Who’s Bette Higgins?
Jim Keegan, South San Francisco Citizens for our Mountain
If you’re gonna talk about who first got the it started. Bette Higgins was the one who first got it started. Because she put a sign on her lawn “Save Our Mountain.” And then, just out of curiosity I asked, “What do you mean?—Save Our Mountain” and she was out in front of her house and she said, “Well haven’t you heard? and I said “Well no.” She said “We oughta have a meeting.” And I met David at the meeting.
Bette and David were both diamonds in the rough that had different talents. Bette had this facility for getting in close to the politicians and the people from the other side. She was very good at the public meetings and Daly City used to have a lot of those public meetings. Bette could get in there on a one to one basis with any of the politicians or Visitacion Associates people and she was on a first name basis. David was good at writing.
Bette would have been great as an elected official. But people like that don’t get elected. Nobody recognizes their talent—that’s the problem. They listened to her but you’ve only got a small minority who even know who Bette Higgins is. And unless your on the inside of this movement and see how she operates and the talent she has...you know you can’t advertise talents like that. People run for office and they put out brochures and they have people write endorsements and people send “Dear Friend” cards and all that. All you have to do is look around and see the type of people who get elected to office. They don’t get elected because they’re gonna do a good job.
And Bette would have been great as a front person for any kind of business. She had that facility for ingratiating herself with these people, meeting the developers and getting accepted by them. And all at the same time she was trying to cut their legs off. She was their adversary and she was advocating a different position. But she always had the respect of these people. They called us all kind of names. But she was a real diplomat. You could have sent her to talk to Sadam Hussein or anybody.
Paul Goerke, Brisbane Citizens for Civic Progress
Bette Higgins lived on the other side of the mountain across the street from Paradise Valley. She started a group over there, which eventually became the Committee To Save San Bruno Mountain. And so they joined hands with us, with David and Luman and all of us who were interested in this. So we joined forces and we began to agitate. Not only did we hold meetings and have goats there at the rallys, but we did a lot of work behind the scenes. Bette did a lot of work. She got in with some of the county supervisors, with Jean Fassler and began to work with the supervisors that you could talk to. So there was a lot of work going on there. She would be going in to have personal meetings with the supervisors. And Bette had a natural knack for that. She was really good at it. David was kinda left out of politics. David operated on his own vision and I think they figured that they didn’t want to disturb him from doing what he was doing by getting him mixed up with politics. You can’t have everybody doing politics, you got to have people in all areas.
Who’s Bette Higgins?—1
David Schooley, OriginalCommittee to Save
San Bruno Mountain
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 and I was walkin along on Hillside Boulevard to go to the store and there on somebody’s front yard in South San Francisco was a big sign, “Let’s Save This Mountain.” And I knew immediately this was 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. And so he was the one in the 1950’s or 60’s that said “What are we gonna do with the mountain?” Because you know, up to that point they had been dumping all of San Francisco’s garbage into the bay, just at the base of San Bruno Mountain. Once they stopped the dumping, in the early 70’s, the stench stopped going over the mountain and stopped going over Brisbane. And that’s when the idea is for growth, came forward. When the garbage dumping stopped, the development proposals began.
So I was renting this little place in Brisbane when I met Bette Higgins and she was startin to work real hard about the possibilities of saving the mountain. And the big development pushes were coming in Daly City and South City, not so much Brisbane because who cares about Brisbane, it’s too small. There were meetings and activities about the new highrise power trip that Visitacion Associates wanted to build on San Bruno Mountain.
I’d known Bette for a couple of weeks when she was planning to have a big important meeting and she had me help. You know we were putting chairs all around. And Jim Keegan went to that too. And what I remember was her husband’s jug of wine. Bette was afraid her husband would get drunk so she would leave a big jug sitting right in front of their bedroom to make him think not to use it.
There was gonna be a park on the mountain but it was a puny little park. They were giving us only the real sharp steep ridges that go down toward South City and above Brisbane. The developers had no intention of giving us 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. The people in Brisbane didn’t seem to be doing that much, so I actually moved from Brisbane to South San Francisco. I moved in a block or so away from Bette Higgins, in the back room of a little house down there on Hillside. And I started gettin real involved in all the efforts and meetings they were having. The place I was renting became the office where we went to discuss the moves we were gonna make to fight the developers.
Who’s Bette Higgins?—2
We started goin down to Redwood City, to all the meetings, 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. We’d go for walks up on the mountain, hundreds of people up on the mountain, hikes on the mountain and all that stuff. I was always sending out press releases. So when we had those marches over the mountain, which were overwhelming—they knew. The word was known, to the press and politicians.
We’d go down to Redwood City and Bette’s great vision, she’d take a cake, make a beautiful, big huge cake with a mountain on it, with little candles on it at the most important places and 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 Bette 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 and spread the word. Bette Higgins was a really eloquent speaker. And she could stand out and make all the political people feel phoney—cause she was straight forward.
Finally the County of San Mateo actually came for a meeting in South San Francisco. The Park and Rec Commissioners asked what do 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.
Bette eventually began to think about working on running for South San Francisco city council but that was probably not so likely for various reasons. She was closer to the people, than the political powers that callously vote things down. But Bette probably would have been really good at politics.
Who’s Bette Higgins?—3