Challenge for Patricia Martel
October 2, 2001
Patricia Martel, the new general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, arrived in her new post with warm welcomes and fanfare from the mayor and other supporters.
There's good reason for that. Martel has proven herself an able administrator in her stints as assistant city manager in Daly City and South San Francisco. And she has shown through her work as president of the board of directors of the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Community Center that she also knows how to work with grassroots community organizations.
But Martel had better cherish the warm-and-fuzzy feeling while she can, and roll up her sleeves fast, because she has a lot of work ahead of her.
Among the issues she will have to address is a multibillion-dollar renovation of the water-delivery system from Hetch Hetchy in the Sierras, the question of how to deal with the possible formation of a municipal-utility district in November's election, and whether we should change the way revenue from sales of power and water, or rent of PUC land, is distributed to the city.
But one of the first things she should do is to declare the rehabilitation of Lake Merced a top priority of the PUC, and make sure that everyone on her staff in and the public knows about it.
The past year has seen some successes in the efforts to draw more attention to the ailing lake and to bring about substantive improvements to its condition. But the pace has been far to slow, not nearly keeping up with the rate at which this precious civic and natural resource is being degraded. Groups such as the Friends of Lake Merced can carry the flag and build community support, but the value of every ounce of their effort would be magnified many times over if such groups had the understanding and cooperation of the Water Department and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
To her credit, Martel has already started to lead and has shown that she understands how important the rehabilitation of the lake is, by meeting with members of the Friends of Lake Merced and telling them, "I love the lake."
But the most important thing that Martel should bear in mind is simply that the situation demands action. Please, no more studies that go nowhere. No more blue-ribbon commissions to produce yet more reports. And if there's to be a useful future for a very broad and general group like the Lake Merced Task Force, it must have clear, direct, and strong leadership to keep its constituent components from pulling in al different directions until it falls to pieces. Lake Merced is fixable -- probably with the resources San Francisco already has at its disposal. But someday soon it will reach a state beyond which it may never return to its former glory. It's too valuable to fritter away thorough delay and inertia.