San Bruno Mountain development OK'd after legal battle

It appears the endangered callippe silverspot butterfly is going to get some new neighbors on San Bruno Mountain.

A San Mateo County judge’s ruling will allow a 71-home subdivision of a decades-old development plan to go forward, despite the protests of a local environmental group that says the new houses proposed by Brookfield Homes will harm the butterfly.

San Bruno Mountain Watch, which sued to require the developer to conduct a full environmental impact report, is “in conversations with our board and with our attorneys about whether it makes sense to file an appeal,” Executive Director Ken McIntire said. The group has until early October to decide.

“She didn’t address any of our main arguments,” McIntire said of Judge Marie Weiner. “Justice isn’t the same, necessarily, as the truth, especially in environmental issues, because the environment is so complex and judges are not trained as biologists.”

Developer Brookfield Homes did not return several calls seeking comment. The county counsel’s office also could not be reached for comment.

At issue is a plot of land on the Northeast Ridge of the mountain that the county approved for development in 1989, following a 1982 habitat conservation plan that set aside 2,800 acres of the 3,300-acre mountain for conserved habitat.

After the callippe silverspot butterfly was listed as an endangered species in 1997, the original plans for 151 homes on 40 acres were later reduced to less than half that number of homes on 20 acres, with the rest conserved as habitat. The developer is also required to create a $4 million fund for habitat management.

County supervisors approved a final revision of the plan in 2009, triggering San Bruno Mountain Watch to sue the county to force an environmental impact report of the development.

Much of Weiner’s ruling discusses the technical legal standards for reviewing a project’s environmental impacts, concluding that the 71-home development did not constitute a separate project that needs its own EIR.

Weiner also said a 2007 modification to the plan “deletes dozens of houses from the development to foster greater freedom of the callippe silverspot to travel and protect its host plants.” She also pointed out that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the mitigations would result in “no significant impact” to the butterfly.

On the mountain

San Bruno Mountain has 14 species of rare or endangered plants along with several endangered or threatened butterflies, including:

Butterflies
– San Bruno elfin
– Mission blue
– Callippe silverspot
– Bay checkerspot

Plants:

– Coast Rock Cress
– Montara manzanita
– Pacifica manzanita
– San Bruno mountain
– Franciscan wallflower
– San Francisco owl’s clover  
– San Francisco campion

Source: San Mateo County Parks Department

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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