San Bruno Mountain Latest Press


South City works to preserve Sign Hill: Program could land grant money for conservation of park, San Bruno Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(650) 344-5200 ext. 105


Daly City council signals support for San Bruno Mountain priorty conservation area

The Examiner
Brendan P. Bartholomew - correspondent
February 15, 2015
link to original article

In a unanimous vote by the City Council, Daly City has passed a resolution supporting the establishment of a priority conservation area around San Bruno Mountain.

Brendan P. BartholomewOther Peninsula cities that have either passed similar resolutions or are expected to include Colma, Brisbane and South San Francisco.

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Kris Jensen said San Mateo County is petitioning the Association of Bay Area Governments to create the priority conservation area to protect and enhance open space, and having those cities on board could make it easier to win approval.

The association's application process is opened every few years, Jensen explained, and the current window of opportunity will close in May. If the application is approved and the conservation area is created, it would give the county potential access to various funding sources that could be used for improving access to the state park located on the mountain, as well as conserving and promoting it.

Improving access is a top priority for Daly City Councilman David Canepa, who said he supported the resolution because it might make funds available to create contiguous bicycle and pedestrian paths that would connect the mountain to the Bay and Pacific Ocean.

Canepa noted that while it is currently possible for bicyclists to take advantage of bike lane improvements on John Daly Boulevard and ride from the ocean to Mission Street, the path those bikers would then need to follow to get to the mountain is "very convoluted."

If the priority conservation area is established, additional funding sources might become available through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said Canepa, who sits on that organization's board of directors.

No new developments should be allowed adjacent to San Bruno Mountain's state park, according to Canepa, who said the resolution sends a message that his city values open space and will fight to prevent development from encroaching on the mountain.

But Jensen noted that the potential conservation area would not prevent private-property owners from developing their land. He noted, however, that in cases where a government might be interested in purchasing land in order to protect it from being developed, having the property be part of a priority conservation area can make it easier to obtain funds for the purchase.

One area where such a purchase might be considered is on the north side of Sign Hill in South San Francisco, Jensen said. While Sign Hill is not considered part of San Bruno Mountain, some community members and activists interested in preserving the mountain have also taken an interest in Sign Hill, which currently contains plots of privately owned land that are for sale and could be developed.


Push to protect 'urban oasis': San Bruno Mountain eyed for preservation

The San Mateo Daily Journal
Bill Silverfarb - correspondent
February 12, 2015
link to original article

A broad effort is underway to make San Bruno Mountain a priority for conservation as cities and environmentalists team with San Mateo County to leverage grants to preserve the “urban oasis.”

San Bruno Mountain Watch and the county parks department has applied to designate the park’s 2,326 acres as a Priority Conservation Area with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

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

If San Bruno Mountain, the Bay Area’s largest urban open space, is designated a priority, it will allow the county, cities and nonprofits to apply for regional grants to conserve and improve access to the park that is circled by Brisbane, Daly City, Colma and South San Francisco.

Monday night, the Daly City Council unanimously endorsed the county’s effort to make the mountain a priority for conservation that will include privately-owned Daly City parcels that will be dedicated to the county for conservation.

Daly City Councilman David Canepa said the endorsement is an important first step in protecting open space.

Additional funding will help pave new trails and walkways to increase access to San Bruno Mountain, part of which is a state and county park.

Canepa is on the air quality board.

"This is a clear message that San Bruno Mountain matters," Canepa said.

The park is especially critical for Daly City residents, he said, who live in the county’s densest city.

"Open space is vital to quality of life. The ultimate goal is to see no development whatsoever and to maintain it as an urban oasis,” Canepa said.

Seven properties in San Mateo County have already been designated Priority Conservation Areas including:

  • Miramontes Ridge;
  • Ravenswood;
  • Teague Hill;
  • Purisma and El Corte de Madera Creek;
  • Tunitas Creek and La Honda;
  • Windy Hill and Coal Creek; and
  • Russian Ridge, Skyline Ridge and Long Ridge.

If approved, San Bruno Mountain would become the eighth.

The nonprofit San Bruno Mountain Watch is also looking to preserve 20 acres on the northeast side of Sign Hill in South San Francisco. The land, habitat for the Mission Blue Butterfly, is up for sale now.

"This designation can make it possible for us to think big, by seeing what we can do to connect bike lanes, and walkways from the Pacific Ocean and Bay to San Bruno Mountain. While San Francisco and San Mateo counties are experiencing an economic boom, it is important that we protect existing open space," Canepa said.

ABAG’s executive board will decide in July whether to add San Bruno Mountain to its Priority Conservation Area list.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102


San Bruno Mountain: Haven for endangered species hides in plain sight

Mercury News
Susan Hathaway - correspondent
John Green/Bay Area News Group - photographer
January 15, 2015
link to original article

Probably few of the drivers zipping along Highway 101 just south of San Francisco pay much attention to a large, hilly expanse west of the freeway, although it's notable for what it doesn't contain -- buildings, cars and concrete.

Since urbanization has destroyed most of the "Franciscan bioregion" (the natural environment between SFO and the Golden Gate), the 3,400-acre San Bruno Mountain remains that region's largest, richest open space, and it's an indigenous habitat for many endangered species.

"It's hidden in full view," says San Francisco biologist Joe Cannon. "Most people don't realize that there are trails, canyons and a lot going on there."

One of the most important activities on the mountain -- much of it a state and county park -- is a program to protect and restore the area's biodiversity, led by Cannon and scores of passionate volunteers involved with the environmental nonprofit San Bruno Mountain Watch.


Native plant nursery coordinator Iris Clearwater helps volunteer (John Green/Bay Area News Group)The centerpiece of this decadelong effort is Mission Blue Nursery in Brisbane. Named for one of the mountain's three endangered butterfly species, it just might be the best place in the Bay Area to buy native plants -- not the widely available generic California natives, but flora that is "locally adapted," Cannon says. "A lot of people don't realize there's a lot of variation in ecotypes." The ones on the mountain thrive in the fog or heat or other elements of its microclimates, where some other plants might not.

According to Cannon, the plants available at Mission Blue Nursery include many "hard to kill" natives. Seeds for these plants are gathered on the mountain and propagated by brigades of volunteers, who also remove weeds to give the natives breathing room.

Since the mountain is surrounded by urban areas, non-native weeds are a continuing problem, Cannon says. Volunteers dig out invaders such as pampas grass, fennel, aster, mustard, the broom family and Himalayan blackberry.

His crew aims for "long-term sustainability," he says. "The goal is to get the first few invasives, and keep coming back and get a few each year. If you wait 10 years, you've lost the site."


The stewardship effort depends upon people who care about protecting the mountain's 13 rare and endangered plant species, as well as the endangered butterflies that feed on them.

The threatened-plant list includes the fuzzy-leaved, sweet-scented coast rock cress, which bears pretty, purple flowers; the rare San Francisco wallflower, whose linear leaves send up stems with clusters of cream-colored flowers; and the hyper-local shrub Montara manzanita, with its deep red stems and gorgeous, seasonal cone-shaped clusters of pink and white flowers.

"In some of these areas where we've gotten rid of the invasives, in spring (the view of plants in bloom) can be really breathtaking," says Chuck Heimstadt, a South San Francisco resident who, with wife Loretta Brooks, has been removing weeds from the mountain for several years.

Though the official volunteer schedule calls for weeding twice monthly, Heimstadt and Brooks trudge onto the mountain with their weeding tools daily. "We figure we're getting more exercise than when we were jogging, because the mountain is so steep," Heimstadt says with a chuckle.

Armed with their favorite weeder, the hand mattock, he and Brooks have cleaned up acres of land on the mountain. According to Heimstadt, "If you weed around a little poppy plant (so) it doesn't have competition on all sides, it will grow to 2 feet in diameter -- a giant plant. But if it's surrounded with grasses, it'll stay the size of a softball."


Although their work is never done, the couple finds satisfaction in the effort. "It keeps me going," Heimstadt says. "I remember what some of these areas looked like before we started. One thing I wonder is if there will be people picking up when we leave off."

Enlisting long-term volunteers is an objective of San Bruno Mountain Watch, which uses proceeds from plant sales to raise much-needed funds aimed at protecting the land from encroaching development.

Cannon says "politics" have steadily weakened the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and developers now have various avenues to destroy wildlife habitat legally.

How this has played out on San Bruno Mountain can be seen in a housing development on the hill overlooking the nursery, which was built on butterfly habitat. There, the only sign of these colorful creatures is the streets named after the endangered butterfly species whose space they appropriated.

San Bruno Mountain Watch will continue to fight against such incursions in the future.


Volunteers at Mission Blue Nursery (John Green/Bay Area News Group)When: 9 am - 2 pm February 21, and in May, August and November on dates to be announced; also by appointment (for minimum purchase of $100) Thursdays-Saturdays by calling 415-467-6631

Where: Near 3401 Bayshore Blvd, Brisbane

Information: See detailed directions to nursery and/or information on
San Bruno Mountain Watch at


Executive director touts achievements after handing over reins of San Bruno Mountain Watch

The Examiner
Brendan P. Bartholomew - correspondent
December 30, 2014
link to original article

There's been a changing of the guard at one of north San Mateo County's storied environmental organizations.

With the retirement of San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Ken McIntire, the organization has named Bay Area activist and nonprofit veteran Kris Jensen as his replacement.

Efforts by conservationists to prevent development on San Bruno Mountain began in the late 1960s with the Save San Bruno Mountain Committee, McIntire said, but disagreements over a proposed habitat conservation plan lead to a rift in the committee and the formation of San Bruno Mountain Watch.

Ken McIntire retires as executive directorMcIntire, who first got involved with the environmental group in 1989, retired from working as a teacher in 2006 to become the organization's executive director.

Shortly after accepting the position, McIntire began waging a battle to stop the Brookfield Homes Corp. from developing the hills above Brisbane. His organization eventually lost that fight, and those hills are now populated with large luxury homes and newly paved streets that McIntire says are, ironically, named after endangered butterfly species that are threatened by such development.

He says another casualty of the fight was San Bruno Mountain Watch's relationships with local agencies, which were strained during the protracted battle. However, the former executive director said some of the organization's best work in recent years has involved repairing relationships and forging productive alliances with the agencies it once opposed.

As much as McIntire values being on good terms with the agencies responsible for parks and land in San Mateo County, he also acknowledges that litigation accounts for some of San Bruno Mountain Watch's influence.

"We got some respect when we started suing people," McIntire noted.

Another accomplishment McIntire said he's proud of was convincing the county and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to pay for a scientific review of the habitat conservation plan that has governed San Bruno Mountain for more than three decades.

Additional achievements that happened on McIntire's watch include expanding the organization's native plant nursery and its land stewardship and school outreach programs. In addition to providing plants for restoration activities on the mountain, the Brisbane-based nursery also provides a source of income for the organization. Among its customers are local restoration contractors and the South San Francisco Department of Public Works.

Developing revenue sources will be important to Mountain Watch's future, McIntire said, because the organization must pay its employees adequately despite operating on a shoestring budget. Jensen's track record of successfully raising funds for other non-profits was a factor in his being chosen to lead the environmental group, McIntire noted.

Jensen's background includes work with Swords to Plowshares, the Alameda County Community Food Bank and Collective Roots, a "food justice" organization.

Jensen said he plans to focus on reaching out to philanthropic foundations and strengthening San Bruno Mountain Watch's relationships with its existing donors.

"There hasn't been a lot of caretaking of our donors," the new executive director noted.

Jensen added that raising the mountain's visibility would be another crucial step toward better fundraising because despite containing a large county park filled with walking trails, San Bruno Mountain is not well-known among Bay Area residents.

San Bruno Mountain Watch board of trustees member Debra Horne added that despite losing some battles, the organization's efforts to protect the mountain have been largely successful, and it can now shift its focus.

"I think we're in a position where we've saved the mountain," Horne said. "And now the question is how to better care for it and get more people to come experience the Bay Area's second-largest biodiversity hot spot."