San Bruno Mountain Latest Press


Friday
Sep102004

San Bruno Mountain land acquired for park

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: No Byline

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

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

The funds came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caltrans, the San Francisco Foundation and the Pajaro Valley Ohlone Indian Council. The land previously belonged to Myers Development, which had planned to build on it before a settlement was reached with the Indian tribe and San Bruno Mountain Watch.
Thursday
Jul222004

Butterfly paradise lost?

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Emily Francher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staff writer Emily Fancher can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or efancher@sanmateocountytimes.com .
Tuesday
Jul202004

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

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Emily Francher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Hunter of the Pacifica Tribune contributed to this article.

Staff writer Emily Fancher covers Daly City, South San Francisco, Colma and Brisbane. She can be reached at (650) 348-4340 or efancher@sanmateocountytimes.com .
Monday
Jul052004

Power line route raises concerns for health

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Ryan Kim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We're talking about adding huge towers and significant ground disturbance and, frankly, PG&E has a miserable record of mitigating for damage to habitats," said Philip Batchelder, program director for the San Bruno Mountain Watch.
Wednesday
May052004

Baylands site may finally be set for development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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