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

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

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

By Julia Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.

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