Bette Higgins

Bette Higgins

The Queen 

of the Environmental Movement on

San Bruno Mountain 

I was never a Sierra Club Member. You know I like green, I like trees, I like flowers, but to be serious, I didn’t know that much about the environment. We lived in South San Francisco for about 22 years. And the mountain, to me, very honestly, was where our kids went up and played and ran, and our dog ran. 


The mountain; you knew it was there. You may never go to it but you knew you could if you wanted to get away. And there were people who did want to get away. My husband grew up in San Francisco and in those days kids that lived in San Francisco, they may never go to the mountain, but they knew they could go to that mountain. It was a fantasy to them. If I’m gonna run away from home I’ll go to that mountain. It’s the visual; we knew it was a place. 


There wasn’t that much in the way of parks in northern San Mateo County. San Mateo, obviously put their money in the southern end of the county. That’s where all the county parks are. There’s very little up in the northern end of the county for a number of reasons. The number one reason was because the mountain was there. And because the mountain was there nobody was putting heavy demands on the county to do anything.


South San Francisco, like Daly City and Brisbane is a no-man’s land, It’s all negatives. It’s not San Francisco; it’s not the Peninsula and most of the people who lived in the north end of the county related more to San Francisco. They could tell you who the mayor of San Francisco was and who the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors were much more readily than they knew the people down in Redwood City. We were all working class. People on the north end of the county got up in the morning and went to work and had their kids, took care of their yard, and didn’t know about the county. They may know something about it but not much. But they knew about San Francisco because that’s where they went. San Mateo County tended to center in on the demands of Millbrae, Burlingame, Woodside. These people had a higher level of education and were more demanding.


People get involved because they have an interest. I was a rabble rouser within the South San Francisco school district because I had some interest there with my six children. And through there I worked with some people for the City Council of South San Francisco. 

I knew enough to be dangerous, but I knew very little about our county government. The city politics I knew and school politics I knew, so I had some credibility in South San Francisco.


So anyway, how I got into it, I had some credibility through school. I’d served on an advisory board at school. I knew enough to be dangerous. Bade Freedenberg was involved and he was over there in Brisbane. He was a liar. And that was my exposure. 

I didn’t know anything about the county. I didn’t know what LAFCO meant. 

I didn’t know nothin. It was around 1972.






Bette Higgins—1

I use to moniter the City Council of South San Francisco, just to keep an eye on them because that was part of this group that I belonged to. I hadn’t met Jim Keegan yet, but he was onto it around the same time I was. One night I was up at the city council meeting. And didn’t know a thing about the mountain; didn’t know who owned it, didn’t know where it was; it was just there. 

It was just not to be touched. 


And this dark haired gentlemen from Foremost McKesson, Frank Calton showed up with a presentation of what they were gonna do on San Bruno Mountain. 

I just went ballastic. You’ve gotta be kidding. 

Our city council was just sitting there and they were playing the game that one of the cities was gonna have to take over the mountain. South San Francisco, well they didn’t like Daly City and they didn’t like Brisbane, so they felt well maybe they should get interested in it. And we just sat there with our mouth’s open and I said, 

“You are out of your minds. This is not gonna be.” 

And I had no background on the mountain, no nothin

But I knew it wasn’t gonna happen. 

I mean who was gonna pay for the school and all that sort of thing. At that time, to build a new school the whole town had to be involved. So anyway, I was sitting there that night and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Foremost Mckesson, Visitacion Associates were controlling all the others involved.


And actually, when they bought San Bruno Mountain, it was a White Elephant. When Foremost McKesson bought primo land up in Vacaville or Vallejo, something like that, San Bruno Mountain came with the package. And they didn’t know what they were gonna do with it either. It wasn’t the primo part of the package that they bought. It’s too steep, the weather wasn’t good, but they had to do something with it. And can you imagine what it would take to put all the utilities in—all the water and everything up on that mountain? It wasn’t like it was a nice flat mesa up there. It wasn’t a pristine area around the mountain. It was garbage dumps and industrial parks and everything like that. Low income people, Daly City, it was the dregs. 


The mountain was an impossible piece of property to build. But Foremost McKesson was smart enough to know it was a White Elephant so they went after that New Town Money. At that time the federal government was helping the economy by creating new jobs building completely new towns. Reston Virginia and two or three other towns back east were created using New Town Money. So there was this New Town Money that was available. But in order to get New Town Money you had to have the community involved, otherwise Visitacion Associates wouldn’t have even started their dog and pony show. To qualify, there has to be some low income housing. It was a total concept that the federal government was coming up with—where they would have transportation, they would have schools, they would have low income, medium income, high income and they would have businesses and the whole thing. It was literally to build a new town. That was what Foremost McKesson was going after; New Town Federal Funding. And they didn’t want to be involved with the community. They were only going public because they had to.






Bette Higgins—2

The money it would have cost to build on the mountain; it would have been phenomenal. To get the funding you had to have a sizable amount of land. And what the feds would do was put in the network; the roads, the sewer system, the water, electrical and everything up on the mountain. Then they’d parcel it out and say, “Ok this is the low income housing and this is gonna be Happy Haven Housing, and over on this section was going to be middle income housing and that would be Happy Hill Estates and over there would be where the businesses would go, and this would be where the schools would go and this part would be a park.” This was gonna be a town with over 70,000 people. 


A big part of the push for this was Frank Pachelli; and Daly City was in it up to their ears. That’s why they built Guadelupe Parkway. And I’m sure San Mateo County was in it up to their ears. Brisbane was kind of there and startin to open out. And South San Francisco didn’t want Daly City to take the mountain over and they didn’t want Brisbane to take it over so they would have to get involved. The idea was that if this project was gonna be done, well atleast we’d do it better than they’d do it. Brisbane wasn’t capable of doing it because it was too small. Daly City, God only knows, that’s the armpit of San Mateo County, you know what they do. So why not have South San Francisco take the mountain because we’d do a good job. I don’t know how they thought that? We hadn’t done anything good up to that time.


You see Foremost McKesson would get this all laid out and then they wouldn’t develop it, they would sell it all to different developers. They would lay it out politically and get the New Town Money. It was a mammoth project and they dumped a lot of money into it. But they were told this was a White Elephant. They didn’t know what in the heck they were gonna do with it. 


So I went home from the meeting that night and I couldn’t believe what I had heard. These idiots were gonna to try and get involved in something that was bigger than South San Francisco was at the time. They couldn’t run their own town, let alone take on a mountain.


I didn’t know anybody else that was involved in this, didn’t know a soul. And I sat down and wrote a letter to the editor at the Advanced Star, which was down in Burlingame. It doesn’t exist any more. The letter was explaining to people what going on and if there was anybody out there was interested in the impact that this was going to have, please contact me, and I put my address. Then we took a 4 by 6 piece of plywood and we put a big sign in the front yard, and we were right on Hillside Boulevard, 

“Save Our Mountain” 

and the phone number and all hell broke loose. The local paper came down and did an interview and somebody else did an interview and somebody else took a picture; I think it might of been Bruce Brugman. I had a friend in the planning commission and he was the head planner and he said the word was out they were going to cite me for having the sign. It was like a political sign, an oversized political sign. They were trying to do anything to get that dam sign down. They didn’t want that sign up. But they decided that because I’m too mouthy and because I had some credibility, that sometimes it’s better not to touch a hot potato. 








Bette Higgins—3

Well I still didn’t know anything but I met David one day when he came to my door. He said there was some people in Brisbane. And that was when I called up and met Mimi Whitney, Helen Sullivan, and a couple of other people. Then they all came over to the house and we started talking and there was some people in South San Francisco. That was what started the whole thing. And it became a matter of doing a crash course in knowing just what was going on, what to do and how to do it. Meanwhile letters were coming in, from the letters to the editor at the Advanced Star. There was a lady who was very active over in San Bruno, Sylvia Gregory, and she was with the Sierra Club. I think the Sierra Club sent Sylvia to check us out because we were raising a lot of hell. All those Sierra Club type people down in the southern part of the county were thinking, “What in the hell is going on?”


I’ve always said fools rush in where angels fear to tread. 

I spent 7 years on that mountain from the time that we started. 

I don’t know if I’d have done it if I had known what I was getting into. It just kept going. And it was sheer innocence. In fact Mimi and I called the President of Foremost McKesson. At that time they didn’t know who we were and what we were, but we were to be dealt with, and why not diffuse us. Kill’em with kindness and just see what we were. The President of Foremost McKesson was down on Market Street and Mimi and I went to his office. He gave us an appointment. And we went up and he said “What can I do for you ladies?” And I said “You can give us San Bruno Mountain.” 


And if I’d known what I was doing I probably wouldn’t have done it. 


And he said well, he really couldn’t do that. And I was being facetious. And I said “There’s just no way it’s going to happen. Let’s all save ourselves a lot of time and trouble. Because we cannot tolerate that. We are in the north end of the county and we have no open space;” other than, one of the comments Sherman Eubanks made, we have the cemetaries and the bay. Our comment was “Dammit San Mateo County, you’ve got all the parks down at south end. We have nothing, once this goes.” And Sherman Eubanks said “You’ve got plenty of open space at the cemetaries.” 


We were mouthy enough and we were good press. We were exciting interesting refreshing good press. And we were credible enough to make comments like “Number one, we don’t want to go over in the cemetaries and have picnics with our children, and until we learn to walk on water...the bay is fine, but that ain’t a park. And WE deserve a park in the north end of the county. We pay taxes, where’s our park?”


So we went on with these different problems. Where’s our open space? The mountain is the last of the open space. And we just kept doing things. Then the Sierra Club joined in, and the Committee for Green Foothills joined in and then they got the Unions in. The Sierra Club was taking the whole thing to a different level, which was good. They were letting us do the trenchwork. The Sierra Club and those other groups are fine, because they’re more technical. But they don’t get down in the ditches. They can’t, I guess.  





Bette Higgins—4

And so the first thing we had to do was educate ourselves and educate the people. Because people do not get involved until they feel they’re being hurt. Most people in the northern county did not even know about the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. And it’s probably still that way. And so, they don’t even know what they can do. 


We were grassroots and we started to have lots of walks and we were bringing cars up on the mountain, up to their mountain. Other than the roads there was no trespassing onto San Bruno Mountain. But we were not afraid because we were not conventional. We were respectable people, but we were not conventional. We were getting hundreds of people to go on walks. And so the developers were reacting to us. We had marches on the mountain and they could have kicked us out very easily because we were up there on their property. 

David was always busy writing press releases and we always had the press. One time Frank Calton invited everybody who was on the walk to see the plans for the mountain. We thought it was excellent and we said everyone should get down there because the more people saw what they were planning do to the mountain, the more they went ballastic. But we kept our credibility. We kept people in line. And we tried to work the system, to a point. We made appointments. We went down and talked to people in the county and then we learned about LAFCO. And we said “Tell us about this, teach us. What do we have to do?” And they knew we were ok people. And in a way they helped us. We forced them to bring this out into the community, because we would go to a school PTA or something like that, and have a speaker. We would invite us and invite Visitacion Associates. Well that’s the last thing the developers wanted to do was let people see what in the heck was going on. We kept getting speaking engagements of telling people what was gonna happen on the mountain. We’d ask to speak at various public events and then we’d ask them to ask Frank Calton from Foremost McKesson. 


We had a lot of audacity but we didn’t think of it that way. I just thought “We can’t let this happen to the mountain.” And we got people aware. We had meetings and the developers didn’t want people to know. They wanted to go to city officials and just work with them. But we forced them out. We made them come out. 


I spoke at the Catholic Church in Sunshine Gardens and I’d never done anything like this before. They had a men’s meeting and every group needs to have speakers. We would ask “Would you be interested in hearing about the plans on San Bruno Mountain and how it’s going to impact you. And we would say to them, “In fairness, we think not only should you have us, but we know Foremost McKesson and here’s the phone number and here’s who to contact. And they’d be delighted to come and share their plans.” Of course, it was the last thing they wanted to do.


So I was at this men’s meeting and Frank Calton was there and he was very nice. He was a nice guy I liked Frank. And he’d make his pitch and we’d make our pitch and I’d sit back. And you know all we were trying to do was get it out. Because anyone who saw the development plans for the mountain...well the comment was “Well maybe this little lady has something there.” 










Bette Higgins—5

I’d come out and say, “This is how this is gonna impact the roads...This is how it’s gonna impact your living...This is how it’s gonna impact your taxes...” And then when I was all through, they’d say “Well maybe this little lady has something there. We better look in to this a little bit more.” 


And I’ll never forget that night. I never laughed so much. When we got all through with our speeches, the Chairman of the Catholic Men’s Club, he saddled up to me and Frank and handed us a brown bag and it was a fifth of booze. “Here’s a little appreciation gift.” And that’s what we were worth to them. But see, the more we could get this out the better. 


There were other things going on. We were getting the schoolkids involved. In the seven years of fighting to save the mountain, I don’t know how many college thesis were done. I mean, I talked to millions of college students. Anything to get this out. And the kids were writing papers. Many term papers, elementary, junior highschool, senior highschool, colleges, everything. Because the more they had to come out the more appalled people were. And we wouldn’t say “Invite just us.” We forced Foremost McKesson to come out, we had to.  


We were running on the seat of our pants. We didn’t know what we were doing, but using our intuition, you know, we thought we would go up to the Homeowners Associations, like Westborough Homeowners Association. Well Brisbane had people, Brisbane was pretty sharp. Daly City, we didn’t have much to do with them. They were hopeless, but that was ok. We forced them out. Then on other levels, through the Sierra Club and some of these people, that had higher connections in other areas, we eventually got San Francisco involved. All those new residents, moving into the new development, were gonna be crowding San Francisco’s roads and their trains and stuff.


And I don’t know to this day what group I spoke to, but it was down in the financial district, and I was there at a luncheon. I think Ellie Larsen dragged me to that one. I’ll never forget, I was never so scared in my life because these were high mucky-mucks that I was talking to. Still don’t know who in the hell they were. There was some poor guy and I was just standing there giving my speech and I’m not professional—I’m just off the cuff. “What it’s gonna do to us and what it’s gonna do to you.” 


And eventually we learned more and more. Meanwhile, the secret was to get people informed and keep them informed but not to call them out too often. You know people are busy. But when you did need them they’d come. And our first step was to work on the county and county parks. 


Part of that Saddle Area was gonna be in the Daly City school district which was different in the city and county lines. So the developers were manipulating with the School Board. And we had people at the Daly City School Board following them around. And we kept going to the press and doing a lot of things. They were doing a tour on the mountain. Daly City had areas that were slated for a school, sometime, millions of years later, if the mountain ever got developed. But Visitacion didn’t want them to have that land so they were talking about doing a Polynesian-style school on the mountain. Kind of a Polynesian, beautiful school, with the bridges. And I’ll never forget this guy says “That’s all we need is a POLYneeeesiiiaaaan.” 






Bette Higgins—6

There was a few of us and we kept track of them constantly. We were bird-dogging them constantly. And the word got out through somebody that we had a couple of friends on the Planning Commission. Then we got a call. There was a meeting in San Francisco at the Western Hotel on Market Street in the Foremost-McKesson Building, with the School Board. It was Dave from San Bruno, and Mimi Whitney and I got dressed real fast and went. Any school meeting was a public meeting. We walked into this restaurant, and here sits the School Board and they were serving them cocktails, hors douvres, and we walked in and said “Excuse me, is this the Daly City School Board meeting?” There was some people from the county there too, and all the School Boards, because they were going to make a presentation. The guy from LAFCO was there. And they were going hysterical, “Oh God, here they are again.” And we said “Excuse us is this the Daly City School Board Meeting?” They said, “Would you like a drink?” Hmmm. “Yes, that would be nice.” And then they invited us for dinner and we sat and listened to them. That’s the last thing they wanted to do was have us in there. We would ask a lot of questions. And they couldn’t make decisions knowing that we knew that they knew... And we’d be doing all these press releases.


And then there was this meeting at the Villa in San Mateo with all of the city council members from San Mateo County. Sherman Eubanks was there and all the developers were there. The city council had a monthly dinner meeting and they probably still have them every month. Well we found out they were having a presentation at that dinner meeting from Foremost McKesson. And of course, the city officials, their dinners were payed for by the city because they sit on that committee. Five or six of us walked into that meeting. We each had bagged lunches and we went in and said “Excuse me, is this such and such a meeting?” And finally they said yes and it’s a public meeting. So we sat down and somebody said “Are you having dinner?” And we said “No we can’t afford this. We got our own.” And we sat down with our bag lunches and amused ourselves. Meanwhile all these bigshots are sitting there. I mean we hassled them because they knew. They didn’t know what we knew, but they knew. We were like the bad penny that was always showing up. And we asked to do a presentation too. This was a public meeting. It just happened to be a dinner meeting. And so we would do things like that. Now the Sierra Club couldn’t do things like that. They should sometimes. But they couldn’t. This was the kind of energy it took. And we didn’t get everybody and their dog involved because people would wear out. You only ask people to do things they can do. You only get them involved to as much as they can handle. 


The County was going to do a park on the mountain, but it was nothing. We worked very hard to show them it was nothing. It was just the steep areas. And we brought this cake shaped like a mountain, that Mimi made and it had monopoly houses, hotels and trees all over. And we said, “Who wants dessert? Who’s gonna be the first one to cut up this mountain?” After we did our speeches we said, “We brought dessert but we decided not to let anyone cut up this mountain.” And we took the cake home and put it in the refrigerator to use at the LAFCO Meeting. 











Bette Higgins—7

There was the time we brought a goat to a meeting. The South San Francisco Planning Commission had left it to our discretion to set up a public meeting. And we got over 400 people into the hall that night. That was the night we did the Farcical Park Show. We entertained them with all kinds of different stuff. And somebody brought a goat in and it walked halfway down the aisle in the middle of the hall and did a poop. The janitor was not too thrilled. He cleaned it up right away, but we got a good laugh out of it.


We handed out programs at the door and all the people on our side got an arm band to show their interest in saving the mountain. On the literature we handed out we told our people to be peaceful and not to demonstrate. We handed everybody candles and at the end of the performance we said to the Planning Commission, who had been laughing at our skits, enjoying themselves, “We’ve done everything to make you see that we don’t want San Bruno Mountain destroyed.” and “We give up, we are taking this to the county.”

In other words, we give up and now were going over your heads. Then the school kids marched out of the room and then all 400 of us got up and marched out of the room.


And then San Mateo County had a Measure A on the ballot, to raise funds to the park. And they had finally put San Bruno Mountain on the list that this is where San Mateo County would spend some of their money, that they would get from the state. Measure A was a bond issue for all of California. And somebody from the state came to my house and took a helicopter ride over the mountain, and that was when we started getting San Francisco involved. We campaigned to get Measure A passed too. We took sacks of lime and went up on the mountain where it’s visible from the freeway and we made a huge sign, “Yes on Measure A.” For three or four years afterwards, when it rained you could still see it. And we put all those wooden cows all around, so people driving 101 couldn’t help but notice. 


Moscone was alive at that time. And we went to see him and show him how all the people in San Francisco were gonna be effected. And we said “You gotta get involved because this is gonna impact you as much as it does us. People living up on that mountain are gonna be working in San Francisco and living in San Mateo County. They’ll be using all of San Francisco’s roads and everything, but not paying taxes. I mean, that was important.


I remember one time David and I were invited to UC Berkeley by the Department of Social Sciences or something like that. We were to give a speech on community activism. We had gotten a reputation by that time that we were legitimate. I mean we didn’t go stoning anybody or doing anything bad. We cared, and the people trusted us when we said “If you want to keep up with what’s going on in your community, get your rear to a city council meeting.” And we only called the people out when we needed them. And we had them speak too. We didn’t shut other people out. And everybody was supportive of us.


We got a lawyer too, Tom Adams. And he did some good things for us. His best thing was his effort for the Citizens Environmental Impact Report—an actual Citizens EIR. So we were doing these logical things too. Meanwhile we were keeping a very high profile and we forced Foremost McKesson to keep a high profile too. And we were teaching the people what was going to happen. There were many people who helped us along the way, they volunteered. When the developers did their EIR they had a list a foot thick and when we did our Citizen’s EIR, we had a list three feet thick.







Bette Higgins—8

These were all volunteer people and I mean there was some heavy weight people. We had Elizabeth McClintock from the California Academy of Science. Where these people came from I don’t know. There were people from San Francisco, from Universities at Berkeley, and Stanford. The word was filtering out everywhere because of the press. We kept the mountain in the press. And we educated the people. And we weren’t lieing or anything like that. It was grassroots. And we learned. And we learned. And we learned.


The seven years I spent fighting to save the mountain was like a college education I could have never gotten anywhere else. We learned what LAFCO is and what they could do. I can look in the paper today and know exactly what’s going on. You just learn. And then we got involved in politics. There was a change in the Board of Supervisors and we got two new people on the Board. And we got the 3 to 2 vote in favor of designating the mountain a park. And it was the guy from the Peninsula and we supported his park. He was a mover and shaker for the Committee for Green Foothills down there, near Stanford. 


And all the time we didn’t have a park on San Bruno Mountain in the north county, they were planning for another park in the south county, down in Portola. They had to hold a meeting in the north county about this park. So there was a meeting in San Bruno and there was this girl from Woodside who got up to do a speech about mucking her horses. So we from San Bruno Mountain had become kind of a force and we went to the meeting and we supported their park. And we said “Oh we don’t have horses to muck.” In other words, were poor folks up here, but... “We can understand your feelings for a park.” “And we from San Bruno Mountain would not stand in the way of any community, and hopefully, when our time comes and we need help, you will be there to help us on San Bruno Mountain.” 


I mean, now they owed us and one of their people became one of the new County Board of Supervisors. I can’t remember his name, but he has a beard and he was around for a while. And our efforts were purely the grassroots and we learned. We never became so sophisticated that we forgot who and what we were doing. But we were not stupid, we plugged the Sierra Club and their fight for the earth and all of those efforts. We kept our efforts all on the grassroots. Deeper than politics, this was real. We taught our people how to stop something, how this impacted their lives. We taught our people to know what the powers are and how to expose manipulation. Meanwhile we made the County Board of Supervisors very visible. We made Foremost McKesson very visible. We made our city councils very visible. And it’s kind of funny because they knew that we were going on a wing and a prayer. But we were smart. You know, not to take anything away from us. And I think the Sierra Club would be like “Oh my god, here we go again.” Here comes the truth. But the Sierra Club played a very important part. You have to remember, why should they jump in? It was our job to do that. 


The Sierra Club was on the other side when they discovered all the butterflies on the mountain and created the Habitat Conservation Plan. The Sierra Club is into all that compromising. And as much as I hated to see the development on the South San Francisco side, in a sense maybe the highest and best uses for the South Slopes is for some housing, if it’s controlled. 







Bette Higgins—9

When we were going for the park we saved the most important part of the mountain. And luckily, that one area that’s up above Sunshine Garden, got added to the park. When I driving up to San Francisco, I noticed the South Slopes. They’ve screwed up that area so badly, anyway, I mean with the bridges and everything like that. 


I know the Shellmound is important. And it should be saved. But I don’t know what your battle cry is gonna be. I looked at it as I was going by. It’s a pretty area. And I thought, well what twist do you put on it, to get people to recognize it.


I think you could say “Enough is enough.” You know that would be the only thing you could go after. I mean “How much more? And what is the purpose of this?” “Why destroy something that has some value? Why?” I mean enough is enough, the greed. And I’d play on the corporate greed. The corporate greed and “When is it going to be enough?”

“You’re doing South City a nice job on the housing. What do you need this for?” You know you don’t need  it. It’s just another mess.”

 Another mess, that would be my angle on it. And appeal to their higher principles. I mean, they’ve screwed up the rest of the South Slopes. 

And even though you have to gag... 

when you say “You’re doing a good job over there.”  “Leave this alone over here.” And “You are to be complimented.” 

You play the game. 

“Aren’t we getting into the corporate greed? The Shellmound, it’s just another piece of land, and you don’t care. You’re just gonna walk away from it and leave a mess.” 

And Fish and Game is under such pressure they better come up with some dam thing. Because, I was listening to C-Span today and the environment is gonna be a big thing in this election. People are becoming more and more aware. The Yuppies are becoming more and more aware. And I’d just play it to the hilt. On South San Francisco you have an opportunity to...Like I said you may have to stand there with all your fingers crossed and say “You’ve done a good job.” You have to learn to play the game. You never back anybody into a corner because they will come after you. You kind of bring them out and give them something “Aren’t you wonderful. And now here you have an opportunity and what is the purpose of destroying the Shellmound? What purpose is that gonna serve? We all know it’s just part of the corporate greed. Another piece of land that you sell off, to put in your pockets.” And here’s a list of signatures from people who want to see the shellmound saved and blah, blah, blah. It’s another twist that you could put on it. I would really throw that to them or get somebody to appeal to their finer instincts. Otherwise, I looked at it as I was going by and it’s pretty but you got all this other crap and how can you justify it and make South San Francisco see it’s just another problem they’re going to run into. “Once it’s destroyed, you’ve destroyed something and you don’t need it.  You don’t want it.” You know the problem you’ve had and this is an opportunity to get’s what the Fish & Game has been saying.


Another thing I learned was about card stock and paper weight. And there was that group that came out of the wood work to do that flyer “LA is Coming.” People were always helping us because we were for real. We bought buttons and we handed out flyers and we made presentations. And there was a nucleus of people working for the mountain, about nine people. 




Bette Higgins—10

Mimi Whitney really changed. You know, she was good when she was working with us on the mountain. I saw her a couple of times. But when we met up at Big Bend for Thanksgiving Dinner three years ago, God, she drove me up the wall. She was gettin looney tunes. She was so impressed with herself. You know, she married and then she moved down to Los Gatos. I had lunch with her one time and we went over their house for dinner one time. That was her third husband and he left her. He was a nice guy but she got so effected. She was living in Fremont and working for the City of Fremont and then she worked for the City of San Jose and I guess she’s still there. But Mimi has gotten too impressed with herself. 


Bless her heart. Mimi was very good. She could make a presentation because she had some knowledge and she was wonderful at it. I mean, when she stood up in front of the Planning Commission, they got a speech. She could talk the talk and walk the walk. I think she might still be in Los Gatos. She kept her last name Whitney. You know, she made out with Frank Calton. I just about died but I thought “What the hell? If it’ll keep Frank waltzing around that’s good enough for me. It’ll save the mountain.” I just about died when I heard about it. But it kept Frank off balance, gave us more of a shot at it. I mean you do what you do, but never never never bring that out. I thought that was so funny.


So there was me, Mimi, David, Dave from San Bruno, Jim Keegan and Sylvia Gregory from the Sierra Club was kinda always there. We all had different talents and people were moving in and out. There were rush times and we courted the various city councils and things like that. And people recognized that our core group was not that big. The biggest thing that we did was to educate people. We brought them out to meetings and we never gave anybody a bigger job than they could handle. If it’s addressing envelopes, you don’t give them 500 pieces, you give them 100 and maybe they’ll do another 100. You know it’s organization skills like that. We were fortunate. We had a good project with Foremost McKesson running around—we made them come out. And all people had to do was see their plans, and we were able to bring neighborhood people out and schoolkids, but some real live people out. And from all over the county and we also had the Sierra Club and all these other organizations. 


We were sincere. Everybody had their own agenda. And we stayed credible. And the only thing we said that was questionable, and maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but we made a statement, it was “San Bruno Mountain, the largest piece of undeveloped property in a high density urban area, in the United States.” Sounds good doesn’t it? We don’t know if it’s true or not. But we said it. And we kept saying it. Till the final thing when they came out with their EIR. They had that in it, “The largest urban open-space in the country.” We didn’t know if it was true or not but it sure sounded good. 


They had a union meeting, on the construction, over in San Bruno. David did a lot of work to prepare for it, cause there was more of them than us. This was the biggy. They were puttin us down “You rabble rousers.” And Frank Calton was there and the whole thing was jobs for the boys, jobs for the boys. And I use to love the guy from the plumbing department, you know Hen, the plumber. And I kept saying “Yeah, but we don’t want plastic pipes do we?” and they’d say “Ya Ya Betty, we’ll support ya on that one, we don’t want no plastic piping.” 





Bette Higgins—11

But then they use to get on “jobs for the boys” and I said “God dammit, you’d build the ovens to bake the jews if it was jobs for the boys. When does your integrity come in?” They’d say “Ohhh, what are you ashamed of?” They had that circle of trucks driving around the building. And they were putting us down. And I remember standing up and saying to them, “Alright we know who’s going to build this and we agree to jobs for the boys here, but when do you practice your craftsmanship, your trade. This is just gonna be another sleazy sell-off where you guys gonna slam cheap junky houses all over the mountain. Is this gonna be something you’re proud of?” 


Are you gonna be proud to take your sons and daughters up there and say “I built that.” I said “Stand up for yourself. Jobs yes. But quality jobs.” And I went on and on, proud of yourself...something you won’t be proud of...And I got applauded. It was something. 


And it’s true. Were they proud of those buildings that were falling apart up in Westborough? Is that the kind of jobs you boys do? Is this who you people are?

Those construction union workers do shoddy work. They don’t care about the corners they cut. They’re just making their bucks and where’s the craftsmanship? Where’s the quality? Things that your sons and daughters will be proud of. Where you can proudly say “I built that.” But that’s not what’s gonna be built on San Bruno Mountain. It’s true. Where is the quality building?


It was rewarding. That’s why I can live here in Felton. I think I payed my dues. I thought, “I’ve saved the best part of the mountain, now I can move.” I’m not involved in politics down here. I’ll sign a petition, give some support. But there’s a good group down here. If they need a body out to a meeting, we’ll go and be a body. But we pretty much stay out of it. I knew the Measure A vote was gonna pass. I moved here two weeks before the vote and because I didn’t live there anymore I couldn’t have said anything, anyway. I didn’t want my credibility to be challenged cause it would hurt the cause. But we already knew we had three out of the five county supervisors votes and so it was ok for me to move. The day of the vote I sat here and tried to decide whether I should come back to South San Francisco and go to the meeting. David or somebody called and said I should come to the meeting. I decided not to go since I had no right to say anything.


There were other people left. We’d done the big part. It was a wonderful time in my life but I couldn’t live there. I couldn’t stay there. It was time for me to move on. We had six children and we lived in a very small house on Hillside Boulevard. And we were of that generation that when it was time for us to move our kids didn’t want to. Because most of our kids went all through South San Francisco High School and graduated, except for Kevin. Then my husband was working in San Francisco and his business moved to San Jose, and it was time.


I needed the next year or two to work on the house and I took a kind of hiatus and my son’s health got worse. And things came as they should. I’m not very religious. The most I could say is there’s somebody, it’s Mother Nature. It’s a her...I think things happen for a reason and that was the time I should do what I did. 








Bette Higgins—12

Now I was available. I’d been working constantly up until that time. The mountain was a consuming job. I use to be up making phone calls at six in the morning. And I’d be thinking all the time, “How do you do this? How do ya do that? What direction do we go? How do we do that?” 


For seven years we were focused on saving that mountain. I mean, you have your family and everything like that. I took up bridge and every Tuesday I would play Duplicate Bridge with Dan Pass, that council member from South City, you know that hairy fella, he was somethin else. So from 1 o’clock in the afternoon until 3:30 in the afternoon, every Tuesday, I could go to this place and nobody knew who I was. I was just another bridge player.


I mean, I couldn’t talk to people. People would look at me and say “What’s happening on the mountain?” They’d never ask, “How ya been today? or Hows the garden?” I was San Bruno Mountain. People identified me as the mountain. People, if they had questions, would go to David or go to me, and that’s who we were. 

We lost our identity to the mountain.


I think it was David Packard who just died. He said it very well. He said, he and his partner accomplished much. He’s done much; the Childrens Hospital. They’re great men, but he said you can do these things but you can’t stay there. You have to go on. Because there may be other things.


The seven years I spent on that mountain I got an education I couldn’t have gotten with a Doctorate Degree. I learned about paperweights and printing. I learned about honorariums at colleges, cause I spoke at colleges. I learned about public relations. And you learn about what people can’t do, can do and will do. We had to educate people. You know I didn’t know a daffodil from an iris. I know what I like. But I didn’t know about the plants. 


All I knew of the mountain was the Hillside in front of my house. And that was my mountain. And the man down the street, that part of the mountain, that was his mountain. 


But you have to have a variety of viewpoints and people who speak about different things. It wouldn’t have worked if everyone had gone to a city council meeting and all said the same thing. It was more entertaining and attention-getting for the city councils to hear a lot of different ideas from a lot of different people.















Bette Higgins—13