"Complicit" San Francisco Voters Reject Plan to Restore Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy

Posted on 07 November 2012

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By Dan Aiello

In San Francisco a local initiative put forth by environmentalists to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley to Yosemite Park for restoration by expanding the lower Don Pedro Dam was soundly defeated by voters, calling into question a long-held political belief that the city's electorate is 'Green' or progressive.

With all precincts reporting, San Francisco voters rejected the Measure to restore the valley John Muir called "one of the most precious mountain temples that ought to be faithfully guarded." It is said that it was Muir's loss to preserve the valley that contributed to his early death.

The valley's destruction, the brainchild of San Francisco industrialists who falsely claimed to congress the city burned after the 1906 earthquake due to a lack of available water supply, has been called the greatest environmental wrong over water rights in California's ongoing battles over the precious resource.

As destructive as Los Angeles' draining of Mono Lake and the Owens Valley say environmentalists, San Francisco voters ignored the sentiment of much of the rest of the state's residents in voting to support the city's continued, and many charge wasteful, use of the valley as the city's cistern.

San Francisco does not reclaim water and has decreased the use of captured local water over the years in what one Sacramento area Congressman called, "a violation" of the city's agreement with the Federal government over use of the valley.

One Measure F supporter whose Stockton address precluded him from voting, called San Franciscans who voted against the measure "complicit" with those who built the dam and flooded the valley in 1923.

"History will see [opponents of Measure F] as environmental villains, no better than those who flooded the valley," said Kevin Martin. "They could have been heroes, but given the chance to do the right thing they went the other way," Martin said.

Nearly every city official, including Mayor Ed Lee, opposed Measure F. Lee called it, "really stupid." But no one has been more active in preventing the idea which originated with the Reagan Administration than Senator Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA) who is reported to have pulled the money earmarked for the same feasibility study sought by environmentalists through Measure F from the Department of Interior Budget in 2007.

Measure F opponents also used a questionable figure of $10 billion dollars to restore the valley. That figure, which they cite as part of a state report, was found to be one fed to the state by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission which could not produce any documentation to support the figure when pressed earlier this year. That did not stop Measure F's opponents from repeating the figure as fact throughout the campaign, frustrating Yes on Measure F supporters whose own estimate, $1.5 billion, was largely ignored by local media.

Mike Marshall, Executive Director of Restore Hetch Hetchy, the environmental group responsible for bringing Measure F before voters, issued a press release thanking supporters and letting them know the group's efforts to restore Muir's Temple had just begun.

"The good people of San Francisco have voted and the Water Conservation and Yosemite Restoration Initiative did not pass. Yet we accomplished much of what we set out to do," wrote Marshall.

"Today's ballot initiative was just one of three strategies we are pursuing in our fight for the restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley," wrote Marshall.

"Recognizing the long odds of actual electoral success, we used the initiative campaign to garner national media attention, educate San Francisco voters about the negative impact their water system has on Yosemite and to build our grassroots organization. We succeeded on all three fronts," Marshall wrote. "Bottom line: Today was a beginning, not an end."

Dan Aiello reports for the Bay Area Reporter and California Progress Report.

So why not expend effort to actually make San Francisco live up to its "green" reputation and make the city capture groundwater, reclaim water, etc? Why expend effort on a quest to drain a valley which was flooded almost a hundred years ago? Why split the environmental movement with a wedge issue that was an obvious cynical ploy by the Reagan administration and cynically applauded by Dan Lungren this year? The only arguments actually in favor of the measure which you advance appear to be emotional appeals to the authority of John Muir. Isn't the issue of the delta tunnel a much more pressing one with meaningful environmental consequences in the near/medium terms? As far as water policy goes, shouldn't we be looking at long-range solutions for all of California, and all of the Western States, given the expected loss of the Sierra snowpack due to global warming? The burden rests on the supporters of this scheme to explain why it makes any sense. As a progressive voter who actually lives in San Francisco this measure just smelled like another "Turn Alcatraz Into an Institute for World Peace" kind of initiative.

Your wedge comment is funny because it was the fight to preserve the valley that began sierra club and created the environmental movement. The author is correct... it is the greatest environmental wrong over California water rights. Dams are being destroyed everywhere now to save species. This is not the absurd idea that mayor lee and sfpuc which did lie about co zzz t to voters.. say it is. Believe meme they are and should be worried. Like mono lake this atrocity will not stand. It's only a matter of how and when.