South Slopes by Jim Keegan

South Slopes

Jim Keegan

South San Francisco Citizens For Our Mountain

The South Slopes of San Bruno Mountain was right down the street from us and all of a sudden we look up at the South Slopes and see that they were gonna put a shopping center and 1000 homes up there, in addition to all the massive development they were gonna put everywhere else on the mountain. The immediate threat to us was development of Paradise Valley. Everybody loved that meadow. And all of a sudden it was announced “Hey we’re gonna build 1000 houses and a shopping center up there. Were gonna cut that place up.” It’s all kind of hazy how we first found out, but we were horrified.


All of it started around 1971 when Visitacion Associates came onto the scene. They had done some was some preliminary work before that but they didn’t go public until around that time. They had started to draw up their Master Plan for the Saddle Area, the Northeast Ridge, and the South Slopes. Visitacion Associates is a corporate name; a joint venture of Foremost Mckesson-Robbins. And the Crocker Land Company that was a subsidiary of Chevron. They called the development Visitacion Rancho. The name was adopted from the original name the Spanish ranchers gave the mountain Rancho Visitacion.


The City of South San Francisco got involved with the developer WW Dean, when we had the election on October 6, 1981. Just three weeks before the election, which was a vote to annex the South Slopes into South San Francisco, Dean promised the City a swimming pool, a fire house and that playing field up next to the Hillside School. He wanted to enhance his chances of winning the election. We opposed his contribution because we knew he was just doing it to win the election. We knew the City would never have built those things anyway. Because the City was gonna get the money from the developer either way. South San Francisco would have just taken the cash value of Dean’s development contributions and stuck it in their pockets for something else. Under a state law called the Quinby Act, it says that developers have to provide money anyway. I think the whole situation was was pretty poorly handled. And so we got involved in all that. And that’s how I got involved in politics.


Doug Butler is another person to talk to. Doug is a very well organized articulate person. He retired as a school teacher in San Francisco and he’s also very active in the baptist church. He was great at making presentations. I had some experience at that but I’m a more confrontive sort of participant. Doug was pure class went he went out there. He was low key, right to the point and he spoke as if he were teaching kids in school. He was our main presenter. I use to spend hours and hours with him getting background material. I still have the transcripts of all his presentations. Another person who was a good speaker was Sidney Barret, “Studies will be made at a future date.” So Doug and I use to get together and brainstorm ideas. We had a great organization. And we’re not even talking about the Committee to Save San Bruno Mountain organization. We’re talking about just South San Francisco. This struggle to save the mountain took the whole county.








Jim Keegan (SS)—1

Around 1984 all this controversy happened. Dean knew dam well that the South Slopes of that mountain were in terrible shape geotechnically. There were slips and slides before Dean’s construction workers ever bulldozed anything. Eppler was the geotechnical engineer hired by WW Dean and he was saying everything was ok. So WW Dean got his Specific Plan and Development Agreement. He got everything he needed in order to do his development. And all this geotechnical stuff went on until WW Dean got the final permits which was the annexation to South San Francisco. That was the final thing he needed. 


Then, Bill Cotton, a geotechnical consultant hired by the San Mateo County Supervisors, came in and said there’s big landslide hazards on the South Slopes and that Eppler isn’t doing anything right. Steve Hench, a reporter from The Enterprise Journal, broke the story and some arsonist, probably hired by WW Dean, burned down Cotton’s office. All of a sudden there was a fire that burned all of Cotton’s records. And just when they were getting ready to indite Eppler. They were getting ready to go to court. 


Cotton just told the supervisors and city council, “You know this guy did everything wrong. He’s just not making a study of it.” And they didn’t like that. The fired Bill Cotton because he was saying things they didn’t want to hear. The supervisors said they fired him because he didn’t have the right credentials. Then they brought in Dames and Moore. And Dames and Moore told them what they wanted to hear. And so Dean got all the permits. See, it was in November that Dean came out with a big announcement that Cotton had discovered that there was a big slide on the South Slopes. The hill is full of slides and Bill Dean could not do the project on that hill in the condition it was in.


Lu Drake, Brisbane Citizens for Civic Progress

I was at a public hearing on the Northeast Ridge (NER) and Dames and Moore were there. They’re the soils engineers for every big project in the Bay Area. And I said, “What about the soils on the NER, are they gonna slide?” And they said you got nothin to worry about. The people that are gonna have trouble are the residents who move into the South Slopes development. That hillside is gonna slide. Terra Bay is gonna let go because it’s upended shale. The shale here in Brisbane is ok because it’s on a different angle. But on the South City side of the mountain the shale slides toward the ground. It’ll take a while but eventually heavy rains will cause the South Slopes to slide. It’s not earthquakes, it’s heavy rain. Terra Bay is sittin on a slide over there and that’s eventually is gonna let go. But Dames and Moore told me there was no problem on the NER.














Keegan/Drake (SS)—2