Ken Miles

Ken Miles walks his dogs on Sweeney Ridge Trail in Pacifica on Friday. The local environmentalist has been honored by the city. Adam Pardee / Tribune

Ken Miles, a Vallemar resident and vice president of the Pacifica Historical Society board, earned recognition this week from Pacifica City Council in a proclamation from the city’s Open Space and Parkland Advisory Committee.

The official proclamation, written by OSPAC member Ellen Natesan, depicts Miles as co-founding the grassroots organization, Pacificans United to Save Our Hills. It formed in 1978 with the purpose of preserving Sweeney Ridge as public land. PUSH, growing to 35 active members, campaigned to preserve the area from development, including a Caltrans proposal to extend Highway 380 through Sweeney Ridge. PUSH collected 5,000 signatures against development, including the Caltrans proposal.

Miles and PUSH members wrote letters to newspapers and hosted many public meetings. In 1984, PUSH was successful, as Sweeney Ridge was permanently protected as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Miles continued to protect open space as a member of Pacifica’s San Pedro Creek Flood Control Committee to develop flood protection solutions that protected San Pedro Creek’s natural character and avoided the hardening or the channeling of the creek. Miles’ work as vice president on the history society board and publishing the group’s newsletter is the latest chapter of work for which he is being recognized.

Miles said he was a member of OSPAC the first two years he lived in Pacifica. A San Francisco native, he moved to Pacifica in 1974 after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and ecology and systematics with graduate science classes from San Francisco State University. He said he came to know Pacifica’s open hillsides while conducting studies of native plant communities along scenic slopes of Sweeney and Milagra ridges.

He took a job as a field investigator with the Federal Drug Administration looking at medical devices.

He recalled how PUSH’s six-year process eventually led to change. In the beginning, many people wanted Pacifica to grow. They said there was too much open space and they wanted more revenue from growth. The political tide changed over those years, however. There was never a time to let one’s guard down, he said.

“My contribution was meeting senators and park officials. I had an office downtown. We prepared literature about who we were,” he said. “I feel very honored. I think it is the greatest thing I have done. I hope others can work together to come to terms for something like this through compromise. It’s great to hear the mountain lions and the coyotes at night.”

The Portola and Castle Rock Foundation first brought Sweeney Ridge to the attention of PUSH, Miles said. The foundation wanted the area preserved as a national monument.

There are many examples in Pacifica that are extensions of OSPAC’s work, where a balance was found between development and the environment, Miles said. He thanked and acknowledged the good work of all the organizations that played a role in addressing environmental issues — OSPAC, PUSH, Pacific Beach Coalition, San Pedro Creek Watershed Coalition, Surfrider Foundation and the Portola and Castle Rock Foundation.

He had one more suggestion in the future for the Sweeney Ridge Trail area where the Nike Missile Site sits as abandoned concrete structures. He’d like to see that area turned into a place for camping and for wildlife rehabilitation.

Miles said he’s trying to bring more awareness to the importance of creating fire breaks because of the area’s wildfire danger.

“There were areas for controlled burns among the native people. We should be doing something like that. OSPAC would be the perfect organization to work with the city on that,” he said.

He’s noticed some progress as both federal authorities and San Mateo County Parks are clearing eucalyptus trees. He suggested making furniture for San Pedro Valley County Park visitors out of the cut eucalyptus.

“I have been trying to talk to private owners. The paper streets are overgrown with weeds. That is a danger,” he said.

Miles is an active member of PHS board and publishes its newsletter. He’s joined other historical societies — in Millbrae and Daly City — to get a more complete picture of the area.

He loves to salmon fish from a boat at Pillar Point Harbor and in Monterey but has seen fewer salmon lately and wonders if the salmon are perhaps overfished.

“We have to do something,” he said.

OSPAC member Jim Sullivan called Miles a dedicated servant who made Pacifica a better place to live.

“Through the decades in Pacifica, he had a vision of what the future could hold. I’ve had more contacts with him through PHS, the legacy of the Ocean Shore Railroad car and Pacifica’s waterfront;” he said. “Back in the ’70s, his involvement preserving Sweeney Ridge lines above Pacifica is due in no small part to the folks who volunteered, who said we could improve the quality of life here.” 

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