San Bruno Mountain Latest Press


Sunday
Aug292010

San Bruno Mountain Development OK'd after Legal Battle 

Publisher: San Francisco Examiner
Reporter: Shaun Bishop

San Bruno Mountain Development OK'd after Legal Battle

By Shaun Bishop

August 29, 2010

It appears the endangered callippe silverspot butterfly is going to get some new neighbors on San Bruno Mountain.

A San Mateo County judge’s ruling will allow a 71-home subdivision of a decades-old development plan to go forward, despite the protests of a local environmental group that says the new houses proposed by Brookfield Homes will harm the butterfly.

San Bruno Mountain Watch, which sued to require the developer to conduct a full environmental impact report, is “in conversations with our board and with our attorneys about whether it makes sense to file an appeal,” Executive Director Ken McIntire said. The group has until early October to decide.

“She didn’t address any of our main arguments,” McIntire said of Judge Marie Weiner. “Justice isn’t the same, necessarily, as the truth, especially in environmental issues, because the environment is so complex and judges are not trained as biologists.”

Developer Brookfield Homes did not return several calls seeking comment. The county counsel’s office also could not be reached for comment.

At issue is a plot of land on the Northeast Ridge of the mountain that the county approved for development in 1989, following a 1982 habitat conservation plan that set aside 2,800 acres of the 3,300-acre mountain for conserved habitat.

After the callippe silverspot butterfly was listed as an endangered species in 1997, the original plans for151 homes on 40 acres were later reduced to less than half that number of homes on 20 acres, with the rest conserved as habitat. The developer is also required to create a $4 million fund for habitat management.

County supervisors approved a final revision of the plan in 2009, triggering San Bruno Mountain Watch to sue the county to force an environmental impact report of the development.

Weiner also said a 2007 modification to the plan “deletes dozens of houses from the development to foster greater freedom of the callippe silverspot to travel and protect its host plants.” She also pointed out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the mitigations would result in “no significant impact” to the butterfly.

On the mountain San Bruno Mountain has 14 species of rare or endangered plants along with several endangered or threatened butterflies, including:

Butterflies -San Bruno elfin -Mission blue -Callippe silverspot -Bay checkerspot

Plants: -Coast Rock Cress -Montara manzanita -Pacifica manzanita -San Bruno mountain -Franciscan wallflower - San Francisco owl’s clover  -San Francisco campion

Source: San Mateo County Parks Department sbishop@sfexaminer.com
Monday
Aug232010

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.
Wednesday
Feb172010

Brisbane approves San Bruno Mountain development, outraging butterfly supporters 

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Brisbane approves San Bruno Mountain development, outraging butterfly supporters

By Julia Scott

Posted: 02/17/2010 07:32:37 PM PST Updated: 02/17/2010 08:31:26 PM PST

BRISBANE — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow a developer to build a new neighborhood in the midst of prime habitat for the endangered callippe silverspot butterfly on San Bruno Mountain.

The controversial vote capped off three emotionally charged public hearings on the issue and left two women from Brisbane sobbing in the audience. Moments before the vote, a man disrupted the proceedings by standing up and walking toward the council with a thick binder in his hand, his finger jabbing at a page.

"You're making a mistake!" he cried, lifting the binder above his head as police removed him from the meeting.

The debate over the 80 homes destined for the mountain's Northeast Ridge was framed by opponents as a life-or-death decision — for the endangered butterflies, who survive today only on sequestered parts of the mountain, for the environment, and for the soul of Brisbane.

"If the callippe silverspot vanishes, all levels of government will be at fault," declared David Schooley, co-founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch, a Brisbane group that may decide to sue the city and the county for allowing the project to go forward. The group bombarded the City Council with an intense letter-writing campaign and collected hundreds of signatures on a petition. They urged the council to deny the development and order a new environmental impact report that would contain more accurate, updated information about the callippe's whereabouts and ability to breed despite obstacles such as homes and roadways. The last environmental review was conducted in 1983 and may not account for the effects of development that have taken place since then.

To a certain extent, the council's hands were tied by the fact that a 579-unit development was approved for this part of the Northeast Ridge back in 1989. Many of those homes have been built, although this particular subdivision faltered when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the callippe silverspot as an endangered species in 1997. The callippe, one of several sensitive butterfly species on San Bruno Mountain, relies on native plants that grow along the project site.

The Fish and Wildlife Service approached developer Brookfield Homes about reducing the building footprint, and Brookfield agreed to cut the subdivision down from more than 108 units to 80 units. Brookfield also agreed to sign over its development rights to Callippe Hill, a nearby 20-acre site that hosts an even richer population of the butterflies. The land will be protected by the county.

Finally, the developer offered a $4 million endowment to strengthen the county's Habitat Conservation Plan, a management tool that funds county efforts to remove invasive plant species such as coastal scrub that crowd out the plants used by the butterflies throughout San Bruno Mountain. About 1,250 acres of native grasslands remain, down from 1,800 acres in the 1930s. About 5 acres of grasslands disappear each year, biologists say.

Brookfield also offered Brisbane $1.8 million to pay for city services and projects, including a new library.

"If we requested a new EIR, the developer would do the 1989 project. To me, I don't see that as an option," said Brisbane Mayor W. Clarke ¿Conway. "I think it's the better project. I know a lot of people will disagree with me."

The Fish and Wildlife Service gave its stamp of approval to the revised project in May, saying that it would not cause irreparable harm to the callippe silverspot based on the agency's review of biological studies. That set the stage for an unusual situation in which environmentalists lined up against an unprecedented opportunity to restore San Bruno Mountain at the expense of losing some butterfly habitat.

Meanwhile, many speakers who opposed the project accused the Fish and Wildlife Service of being a shill for development and sacrificing an endangered species for money.

Cay Goude, assistant field supervisor in the agency's Sacramento office, denied the charges.

"We would not have issued this permit if we did not think it was the best mechanism for the long-term survival of the butterfly on San Bruno Mountain," Goude said. "Without funding of that site, I don't think it would persist over time."
Tuesday
Jan192010

Brisbane hearing on plan in butterfly habitat

Publisher: San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter: Peter Fimrite

Brisbane hearing on plan in butterfly habitat

By Peter Fimrite

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The quest to build homes on San Bruno Mountain has once again stirred into action local conservationists who claim approval of a proposed development will ruin habitat for endangered butterflies.

The Brisbane City Council will hold a public hearing tonight on whether to approve additional language in an environmental report that would allow 71 homes to be built on the mountain, 80 fewer than had been previously approved.

Members of the conservationist group San Bruno Mountain Watch are opposed to the plan despite the reduction because they say it will cut off habitat for the endangered Callippe silverspot butterfly.

The butterfly, exclusive to grassy hills around the Bay Area, remains in only two locations, San Bruno Mountain and in some hills in Cordelia, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"The plan does not leave a viable corridor for the butterflies, thus isolating them and preventing biological diversity," said Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch, which has been fighting proposed developments on the mountain for years.

The development would allow 71 homes of between 2,800 and 3,500 square feet on a ridge with no public transportation, McIntire said. He said the homes would cut off the historic butterfly migration route and prevent the insects from breeding with butterflies from elsewhere, reducing genetic diversity.

The butterfly, with its orange-brown coloring and black spots, is native to San Bruno Mountain, where the Canadian developer, Brookfield Homes, has already built 428 of the 578 homes that were approved by the council in 1989. The original plan in 1982 was to build 1,250 condominiums.

The company was planning to build 108 town homes and 43 single family homes until 1997 when the Callippe silverspot, named for Calliope, the ancient Greek muse, was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Under pressure from Fish and Wildlife, Brookfield officials agreed to cut the town homes out of the plan and instead build 28 single-family homes in an area on the northeast ridge that is less sensitive habitat for butterflies.

Brisbane City Council members said the proposed change in the environmental report reflects a willingness on the part of the developer to consider the plight of the butterflies. Rejecting it, they fear, would mean the 80 additional homes that were originally approved could be built.

"The original plan is already approved, so if you don't approve this I believe it would revert back to the original project," said Mayor Clarke Conway.

"I think the lesser number of units is better than a greater number of units," said Councilman Steve Waldo.

Not true, said McIntire, who pointed out that the California Environmental Quality Act would require a review of current conditions if the addendum is rejected, including impacts from climate change, traffic, the need for affordable housing and water conservation. Besides, he said, returning to the 1989 project plan would require PG&E to move 15 high voltage transmission towers, which itself would require an Environmental Impact Report.

San Bruno Mountain, where the Gold Rush era outlaw Joaquin Murietta once hid after robbing stage coaches between San Francisco and San Jose, is the northernmost portion of the Santa Cruz Mountains. It contains the 2,326-acre San Bruno Mountain State Park and the 83-acre San Bruno Mountain Ecological Reserve on the north slope.

The hearing will be held at 7:30, at the Brisbane City Hall, 50 Park Place, Brisbane.

This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Monday
Oct052009

Developer bulldozes butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: Julia Scott

Developer bulldozes butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain

By Julia Scott

Posted: 10/04/2009 11:00:00 PM PDT Updated: 10/05/2009 09:50:55 PM PDT

BRISBANE — A developer bulldozed an area containing endangered butterfly habitat on San Bruno Mountain last week, catching city officials off-guard and enraging environmentalists who plan to file a lawsuit to prevent the company from preparing the land for homes to be built.

Although the bulldozing appears to be legal, environmentalists with San Bruno Mountain Watch say the mechanized removal of vegetation on a portion of the Northeast Ridge owned by Brookfield Homes was a cynical attempt to wipe out the last vestiges of habitat for the endangered Callippe Silverspot and Mission Blue butterfly species.

Their concerns prompted a site inspection by Brisbane and county officials on Monday afternoon to make sure that the work was in line with what was approved by the county. The officials' conclusions were not available by press time.

The developer removed the vegetation early last week on part of a 20-acre site slated for 71 townhouses on a hill overlooking San Francisco.

A county consultant approved the work in mid-September, ostensibly for erosion and sediment control of the hillside above a roadway and existing development.

On Sept. 22, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors issued a separate and unrelated permit that would allow construction to proceed starting early next year, pending final approval by the Brisbane City Council.

Last week's site work was, therefore, expected at some point, and Brookfield Homes prepared for it in August by uprooting 250 Johnny Jump-ups, the host plant of the Callippe Silverspot, and moving them to a safe place on another hillside.

It was the timing of the work that surprised Ken McIntire, executive director of San Bruno Mountain Watch.

He wonders why Brookfield Homes chose to remove native vegetation and replace it with special grass seeds to minimize erosion when the developer could have left the hillside alone until next spring, when grading will occur in earnest.

Leaving the property alone would have prevented erosion and given the butterflies a few more months to propagate, said McIntire.

"Why are they spending all this money to scrape away plant material that was preventing problems and spend more money to replace it with mechanical, artificial ways of doing the same thing?" he asked. "Next spring they'll be doing a heck of a lot more than scraping, so why do it twice? I think they wanted to get rid of the habitat as quickly as possible. Now Brookfield can say that there's no butterfly habitat on their building site any more."

Brookfield Homes Vice President Kevin Pohlson did not return calls seeking comment.

San Bruno Mountain Watch founder David Schooley discovered the soil where the plants had been last Sunday while on a nature walk. The hillside near a sparse grove of eucalyptus is now bare but for some rocks and dirt. Workers have installed a "waddle" — a long flexible barrier to catch sediment — at the base of the cutting.

"I looked at the spot where the Silverspot and Mission Blue are — the place I'd been checking for years. It was sheared off. I was horrified," he said.

Schooley called Brisbane City Manager Clay Holstine, who was surprised at the news. He said the city had told the developer to "button up" the construction site by Oct. 15 — in other words, cover it for the winter — but he said he had no reason to believe Brookfield Homes was planning to touch the hillside zone known as a protected area.

"We would have said, `Why are you doing that now? You're not going to be doing any construction until next spring,' " said Holstine.

City and county officials seemed to disagree about who has final responsibility for approving work of this nature.

Holstine said the Brisbane Public Works Department did not sign off on the bulldozing work ahead of time because it's not part of the process.

"The city staff isn't out there overseeing where the work is going to be done — that's not their responsibility because that's what the county does."

San Mateo County Parks Planner Sam Herzberg said the county sent a consultant to the site to "fine-tune" the plan just before the vegetation was removed.

Herzberg said the review approval he issued was based on erosion control measures approved by Brisbane — the lead agency in such matters. Whether or not the work should have been done is beyond the county's purview, according to Herzberg.

"It's for the erosion control engineer and the city of Brisbane to determine. I didn't come up with this plan."

Reach Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.