Conservationists explore open-space trust as Sign Hill private parcel put on market 

click to enlarge The sale of a piece of private property on Sign Hill has prompted talk of needing an open-space district on the north Peninsula. - COURTESY EVERYTHINGSOUTHCITY.COM
  • courtesy EverythingSouthCity.com
  • The sale of a piece of private property on Sign Hill has prompted talk of needing an open-space district on the north Peninsula.

Some local conservationists have taken on an effort to protect a portion of South San Francisco's Sign Hill from potential development as they explore forming an open-space trust that could assist in protecting such environmentally sensitive land.

Sign Hill, which includes the iconic "South San Francisco the Industrial City" sign on its south-facing side, is also the site of private property that has been put up for sale. While the hill's north and northeast slopes contain three large, privately owned parcels, including the one for sale, the area where the sign sits is protected from development, as it is city-owned land and on the National Register of Historic Places, community advocate Kamala Silva Wolfe noted.

Silva Wolfe, who runs the Everything South City blog, said the City Council has expressed support for preserving the private parcel on the market. She noted that Sign Hill and nearby San Bruno Mountain are habitats for the endangered Mission blue butterfly, and any developer who proposed to build on Sign Hill would likely face a long and expensive battle to gain approval for such a project.

However, South San Francisco's current wave of booming construction and development could result in a developer taking on such a fight, Silva Wolfe said, and if a trust or district were created to preserve north Peninsula open spaces, such an entity could buy the land to prevent any construction. The trust would work to provide land stewardship services for northern San Mateo County similar to those that the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, also known as Midpen, provides to communities farther south on the Peninsula.

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director Ken McIntire agrees that a north Peninsula open-space district or trust is needed. He said he's spent years trying to get the Peninsula Open Space Trust interested in preserving Sign Hill, but that organization doesn't extend its reach that far north.

The roughly 20-acre parcel that is for sale is represented by Ukiah-based Realtor Jason Van Housen. He said the current owners are a small group of private money lenders who wound up with the property after it went into foreclosure. While they're sympathetic to environmental concerns and currently have no interest in developing the land, they're also just beginning to learn about the issues surrounding the property, Van Housen said.

If a northern Peninsula open-space district is created, activist Andy Howse said it could aid his efforts to get the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to open up the 23,000-acre Peninsula watershed to the public. The vast area is owned by San Francisco, but located on the Peninsula, stretching from Sweeney Ridge in Pacifica to the Filoli mansion's grounds in Woodside. Howse said one stumbling block preventing the SFPUC from opening the area to nature lovers is the question of who would manage the land, and the proposed open-space district could take on that responsibility.

Silva Wolfe said a September meeting to discuss creating the proposed district was attended by numerous civic leaders, including Daly City Mayor David Canepa, county Supervisor Dave Pine's chief of staff, South San Francisco Councilman Mark Addiego and Sierra Club state Chairwoman Ann Schneider. She said a measure to create the proposed open space district could appear on ballots in 2016.

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