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.

San Bruno Mountain project may prompt lawsuit

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Sasha Vasilyuk

San Bruno Mountain project may prompt lawsuit

Sasha Vasilyuk, The Examiner
2008-01-04 11:00:00.0
Current rank: Not ranked
Brisbane, Calif. -

As one environmental group is reaching a settlement with Burlingame about the alleged spilling of sewage into the Bay, another group gave a 60-day notice Thursday to a developer of 17 homes on San Bruno Mountain in Brisbane.

Unacceptably high levels of sediment and silt have been seeping from a construction site, clouding water and harming wildlife in Brisbane Lagoon, San Bruno Mountain Watch, an opponent of mountain development, is claiming.

The group is asking for the developer Brookfield Homes to remedy the silt flow or be sued for allegedly violating the federal Clean Water Act violations.

The notice comes a month before the Brisbane City Council reviews the developer's plan to add 71 houses at the site. Mountain Watch Director Ken McIntire admits that the threat of a lawsuit is meant to influence the City Council and force Brookfield Homes to alter its project.

The Planning Commission recommended rejecting the plan to the City Council in the fall after protests from residents and the environmental group.

Since rains began in October, McIntire said he has been collecting samples of soiled water flowing from the site.

McIntire said a lab analysis conducted by an East Bay environmental laboratory showed that levels of silt in his samples reached as high as 900 parts per million, way above the 100 parts per million standards set by the EPA.

Amy Miller, of the regional EPA office, said the discharge level found by McIntire is indeed "extremely high." But she said developers are not required to adhere to any level of sediment flow, only to implement "best management practices."

City Councilmember Cy Bologoff said if the allegations are true, it will have a bearing on the council's decision.

Brookfield Homes did not return calls for comment.

Battle for the butterflies: More oversight of development on San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Edward Carpenter

SAN BRUNO � The Parks and Recreations Department will investigate a potential conflict in oversight for work on butterfly habit restoration on San Bruno Mountain, following a complaint by a local environmental group.
The complaint came at the supervisors' meeting Tuesday, just before they voted unanimously to approve a $171,000 contract extension for Palo Alto-based Thomas Reid Associates through December 2007.
The extension � which could pave the way for the development of about 300 single-family homes on prime habitat for one of three endangered butterflies on the mountain � was approved in spite of a 2004 peer review that calls the company's data collection into question.
Oversight of the restoration has been left entirely to Thomas Reid, the same company that manages the plan, according to Philip Batchelder of San Bruno Mountain Watch. "The same company created the Habitat Conservation Plan implemented it and is the only organization that regularly reports on the outcomes," Batchelder said. Thomas Reid has been the only company involved since it created the plan in 1982, Batchelder said.
What's more, because of the "haphazard" nature of the data collected by Thomas Reid from 1982-2000, it is impossible to determine whether progress is being made toward saving the Mission Blue, Elfin and Callippe silverspot butterflies, according to a report prepared in 2004 by Travis Longcore, science director of The Urban Wildlands Group, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving species.
"In my opinion, that really wasn't a good methodology, if your objective was to go back after 20 years to say we have increased the number of butterflies, or we have increased the area of the butterflies," Longcore said.
Since that report, Thomas Reid has changed its data-collection method, but to what result isn't clear, said Longcore, who emphasized that too little funding hamstrings the company to a substantial degree.
Nonetheless, supervisors have asked Parks and Recreation to look into the matter and report back to them. Board of Supervisors President Jerry Hill and Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, who represents the area, weren't aware of the Longcore report.
"We want [Parks and Recreation] to be able to verify and oversee the contract and make sure that the work is being done in an appropriate manner," Hill said.
Thomas Reid, of Thomas Reid Associates, said his company is working to improve its data collection and has already made some changes." I think the [butterfly] populations [on San Bruno Mountain] are robust and stable," he said, while acknowledging that the grasslands the butterflies depend on for feeding and mating are withering away.
San Bruno Mountain Watch isn't just trying to save the butterflies for the sake of the butterflies, but because they are an indication of the overall health of the ecosystem, Batchelder said. "The bottom line is that the habitat is in major decline; Thomas Reid Associates hasn't performed," he said.

Nature lovers fight for quarry

Publisher: San Mateo Times
Reporter: Todd Brown

BRISBANE - David Schooley pauses during a hike up Owl Canyon on San Bruno Mountain. He looks in the direction of the sprawling single-family homes of The Ridge along the opposite side of Guadalupe Valley before returning his attention to the plenitude of grasses and plants underfoot.

He points to some lupine, food source of the endangered Mission blue butterfly, which gestates among the plant's roots and lays its eggs on the leaves. Nearby is a patch of monkey flower, with its bright yellow petals, and a thatch of fragrant California sage.

Farther up the trail, mint grows among willows and wild cherry trees with green fruits.

"This is the way it was 1,000 years ago in San Francisco," Schooley says. "That's rare anywhere in the Bay Area."

Schooley, who celebrated his 63rd birthday Friday, is chairman and founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch ( Since 1969, the environmental advocacy group has fought with developers who wanted to transform parts of the range into housing, high-rise buildings and shopping centers.

The most recent threat that the group perceives is a plan to turn the floor of Brisbane's century-old quarry, adjacent to Owl Canyon, into 173 housing units.

On Friday, Mountain Watch board member Jo Coffey said the group has teamed with residents to organize a "Campaign Against Housing in the Quarry" to defeat a November ballot measure to approve the development, roughly a mile from the city center.

"To build (more) neighborhoods is going to change the character of this town irrevocably," Coffey, 64, said during the hike onFriday. "They're going to have to drive to do anything. It dilutes that sense of community that the town has. This is a suburb of Brisbane."

Schooley worried that any further construction on the mountain could open the floodgates and spur more homes near The Ridge, as well as Brisbane Acres, the open space that stretches above the central city and slopes down to Sierra Point.

"The first time I started wandering here," he said. "I couldn't believe there was this little beautiful wild habitat - right next to San Francisco and the Cow Palace and Candlestick and all that."

He said instead of more buildings, he'd like to see a nature preserve in the quarry, anchored by a learning center that could focus on the Ohlone Indians who left massive shell mounds on the southeast slope of the mountain.

More than that, he said his group wants the area to revert to native habitat and hopes to re-establish a natural corridor from Sierra Point to the Daly City border; a permanent quarry development would interrupt that continuity forever.

"Anywhere they put in housing and infrastructure is going to alter the movement of not just animals, but plants," Schooley said.

Nature isn't waiting for the November vote. Schooley said Elfin and Callippe silverspot butterflies already are returning to the topmost level of the terraced walls, where vegetation is creeping back "on all the ledges coming down."

Owen Poole, the agent who represents quarry owner California Rock & Asphalt, Inc., for the housing plan, said leaving the land to its own devices is "absurd."

"People are talking like it's a pristine site," he said. "This is a piece of property that is totally defaced, marred. This comes down to a very simple question: Do you want to have residential housing there, or do you want to continue it as a quarry?"

Although the quarry doesn't have a current mining permit from the county, he said he has no doubt it will get one if the housing plan is nixed.

"The state considers it an important resource," he said. "If the owner of the property wants a permit, the owner of the property will get a permit."

He disputed the idea that a development there would cut back drastically on the city's open space, saying only a fraction of 157-acre site would be built on and that the barren walls would be re-vegetated.

"It's never going to revert," he said. "The more housing we put there, quite frankly, the better maintenance there will be of that slope. The funding will be there to do it."

Yet he admitted of the planned foliage, "It'll grow quickly, there's no question about it."

What exactly will grow is another question. During the Friday hike, Schooley worried that residents of sprawling neighborhoods will be increasingly nervous about controlled burns needed to beat back scrub brush that could overtake lupine and other native species. A 2003 burn consumed 55 more acres than planned and came within 100 feet of nearby homes.

At the same time, Schooley said the habitat's original denizens have shown unexpected resiliency, including about 12 kinds of ants that are at war with South American invaders.

"They're fighting them off," he said of the frisky native insects, demonstrating their toughness by provoking them with a stick and, moments later, frantically blowing them off his hand.

"This kind of open space in the northern part of the county is rare," said Ken McIntire, 58, of Kings Mountain, who also joined the hike. "Once the housing is put in there, it's going to be there till the next major earthquake."

McIntire is set to become the executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch next month when Philip Batchelder, 37, steps down to pursue a degree in environmental law.

McIntire said the value of open space to the region is worth more than the benefit of housing that probably would serve mostly commuters to San Francisco.

"The people really have a psychological need to be in contact with nature," he said. "We could fill the whole area with housing and malls. Then what's our quality of life? What's the value of our civilization?"

Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers the North County. Reach him at (650) 348-4473 or

Trekking through history: Mountain hikes to explore: San Bruno Mountain excursion investigates ancient Ohlone village

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Todd Brown

For more than 5,000 years, a group of Ohlone Indians called San Bruno Mountain home. As hunter-gatherers, they ate shellfish, discarding the remains in piles known as shellmounds. They migrated seasonally to gather acorns and other foods, but kept a permanent encampment on the mountain's Bay side.

Two hundred and thirty-seven years after Don Gaspar de Portola's expedition brought the first Europeans to San Francisco Bay, the village of Siplichiquin is long gone, its inhabitants killed by disease or taken to Mission Dolores to serve as farm slaves for the Spanish settlers there. Yet bits of evidence remain.

"Unless you notice there are shells on the ground or know to look for fire-cracked rock along the creek, you would have no idea, really, that there was a village there for 5,000 continuous years," said Philip Batchelder, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch. "And yet you look all around ... and see what's happened in the last 200 years. It says an awful lot about our different relationship to the land."

Batchelder's group plans four summer hikes to explore the village remnants and the native flora the Ohlone relied on. The first trip departs Saturday morning from downtown Brisbane. The moderate, three- to four-hour hike will include a stop at the shellmound and a walk in Buckeye Canyon.

Environmentalists and contemporary American Indians worked together to maintain the ancient village, where Ohlone remains are still buried.

"When I stand on that hill - I could see the ancestors there, and they're summoning somebody for help," said Patrick Orozco, tribal chairman of the Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council in Watsonville, with 300 members on its tribal roll. He believes the site could be as much as 10,000 years old.

"That mountain was something that meant a lot to the Siplichiquin people," he said.

Orozco and Mountain Watch co-founder David Schooley paired up to preserve the village. In 1997 developer SunChase G.A. California I agreed to protect the site, which actually includes two shellmounds, a main area and a smaller plot uphill that Orozco said may have been used by a shaman for ceremonies.

Myers Development, which built the Terrabay housing tracts on the mountain's South San Francisco side, also agreed to preservation. In 2004 the county and the Trust for Public Land bought about 25 acres on the eastern slope by Highway 101, where the village was. The site is now part of San Bruno Mountain State and County Park.

The land trust dates Siplichiquin to 3,200 B.C., which Batchelder said makes it the oldest of about 425 shellmound villages identified in the Bay Area. He said anthropologists found dozens of human burials at Siplichiquin, which they interpreted as evidence of hundreds of remains still unexcavated. (CORRECTION-THIS IS ONE OF THE OLDEST REMAINING SITES; THERE WERE OTHERS THAT WERE OLDER.)

Orozco said the Ohlone ate oysters, clams, abalone, crabs, sea snails and other shellfish. They piled the shells in heaps that, when ground down, are called midden.

Although few native oysters are found in the Bay today, Batchelder said the shore was suitable habitat for plenty of oyster beds before European settlement and the silting of the Bay.

Today, he said all that is left of the original Peninsula bay shore is the inland part of Shearwater in South City, a contaminated channel that runs by the Oyster Point interchange, and a bit of rock jutting out of Brisbane Lagoon.

"Ohlone" is a term for all the coastal tribelets in the greater Bay Area and replaced the Conquistadors' term "Costanoan," meaning people of the coast, in the '60s and '70s. The tribelets, with their own unique dialects, took their names from individual villages from Big Sur to the Golden Gate and from the Central Valley to the Pacific coast.

"A lot of the people today trace themselves back to the village they come from," Orozco said, adding that the word Ohlone might have come from an Ano Nuevo village at the San Mateo-Santa Cruz county border.

Ohlones are still fighting to be recognized by the U.S. government. Rather than identifying with a reservation, many have worked to preserve ancient burial sites uncovered during construction on Yerba Buena Island, in San Jose and elsewhere.

Orozco said his grandmother, Rose Rio, who shared ancient songs with him in their original language, inspired him to preserve his ancestors' culture.

"Her last words to me were, 'You have learned all that I have taught you. Now go. Teach our people the language, our stories, and this way they will know we are still here.'"

Staff writer Todd R. Brown covers Brisbane, Colma, Daly City and South San Francisco. Reach him at (650) 348-4473 or

Where have all the butterflies gone? Last year, surprisingly large numbers of painted ladies migrated through Northern California -- this year, few have shown up

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Jane Kay

Wild fluctuations in California's winter and spring weather have hurt fragile butterfly populations, causing numbers to fall to the lowest in more than three decades and increasing the concerns of scientists about long-term declines linked to climate change and habitat loss.

UC Davis Professor Arthur Shapiro, considered one of the most prominent butterfly trackers in North America, said Monday he has found fewer butterflies this year than at anytime since he came to California 35 years ago.

"We have a severe depression of butterfly numbers at the lower elevations in Northern California, particularly in the Central Valley. We don't know if local populations are extinct or have dropped to low levels that we're unlikely to detect,'' he said.

Shapiro, an entomologist and professor of evolution and ecology, monitors 10 locations from Suisun Marsh to the Sierra Nevada and maintains one of the two largest butterfly databases in the world. The other is the British Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

At most of the study sites, he has seen half or less than half the number of species typically present at this time in an average year. Near Vacaville at Gates Canyon in April 2005, he found 21 species and 378 individual butterflies. But last month he counted 10 species and 43 individual butterflies.

Many species already appear to be suffering from a serious long-term decline because of several factors, including changes in climate and loss of habitat, he said.

"This short-term anomaly has really kicked the populations while they're down and may have accelerated their decline,'' said Shapiro.

Species hit hard this year include the sooty wing, the large marble, the mourning cloak, Lorquin's admiral, the small checkered skipper, the sandhill skipper, the field skipper, the buckeye, the eastern tailed blue, the silvery blue and the migratory painted lady.

This is what Shapiro thinks is happening with many species:

The temperature in the state didn't drop enough to give the butterflies a certain amount of chilling, the cue to end their winter dormancy, be it in the form of larvae, pupae, egg or adult. They remained dormant and died because they couldn't take advantage of the food available during the one week of very warm weather in February in the Bay Area and Central Valley. The few that might have emerged in March probably died in the cold, wet conditions.

Jessica Hellmann, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Notre Dame who researches butterflies throughout North America, has reviewed Shapiro's data and said it is critical in determining long-term changes in butterfly populations.

"We have similar observations for 2006 in California," Hellman said. "It is only because Art has 35 years of data that we can say 2006 is bad and is worse than it's been in a long time.

"Without long-term records, we can't quantify the growing influence of humans on biological diversity."

Hellmann and other scientists have published studies on checkerspot butterflies, showing, among other findings, that extinctions of two local populations were hastened by increasing variability in rain, a phenomenon predicted by global warming models.

Last year, the orange-and-black painted lady stunned Northern Californians by turning up in a migration of millions, if not billions. But this year, only a few painted ladies are known to have arrived, and earlier than normal, according to UC Davis scientists.

Painted ladies typically breed once in the late winter in the Mojave Desert, then in the Bay Area and the Central Valley and then in the Pacific Northwest, all in a year's time as the generations move north.

This year they appeared to have given up trying to breed in the southern deserts because of the unusually dry weather that didn't produce the plants that the butterflies needed in their caterpillar stage, scientists believe. They flew to Northern California earlier than usual and tried to breed with no apparent success, Shapiro said. He doesn't know yet whether they reached the Pacific Northwest.

"There doesn't appear to be any organized migration on the west side of Sierra,'' he said, adding that he has seen only one painted lady this year in the Sacramento-Davis area and has received reports of only three others in the area. But he cautioned that just because they're not here doesn't mean there aren't painted ladies elsewhere. This particular species typically expands in some areas while contracting in others, he said.

Six feet of snow still blankets parts of the Sierra, so Shapiro hasn't been able to count butterflies on the 7,000-foot Donner Summit or the 9,000-foot Castle Peak north of Donner Summit. Over the years, he has found the greatest number of butterfly species -- 115 -- at Donner Summit.

This year's anomalous late arrival of butterflies goes against the longer-term trend. Many species this year are running four to six weeks later than normal instead of the three weeks earlier that his long-term data show, he said.

Based on his long-term database, the analysis of 23 species over 31 years found that many of the butterflies are coming out earlier in the spring than in the past. Shapiro and one of his students, Matt Forister, correlated the earlier appearance with trends in the weather data in the Sacramento-Davis area.

For those species that had a statistically significant earlier appearance, the average shift was 24 days earlier. Any shift can disrupt the butterflies' survival. There's a synchronicity in nature, and many butterflies need to have certain plants available during a certain time in their life cycle.

Shapiro said that for many years he "pooh-poohed the evidence that butterfly populations were going downhill. But all that changed in 1999, when a whole bunch of low-elevation species showed an unmistakable drop-off, and the decline has continued.''

But he remains optimistic that the butterflies will survive. "Butterflies have been around for 40 or 50 million years,'' he said, "so they've been through it before.''

The painted lady

Painted ladies breed on desert annuals in Death Valley, then migrate north to breed again in the Bay Area and Central Valley.

This year, the dry desert produced few plants, and the butterflies apparently stopped breeding. Only a few have been seen in Northern California.

Hardest hit species of butterflies

Scientists blame the state's wild weather in 2006 for the worst year for butterflies in 35 years. UC Davis scientists are seeing half or less than half the number of species present at this time in an average year and far fewer individuals. The mild winter disrupted the lifecyles of some species, and the resulting change in the food supply affected others.

Butterfly species hit the hardest:

Sooty wing
Large marble
Mourning cloak
Lorquin's admiral
Small checkered skipper
Sandhill skipper
Field skipper
Eastern tailed blue
Silvery blue
Migratory painted lady

Source: UC Davis

E-mail Jane Kay at

Cougar sightings signal changes

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Kate Williamson


A mountain lion has been seen intermittently on San Bruno Mountain, injuring no one but clearly demonstrating the environmental change afoot on protected hillsides.

It's thought to be a young male. It's been seen in the saddle are," said Patrick Kobernus, a senior biologist with Thomas Reid Associates, which manages 3,000 acres on the mountain protected as endangered butterfly habitat.

The mountain lion was first seen on the mountain in October 2004 during a project to pull out gorse weeds, according to San Mateo County parks and recreation planner Sam Herzberg. A sign to warn visitors was erected then, but otherwise the event passed unheralded.

It was seen again in the fall of 2005. Both times, it has been seen in an area highly use by visitors and families, but no attacks, or even other sightings, have been reported. People have seen tracks and scat containing rabbit from the animal, Herzberg said.

Kobernus and Herzberg speculated that it might be coming and going from the Crystal Springs area west of Interstate 280 and crossing Colma's cemeteries, where food offerings to ancestors attract animals. It is not known whether it is related to the animal killed last month in a car accident on I-280.

It is not the only new visitor to the mountain. A black-tailed mule deer was seen there three months ago, perhaps the first deer seen on the mountain since the 1960s, Herzberg said. Formerly, the land was home to hers of cattle, and to tule elk before that. A bobcat was also seen recently, according to Philip Batchelder, executive director of the environmentalist group San Bruno Mountain Watch.

The visitors highlight changes coming to the mountain. Some would like to see a return of grazing animals, Batchelder said. Without them, and without the fires that used to rage across the mountain, brushy growth possibly fertilized by nitrogen from car exhaust has been overtaking the native grasslands vital to the endangered butterfly's survival, Kobernus said.

But that cannot happen without approval of a change to the habitat conservation plan, which governs the mountain under the federal Endangered Species Act, Kobernus said. The changes would give Thomas Reid Associates more than $300,000 a year to manage the mountain beyond the roughly $140,000 they get at present, through a development agreement in Brisbane that would trade the money for the loss of approximately five acres of butterfly habitat to home development.

The changes have been waiting more than two years for the county to study the process and approve $130,000 in funding for TRA to work on the plan revisions after a first draft was rejected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Kobernus said. But the county is set to commit those funds this spring, county officials said.

Politics, music to rock Brisbane

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Kate Williamson

South San Francisco, Calif. -

It will be a rollicking week in both politics and music for fans of San Bruno Mountain, as officials consider a housing proposal for a hillside quarry while conservationists prep for a bluegrass fundraiser.

Tonight, the Brisbane City Council will chose whether to hear and accept a proposal to develop 183 housing units in the Guadalupe Valley Quarry, which some view as a bad neighbor for its tendency to generate extensive dust so close to the village and sensitive mountain ecosystems.

San Bruno Mountain constitutes more than 3,000 acres of highland open space ringed by South San Francisco, Colma, Daly City and Brisbane, and is home to four species of endangered butterflies and a host of other native plant and animal life.

The proposal by California Rock & Asphalt Inc., David Johnson and Bradley Johnson has been controversial from the get-go, with residents and activists protesting that, while they'd like to lose the quarry, they're not keen on a permanent residential development in its place.

Tonight's discussion will involve whether to change the city's general plan to allow residential use of the quarry, a necessary step toward annexing the county-governed land and allowing the project.

In so doing, the council must consider that residential-only use runs counter to current development theories promoting mixed-use projects, according to a staff report. The council will also vote on an agreement related to putting the project on the ballot, a requirement for quarry development.

Meanwhile, the community action groups Friends of San Bruno Mountain and San Bruno Mountain Watch will host local bluegrass band The San Bruno Mountain Boys in a donations-requested show March 25 to support a new greenhouse for native plant restoration. The Friends' old nursery in South City's Orange Park was demolished as part of park rehabilitation, Mountain Watch Executive Director Philip Batchelder said. The groups already have approvals for the new Bayshore Boulevard site donated by the Universal Paragon company.

"We're shooting for $15,000 to get it up and running," Batchelder said. "We're [also] going to need a lot of volunteer labor to help build it."

The San Bruno Mountain Boys are a 20-year-old occasional band put together by San Francisco resident Doug Holloway, who said the membership has firmed up in the past five years. He named the band after the mountain because bluegrass bands are often named for mountains, and San Bruno Mountain is a precious habitat that needs preservation, he said.

Council OKs quarry housing EIR: Brisbane project's environmental impact report gets city's thumbs up

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

BRISBANE -- The City Council took a big step Monday night toward seeing housing built in a steep quarry pit, a project that has stirred great controversy among residents.

By a vote of 4 to 1, with Clark Conway dissenting, the council approved an environmental impact report (EIR) that analyzed the effects of building housing or other options in the bottom of the still-active quarry, an eyesore carved into the side of San Bruno Mountain that generates dust and erodes wildlife habitat.

Due to a massive power outage caused by a fierce storm, much of Monday night's meeting took place under the glow of halogen lamps, as an audience of a couple of dozen people looked on.

The EIR labeled the housing plan an "environmentally superior alternative" for the site, in comparison to other options: a business complex, a greater number of homes than currently proposed, or allowing the quarry to continue operating until 2043, when its reserve would be exhausted. In approving the EIR, the City Council certified that it had been provided with the best information available about the feasibility of developing the site.

In 2001, the quarry's owner, California Rock & Asphalt, put forward a proposal to cease operations and build a housing complex, with 129 single-family units and 54 townhouses. In 2004, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the plan, and the City Council began holding public hearings on it the following year.

The 144-acre quarry began operation in 1895. Its steep walls, cut into horizontal steps, are 1,100 feet high in some places.

Conway, who has spoken out against the housing proposal in the past, found the EIR inadequate because it did not give equal weight to an analysis of other alternatives for the site that had been proposed by the community, such as a nature education center to complement the nature trails that wind through San Bruno Mountain.

Although such a project would be difficult to fund, Conway said it should still be considered. But Owen Poole, speaking for the applicant, said it would not be nearly as profitable as building housing on the land.

"It's a private property and the owner is not willing to entertain those (alternatives)," said Poole.

"He's maneuvering the EIR to find housing as the best alternative," said Conway.

Brisbane residents have disagreed over what to do with the quarry, but they have always opposed a housing project. In 2001, then-applicant SummerHill Homes withdrew its proposal under a wave of opposition. California Rock & Asphalt later stepped in.

That was the year the city passed an ordinance giving Brisbane's 3,800 residents the right to approve or veto any housing project proposed for the quarry, which will come into effect if City Council approves the necessary housing permits. The property would also need to be annexed from the county.

Dozens of Brisbane residents have testified at public hearings on the quarry plan since September 2005. They have expressed serious concerns with everything from traffic congestion and feral cats, to the homes' safety if an earthquake hits, to the impact on native butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain -- concerns they believed the EIR did not adequately address.

At a public hearing in early February, former Councilman Lee Panza said he did not think the that an earthquake-simulation exercise conducted by a city-commissioned geotechnical firm, which consisted of throwing large boulders down some of the steepest slopes of the quarry, effectively simulated the level of devastation a high-magnitude quake could produce above the houses lying at the bottom of the pit. "The experts are saying it's safe, but the mechanics of a progressive failure are much too chaotic to model with a computer program," said Panza.

The EIR stated that the effects of an earthquake could be reduced to "less than significant" levels, provided the developer took a number of steps, including re-grading parts of the rock wall, removing loose fill from the pit of the quarry, and adding a 130-foot "catchment basin" -- essentially a moat -- to the bottom of the quarry slopes to stop falling rocks from reaching the homes.

Several species of federally listed endangered butterfly depend on the mountain's flora to survive, such as the Mission blue and the San Bruno elfin.

At quarry hearings, representatives of local environmental group San Bruno Mountain Watch expressed concerns that construction at the quarry site would introduce invasive plant species.

Here, too, the EIR said the problem could be mitigated if several native plants were replaced, a trampled watercourse rebuilt and pets and people were prevented from walking through sensitive areas.

Many other residents raised other concerns throughout the public hearing process, and Mayor Cy Bologoff said that he had heard them all.

"I don't have a problem with putting the project to the people for a vote. It's their right," he said. "The developer with have to live with the result.

Staff writer Julia Scott can be reached at 348-4340 or at

Opposition remains to quarry housing plan

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Matthew Artz

BRISBANE Most residents want to replace the 600-foot quarry carved into San Bruno Mountain that kicks up 2,268 pounds of dust into the air every day and acts as a barrier to native butterflies.

They just aren't sure that a proposed 183-unit housing development is the way to go.

Today, the City Council begins a series of public hearings on the quarry project proposed by Western Pacific Homes. Should the council certify the Environmental Impact Report and issue permits, Brisbane voters, under a 2001 ordinance, would then vote on the project.

"There are no easy answers," Mayor Cy Bologoff said. "This will definitely impact our community"

The 129 single-family homes and 54 townhouses proposed would bring about 500 new residents to a town of just under 4,000. It would be the second major mountainside development in the past two decades. In 1989, the city approved more than 500 housing units atop a ridge, Councilmember Steve Waldo said.

"With housing, the county gets the property taxes and we have to provide more services," said Paul Bouscal, a Brisbane resident and member of San Bruno Mountain Watch. He and other opponents of the plan have dominated public comment at hearings before the council and the Planning Commission.

But opponents face a dilemma: Their proposed alternative � nature trails and an environmental education center� is for now infeasible and the more viable options, housing, a light industrial park or renewed quarry operations� aren't attractive to them. The property is currently zoned for light industrial uses.

Bouscal, who favors housing over the light industrial option, said the San Bruno Mountain Watch hoped to raise an endowment to buy the 144-acre property he said is estimated at $50 million.

Quarry operations have ceased and the site has most recently been used to recycle concrete, Bologoff said. He added that the council planned to hold several public hearings on the issue and didn't expect a ballot vote until 2007.

The environmental report, completed last year, concluded that housing would pose fewer adverse environmental impacts than a light industrial park or renewed quarrying.

Councilmembers, though, want assurances that the development would be immune from major rockslides and could withstand a powerful earthquake.

"Whether it is safe or not is a question," Waldo said.

In 2001 the council approved an ordinance giving residents the right to vote on any housing project approved for the quarry. The housing developers have offered public amenities to the city and school district, and backed a proposal to re-create a wetland if the development is approved.

Correction: The developers are not officially supporting the wetlands proposal.

San Mateo Supes Support Endangered Species Act

Publisher: Bay City News
Reporter: No Byline


In a unanimous vote, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution Tuesday in support of the Endangered Species Act.

The 33-year-old act "provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened with extinction and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend," according to Supervisor Jerry Hill.

Since it was passed in 1973, the act has worked as a "safety net" helping to protect many species on the brink of extinction, Hill said. "This community has demonstrated time and again its commitment to protecting the environment."

The San Bruno Mountain Park houses several endangered species including, the San Bruno Elfin, Mission Blue, Callippe Silverspot, and Bay Checkerspot butterflies, according to the San Mateo County Web site.

Another threatened species, the San Francisco Tree Lupin Moth, once inhabited San Bruno Mountain Park, but urban development decimated the population, according to the county Web site.

The Endangered Species Act has "done more to preserve the quality of life in San Mateo County," said Brent Plater, staff attorney for the Center of Biological Diversity.

Hill stated that "over 200 species in the Bay Area alone, many of them residing in San Mateo County refuges such as Montara Mountain, Edgewood Preserve, San Bruno Mountain and the wetlands of Rockaway beach and those adjacent to Belle Air Elementary School in San Bruno, are officially designated species of concern."

While many support the Endangered Species Act, U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, has spearheaded legislation that looks to modify the act.

Pombo's bill, which was passed by the House in September, would revise various sections of the Endangered Species Act "relating to determinations of endangered or threatened species, recovery plans for such species, and the role of states and private property owners in protecting such species," according to the bill.

"The Endangered Species Act is not perfect, but gutting such a vital protection is not the answer," Hill said. "Protections are working."

Plater said there is other legislation currently in circulation that follows a similar path as Pombo's bill, but that Pombo's is "the most drastic."

"He has an ideological belief that endangered species should not be protected," Plater said.

More information on endangered species in San Mateo County can be found on the Web site,

Taking a walk through history

Publisher: San Mateo Times

By Rebekah Gordon, STAFF WRITER

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO -- NATIVE AMERICANS AND their supporters have been walking the Bay Area since Nov. 7 to raise awareness that their ancient burial grounds could be beneath our feet.

Trekking their way north along El Camino Real on Friday on the Peninsula, they gathered at the base of San Bruno Mountain at one of the area's largest untouched Native American burial sites, called shellmounds. The site will soon find itself next to the mixed-use Terrabay development.

The Sacred Site Shellmound Peace Walk began Nov. 7 in Vallejo at a shellmound in Glen Cove.

"We're educating a lot of people, and that's the most important thing," said Johnella La Rose, 47, a walk coordinator. "Everybody can relate to their grandmother's grave."
A core group of 25 have been a part of the walk nearly every day. On weekends, the group grows to about 75, La Rose said. They have been joined by Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhists.

Native Americans who once lived here were primarily Ohlone and buried their dead in mounds of shells from mollusks they fished from the Bay.

La Rose said an estimated 475 shellmounds stretch as far east as Sacramento and south to San Juan Bautista.

"Tribes all over the country are looking at protecting their natural resources and cultural resources, which are burial sites," said La Rose, who descends from the Shoshone Bannock natives in Idaho and Utah.

Many shellmound sites in the Bay Area already have been built on, she said. While Colma's cemeteries remain untouched, "it's perfectly OK to build on 5,000-year-old grave sites. It's a really sad situation," she said.

La Rose and Perry Matlock, 43, are both members of Indian People Organizing for Change, one of the walk'ssponsors. The group has received food donations
and spends their nights in sleeping bags at churches, elementary schools, offices or private homes.

The group walks 15 to 19 miles a day, said Matlock, who took a month off from work as a trade show installer to participate.

After leaving Vallejo, they crossed the Carquinez Strait to the East Bay, hitting sites in Berkeley and Oakland. They went south through San Leandro and Hayward to an untouched shellmound at Coyote Hills Regional park in Fremont and then crossed through San Jose and Santa Clara before heading north.

At each shellmound site they visit, the group offers up prayers to ancestors.

They will pass through San Francisco to join the International Indian Treaty Council's sunrise gathering at Alcatraz on Thanksgiving, and conclude the walk by participating in a shellmound demonstration at Emeryville's Bay Street shopping center Nov 25.

The group hopes to work with city councils and developers to keep sites preserved or move bodies buried on development sites to nearby graves.

Matlock described shellmounds as one of the few physical manifestations of Native American culture that remains in the area.

"Basically, we want peace for the shellmounds," Matlock said. "We don't want it excavated anymore."

Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 348-4331 or

Quarry issue back before City Council

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Christine Lias

BRISBANE - The contested issue of whether to build more than 180 housing units in a former quarry is scheduled to be back before the City Council tonight after a two-month hiatus.

The council will specifically address questions and concerns raised in September from the environmental impact report. At least one member of the council, Cy Bologoff, said he expects it will be a long night and could be carried over to another meeting.

"The council has a lot of questions," Bologoff said.

So does the public. One of the more vocal opponents has been the nonprofit San Bruno Mountain Watch, which fights development on the mountainside. Executive Director Philip Batchelder sent a city a 16-page letter, written by his attorney, outlining questions raised during the Sept. 12 meeting.

He also predicts the meeting will require a sequel, Batchelder said. The council has yet to approve the environmental report, and action is not scheduled for tonight's meeting.

At issue are plans, years in the making, to build 129 single-family homes and 54 condominiums on land owned by California Rock and Asphalt Inc. Twenty-eight of the units will be sold as affordable housing.

The "One Quarry Road Residential Project" would entail the discontinuation of quarry operations and reclamation of land. Along with housing, the project calls for a soccer field, new walking trail, habitat restoration and $7.2 million gift to the city for "community benefits."

Bologoff said he still has not made up his mind whether to approve quarry housing, he's just trying to get through the environmental report. After the council approves that document, and a subsequent construction report, the item will be placed before voters. That action could happen as early as June.

Councilman-elect Clarke Conway said he opposes housing in the quarry. Four years ago, while previously on the council, he proposed that any quarry development require an official ballot vote. Conway said he would be present at tonight's meeting to "get up to speed" with the current debate before replacing lame duck Councilmember Lee Panza later this month.

Steve Waldo, elected Nov. 8 to fill the remaining two years of an empty seat, said during campaigning that he favors a citywide vote and, if approved, wants "reasonable assurance" from developers regarding future residents' safety.

City staff point to one example of a quarry reclaimed for housing: Monte Vista's 404 units being built at Leona Quarry in Oakland.


Brisbane residents unite against housing in quarry: Developer wants to build home on site in San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

BRISBANE - When City Council members put together the city's General Plan in 1994, they knew that the steep, 600-foot quarry set into San Bruno Mountain soon would cease operation. With the city facing growth, the council made a prescient decision: No housing would be built in the quarry.

Eleven years later, a developer has submitted a proposal to build a 183-unit housing development on the floor of the quarry.Brisbane residents testified against a similar proposal in 2001 that fell through.

But on Monday night, the City Council held a public hearing on a new plan to construct 129 single-family dwellings and 54 townhouses on a portion of the 144-acre quarry property, surrounded by an amphitheater of deep-cut rock benches that have existed since the quarry's origin in the 1890s.

Twenty citizens gave their opinion on the housing proposal at the meeting. They all opposed it. But they agreed something had to be done about the quarry, which is now used as remixing facility for concrete. Residents have long complained of the dust the operation produces, which can drift over parts of the city.

"I think everyone in this room agrees we want to see the quarry go away. But I don't want to see it go to housing," said Clark Conway, Brisbane resident and former council member.

Unique ordinance

Under a unique city ordinance passed in 2001, Brisbane's 3,800 residents have the right to vote on any housing project proposed for the quarry. The vote will only take place if the City Council approves all the necessary permits.

On Monday, council members were asked to approve an environmental impact report that looked at several scenarios for the site - the housing project, an office park, or leaving the quarry alone to continue operations. It concluded that the housing option was the most environmentally sound plan - provided that the developer, Western Pacific Homes, makes substantial efforts to protect the three endangered butterfly species that live on parts of the site and throughout San Bruno Mountain.

There is also the issue of a major landslide or earthquake, which could cause boulders to shake loose from the steep quarry slopes and substantially damage the homes below. To minimize a potential catastrophe, the developer would have to cut and rebench the quarry slopes and build a thick wall at the bottom of the mountain to catch any debris.

Councilman Lee Panza said he thought the environmental report did not account for all the dangers of living so close to the sensitive site. "Kids will get through those chain-link fences, and they will climb on those slopes," he said.

Different plan

A local environmental group, San Bruno Mountain Watch, has other plans for the site.

"We believe it can be substantially rehabilitated," said Philip Batchelder, a
spokesman for the group. "Either it should be left to heal itself, or it should be of broader value to the community."

That alternative vision includes a natural history museum, a research center, nature trails and a botanical garden. The group has approached the Peninsula Open Space Trust for help in purchasing the land. (PHILIP'S NOTE: I SAID WE ARE CONSIDERING APPROACHING OTHER ORGANIZATIONS FOR HELP, INCLUDING P.O.S.T.)

Citing the need for more information about the impacts of an earthquake on the quarry and other issues, the council put off a decision about the environmental report until the next public hearing on Nov. 14.

Mayor Sepi Richardson signaled her willingness to give the developer due consideration but wondered aloud whether the issue already had been settled to the public's satisfaction.

"If we voted in a General Plan not to have housing, why do we even want to go there?" she said.