S.F. begins $3.6B Hetch Hetchy retrofitBy Sara Zaske
Less than two weeks before Mayor Willie Brown leaves office, he managed to kick off one of the largest capital projects in The City's history.
Digging into a hill near Summit Reservoir on Thursday, Brown broke ground on the first project of the massive $3.6 billion Hetch Hetchy water system retrofit. The mayor said the maintenance and upgrade work had been ignored too long.
"The more than 2 million people that depend on quality drinking water coming from this system deserve attention," he said.
The Hetch Hetchy capital improvement program will begin with work on the Summit Reservoir, which holds 14 million gallons of drinking water in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of San Francisco. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has a total of 77 separate projects slated for the Hetch Hetchy system to be completed over the next 13 years.
The start of the repair work comes nearly a year after suburban and city politicians waged a protracted battle over the Hetch Hetchy's system's fate.
While Hetch Hetchy is owned by San Francisco, more than 70 percent of its 2.4 million customers live in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda counties. The looming threat of an earthquake hitting a system with many 70-year-old parts drove politicians inside and outside of The City to clamor for improvements as soon as possible.
Brown credited city voters with protecting San Francisco's ownership of the system when they approved Proposition A, the $1.6 billion bond measure financing part of the retrofit.
"Our neighbors, particularly to the south in San Mateo County, were really chaffing at the bit to take over the management, operation and control of this system," Brown said.
However, Proposition A's $1.6 billion will not cover the entire project. Another $2 billion is expected from the other three counties through bonds issued by the San Francisco Bay Area Regional Water System Financing Authority -- a group created with legislation penned by state Sen. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo.
While the Authority's general manager Art Jensen attended the opening, San Mateo County representatives were noticeably absent from the groundbreaking ceremonies.
"I was not invited, of course," said former Peninsula Assembly member Lou Papan. "I'm persona non grata because I carried legislation to awaken San Francisco to something I'm sure they were already aware of."
Enacted in 2002, Papan's legislation created deadlines for the Hetch Hetchy work and set penalties on San Francisco if the timeline is not met.
Brown interpreted such moves as an attempt to wrest control of the system from The City, which he believes will be the best environmental steward for the Hetch Hetchy.
"I don't think anyone else can take care of it in the fashion it needs to be taken care of," Brown said. "It must not be the triggering devise for sprawl and development. San Francisco is sensitive enough to make sure that doesn't happen."
New PUC commissioner Adam Werbach plans to make sure The City upholds those high environmental standards.
"I opposed Proposition A, but I am absolutely committed to implementing it in a way that safeguards our water supply and in a way that protects our environment," he said. "But I do have concerns about the scope and the extent of the project."
The former president of the Sierra Club, Werbach was recently appointed to the PUC in Brown's absence by then acting-mayor Supervisor Chris Daly.
While his unorthodox appointment was hotly contested by Mayor Brown, Werbach reported a cordial reception from the mayor at the ground breaking.
"He shook my hand," Werbach said.
Copyright ©2003 Peninsula Examiner. Published 12/19/2003.