Watch Conservancy.

McIntire is doing a lot of dreaming these days. He plans to transform the conservancy into a trust with enough funding to purchase at least five vacant properties in and around Brisbane, including Levinson Estate, the land he visited Tuesday afternoon.

That dream is a long way off. At the moment the conservancy, which grew out of the environmental advocacy collective San Bruno Mountain Watch, has so little funding that McIntire works odd jobs to support himself and the organization. But by this time next year, he hopes to have recruited some board members with ties to powerful Bay Area land trusts and found some interested sellers.

Rather than continuing to file expensive lawsuits to stop local development projects from moving forward where they encroach on threatened or endangered species, the nonprofit decided to take a more proactive approach to stopping development on the slopes of San Bruno Mountain and out on the Brisbane Baylands.

Simple enough in conception, it's modeled after bigger land trusts like the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District that have demonstrated that the best way to protect land from development is to acquire it in perpetuity.

One project has already received support from prominent officials in San Francisco and San Mateo counties - a vision for an unprecedented Bay-to-ocean "greenbelt," or walkable nature corridor, that would skirt the southern border of San Francisco near the Bay at Candlestick Point, climb over San Bruno Mountain to Colma and Daly City and end up at Pacifica's Sweeney Ridge, a portion of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

To accomplish this vision, McIntire formed the Green Corridor Committee with the enthusiastic participation of San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, San Mateo County Parks Director Dave Holland and others last year.

It's unclear exactly what path the "greenbelt" would follow, but McIntire is eyeing a couple of cemeteries in Colma for conservation easements, essentially a plan to purchase space for a public right of way instead of attempting to buy the whole property.

He said cougars have found a way to get all the way from Sweeney Ridge to San Bruno Mountain in recent years, suggesting they may have already carved out a mysterious "wildlife corridor" in the urban zones surrounding the mountain that humans have yet to follow.

One has only to look down Bayshore Boulevard to see the development pressure bearing down on the border this town of 4,000 shares with San Francisco.

A 46-acre "transit village" in the works for San Francisco's Visitacion Valley and a 300-acre mixed-use proposal in the works for the previously undeveloped Brisbane Baylands will put the "urban" in suburban, providing a strong argument to protect green, undeveloped pockets of land where they still exist.

Almost 2,000 acres along the ridges of the mountain have already been protected as a county park, which stretches between Daly City, Colma, South San Francisco, Brisbane and San Francisco Bay.

"This is one of the largest urban parks in the country and we want to continue that effort. We want a place where people can go, where it's open. It's obvious to me that people are losing touch with their natural surroundings," said Del Schembari, a board member with the San Bruno Mountain Watch Conservancy and a South City resident.

Other than the Levinson Estate, the conservancy would like to acquire several small properties on the Baylands as well as the Brisbane Lagoon, a single parcel in Daly City and the Brisbane Quarry, the site of an ongoing tug-of-war between development interests and locals who hope to build a nature education center.

Some properties contain plant or animal species found almost nowhere else in the Bay, such as the endangered San Bruno Elfin Butterfly and the plant it depends on, the viola. Others would act as a buffer zone between the commercial parts of the Baylands and the county parkland. Other than the Colma cemeteries, the group intends to ask for a conservation easement through Pacific Nurseries Flower farm in Colma.

The conservancy has yet to contact all the landowners or get property appraisals, but all that will come soon. Raising the money is the part they seem least daunted by, even though the quarry alone is valued at $40 million.

"It's sort of like if you build it, they will come. Once we get the conservancy built up, funding will come into it. In the Bay Area, there are a lot of ecologically-minded people," said Schembari, speaking with conviction.

McIntire's group has sued over development plans approved by Brisbane over the years, especially over the ongoing home construction on the mountain's Northeast Ridge. But everyone supports the city's efforts to buy back vacant land in the Brisbane Acres, a hillside that forms a visual backdrop at the center of town. Since 1998, the town has added $100,000 a year to an open space fund to purchase pieces of the Brisbane Acres. Thanks to some matching grants, it has succeeded in preserving 48 acres' worth of land on 40 separate parcels.

A history of intermittent development in Brisbane has left pieces of grassland stranded between housing tracts. Many of the vacant parcels are no bigger than an acre, a legacy of when Brisbane was founded as Vistacion City in 1908 and subdivided into a series of one-acre parcels. Many were never built on because the original developer never added the necessary roads or water lines. Joining pieces of vacant land has been like "putting Humpty Dumpty back together," said Fred Smith, assistant city manager and administrator of the town's land acquisition program.

No other city in San Mateo County has a fund set aside to purchase open space.

Much like the San Bruno Mountain Watch Conservancy, town officials developed a list of vacant lands they wanted to preserve when they founded the program as development pressure around town become more intense.

"As real estate prices skyrocketed in the early 1990s and 2000s, we became concerned that as houses were staring to sell for over one million (dollars), it would become feasible to build on these properties," he said.

Mother Nature Restoring Fire-Ravaged San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Christine Morente

Mother Nature Restoring Fire-Ravaged San Bruno Mountain

By Christine Morente

Posted on: Sunday, 7 September 2008, 21:00 CDT

BRISBANE -- At the base of many charred shrubs, new life emerges.

"They know exactly what to do," said David Schooley, referring to plants and Mother Nature's resilience after a five-alarm fire on San Bruno Mountain's Owl and Buckeye canyons in July.

Native plants on 300 acres were burned. Now, splotches of green can be seen on the mountain's ridge.

Schooley, founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch, is restoring the area.

He's concerned about parts of the canyons where the fire's heat was intense, which would have killed the seeds deep within the soil.

He goes up four to five times a week to plant huckleberry, sage, poison oak and fescue grass.

"We're going to plant fescue grass carefully," Schooley, of Brisbane, said. "Block after block, up and down the canyon. If the non-natives start popping around in an area that has been pure, we'll be working very, very hard."

"We have to keep an eye out," said Joe Cannon of Heart of the Mountain, a program headed by the Yerba Buena chapter of the California Native Plant Society.

The duo advocates for controlled burns because fire stimulates germination of different vegetation, and increases the amount of grassland.

Without it, endangered species such as the Mission Blue and Callippe Silverspot butterflies wouldn't have a home to breed. San Bruno Mountain is home to 22 rare and endangered species.

Walking up the canyon, Schooley pointed out a small lupine, the Mission Blue's host plant.

He said the last big fire in the Owl and Buckeye canyons before the one in July was about 75 years ago -- too long for the habitat to go without a fire.

In the meantime, grassland continues to decline.

According to the 2007 San Bruno Mountain Habitat Management Plan, there has been a loss of 670 acres of grassland habitat since 1932. Scrubs have become more prevalent because of the lack of fire.

"Scrub is not bad," Cannon said. "It adds to the diversity of the mountain. But it's really about the balance. We're losing grassland species. They're the ones becoming endangered."

Cannon said San Mateo County stopped having controlled burns on parts of San Bruno Mountain in the 1990s.

The technique requires semi-dry vegetation, air that is moist, and no wind.

"You want it to be just dry enough to control it," Cannon said. "A lot of people fear the fire, but at some point, the fire will come.

"The goal is to do a controlled burn before a catastrophic fire takes place," the San Francisco resident added.

While Cannon maintains that they continue to face the ecological challenge of not having fires, Schooley is happy that native plants are sprouting back up.

"They are beautiful to see," he said.

Staff writer Christine Morente covers faith, families, Burlingame and North County. She can be reached at (650) 348-4333 or

Originally published by Christine Morente, San Mateo County Times.

(c) 2008 Oakland Tribune. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

Brisbane waterway struggles: Watch group, city try to resolve maintenance issue

Publisher: San Mateo Daily News
Reporter: Christine Morente

Brisbane waterway struggles

Watch group, city try to resolve maintenance issue

By Christine Morente / Bay Area News Group
A Brisbane wetland oasis was mostly weed whacked away to Linda Salmon's dismay.

Her passion to save a waterway in the Crocker Park Industrial area almost got her arrested Wednesday when she screamed at a contractor, and tried to prevent workers from doing their job.
She stood her ground when Public Works Director Randy Breault showed up.

He called the police, and told her she had no right to stop the regularly scheduled maintenance project.

Salmon was not arrested but, despite her efforts, she saved less than one-third of the wetlands.

"It was total and complete wanton destruction," said the Brisbane resident, who took her 12-year-old grandson to the site to show him adult Pacific Chorus Frogs. "This is a living organism the crew just attacked."

City Manager Clay Holstine relented and said maintenance will be delayed until October.

He plans to meet with San Bruno Mountain Watch to come up with a schedule and a maintenance program that considers environmental and biodiversity issues.

Holstine said the area is cleared once per year to prevent flooding.
Jim McKissock of Earthcare said the site is a creek and is rich in rare botanicals that no longer exist anywhere else.

According to Salmon, fresh water from San Bruno Mountain feeds the creek home to Pacific Chorus Frogs.

Diminutive in size - but blessed with a booming croak - the amphibian is low in the food chain, but is sustenance for the red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake. Both are endangered species.

Breault disputes McKissock's and Salmon's opinions that the site is a creek.

"It's a V-ditch," Breault said, referring to a drainage channel. He said the water is from an adjacent building's sub-drain that discharges into the waterway.

McKissock said the only way the area can thrive is for the city to have a stewardship program where a handful of people can carefully maintain the spot throughout the year.

"By cutting it all down, you sterilize the creek," McKissock said. "You definitely kill the frogs. They don't have bugs to eat, no cover and where do they go?"

On Thursday, Breault consulted two environmental firms to come up with plans for the area.

One might include manually removing plants but leaving enough behind so the species have things to live off of, he said.

"That's a win-win," Breault said. "I'm not opposed to frogs. There are cute little green and brown frogs, and it's pleasant there, but we have to find some balance so the adjoining building doesn't flood."

Struggle between preservation and development continues on San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: John Upton

Struggle between preservation and development continues on San Bruno Mountain
With the federal government on the verge of approving a habitat conservation plan that would bring $4 million to offset the building of 71 mansions on protected lands, the county's iconic landmark could finally receive some of the funding it needs.

John Upton, The Examiner
2008-07-24 20:16:56.0
Current rank: Not ranked

Development on San Bruno Mountain could help, as well as hurt, environmental goals for the 1,300-foot peak.

Buildings remain rare on the rugged 3,400-acre open-space oasis flanked by the densely urbanized cities of San Francisco, Daly City and South San Francisco. Much of the mountain falls under the jurisdiction of San Mateo County and the little-populated town of Brisbane.

The mountain made history in 1983 when 2,750 acres were protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the nation's first habitat conservation plan, which was drafted under the U.S. Endangered Species Act to help balance development with butterfly protection.

The 1983 habitat conservation plan levied annual property fees of $25 per home to help San Mateo County protect the hills from invasive species of grass and other threats to the native butterflies. The fee has risen with the cost of living and today is roughly $40 per year for most homes on the mountain.

But fewer homes have been built on the mountain than were originally planned, partly because land marked for development has been purchased as new parkland by various government agencies.

Additionally, callippe silverspot butterflies were added to the endangered species list after the plan was approved, which barred construction on their breeding sites, senior county park planner Sam Herzberg said.

As a result, there is less funding available for habitat protection on the mountain than anticipated. At the same time, funding needs have grown as invasive grasslands and scrublands have overtaken the mountain, Herzberg said.

Now, the federal government is poised to approve a new habitat conservation plan that could see developers charged $4 million to offset the building of 71 mansions on protected callippe silverspot butterfly habitat on the mountain's northeast ridge.

Each of the new homeowners would pay $800 per year in habitat-conservation fees, which - if approved - would raise San Mateo County's annual mountain habitat conservation budget from $145,000 to $415,000, Herzberg said.

The nonprofit San Bruno Mountain Watch opposes the plan.

"I think it's a bankrupt way to raise money," Executive Director Ken McIntire said.

The plan will be finalized once Fish and Wildlife Service staff have sorted through roughly 75 letters and comments received from the public, department spokesman Al Donner said.

"While we would like to complete the process as rapidly as we can, we are not able to say how soon that will be," he said.

The ridge overlooks a scarred pock of valley that was mined as a quarry during the last century. Brisbane overwhelmingly voted down plans to develop the quarry in 2006.

"It's the heart of the mountain - it's surrounded by some of the most undisturbed habitat," McIntire said.

A subsidiary of CMR Insurance purchased the foreclosed quarry for $5,000 this month. The company "is currently evaluating options with regard to development of the property," spokesman Ron Heckmann said.

Other development projects for the mountain also are in the works.

On the eastern foot of the mountain, near U.S. Highway 101, a 12-story wave-shaped office tower is expected to be completed by December, Myers Development Co. President Jack Myers said. Construction of an adjacent 21-story tower will begin shortly and is expected to be finished by October 2009, Myers said.

Lagoons on the opposite side of the freeway also are scheduled for see new construction, with 600 acres of land expected to be developed under a plan that's being refined by city consultants, Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine said.
Cows' chomp could revive native plants

The amount of grassland on the 3,500-acre mountain fell by 540 acres between 1932 and 1981, according to figures in a draft new habitat management plan, while invasive gorse shrub and blue gum eucalyptus groves ballooned by 364 acres. Between 1982 and 2004, another 122 acres of grassland was lost.

Nitrogen from car exhaust has helped non-native weeds grow on the mountain, said Sam Herzberg, a San Mateo County official who oversees restoration efforts. In 1982, there were 10 species of weeds on the mountain.

As weeds take over the land, it forces out the native grass, which is a habitat for rare butterflies.

"The bigger problem is the natural succession of grasslands into scrublands," Herzberg said. "We've suppressed fire on the mountain. � Fire on the mountain for habitat restoration is a very good thing. It gets rid of the scrub and it gets rid of the thatch."

Mountain grazing originally was performed by tule elk and more recently by domesticated cattle. But grazing has been eradicated from the mountain during the last 50 years.

A draft new habitat management plan aims to restore grasslands to cover half of the mountain by reintroducing grazing animals and by increasing the amount of brush that's cleared by hand.

- John Upton

Brisbane fire a mixed blessing

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Brisbane fire a mixed blessing for endangered butterfly species
Experts say species' rebound depends on plants' regrowth
By Julia Scott
San Mateo County Times
Article Launched: 06/24/2008 07:09:32 PM PDT

BRISBANE - When the flames roared through the southern slope of San Bruno Mountain on Sunday, all Ken McIntire could think of was the Calippe Silverspot butterfly. The butterflies were in the midst of laying their eggs along the ridgetop seared by the fire.

Fire-charred ridges and valleys, black as charcoal or white with ash, were all that remained Tuesday of the habitat for the world's most robust populations of Calippe Silverspot and Mission Blue butterflies. Some parts of the valley were still smoldering from the fire, sending smoke into the atmosphere.

"It's just been burned to a crisp," said McIntire, surveying the damage.

Whether the butterfly populations rebound next year depends entirely on how well the native plants that support the butterflies regrow in the ridges and valleys affected by the fire, according to experts. The plant the Calippe Silverspot lays their eggs on at this time of year - Johnny jump-up - disappeared without a trace in the fire. The hardier lupin plant, which hosts the eggs of the Mission Blue butterfly, is likely to come back sooner.

Fire may have a strongly positive role to play in helping to regenerate healthier soil conditions for the native grasses and plants the butterflies need, but it often is a mixed bag, according to Mike Forbert, a Pacifica-based consultant whose company, West Coast Wildlands Inc., helps San Mateo County control the spread of invasive plant species on San
Bruno Mountain.

"By reducing thatch, the dead grass that builds, it opens up the soil for the perennial grasslands to germinate. But it also opens up the surface area to invasives like the Italian thistle and mustard plant," said Forbert.

It is a source of hope that McIntire clings to. When the grasslands regrow, he hopes a collection of surviving butterflies from a part of the ridge spared by the fire will fly over and colonize the area. A land survey conducted Tuesday by Forbert's team documented six Calippe Silverspot butterflies fluttering over the charred acreage from a neighboring area.

McIntire is also touring parts of the ridge most frequented by the Mission Blue, which lays eggs earlier in the season than the Silverspot. Some of those eggs already may have hatched into caterpillars that could have been hiding in the thatch when the fire swept through - or so he hopes.

"If the fire went by really quickly, they may have been saved," he said.

In some ways, the Brisbane fire makes a good argument for "controlled burns," or scheduled wildland fires that are allowed to burn a specific area under close supervision by fire crews and ecologists. If the shrubbery had not been allowed to grow untamed for so long, it would not have burned so widely, said Dave Holland, San Mateo County's parks director.

Burning is natural, and lightning strikes are a leading cause. But the Ohlone Indians used controlled burns to manage their plant communities more than 5,000 years ago; when the Spanish colonists took over, they accomplished the same thing with cattle grazing.

Intentional burning was a regular county practice on San Bruno Mountain for decades until 2001, when a controlled burn in Brisbane's Wax Myrtle Ravine got out of control and nearly destroyed several homes, according to Holland. Still, his agency has not given up on it.

Instead of burning invasive plants out, the county currently spends about $120,000 a year on pulling weeds out of key areas along San Bruno Mountain. The county could easily spend $400,000 on the job and be more effective, Holland said.

"If we could do a couple hundred acres of controlled burns a year, it would save us a lot of money. It's the most effective way to support a situation where you want more grassland," he said.

Bringing back burns may not be an option in the immediate aftermath of the most recent fire, Holland acknowledged.

"I would like to keep that tool in the toolbox. If the time politically is more amenable to bringing the tool back, I think we should do it," he said.

The cause of Sunday's fire on San Bruno Mountain has not been determined and is still under investigation, according to North County fire authorities.

Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340 or

The Callippe Silverspot Butterfly is a member of the Nymphalidae, or brush-footed butterflies. The Callippe Silverspot has a wingspan of approximately 4.5 cm. Members of this species are mainly orange, tan and brown. The name "silverspot" refers to silvery patches of scales on the undersides of the wings. Historically this butterfly inhabited grasslands ranging over much of the northern San Francisco Bay region. On the San Francisco peninsula, this butterfly is now only known to live on San Bruno Mountain.

The Mission Blue Butterfly, Icaricia icarioides missionensis, is a blue or lycaenid butterfly subspecies. The Mission Blue is about the size of a quarter (21-33 mm) with even smaller larvae which are very rarely seen. Its wingspan is around 1-1 inches. The top wing is iridescent blue and lavender. The margins of the upper wing are black and sport "long, white, hair-like scales." The Mission Blue is native to the San Francisco Bay Area and on the San Francisco peninsula is known to live on San Bruno Mountain.