New chief takes reins at SFPUC
By Tiffany Maleshefski
Mayor Willie Brown, accompanied by the full board of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, gave newly appointed PUC general manager Patricia Martel a warm welcome last Tuesday when her appointment was officially announced at the agency’s regularly scheduled meeting.
“Pat Martel represents what will be one of the most outstanding directors in this city,” Brown said.
Martel was courted by city officials for several months during a nationwide search for candidates to fill the position of general manager.
Her new responsibilities, which began October 1, will include overseeing water and sewer services in San Francisco and in northern San Mateo County. She will supervise nearly 1,800 employees.
Prior to accepting the post, Martel served as the assistant manager of the city of Daly City. Before that, she was assistant city manager for the city of South San Francisco. She has also worked for the city of Inglewood, near Los Angeles, in a similar capacity.
A resident of San Francisco, Martel has been involved in developing the city’s first gay and lesbian community center, scheduled to open later this month. She currently serves as a trustee for the City and County of San Francisco Employee Retirement System Board.
The position of PUC general manager was described by PUC commissioner Dennis Normandy as a “generalist at the highest levels of management” and by the mayor as a management post that is not a “specialist in any specific categories.”
“We need a generalist with the will and ability to make things happen,” Normandy said.
Supporters of Martel believe that her professional background, which contains little experience in the area of sewer and water management, is an asset instead of a hindrance, due to its range of functions rather than one particular area of concentration.
Lake Merced Issue
Still, Martel isn’t completely out of the clear from critics.
Community activists concerned with the state of Lake Merced have expressed concern that Martel’s lack of expertise in a variety of water-related fields might impede their efforts to improve the lake.
John Plummer, representing Friends of Lake Merced, said that he and some of his peers had “raised a little fuss about her resume.” Plummer expressed concern abut Martel’s lack of experience in senior-level management and said that, from what he could conclude, Martel had no experience in being the “lead” person employees go to.
Plummer said that with a $400 million bond sitting on the PUC table to rebuild the Hetch Hetchy water system, he would have liked the new general manager to be someone with more project-management experience or an engineer with hydrology expertise or somebody with a concrete background in water-resource development.
But after her appointment was announced last Tuesday, Martel leaped into smoothing over rough edges that might exist between her and the community.
Martel introduced herself to a circle of Lake Merced advocates, the same ones who had questioned her qualifications.
“I am ready to roll up my sleeves,” she said, when they pressed her to be responsive to the needs of the lake.
“My door is always open,” said Martel, who described herself as a “friend of the lake” and added, “I love the lake.”
Pleased with her approach
Martel’s approach met well with potential detractors, who, in turn, informed Martel of their long involvement with the lake.
“That history will help,” she said, inviting their insight.
Plummer said that Martel’s self-motivated introduction was “most gracious” and that he was “very pleased with her approach” and would welcome the appointment of Martel with an open mind.
Jerry Cadagan, speaking for the Committee to Save Lake Merced, said he was pleased with Martel’s openness with him and his peers. He said that he believed Martel showed a genuine interest in saving the lake by working with those who were close to the issue.
“I am optimistic about what I saw yesterday,” said Cadagan. “She said she is a friend of Lake Merced.”