San Bruno Mountain Latest Press


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 .
Monday
Apr262004

Earth lovers weed San Bruno Mountain: Brisbane residents celebrate Earth Day by plucking non-native plants

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: David Burger

BRISBANE -- French broom, a plant with yellow foliage, got its name because its branches were once cut and made into brooms.

But hundreds of French broom plants were on the opposite end of a spring cleaning on Saturday, as they were removed from San Bruno Mountain by more than 70 Brisbane residents celebrating Earth Day.

"French broom is an invasive species," said Brisbane Mayor Michael Barnes. "The city needs to manage this land so that the community is protected from fire danger and indigenous species are protected from extinction."

The city held its first San Bruno Mountain Habitat Restoration Day on Saturday to coincide with the 34th anniversary of Earth Day.

In recent years, Brisbane has bought more than 20 acres of undeveloped land on the mountain. The city learned that non-native plants were destroying the ecosystem on the slopes and surrounding valleys of the mountain.

"It's incumbent on us to protect our public lands," said Lisa Pontecorvo, Open Space and Ecology Analyst for Brisbane. "And we also want to promote the concept of community stewardship and give a sense of ownership."

Scout troops, school groups and other residents of the area set their sights primarily on removing French broom, a bushy plant that can grow up to eight feet tall. Because it is spring, the legume plant is easily identified by its small pea-like yellow flowers that bloom along the stem in twos and threes between April and June.

"French broom is the official flower of Brisbane, because it's everywhere, unfortunately," said Doug Allshouse, President of Friends of San Bruno Mountain. "Ecologically, the mountain is in a lot of trouble."

Allshouse said that rare native plants like Diablo Rockrose and Franciscan Wallflowers and three endangered butterfly species depend on a mountain free of invasive species.

French broom was originally planted to hold down a ledge of dirt that was created to protect Brisbane from quarry dust. Grazing cows kept the broom from overgrowth, but now that the cows are gone, the broom has been allowed to grow unimpeded, said Brisbane resident Dennis Busse.

Busse said Brisbane is different now, with an active city leadership that has turned the town that was once founded on a landfill into an attractive Bayside community.

He did have one request, though: "Bring back the cows."

Actually, Mayor Barnes noted, goats have been imported onto parts of the mountain to eat the invasive species. But he said the city needs to be proactive while the pilot program is still being tested.

"Proactive" would describe 12-year-old Brisbane resident Brian Alexander Miles, who began weeding the mountain at 8:30 a.m. and planned on staying until the end of the event at 4 p.m. With dirt on his knees and sweat on his brow, he used a small version of the weed wrench to remove roots while avoiding the poison oak that also has infested the mountain.

They've told me, this is our back yard, and we're glad to get to know it better, she said.>

Reach staff writer David Burger at (650) 348-4329 or dburger@sanmateocountytimes.com .
Thursday
Apr222004

Brisbane embraces Earth Day

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Sabrina Crawford

BRISBANE -- Swaying on the hillside, the extended brushy arms of French broom plant blanket San Bruno Mountain. But though the exotic plant, with its petite yellow blossoms, is deceptively lovely in spring, local environmentalists say it's the No. 1 threat to the diverse natural habitat and, therefore, to the flutter of the endangered mission blue and silverspot butterflies that call the mountain's airy hilltop home.

"Invasive plants are second only to outright physical destruction when it comes to the loss of habitat," said Philip Batchelder, San Bruno Mountain watch program manager. "That is just starting to be grasped by policy makers, and greater public awareness and caring for the environment and other species is growing."

With that in mind, the city of Brisbane, which owns more than 20-acres of the hillside as protected public open space, is honoring Earth Day by sponsoring the first-ever San Bruno Mountain Habitat Restoration Day this Saturday.

On April 24, local environmental protection and education groups, residents and city officials are coordinating an eco-friendly afternoon of mountain air, environmental education and hands-on native plant restoration.

"The City of Brisbane has to date purchased over 20 acres of undeveloped land on San Bruno Mountain, using grant funds that restrict the use of the land to open space," said Brisbane Mayor Michael Barnes, in a flyer urging his fellow residents to dig in, volunteer and help restore harmony to their natural surroundings. "Now, the city needs to manage this land so that the community is protected from fire danger and indigenous species are protected from extinction."

To celebrate the 34th anniversary of Earth Day, the city is joining together with local groups like the San Bruno Mountain Watch, the Friends of San Bruno Mountain and the Native Plant Society, to rally residents to help tackle aggressive invaders like French broom and fennel, to keep those acres in pristine condition.

The last fragment of what was once the Franciscan Region ecosystem, San Bruno Mountain is one of the largest urban open spaces in the United States with 3,300 acres undeveloped, according to San Bruno Mountain Watch.

Local environmentalists say they hope Saturday's event will better inform the community about the mountain's native habitat and spark ongoing interest in community-minded restoration.

Call 415-508-2118 for more information.
Copyright 2004 San Francisco Examiner