Reflections from San Bruno Mountain Watch
By Ariel Cherbowsky Corkidi, San Bruno Mountain Watch
A community partner spotlight highlighting content written by a key local partner from each Design Team. Local partners were asked to respond to a set of questions about their experience working with Teams and Resilient by Design.
San Bruno Mountain sends such lovely water to the San Francisco Bay. The thick clusters of hummingbird-sage and sprawl of yerba buena, woven thickly into the crevices under lush hillside tangles of moist scrub, are steeped in the misty rivers of fog and billowing rains that feed the mountain’s streams with these and many other fragrant hints of mountain life.
It’s too bad these waters aren’t as lovely when the Bay receives them. Colma Creek, the largest liquid vein connecting the mountain to the pulse of the estuary, loses its earthy flavor and meandering freedom along the way from the mountain to the Bay. Through Daly City, Colma, and South San Francisco, the creek tastes like concrete and looks imprisoned.
Looking out from the ridge of the mountain, the creek’s journey is hidden among the streets, buildings, and canals that came to overshadow it. No longer are there wide willow groves swaying around the swelling creek banks or the vast maze of swirling salt marsh and mudflat at the creek-mouth.
Most of Colma Creek is a city creek now, straightened out and hardened, the consequences of becoming an urbanized watershed managed by minds that feared foremost the ravages of floods and forgot the need to keep people intimately connected with local waters.
The rising risks of a changing climate, including the rising severity of storms and rising sea-levels, might further fuel the tendency to treat the creek like a foe and scale up the walls that try to divide the city from the water.
The Resilient South City project led by the HASSELL+ team as part of the Resilient by Design | Bay Area Challenge is opening hearts and minds to an approach that goes beyond flood control. By exploring design solutions that would provide multiple additional ecological and community benefits and amenities, they seek to improve the resilience and lived experience of place.
The Resilient by Design | Bay Area Challenge has enabled examples of the type of timely, inspired, empowering planning needed to face the challenges of climate change, as project teams seek to build preparedness before disaster strikes while going beyond a narrow fix towards a broader, beautiful transformation of landscapes and livelihoods, informed by the input of local people.
I’m grateful that the Resilient South City team invited the involvement of San Bruno Mountain Watch. We are an organization born from the many battles that raged over the mountain, like those nearly fifty years ago that threatened to cut the mountain in half and dump much of it in the bay for fill. We work to tend the mountain’s landscapes for the benefit of its endangered flora and fauna through community-based restoration, while connecting people to mountain stories and trails.
Our role as a community partner was often that of an interpreter, seeking to help a very big member of the watershed, San Bruno Mountain itself, provide rooted inspiration and reference for the project vision. For example, the tremendous native flora found on the mountain provides fitting candidates to vegetate the green infrastructure solutions and vibrant community corridors proposed by the Resilient South City team. We grow thousands of native plants, sourced exclusively from San Bruno Mountain, at our Mission Blue Nursery, and would be delighted to see the mountain’s botanical glory build climate resilience.
In addition to plants, the mountain can provide a critical perspective, one that we tried sharing by leading trips for South San Francisco High School students to the creek’s origins. Together we hiked the headwaters of the creek on misty mountain mornings, took in the view of the whole watershed from the ridge, and then carried the fragrance and feeling of lush riparian vegetation and birdsong down the mountain to walk along the city creek and the chain-link, with a vision of a greener, softer, more inviting world waiting to sprout again from beneath the concrete slabs.
San Bruno Mountain reminds us that Colma Creek is alive, despite canal or culvert, a lively liquid linkage between mountain and bay, where snowy egrets still wade in the city waters, beckoning us to feel the changing tides, and follow the flow.