Mr. San Bruno Mountain
Discovery of San Bruno Mountain
In 1968 or 69 I was living in San Francisco. It was after I’d come from the University of Seattle and I was exploring around the Haight-Ashbury. I got a job for AAA on the radio to handle all the problems on freeways down the Peninsula. I was in charge of between 12 and 17 trucks.
I was with a group called the Murky Brothers and we made a pact never to drive. We grew up in Berkeley and San Pablo during the time they were building the freeway that goes from Bay Area to Sacramento—the Carquinez Freeway. And on those hills where I grew up, there were oaks and creeks, and they got destroyed. Caltrans was destroying those beautiful hills and it killed us to watch them die. I still don’t drive.
So me and my friends started a group and became the Murky Brothers. We were murky from the modern age that is so precise, clear, TV, growing, into computers, precision. We wanted to get back down to the earth.
And here I was, in San Francisco, on the radio for all these commuters going to work in the morning and coming back in the evening. And there’d be accidents, people shot, people killed, people die’in and ya had to handle all this stuff together and boy was this really intense. I lived at a place on Ashbury Street and there was too many cars parked on Ashbury—cars everywhere.
I thought I’d find a more quiet place to spend the weekends and I started exploring and that’s when I discovered the peaceful, small town of Brisbane in those days. I just bumped into it. I saw a little hill up in that small town and what was that? And so I found a place to stay in Brisbane.
I went home the next weekend to see what the town was and I saw Buckeye Canyon and an oak forest. I bumped right into Buckeye Canyon and wildlife and a running creek and a shellmound—shells on the ground. I was studying at the university so I knew about shellmounds. And I just couldn’t believe it. Why I had been given this miracle, why had heaven come to me, for me to be in all this stuff? I started exploring more and I just happened to call SF State. Do they have this marked down? That there’s a shellmound down here? I never heard about that. They said, “We don’t know. What does this mean? We have no idea.”
Somewhere after the second month I was there, in the spring, there was an article in the Chronicle, that they were going to chop off the top of San Bruno Mountain and use it to fill the bay. And I go, “What? They’re gonna chop off the top of this mountain? This miracle I just discovered?” Then I met a couple of people in Brisbane, Mike Kaiser and Helen Sullivan and they gave me some more information about how they were gonna chop the top off the mountain and fill the bay.
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And I said, “What does this mean and what can ya do?” And I heard about Luman, the king and hero of Brisbane in those days, the fighters and the politics. I didn’t meet him I heard about him. He was the king, geez, those were the powerful people. In those days I didn’t know anything, I was just comin into a small little town and there was other people, but we’ll talk about more, we’ll go on...
I was just horrified that this lovely thing I’d just dicovered was gonna die. Maybe God moved me here so he could stick me in the worst nightmare that was about to happen and why? This was so lovely and so sweet.
I discovered South City and the grasslands of San Bruno Mountain and that was really special to me. Paradise. One day I went over the mountain from Brisbane to South San Francisco to get some groceries from a Mexican store down there. And when I got down into South City, I was walkin along Hillside Boulevard and there on somebody’s front yard in South San Francisco was a big sign, “Lets save this mountain.” And I knew immediately this is it, so I ran to the door and it was Bette Higgins.
And Bette Higgins opened the door and invited me in. She told me the story about the plans for developing the mountain. She told me about the political people involved, the owners: Crocker, Visitation Associates and how Sherman Eubanks has been involved with the owners of San Bruno Mountain, the Crocker Family. Sherman grew up in the Hearst Castle and he had all these contacts with people and setups in San Francisco and all this stuff goin on. He was the developer in the 1950’s or 60’s that said, “What are we gonna do with this land?” Because up to that point they were dumping all of San Francisco’s garbage into the bay, just at the base of San Bruno Mountain.
And it was the late 60’s when some people from UC Berkeley started Save the Bay. And so San Francisco had to stop dumping garbage in the bay in front of San Bruno Mountain. So the stench stopped going over San Bruno Mountain and stopped going over Brisbane. That’s when they idea is for growth came forward. It was time to chop off the top of San Bruno Mountain and fill the garbage deeper so it would be safe to build on. And they were gonna fill the rest of the bay too. I have maps showing even the names of the streets that would go all the way out from Candlestick. There would be roads going way out into the bay and houses and the whole thing. The idea began in 1920. San Mateo County already had maps showing the plans.
San Francisco, an island, a surrounded area, a growing most beautiful place, they have to make future dreams as to where they can build. I was being introduced to all this stuff and all the people in Brisbane. I started meeting the people who worked and cared. Richard Burr said, “You oughta come down to our political meetings here in Brisbane cause we need help from people who really care.” I met him at a meeting and he’s the one who told me about the truth of Brisbane. This was the heart of people, the local folks, it’s not political power, it wasn’t growth, and it wasn’t all these political games and big companies pushing around.
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The garbage issue was part of the soul of Brisbane and I got involved with the Brisbane Citizens For Civic Progress, but I was comin from a different point of view. My interest was always, the mountain. I got a feeling that Richard Burr and the others cared for the mountain but they didn’t know about it that much. They didn’t know there was shellmounds; they didn’t know indian people once lived in the canyons; they didn’t know about Owl Canyon; they didn’t know Firth Canyon. They didn’t pay enough attention to the mountain. It was springtime and I’d see all these wildflowers and I’d been at the university and studied California native life. My God it was a miracle here, it was all native.
Then I met Byron Jensen. She’s one of the originals in Brisbane; she knew the mountain and she told me even more about the histories of Brisbane and what’s goin on. And Milton, her husband, was a rather quiet fellow. He was the eye of Brisbane but most people didn’t know about that too much. He was the looker and the watcher, but he didn’t get into politics.
He built the house up there, among the oak and bay trees. He was born in the city of San Bruno, that’s where he grew up sometime in the late1800’s. The last I knew about the Jensens was that their son, Pentfield Jensen, was in Oakland. And when I first got involved with the fight to save San Bruno Mountain he was printing an environmental magazine in San Francisco. Environmental magazines were a new and great idea that was just starting in those days. So Pentfield was working in the Bay Area and he was one of the creators and the beginners.
The Jensen family was the heart of Brisbane for me. Byron Jensen would get flowers from San Bruno Mountain and put them in pots. She’d collect seeds from the mountain and plant them in her yard. She’d pick elderberries and make elderberry wine. She and the others were taking care of Costanos Canyon and now there’s now a plaque up there, in remembrance of Byron Jensen.
Costanos Canyon has shells on the ground. It’s a shellmound and the city of Brisbane wanted to put a road through there. I had to make speeches and really push to stop them. You know they also wanted to cut down all the buckeye trees in Brisbane because they’re deciduous. All the leaves fall off, so the city wanted evergreens and I had to go to all these city council meetings to explain the significance of buckeye trees. You know, that the indians ate the acorns.
Bette was beginning to make an effort to try to save the mountain. By this time the plan to chop the top off was already shot down. So now the idea was highrises and a new city. And this was after they already built Guadelupe Canyon Parkway over the mountain which was Daly City’s big effort. The Saddle was gonna be highrise city and Daly City was pushing. They had gone ahead and pushed for Guadelupe. And that freeway was gonna provide access for a new highrise city for Daly City.
Daly City, you know, they think they’re pretty small, they’re not big enough, and tight. The big city of San Francisco has highrises so Daly City was gonna have highrises and powerful as San Francisco. So that was the idea for Guadelupe, so they destroyed that beautiful canyon.
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Nobody knew that much about what was goin on. Daly City was a power. The environmental movement hadn’t begun and San Bruno Mountain was still a secret. The secret was for Brisbane. Daly City didn’t care, but Brisbane did care. It was Pentfield Jensen that told me about it. He knew, he told me after they put in Guadelupe that he’d known about the highrises. But most of the people in Brisbane didn’t know the connection.
I was renting this little place in Brisbane and I met Bette Higgins and she was startin to work real hard about the possibilities to save the mountain and the big pushes were coming from Daly City and South City. But not so much from Brisbane because who cares about Brisbane, it’s too small.
There were meetings and activities about the new highrise power on San Bruno Mountain. Frank Pacelli was behind the big push for highrises. He was known as the godfather of Daly City. There was gonna be a park but it was a puny little park. They were taking only the real sharp steep ridges that go down in South City and above Brisbane. And nothing to do with the the Saddle or Buckeye and Owl or any of those areas. Those were gonna be built on and so we saw the maps, we saw the whole situation and I got so horrified about what they were gonna do.
Bette Higgins was the one who was fightin and the city of Brisbane didn’t have much to say or do. So I actually moved from Brisbane to South San Francisco a block or so away from Bette Higgins. I lived in the back room of a little house down there on Hillside and I started gettin real involved in all the efforts and meetings that they were having.
The place I was renting became the office for all the meetings to discuss what we were gonna do to fight the developers. And we started goin down to Redwood City, to all the meetings, and to South City and Daly City. Meeting after meeting. I met Mimi Whitney in Brisbane before I left, so she and Bette and I were the people who started makin things happen. We started printing up things and going door to door. I don’t know how many times we went door to door in South City and Brisbane, every door, a million million times and we’d have meetings and people would come together and go for walks up on the mountain, hundreds of people up on the mountain, hikes on the mountain and all that stuff.
And we’d go down to Redwood City and Bette’s great vision, she’d take a cake. A beautiful, big huge cake with a mountain on it, with little candles on it in all the most important places. And she’d take it to the supervisors and say, “We the local low people for San Bruno Mountain have this statement for our future park...” In those days I did all the writing and Betty did the speaking. We would bring the cake to the supervisors and leave it on the secretary’s desk, you know, the desk between the supervisors and the people. And Bette would be at the microphone speaking and we would be carving up the cake, symbolic of their plans to carve up the mountain. We’d pass them all a piece of cake. They didn’t know what to do with us.
It was efforts like that that were so important, we were comin from the heart, we were grass roots people and that’s for sure and comin out of our hearts and our love and keep it goin, spread the word, and we had those marches that went over the mountain, which were overwhelming and they knew. The word was known, to the press and politicians.
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Bette Higgins was pretty good, she could stand out and make all the political people feel phoney, cause she was straight forward and finally the county of San Mateo actually came for a meeting in South San Francisco, the Park and Rec Commissioners to ask how the people really feel about San Bruno Mountain. So they were sayin this little steep area was gonna be part of the park, that it was the big sacrifice. It had no connections with the canyons that came down to their backyards. We said no no this is not it at all and that’s when we had this big gathering of people and they had a goat and the goat came.
Before I went to Tom Adams the supervisors were questioning, “Who is the power up here?” And they were so amazed because they’d never heard anybody from Daly City, South City, or Brisbane getting involved in county politics. Nobody had made any effort. The supervisors thought, “Who cares about those people over there? They’re poor people, they’re the dregs of San Francisco, they’re nothin real, we down here in Redwood City and Palo Alto are the powers.” Brisbane is negative, they’re dirty, oakey people. And to this day, they still feel that trhe northern end of San Mateo County is the dregs.
The powers down the peninsula think this area is all negatives. It’s poor people, it’s nothin, it’s trash, it’s a kickout, it’s a toilet of San Francisco, which obviously was what it was. You know the bay out there was where they dumped all of San Francisco’s garbage from the 20’s to the 60’s and the stench. The dumping began with the 1906 earthquake. They were throwin stuff off the sides of Southern Pacific trains and the idea caught on.
So finally the powers came up to Daly City. Daly City was growing. It’s their favorite thing to do. They had these sets of meetings in Daly City to see who is the power in the north peninsula. And the whole idea was sent out, “What’s gonna happen on San Bruno Mountain?” We brought all our people to those meetings. The people from the building trades were there and people from Pacifica and Daly City along the ocean. So the county was tryin to find out who was the power. And the meetings went for, I think, three evenings and every single evening it was crowded up with all these people who cared to save the mountain, but there was only a puny bunch of idiots from the building trades. There were a lot of em too, but it was so clear, the majority of the people at the meetings were from Daly City, South City and Brisbane. And that these people cared to save the mountain.
We cared about the mountain. And it wasn’t just comin from a desire for power. So therefore they had to think twice about what they were gonna do for a park on San Bruno Mountain. And that opened the door for the possibilities of saving the Saddle and that’s when the state became interested. Governer Brown came over to see San Bruno Mountain and he came to meeting in South City. And then there were a number of meetings on San Bruno Mountain with people from Gregorio. Mr. Gregorio he was a California state representative who came from San Mateo County. He came to some of the meetings and that was real important too.
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And our group, our powerful group, in those days, it was really impressive, we had all these hikes and hundreds of people goin up on the mountain. It was everybody, it was a big thing, up and down the peninsula, in San Francisco, the whole thing. This was the people, it went beyond local politics and that brought up the effort to save the saddle, the saddle was gonna be highrises, and we pushed and pulled and the state moved in and that’s when the saddle was purchased by the state. The state’s measure A bond act.
Tom Adams? It was desperate, we could feel the powers in Daly City and down the Peninsula. Are they gonna listen to us? We were getting knocked around and looked down on. They thought we had no value. The powers could just push us out of the way. The city councils in South City and Brisbane didn’t care about us. Daly City obviously didn’t care. So how were we gonna make a real dent on what they’re doing? And what really hit me was, when I saw their EIR’s. Their written material, their studies, they didn’t even make sense. I could see, it was very clear that they weren’t even looking at the mountain. They didn’t know about he shellmounds, they didn’t know about the critical canyons that I knew were native areas. It was so clear that their EIR was not real. They had no understanding of the mountain whatsoever and so that’s when I started to find out if there would be a lawyer or somebody, a legal fight that could question that. And all of us were poor, I was poor, I was working, I had a couple jobs here and there, I quit AAA and I was building stuff, just doing whatever job I could. This was before my accident. And a lot of other people involved were poor folks in South City and Brisbane.
The Legal Aid Society was right there on El Cimino Real in Daly City and I thought I would ask, could something like that help a desperate group that has done all these efforts for all these meetings and all these hikes on the mountain and still were getting kicked out by all politicians. And I said, “They not listening to us. They’re just pushing us over.”
Bette Higgins was working on running for South San Francisco city council and possibilities for winning the election didn’t seem to be looking to good, for various reasons. She was closer to the people than the political powers that callously vote things down. But Bette Higgins would have made a great politician.
I talked to Tom Adams one afternoon and he asked me to send him more material. Then he sent me a letter saying the Legal Aid Society would like to help for what the future of your children and friends will be in South San Francisco and Daly City. It was a nice letter.
So we had a second meeting and he wanted full information and we gave him everything, and this is the point we came up to my question about the EIR, the written material and all that and it was visibly wrong and that was my main idea with Tom Adams—that we do an EIR ourselves, a people’s EIR that would show that that the developers EIR was not right.
We all got together at my place in South City on 15 Kearny Street. And we went step by step through their EIR and told more than they had anywhere in their material. We knew more than they knew and if they’re just gonna go ahead and build, they had better know more than we did. It was obvious they had not done a careful EIR. And the Citizens EIR went to the county and the county had to respond because it was by a lawyer and all of us. It makes a big difference with a lawyer. And that made a major change.
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