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.”
Then, when I found out about the plans chop the top off the mountain and develop everywhere, 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.
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.
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 late 1800’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.