San Bruno Mountain Latest Press


Joe Cannon: The Man, The Myth, The City College Professor

Publisher: City College Center for Habitat Restoration
Reporter: Caroline Christman

I took an hour one Thursday to talk to one of City Col-
lege's newest professors, Joe Cannon. Not only is Mr. Can-
non teaching classes here in ecology and botany, he is also
managing a project on San Bruno Mt. called the Colma
Creek Restoration Project. Joe's botany students have al-
ready visited and worked on this project. Most exciting of
all, anyone can be a part of the restoration of Colma Creek
by volunteering with the Heart of the Mountain group; their
program meets on the second and fourth Saturday of every
month from 10:00am to 12:30pm. Find out more by visiting

Interview with Joe Cannon
Caroline: When did you start working at City College?
What inspired you to become a professor here?
Joe: I started here in Spring of 2004. I first started working
in habitat restoration at the Presidio, at the time I wanted
to save the environment. It quickly became clear to me that
the problem was people. Habitat restoration was a vehicle -
helping nature and changing people's relationship to nature.
Education is the most direct way to address people's rela-
tionship with nature.

C: The ecology program at City College is small; do you
plan on introducing any new classes? Do you have a vision
for the future of an ecology or environmental science pro-
gram here?

J: Crima (Pogge) and I are going to a conference at De Anza
Community College to learn about creating environmental
studies programs. They have a pretty good program there;
they also have a pretty good program at Merritt College.
It's pretty amazing that City College has no program; this
will hopefully change.

C: You have many years of experience with habitat restoration,
what are some of the most positive events and some
of the most challenging events in which you have taken

J: The most positive event is the change I've seen in people's
lives that is due to volunteering (in habitat restoration
programs); volunteers develop a new relationship with the
environment. People show up for one program, and even-
tually they change careers and invest fully in habitat restora-
Also, things like the Presidio Native Plant Nursery had a lot
of bureaucratic resistance and many obstacles to program
growth, but some people such as Sharon Farrell and Pete
Holloran and myself had a vision for the program and
persisted, and it is now a large and well-established pro-
gram. There was also a lot of resistance from the public
to any land use change in the Presidio, which was very
challenging; and the National Park Service (NPS) often
resisted active restoration because it was too controver-
sial, too expensive. The NPS also put up a lot of resis-
tance to volunteers. They thought volunteers would dam-
age native plants and endangered species. They didn't
appreciate that volunteers could contribute a lot of ex-
pertise and knowledge. Now volunteers make up most of
the work force in the Presidio!

C: Where did you first begin working on habitat restora-
tion? Who did you work with? Did you have a mentor?
What did you learn from them?

J: I first worked on the Mission Blue Butterfly Project in
the Marin Headlands and on Milagra Ridge. I worked with
Sue Gardner, but she left almost immediately to start the
Site Stewardship Project, which she still runs. I took over
Mission Blue project and worked for 6 months to
finish the initial 3 year project. Site Stewardship now
works at those Mission Blue sites. Actually, it was soon
after this that City College adopted Wolf Back Ridge.
If anyone was a mentor to me it was Sharon Farrell, she
taught me a lot about working with people and the im-
portance of volunteers. She helped me move from a pure
science perspective to involving people in restoration.

C: I've heard rumors that a native plant garden is going to
be started on campus.

J: Our first project is going to be a primitive plant garden in
one of the bays on the East side of the Science Hall. This
has lots of teaching value for botany classes. A native plant
garden is a goal for the future, it may be in the second of
the Science Hall bays or, ideally, on this steep slope on
campus that is not slated for development. Volunteers have
been working there for years and the plan is to get a com-
munity-based botanical garden started there. That way stu-
dents can go out to the primitive garden and the native plant
garden and see the things we're talking about in class.

The Colma Creek Restoration Project
Colma Creek is located on the northern portion of San
Bruno Mt. on San Mateo County and CA State Park land.
This riparian corridor is one of the few remaining relatively
intact on the San Francisco Peninsula, with an area of ma-
ture willow forest along the upper East arm of the Creek.
Riparian areas, along with marshes, are important stop over
points for many birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway;
they are also home to innumerable plant and animal species
year-round. The Colma Creek area is a favorite spot for
birders and hikers because of the wildlife diversity.

Heart of the Mountain, a volunteer group started by Pete
Holloran of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), has
been working to control non-native invasive plants in this
area for several years. The group has been successful in
involving many people from the neighboring communities in
habitat restoration. Now, with funding from Proposition 40,
more extensive work can be done. The Colma Creek Restoration
Project is being coordinated by Joe Cannon and
sponsored by The Watershed Project, a non-profit organi-
zation, will involve removing blue gum eucalyptus trees
(Eucalyptus globulus) and other non-native plants along the
headwaters of Colma Creek and replacing them with native

The first phase of the project will be tree removal and re-
moval of large patches of Himalayan blackberry (Rubus dis-
color), English ivy (Hedera helix) and Cape ivy (Delairea odo
rata); this will be performed by San Mateo County Fire
Crews. Volunteers will be involved in removing smaller
patches of non-native plants, following-up on ivy and black-
berry removal, and planting native plants grown at the
Friends of San Bruno Mt. Mission Blue Nursery (a San
Mateo County-sponsored group that does restoration on
San Bruno Mt) or at the Fort Funston Nursery (part of the
Golden Gate Recreational Area). The project goal is to
enhance this riparian area for wildlife and to create an uninterrupted
corridor from the headwaters of Colma Creek
down to Guadalupe Canyon Parkway.

One important aspect of the project, and one of the stated
project priorities, is that it will involve volunteers in weed-
ing, planting, and growing plants in the nurseries, and will
provide educational programs to foster knowledge of native
plants and ecosystem function. Volunteers will not be in-
volved in tree removal, but will be removing Himalayan
blackberry, cotoneaster (Cotoneaster pannosa), Cape ivy,
English ivy, sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella), purple velvet
grass (Holcus lanatus), poison hemlock (Conium maculatum),
mustard (Brassica nigra), wild radish (Raphanus sati-
vus), and bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare). Addition-
ally, the Heart of the Mountain volunteer pro-
gram will continue to work on controlling other pioneer
populations of thes targeted invasive species.

Eucalyptus Removal

Why do the eucalyptus need to be removed to restore this
rare and valuable habitat? Eucalyptus trees are growing
along the headwaters of Colma Creek, which disturbs this
riparian ecosystem in several important ways. Eucalyptus
grow quickly and can form dense stands in areas with
enough moisture, such as along a creek or in an area with
fog. They are allelopathic, producing chemicals that can
retard germination of many seeds and inhibiting growth of
other species. Additionally, eucalyptus release oils that
coats the soil making it hydrophobic, or unable to absorb
water. In the shade beneath the eucalyptus you will not find
the native plants that usually grow on the forest floor in
California, rather, other invasive plants such as English ivy,
Cape ivy and Himalayan blackberry dominate this area.
Most native plants cannot tolerate the conditions below the
eucalyptus because of the shade, the oils, and the change in

The change in hydrology is the most important factor in
this restoration project. Eucalyptus achieve great height
very rapidly, they accomplish this by competing successfully
for available moisture. They have both a deep tap root and
a layer of intricate surface roots, this allows them to absorb
water from the soil as it rains or as their leaves collect and
drip fog, and their tap root can tap into the water table,
especially where it is close to the surface along creeks. This
means that much of the water that would be in the soil, in
the creek or in other plants and animals is instead being
used by the eucalyptus. Also, they are large and lose more
water to transpiration than a smaller tree; this is water that
would otherwise flow into the water table or the creek.
Much research has been done on eucalyptus water use and
have shown that eucalyptus reduce water yields in an area
and use more water than most other trees, which in turn
means that less water is able to reach Colma Creek and the
wildlife that depend on the creek.

The Colma Creek Restoration Project will remove about 3
acres of eucalyptus and non-native understory plants from
areas adjacent to Colma Creek. This will be done after
bird-nesting season (March15-Aug 15) to ensure that no
nests are destroyed. Eucalyptus stumps will be cut and
painted with herbicide to keep them from resprouting. Silt
fences and weed-free straw will be used to control erosion
during the first few rainy seasons. These cleared areas will
then be replanted with natives to form several different
plant communities.

Planting Natives
The primary plant community that will be established in the
areas up slope away from the creek channel will be coastal
scrub, with dominant plants such as California sagebrush
(Artemsia californica) and coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis),
this area will also have patches of grasses such as blue wild
rye (Elymus glaucus) and herbaceous plants such as gum
plant (Grindelia hirsutula) and coyote mint (Monardella vil-
losa). Mature coastal scrub forms dense cover and will dis-
courage reinvasion of the area by non-native invasive plant
species. Rushes (Juncus patens, J. phaeocephalus, J. balticus,
etc.) and sedges ( Carex densa, C. obnuta, C. subbracteata,
etc.) will be planted along the creek with small trees such
as pacific wax myrtle (Myrica californica) and American dog-
wood (Cornus sericea ssp. sericea) and herbaceous plants
such as seep monkeyflower (Mimmulus guttatus) on the
banks. A wet meadow area will be recreated above the
road using, grasses such as California oat grass (Danthonia
californica) and meadow barley (Hordeum brachyantherum).
Native annual species will be directly seeded on to the restoration

Where will nurseries get the seeds for propagation? Native
seed has been collected by the dedicated volunteer Leroy
French and by the Heart of the Mountain volunteers. Seeds
are all collected on San Bruno Mt., and from within the
Colma Creek watershed as much as possible. Collecting
seeds in this area ensures that the plants are adapted to
local conditions. To protect resources, no more than 10%
of the seeds from any 1 population or individual plant are
collected in a season. Some plants that spread using root-
like structures called rhizomes can be divided at the base;
most of the plant is left intact in the soil, a small part is re-
moved to the nursery and grows there until it can be
planted during the next rainy season. For plants such as
rushes and sedges this is much easier than collecting seed.
All of the plants need to be planted during the winter and
early spring when it is raining so that they can become es-
tablished before the dry summer months.

The Colma Creek area of San Bruno Mt. is truly beautiful
and teeming with wildlife. Volunteering on this project
would be a great way to learn about native plants and the
wildlife found in a riparian corridor, from salamanders to
migratory birds. To find out more about how to volunteer,
visit: .

Saving a slice of heaven in Brisbane

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Geoffrey Coffey

Brisbane Acres, a privately held plot of native grasslands, rises between the town of Brisbane and the state and county park of San Bruno Mountain. A walk here is like viewing a page from the California history book -- steep, hoary stands of melic and fescue athwart canyons of buckeye and oak, punctuated by johnny jump-up, silver lupine and broadleaf stonecrop, the larval food plants of rare and endangered butterflies.

Carved into jigsaw-puzzle pieces by an "unrecorded subdivision" in the 1930s, with titles now held by hundreds of individuals, the Acres live in a state of bondage. Houses already cover 20 of the original 111 parcels (all on the lower slopes), and developers have mapped routes for roads and building throughout the remaining 120 wild acres. Opinions among owners about what the future of the Acres should be diverge radically. Some would like to preserve their land as open space, while others want to build. One owner proposed turning his 1-acre parcel into an Indian casino.

The near-vertical pitch of these slide-prone grades would appear to discourage the average builder -- but the Bay Area real estate market is anything but average. Already, the narrow, private roads on the lower, comparatively gentle slopes "typically do not meet fire-code standards," according to the city of Brisbane. Some of the proposed new streets are merely drawn on paper, others follow the mad path of Virgil Karns, an eccentric landowner who once rode his bulldozer up and down these sheer ridges in his spare time.

Below the water tower, near the intersection of Beatrice and Margaret (two of Virgil's former dozer runs), a footpath splits off from the road. Perhaps an old Indian trail or a corridor for wildlife, it plunges through poison oak and fords a seasonal stream, then climbs into an old-growth forest of gnarled oak, dwarfed madrone, fruiting toyon, ocean spray and blooming Ceanothus. The sounds of the city grow faint beneath the epic silence of these woods as they stood centuries ago.

The Eastwood manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa) stretches its red serpentine branches for the light that pushes through openings in the canopy. This tree-like shrub grows 6 to 8 feet tall from a large basal burl, from which it will readily re-sprout after fire. Specimens so regenerated can live for hundreds of years. But flames have not touched this landscape within memory, and the manzanitas look tired. They crave a good burn.

After another switchback, the path rises into grassland, where the rare and endangered Diablo Helianthella (Helianthella castanea) waves its golden sunflower blossoms and the aromatic hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) grows in 1,000-square-foot patches. Thick 3-foot clumps of California fescue (Festuca californica) hold the hill, while the silvery clusters of melic grass (Melica californica) dance with the purple owl's clover (Castilleja exserta), goldfields (Lasthenia californica), and many other spring wildflowers. Wherever the trail passes an exposed slab of greywacke, the slate-colored foundation stone of the mountain, look for the broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), a spreading succulent that clings to cracks in the rock. Each exquisite rosette of slightly reddish green pushes up thumb-sized flower stalks, whose yellow clusters shine against the grey stone. This plant feeds the caterpillars of the Bay Area's federally protected San Bruno elfin butterfly. Home gardeners and commercial landscapers, take note -- it also makes a wonderful accent in any exposed stone landscaping, and a handsome addition to a rock garden.

Noteworthy among the many other standouts this month is the coast larkspur (Delphinium decorum ssp. decorum), a gorgeous dark-blue flower with a nodding 2-foot habit and a prominent spur. The Mendocino Indians prized larkspur for its narcotic properties, but please note this genus contains toxic alkaloids that have killed cattle, so no experimentation is advised.

Glorious in bloom, these lands and their many animal inhabitants lie in limbo.

Heeding calls from citizens who value the wilderness over the subdivision, Brisbane began buying parcels of the Acres in 1997, using money set aside annually for open-space acquisition and with grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Coastal Commission.

This program has stewarded 23 parcels (with six more currently in escrow), covering more than 30 acres, into city-owned open space, including one contiguous block of the canyons and grasslands southwest of the water tower and another in the prime butterfly habitat of the upper Bayshore Ridge.

Nonetheless, dangers remain. Some would like to build dream houses here, capitalizing on that million-dollar view of San Francisco. In addition, growing populations of blue gum Eucalyptus, broom, fennel and other weeds escape from residential areas into untrammeled zones to degrade the native diversity and kill off local species. Brisbane's vegetation management plan spends $20,000 annually to combat exotic invasive plants, with the goal of total eradication.

But native plants also invade -- coastal scrub, for example, encroaches upon grassland when not checked by fire. Fred Smith, assistant to the Brisbane city manager, named scrub, along with development and weeds, as the top three threats facing the Acres today.

Fire presents a different problem. A controlled burn two summers ago in Wax Myrtle Canyon jumped its planned 5-acre boundary and spread to 75 acres, ending a stone's throw from residential housing. Judged by the rejuvenated landscape, this project was a tremendous success -- but the risk to human settlements raised some eyebrows.

Such are the paradoxes along the wildland-urban border. Proceed at your own risk and reward.

On San Bruno Mountain

Join Geoffrey Coffey and San Bruno Mountain Watch founder David Schooley on a hiking tour of the Brisbane Acres on Sunday. Tickets are $25, proceeds benefit SBMW. Reservations are required and subject to space limitations. Call (415) 467-6631 for booking and directions. Please note, this is a steep and strenuous trail.

Habitat Restoration Day, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Take care of the Acres and join the Brisbane community on Earth Day for a weed-pulling party to root out broom, fennel, cotoneaster and other exotic invasive plants. Free lunch, T-shirts, tools, training and a wildflower walk at noon. Meet at the City Hall parking lot, 50 Park Place, Brisbane. A shuttle departs for the work site every half-hour beginning at 8:30 a.m. Volunteers should wear sunscreen, gloves, long pants, long sleeves, a hat and heavy-duty shoes. The work will go on until 4 p.m.

Writer and landscaper Geoffrey Coffey can be contacted at

�2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Environmental groups sue California water boards to force compliance with Public Records Act

Publisher: Capitol Reports -- Environmental News Link
Reporter: No Byline

OAKLAND, CA (03/28/05) -- Three environmental group have sued the State Water Resources Control Board and all nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards to force compliance with the California Public Records Act. Riverlaw, As You Sow and the San Bruno Mountain Watch filed the lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court.

The groups claim the state and regional water boards have violated state law by implementing policies contrary to the Public Records Act. Specifically, the groups charge the boards have violated the Public Records Act by 1) preventing inspection of public records at all times during the boards' office hours, 2) burdening requesters with the task of retaining commercial services to obtain copies of the boards' public records, 3) neglecting to make requested public records promptly available, 4) failing to limit charges for copies of public records to the direct costs of duplication, 5) limiting the number of public records that may be reviewed, and 6) limiting the types of public records available for review.

The groups also say the water boards have also not forwarded their policies on access to public records to the California Office of Administrative Law for required review.

"Government transparency is vital to democracy," said Iryna Kwasny, Director of RiverLaw. "The water boards' restrictive policies seriously burden all Californians, including environmental organizations, who wish to monitor the effectiveness of our state's water policies."

RiverLaw is an alliance of the Environmental Law Foundation, Friends of the River and the South Yuba River Citizens League. As You Sow is a non-profit foundation dedicated to the protection of the environment and human health and the improvement of worker and consumer safety, and it promotes environmental education and corporate accountability. More information is available at San Bruno Mountain Watch is a 2100-member nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of San Bruno Mountain and its unique resources.

Lofty plans for former landfill: Developer proposes commercial district for Baylands property

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Ulysses Torassa

One of the last large tracts of developable land on the Peninsula could become a major shopping and commercial district under a plan being proposed by the land's owner.

The Brisbane property known as the Baylands includes a former landfill, rail yards and lock factory on 540 acres just west of Highway 101. It is contaminated with toxic chemicals and has sat vacant for years while various proposals, including a golf course and water park, have been floated and discarded.

The owner of the land, Universal Paragon Corp., submitted an application and a $50,000 deposit with the city Friday to start the approval process for a planned 1 million square feet of commercial and retail space on a 330-acre chunk of the property.

Possible uses include shopping centers, offices, auto malls and hotels. The project will not include housing because the site is too contaminated for people to live there. About one-quarter of the land would be set aside for open space.

But cleaning up the property to make it safe enough for even commercial use won't be cheap. The company has already spent $20 million on cleanup efforts and expects to spend another $20 million more, Universal Paragon spokesman Bill Chiang said Wednesday.

Brisbane officials are cautiously optimistic about the proposal, which will be the subject of a lengthy environmental review and several public hearings before it comes up for approval.

"I think there are great potential benefits to mitigating of contamination in the Baylands,'' said Mayor Michael Barnes, adding that more usable parkland and open space wouldn't hurt, either.

Still, he said, there are worries that big-box retailers and chain stores may conflict with the character of the small town. The City Council has formed a committee to look into those issues.

Chiang said the project would be a boon to Brisbane and the surrounding area by cleaning up a health hazard and eyesore and creating jobs and open space. And, he said, the property -- which was created by filling in part of the bay -- would be partly restored to wetlands.

City Manager Clay Holstine said the city plans to hire an outside expert at the landowner's expense to make sure cleanup efforts are adequate. Brisbane will also require Universal Paragon to pay for additional staffers in the planning department to handle the project.

The plan will be presented to the City Council on Monday, and Holstine said the panel expects to hold its first public hearing on the proposal in January. Copies of the 193-page application will also be available to the public on CD-ROM.

"There are going to be multiple opportunities for residents of Brisbane to participate,'' Holstine said.

E-mail Ulysses Torassa at

South City condo plan offers jobs: Planners review third phase of Terrabay proposal

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Mary Albert

SO. SAN FRANCISCO -- The City Council and Planning Commission got their first peek Wednesday at developers' proposed plan for a massive mixed-use complex known as "Terrabay Phase III" or the "North Peninsula Plaza."

Surprised by the substantial differences between this plan and the one initially proposed years ago by Myers Development Company, many council members and planning commissioners agreed that current plans bear a lot of potential for new jobs and additional city revenue.

Even so, they had many questions. After scrutinizing the three-dimensional model of the proposed mixed-use development, which boasts two massive high-rises -- one primarily for offices and the other for residential units -- parking, a child care center, performing arts center, valley trail, retail shops and a movie theater all linked by a "main street," council members and commissioners peppered the developers with questions.

Mayor Karyl Matsumoto asked the developers if they had secured commitments from potential retailers, while Vice Mayor Ray Green inquired about the previously discovered Indian shell mound.

Kazuko Morgan of Cushman & Wakefield responded that Borders, Barnes and Nobles, Williams Sonoma and restaurants such as Pasta Pomodoro have all expressed "strong interest" in the project.

Jack Myers, CEO of Myers Development, took on the latter question, explaining that the land, on which historic shell mounds were found, has been turned over to San Mateo County for protection and public use.

Myers also agreed to extend the soundwall promised to residents living near the Terrabay Phase II project after several residents complained that it is still not complete.

Antonio Rodriguez, for example, explained through a translator that the soundwall does not provide adequate protection.

He and others, such as teenagers Rebecca Camillo and Jessarela Orozco, also asked Myers to consider building a park for children who live in nearby Terrabay II.

Myers agreed to consider building one.

Building what he and architect Norman Garden of RTKL Associates described as a "classic and lasting" plaza, with landscaping and "a genuine sense of neighborhood," should begin by mid-2005.