Preserving All of Sign Hill

Preserving All of Sign Hill

David Schooley, founder of San Bruno Mountain Watch, spoke to a full house on Tuesday July 17th during an informational meeting regarding the preservation of privately held lots on South San Francisco’s iconic Sign Hill.  “The prevailing winds from the west help sow the seeds that blow across from San Bruno Mountain” Schooley explained. “This area is very delicate and important to the environment of this region. San Bruno Mountain and Sign Hill are very much connected”

Schooley’s presentation included a slide show of the evolution of the area.  “It’s important to remember what used to be and what we have done to change things.” Schooley continued.  “This area was home to the Ohlone people for over 5,000 years and San Francisco bay encompassed 650 square miles.  Today the bay has been reduced by a third of what it used to be. We fought hard to save San Bruno Mountain from the larger planned development. And we must work to save Sign Hill as well.”

San Bruno Mountain Watch Executive Director, Ken McIntire, spoke of the work that was done in the efforts to save San Bruno Mountain from more extensive development. He noted working to save the balance of Sign Hill would also involve finding the funding. “In conversations with the Trust for Public Land, we realize we need more agencies to step up and help share the costs, to show some serious commitment to this endeavor.” McIntire explained, “Sign Hill is unique in that it is more accessible than most of San Bruno Mountain. A hike on San Bruno Mountain may take a bit more planning; Sign Hill is right here in people’s backyards. People are out walking their dogs, clearing their heads, and enjoying the views while getting some exercise. This is an ideal place for folks to enjoy some wild nature, something you will not find in our city parks.  Getting people outside and into fresh air and exercise is a goal shared by many agencies such as Kaiser Permanente. We need to reach out to other business partners to find a way to make this happen.”

Neighbors Weigh In

Most of the public were surprised to learn that the northern facing side of Sign Hill is not public land, rather it is owned by private parties. The area consists of 45 acres divided into 3 parcels of 20+ acres each. Local community members agreed that the back side of Sign Hill should remain open. “We have too much building going on, we need to keep some space open” Kathy Bower said. “That is the reason I bought my home and settled in this area, I like the open space.”

Jeanne Mason commented, “I was raised in South City and moved to Larch back in 1978.  I always thought this side of Sign Hill was owned by the Forestry Department, I never even thought it was privately owned.”

Dee Molina from Brisbane voiced that preserving the rest of Sign Hill is not only a benefit to the nearby neighbors, but to all who live in the area. “I drive through this area daily and I’ve always considered the hill open space, as it should be. There are so many other people who believe this hill should be left alone and they need to be included in any future meetings.”

The audience included San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine and his son, along with South San Francisco Council Member Mark Addiego. Both agree it is a worthy cause to seek ways to preserve this open space. “This was a good turn-out, especially for the first meeting” Addiego said. “I remember the beginning of the Save San Bruno Mountain movement back in the ‘70’s when there were only 5 of us meeting in Betty Higgins living room. People have become more sophisticated about information sharing and speaking up; this is a good start tonight.” A head count showed 50 people at Tuesday’s meeting.

Also in attendance was South San Francisco’s Chief Planner Suzy Kalkin, along with Principal Planner Gerry Beaudin. Kalkin had previously met with the core group when they first reached out seeking information on city zoning and the master plan. Park and Recreation Commissioner David Gallagher came by prior to his meeting with the SSFUSD Oversight Committee, to show his support for the community meeting. Dave and Morena Gallagher had worked with their neighbors in their Sterling Terrace, along with then Mayor Joe Fernekes, during the last proposal of building on the back side of Sign Hill in the 1990’s. At that time the plans submitted for the parcel across from Hillside School were not in accordance with the city’s zoning and were eventually shut down after a legal battle.

Recently the eastern lot went into foreclosure and is now owned by another private party. Records indicate the price was under a million dollars, closer to $850,000, reported Rebecca Schulman, a board member of the San Bruno Mountain Watch.  Developers that had been working with the previous owner believe they still may have a binding contract.

Neighbor Ador Arcalas has lived in the area since 1979 and is a realtor with Prudential in San Bruno. “Perhaps the owners may want to donate a portion of this land to the betterment of the community. To have their name associated with saving Sign Hill would be a wonderful legacy.” Another attendee questioned whether the city would be able to do a ‘swap for property’ by taking over Sign Hill and offering the current owners other property in the city that is ripe for development. A general reply brought up the fact that the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency made any such ideas impractical at this time. The city properties under the RDA have now been moved to a Successor Agency while the state agencies work out the details.

Local residents Loretta Brooks and Chuck Heimstadt head up the South San Francisco Weed Warriors which is a group dedicated to maintaining critical habitat on the southern slope of San Bruno Mountain near the former Hillside Elementary School, directly across from Sign Hill. They have extensive knowledge of the rich diverse plant life on our mountain and our hills and they look forward to educating those that join them on the fourth Friday and Saturdays of the month between 9:00am until noon.  In addition they volunteer to help areas of our Sign Hill, maintaining trails and cleaning up trash left by less responsible visitors. “I have requested that a bag dispensary be installed at the Stonegate entrance” Loretta reported. “Too many dog owners do not pick up after their animal which is required by our city ordinance. Across the road on San Bruno Mountain dogs are not allowed because it is a County Park.  We all need to do our part to keep our open spaces clean and thriving for the native habitat.”

If you would like more information or to be added to the contact list for future meetings regarding the efforts to preserve all of Sign Hill call the San Bruno Mountain Watch at 415-467-6631 or email If you are interested in joining Loretta and Chuck and the SSF Weed Warriors call SBMW at 415-467-6631 or email

Fundraising efforts continue with the Annual Pancake Breakfast and Native Plant Sale at the SBMW nursery Sunday July 29th 8:30-11:30am.

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[…] Efforts to preserve the back side of Sign Hill continue without much success. Most folks do not realize this is not already saved and when talking with neighbors who have homes up against this area, they too are unaware and believe the open space belongs to the Forestry Department. It doesn’t. It belongs to developers with the intent to build one day. Unless we are able to preserve it once and for all. […]