Crisis at Lake Merced
City PUC calls meeting to discuss future of troubled recreation areaTOM STIENSTRA
March 16, 1999
YOU DON'T need a meeting to fix what's wrong out at Lake Merced, but they're going to have one anyway Tuesday night.
Anybody going out to Lake Merced and touring the area can see for themselves, and it's been that way for years. But it has suddenly become a crisis for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department after a recent front-page story in The Examiner detailed that the state's No. 1 recreation company was pulling the plug on its operations, taking its boats and going home.
A public meeting conducted by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission on the future of Lake Merced will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant on the Great Highway in San Francisco. The clock is ticking because Urban Park, the concessionaire at Merced for 15 years, is closing operations on April 30 - in protest over conditions - meaning it's crunch time for the City.
Lake Merced in San Francisco has been in desperate need of a radical overhaul for many years to restore it as a first-class urban facility for fishing, boating and water-based recreation. It is located within a 15-mile range of 2 million people who have no other nearby lake to turn to. Two years ago, with $1 million available in bond money for restoration, the Merced Master Plan was released by The City. Since then, not a single significant problem has been solved:
*Water levels: The lake just plain needs to be filled with water from Crystal Springs, which has an abundant supply via the Hetch Hetchy system from the high snowpack in the Sierra. The water level is now at 18 feet, and the master plan calls for a 27-foot level. For 10 years and counting, the lake has been 45 to 65 percent full, causing nutrient loading and oxygen depletion, and, in turn, an extremely poor habitat for the aquatic food chain and rainbow trout. The nearby Merced Impoundment has been below levels needed to sustain fish life for 10 years.
*Shoreline access: With no tule control for 20 years, tule reeds have filled in 10 to 20 feet across along much of the shore, eliminating shoreline access for most of the South Lake, part of Lake Merced. The Kids Fishing Pier is now completely surrounded by tules and is unusable. The tules simply need to be cleaned out where shoreline access is possible. Kids used to be able to ride on their bikes, or take the bus to Lake Merced and go fishing at the South Lake.
*Maintenance and patrol: The bathroom is simply disgusting and has been for years. On the grounds surrounding the lake, litter is often a problem, especially around the picnic areas, and there also seems zero enforcement or patrol to stop vandalism, littering or people fishing the North Lake without the required permit. There are often messes on the jogging routes in the area. A year ago, a hole for a light pole was bored in the median strip on Harding Road, but the light pole and light have never been put up.
*Boat hoist: The boat hoists for the South Lake haven't worked for 10 years, and now cannot even reach open water. For 20 years, the hoists had allowed residents to launch row boats and small sailboats.
*Boat rentals: When Urban Park leaves, it will leave Merced without boat rentals. This will obviously be a priority for the new concessionaire selected by The City, but it is no easy or fast process to purchase, receive and rig a fleet of rental boats, and then buy liability insurance for the operation.
*Dock and pier replacement: The Haas Pier, located at the end of Brotherhood Way, has suffered several fires, and been left in disrepair. Several other piers are in various stages of deterioration, and each should be inspected.
*Tackle shop, boat house, youth programs: When Urban Park leaves, the bait and tackle operation will not only be closed, but the building will actually be towed right off its foundation. With it will go the headquarters for youth programs and rod rentals. So a new concessionaire will also have to bring in a new building, fill it with gear, then have it covered by insurance. Yeah? When?
*Fishing permits and trout stocks: The one last hope at Merced in recent years has been a fair chance at catching a large trout. The fish have been purchased and planted by Urban Park with money paid for daily permits at the North Lake. There is no evidence that The City or anybody else will able to conduct this program, or even try. In addition, the DFG has reduced trout stocks from 100,000 to 30,000, and The City has made virtually no effort to raise this number in order to make the lake a more attractive fishing destination.
*Invading non-native species: The scope of habitat surrounding the Lake Merced complex shows an invasion of non-native plants, pushing out native species.
*The biggest problem of all: The City of San Francisco. Judging by action, not words, The City couldn't care less about the quality of the facility. They have the dough to fix the place up, and they're blowing the deal. If this was a private business deal, everybody would be fired.