Political Action

   The link between the movement to restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley and Lake Merced is a little vague.  Nevertheless, there is a relationship, as the PUC's source of water to maintain lake levels is the Tuolumne River, a program that could be affected by this action.  In order to keep up to date we've provided a link to the Restore Hetch Hetchy web site.  Also, you can read the PUC's policy statement here (pdf file).

   Recent readings of E-coliform bacteria levels indicate potentially unsafe conditions for boaters and fishermen, especially in North Lake.  Maximum acceptable level for contact recreation is 576 MPN (Most Probable Number).  In August 2004 a reading of 135 MPN was seen in North Lake, by October that level had increased to 200, and the reading taken in December 2004 jumped to 350 MPN.  More alarming, readings in South Lake during December were 985 MPN near the pumping station, and 809 MPN near the police range, well over the EPA standard for infrequent contact recreation in fresh water.  We have asked the Public Utilities Commssion for improved monitoring and public notice of this contaminant.  I have attached a copy of our correspondence with Paula Kehoe, Manager of Water Resources Planning.

Paula's proposal amounts to this: If and when high counts of E-coli are identified, the PUC will wait 30 days to report that finding to Friends of Lake Merced.  After another 60 days a follow-up report will be released to us indicating whether or not that condition has continued.  The only provision for public notice is to send a copy of the reort for Friends of Lake Merced to post to our web site.  In the meantime, users of the lake should take normal precautions, described in a bulletin published by June Weintraub of the City's Department of Public Health.

It is perhaps needless to say that we do not feel this is an adequate response.

   We have found the California Department of Health Services (Draft) Guidance for Freshwater Beaches. 

   Also we have located the EPA Water Quality Standards for Coastal and Great Lakes Recreation Waters (July 2004).  Lake Merced isn't exactly a Great Lake, but the proposed standards should apply to all fresh water lakes. 

   A coalition of southern California state, city and environmental groups published a Model Monitoring Program for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems in Southern California (August 2004).  While Lake Merced isn't in southern Calfornia either, the results of this research program should provide assistance in our own lake.  Many thanks to Clay Clifton at the San Diego Department of Environmental Health for helping us locate this resource.

  June Weintraub has responded to our request for adequate monitoring.  June claims that the use of E-coli counts as a monitoring technique is controversial, in spite of the recent work done at both the federal and state levels.  Better, June argues, to do nothing at all.  However, the US EPA does not agree, and has posted this Implementation Guidance for Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Bacteria (June 2002).  See especially Appendix C.

   We have finally received a response to the e-mail we sent to Rajiv Bhatia, Director, Occupational & Environmental Health, San Francisco Department of Public Health a full month ago.  Unfortunately, Rajiv is interested primarily in defending another of the City's bureaucrats, and indicates little if any interest in protecting the health and welfare of the City's residents and visitors.  We have added our response to Rajiv as well.

   Mona Cereghino, acting on behalf of the Lake Merced Task Force Recreation Committee, has assembled a portfolio of photos describing the terrible mess that the area around Lake Merced has become.  She has sent a letter to Yomi Agunbiade, Acting General Manager of the Recreation and Park Department, asking him to take a leadership role in correcting this problem.  You can see a portfolio of these photos here.

   As many of you know, the storms of February 25 resulted in another major bank erosion around the South and Impound Lakes.  The Department of Public Works has published the first draft of their John Muir Drive/ Lake Merced Slope Restoration Project.  In this plan they propose "(O)ur current approach is to construct a large diameter rock apron to contain at the existing large erosion area and channel the flow of the water to the lake."  This stuff is also called 'riprap', and would produce an extremely undesirable visual and environmental intrusion on the lake.  Erosion Control Magazine reports, "In essence, the use of more natural material, such as trees and rootwads, provides a good alternative and is proving to be of greater benefit to the ecosystem than rock riprap is."  Visit their web site to learn about alternative, environmentally sound approaches to erosion control.

  The Golden Gate Audubon Society has sent a letter to Frank Filice at the Department of Public Works opposing the use of riprap at Lake Merced.

  The State of California has begun enforcing a provision of state law requireing that volunteers working on watershed restoration projects be paid prevailing wages.  An environmental organization in Redding has been fined $50,000 for failing to meet this condition.  The scope of this law is not clear.  However, if work at Lake Merced is considered "watershed restoration" the results could be calamitous for the lake.  Patrick Hoge, Chronicle staff writer, has written a column describing this legislation (4/5/04).  Please contact our state representatives, Assemblyman Leland Yee and State Senator Jackie Speier, asking them to act to overturn this destructive rule.  (Political Action, 4/5/04)

   Last evening (3/10/04) the Lake Merced Task Force adopted a resolution, moved by Friends of Lake Merced, supporting the Rec & Park Department budget allocation of $500,000 to develop a Master Plan for Lake Merced.  This is an extremely important issue, as failure to fund this Master Plan will leave us without a clear statement of goals and priorities for the lake.  Please write Mayor Gavin Newsom, Supervisor Tony Hall, and the Rec & Park Commission President John Murray indicating your support for this funding allocation.

  Since our first posting several weeks ago winter storms have wreaked havoc with the site of the new fishing pier and picnic grounds on South Lake near the Impound Bridge.  We have updated our coverage of this project, with many additional photos and a much better description of the design problems that have produced this travesty.

To minimize the chances for a repeat of this performance, two actions are urgently needed:

  All projects should be subjected to thorough public review.  Despite repeated requests, no public review was provided for this project.  The Lake Merced Task Force, acting on behalf of the community, failed to provide adequate oversight.

  Similarly, all projects should be provided professional peer review.  After repeated performance of this type it seems clear that the Recreation and Park staff does not have adequate credential to complete projects of this sort without such assistance.

Let's make sure there is public review before the next stages are undertaken.  Send an e-mail to Marvin Yee, Dan McKenna and Elizabeth Goldstein.

   ParkScanSF is a service supported by the Neighborhood Parks Council, of which Friends of Lake Merced is a member.  This service supports communication between the community and the Recreation and Park Department.  If you see a problem, or identify an issue that needs to be addressed, you can send your comments, along with a photo if you like, by contacting the ParkScanSF web site

Friends of Lake Merced has taken on a number of issues, promoting programs to improve the beauty, safety, and natural and recreational values of this most-important resource.  Here are a few of our campaigns:

  Harding Park Golf Course:  The Harding Park golf course has now been open for three complete months.  We were provided data reporting number of rounds and revenues by user class (e.g., resident weekend), for three months since the course reopened, September through November, and for the same period before the shutdown.  Results show that resident use, particularly by Seniors, is down signficantly.   We've writtent to Sean Sweeney, Golf Course Manager, requesting that this program be reviewed.

  The financing for this project stipulated that, when all other expenses have been covered, "remaining funds should be allocated to capital improvements to the park and recreation areas contiguous to Harding Park and under the Departments jurisdiction.We are now told that revenues from this source are not expected for "five to seven years."  We've written to Michael Franks asking for quarterly updates on progress being made, and will keep you posted here. 

  Friends of Lake Merced recently joined forces with some fifteen environmetal organizations to form a coalition called the Bay Area Water Stewards.  Jenna Olsen, Executive Director of the Tuolumne River Trust, has been acting as Chair and Steward for this new organization.  Jenna recently presented a statement of the goals and activities of BAWS to the Public Utilities Commission.  You will find a copy of her PowerPoint slide presentation here.

  The South Lake fishing pier.  A few years ago the California State Assembly allocated $400,000 to the Recreation and Park Department for the purpose of restoring the South Lake fishing pier.  Rec & Park more than matched that grant; the total bill came to $862,523, awarded to Ghilotti Bros., a San Rafael-based contractor.  Given the current state of the City's budget, we tried repeatedly to get this project stopped.  We failed; take a look at the result.

  Is it possible that they aren't through?  A visit to the Rec & Park web site finds this:

Five distinct project areas on the conceptual improvement plan are described below in order of priorities for implementation based on available funding.
A. John Muir Way fishing pier - Replace fishing pier that was damaged in past winter storms with a pier that would fluctuate in elevation with the water level, improve wheelchair accessibility, and remove encroaching tule.
B. Parking area on the west side of the Impound Bridge at John Muir Way - Improve vehicular parking design, possible inclusion of a restroom structure, install picnic tables and trash receptacles, realign multi-use pathway, and improve landscape.
C. Parking area with the Bufano statue - Redesign of the parking lot for pedestrian-only use with picnic areas, landscaping, and earth mounds along the street. New parallel parking and loading/unloading zone along Lake Merced Blvd.
D. Parking lot at the intersection of Brotherhood Way and Lake Merced Blvd. - Improve dirt parking lot with paving, crosswalk and landscaping; install restrooms; and reconfigure the street intersection for ease of access into the parking lot.
E. Boardwalk – Construct a boardwalk and overlook that brings visitors over the water. The elevation of the boardwalk would fluctuate with the water level and would be wheelchair accessible.

A. and B. are done deals.  Let's make sure there is public review before the next stages are undertaken.  Send an e-mail to Marvin Yee, Dan McKenna and Elizabeth Goldstein.

  The Lake Merced Boathouse: The Lake Merced Boathouse was built about 50 years ago, with its primary function being as a facility for rowers and a community center.  For many years it operated as a restaurant and sports bar.  Today it stands empty and deserted, a disgrace to the area and a lost opportunity for the community.

  Lake level and habitat: As the lake level has fallen it has become increasingly apparent that a return of lake levels to historical norms will have a significant environmental impact.  If that increase in lake level occurs too rapidly, and without appropriate preparation, the environmental impact can be very serious.  We have campaigned hard for the development of a program that will adequately balance lake level and habitat.

  Pedestrian safety, particularly for visitors to the San Francisco Zoo, and clients of the Recreation Center for the Handicapped, who want to take advantage of the natural and recreational benefits of being near Lake Merced.  We recently were informed that CalTrans has approved a pedestrian operated stop light to be installed at this intersection.  Apparently the installation is scheduled for sometime in the 2004-2005 fiscal year.  An e-mail to Assemblyman Leland Yee might help light a fire under this project.

  In September 2001 Patricia Martel was selected as the new General Manager of the Public Utilities Commission.  Since that time Friends of Lake Merced has scheduled a number of meetings, and conducted extensive written correspondence with Pat.  Unfortunately, Pat often doesn't bother to show up.  Here's a summary of this frequently-missed communication.

  The Committee to Save Lake Merced has filed a series of court actions to enforce CEQA requirements in San Mateo County.  We have posted a series on that action:


  Tom Stienstra noted the Committee to Save Lake Merced's success.  (June 8, 2001)

  The San Mateo Times reports on this action: Ruling requires reviews before well-drilling by Susanne Hilty, staff writer.  (June 2, 2001)

  In January 2001, CalTrout filed a petition with the State of California charging a number of municipal and private organizations, including the Cities of San Francisco and Daly City, with failing to protect Lake Merced.  Later that year an agreement was reached between those cities and three area golf clubs that will provide for the use of recycled water for much of the golf club irrigation.  That recycled water plan is currently under construction by Daly City, and is expected to go into operation for the 2004 season.  You can review much of the history of this development here.