Sponsored: The SF Public Utilities Commission, a Civic Disaster – From Corruption to Conflagration – How They are ‘MOC-ing’ the Richmond and Sea Cliff

  • MOC (“Management Oversight Committee,”)

By Thomas W. Doudiet,

Assistant Deputy Chief, San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD), retired and 60-year Richmond District resident

The continuing saga: 

Four years ago, in the November 2017 issue of the Richmond Review, there appeared an article entitled “Plan to Protect Neighborhoods Abandoned: Lack of water to fight fires in southern and western neighborhoods after a major quake could result in a firestorm, like the 1906 disaster.”  

That article, by staff writer Thomas K. Pendergast and editor Paul Kozakiewicz, told the story of how unprepared San Francisco was (and it still is) to fight post-earthquake fires. The story was of such significance that it was picked up and published by nine other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers. The authors won critical acclaim from fellow journalists for their work.

This month’s commentary is the 15th article to appear in the Richmond Review on the subject of the S.F. Public Utilities Commission’s (SFPUC) faltering attempts to plan a comprehensive expansion of the City’s high-pressure hydrant system into the unprotected western and southern neighborhoods. 

All previous articles can be read on the Richmond Review website under “Links to our Comprehensive Coverage of Firefighting Challenges.”  

To summarize these articles, in our “outlying” neighborhoods, including the Sunset, Richmond and Sea Cliff, if the “Big One” were to strike the Bay Area today, the 15 San Francisco neighborhoods that lack the high-pressure hydrants – and their 138,000 buildings, occupied by almost 400,000 people – would be virtually defenseless against post-earthquake fires. 

We don’t know when the “Big One” will strike, but we do know that in those 15 neighborhoods there would be no water for the SFFD to use to fight the multiple simultaneous fires that experts tell us are certain to merge into conflagrations.

Geologists long ago confirmed that San Francisco is situated directly above a seismic time bomb at the junction of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates, which gives rise to eight major Bay Area earthquake faults. The SFPUC has demonstrated a shocking degree of ineptitude in its approach to the vital expansion of the high-pressure fire hydrant system since being made responsible for this critically important 108-year-old city infrastructure in 2010.

The list of proposals for expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system that have been formulated by the SFPUC over the last four years clearly indicate:    

1. A dangerous lack of understanding of geological facts; 

2. No comprehension of the danger that a huge number of simultaneous fires pose in a city full of wood-frame buildings;

3. No sense of urgency about providing adequate fire protection to 15 SF neighborhoods that lack high-pressure hydrants;

4. No awareness of the tremendous volume of water that is required to defeat the radiated heat (often exceeding 2,500 degrees at ground level) produced during an urban conflagration; and

5. No appreciation of the speed with which an urban conflagration will spread from block to block.

Since the SFFD’s high-pressure hydrant system was transferred to the SFPUC Water Department in 2010, there have been three Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response (ESER) capital bonds passed by the City’s voters, in 2010, 2014 and 2020, with a total of $312.5 million earmarked for the improvement and expansion of the City’s high-pressure hydrants of the Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS). Eleven years after the passage of the first bond, the SFPUC still has not come forward with a comprehensive plan to protect 13 of the 15 unprotected neighborhoods.  

In the two neighborhoods for which the SFPUC has formulated plans, the Sunset and the Richmond, what they have proposed will, unfortunately, leave large areas of the Richmond with insufficient firefighting water volume and pressure. Moreover, there are NO high-pressure hydrants planned for the Sea Cliff neighborhood.

By late 2018, the snail-like pace of the SFPUC to implement a rational citywide expansion plan prompted concerned citizens to file a complaint with the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, which resulted in an exhaustive report (July 2019) that concluded:  

1. In order to avoid the loss of vast areas of the City to post-earthquake fires, the high-pressure hydrant system MUST be expanded to all currently unprotected San Francisco neighborhoods; and 

2. time is of the essence.  

That report, “Act Now Before it is Too Late:  Aggressively Expand and Enhance Our High-Pressure Emergency Firefighting Water System,” can be accessed at the Civil Grand Jury’s website under “Reports 2018-2019”.

In their answer to the Grand Jury’s findings, responding City agencies (the mayor, the SFPUC, Department of Public Works [DPW] and the SFFD) collaboratively wrote the following:  

“As the City considers what is essential to protect San Francisco, it is important to acknowledge our multiple, complex resilience challenges. These challenges are documented in the Resilient SF strategy (2016) and underlie the strategic efforts of our capital investments as represented in the Ten-Year Capital Plan (last updated in 2019). These challenges are:  Earthquakes, Sea Level Rise/Climate Change, Aging Infrastructure, Unaffordability and Social Inequity. All of these challenges represent meaningful threats to San Franciscans, their property, and their ability to make a life in the City. In making decisions about priority investments, San Francisco must keep an eye on all of these challenges, identify the areas of greatest need across them and make progress on all fronts simultaneously.”  (Emphasis added.)

In other words, all of these issues are of importance to the quality of life in San Francisco and all must be prioritized when we consider how to spend our public funds. Therefore, any expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system into the currently unprotected neighborhoods has to fall in line and wait for occasional funding through the capital bond process. This means that any additional hydrant system expansion that could take place using capital bond funds will be voted on in 2027, 2033,and incrementally out to 2049. This does not address the Grand Jury’s call for a complete build-out into all currently vulnerable neighborhoods by 2034.  

It has apparently never occurred to the bureaucrats who staff these agencies that if the City burns down after the next big earthquake, because our hydrant system is either incomplete or inadequate, anything else we might have accomplished in the meantime will be of no value whatsoever.

Instead of responding constructively to the Grand Jury’s clear call of urgency to complete a citywide high-pressure hydrant expansion, the SFPUC has chosen a series of piecemeal, neighborhood-by-neighborhood mini-expansions that they state will never be integrated into the existing high-pressure hydrant system that protects the northeastern part of the City.  Some neighborhoods, like Sea Cliff, will have no high-pressure hydrant protection at all.

Contrary to the intent of the voters – which was to build dedicated high-pressure, high-volume mains specifically for firefighting – under their plan, the SFPUC will instead build reinforced drinking water mains.  Additionally, they will make every effort to avoid using the unlimited supply of seawater that borders the City on three sides, which the existing system in the eastern neighborhoods has been able to access since 1913.

Their plan to use the earthquake bond money to slowly upgrade some of their antiquated and fragile drinking water mains is the underlying reason that the citywide expansion of the high-pressure hydrants cannot be completed before mid-century. 

The SFPUC needs to slowly divert the earthquake bond funds from their originally announced purpose to fit their own agenda. Depending entirely on periodic capital bond funding, and relegating the citywide build-out to numerous patchwork projects with occasional funding, instead of pursuing one large dedicated funding source for a comprehensive expansion, will surreptitiously facilitate their agenda.  

If the “Big One” hits before the piecemeal drinking water plan is complete sometime after 2050, well … tough luck for those residents living in the western and southern neighborhoods.

“But a complete expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system is going to be expensive and we have so many other important ways to spend our capital bond money ….”

The contention that the expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system must be exclusively financed by capital bonds, on the premise that this is the only way the City can pay for such an expensive endeavor, is absurd. In fact, if 1% of the current city budget were to be allocated to the hydrant expansion project every year for the next 10 years, there would be $1.3 billion available to extend adequate post-earthquake fire protection to the entire city, which should be more than enough money. Can we afford NOT to set aside 1% of the annual City budget for a decade to keep San Francisco from burning down? What will happen to the annual budget, and the tax base, if the City is destroyed by post-earthquake fires?

Moreover, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has money available for just such disaster prevention projects. However, as far as can be determined, the City has made no application to FEMA for grants to expand our high-pressure hydrant system, despite the fact that the Civil Grand Jury has twice called for the expansion, in 2003 and 2019.  

In the June 2021 edition of the Richmond Review, another retired assistant fire chief and I explained how the SFPUC’s current hydrant expansion plan would leave the northern blocks of the Richmond and all of the Sea Cliff neighborhood with insufficient firefighting water after an earthquake.  

In the August 2021 Richmond Review, 67 retired firefighters, including 31 retired SFFD chiefs, further explained the absolute necessity of building a saltwater pump station at the northern end of Ocean Beach to adequately supply water to an expanded high-pressure hydrant system in our neighborhoods. Their conclusion: Without this seawater pump station to provide unlimited amounts of water to the northwestern quadrant of the City, major portions of the Richmond and Sea Cliff will be destroyed by post-earthquake fires after the next major Bay Area earthquake.

From about 2013 to the present, engineers at the Water Department have made it plain to anyone interested in following the high-pressure hydrant expansion story that two considerations were guiding their agenda:  

1. They didn’t want to expand the existing high-pressure hydrant system (AWSS) using the City’s readily available inexhaustible supply of salt water; and 

2. They intend to use the voter-approved earthquake bond money to build reinforced drinking water mains instead. This, no doubt, reflects the deferred maintenance on the 1,200 miles of fragile drinking water mains for which they are responsible.  

Meanwhile, the SFPUC has been telling the public and the Board of Supervisors that using the drinking water in our city reservoirs to put out post-earthquake fires will be adequate. 

Some facts that the 

SFPUC is reluctant to disclose

The California State Water Code Section 73503 specifies that the water in San Francisco’s three-terminal reservoirs (Sunset, Merced Manor and University Mound) is jointly owned by the City and 27 “wholesale water customers” (cities on the Peninsula) and that, when a regional disaster (such as an earthquake) occurs, the City is legally obligated to share this water “equitably” with the Peninsula cities.  

As stated in the Aug. 12, 2003 minutes of the SFPUC by the general manager of the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), of the 327 million gallons in the three-terminal reservoirs (which is 79% of the water in all of San Francisco’s municipal reservoirs) only 1/3 actually belongs to San Francisco.  

Statements from these same minutes, by both SFPUC staff and commissioners, confirm that, due to the mandate of the State Water Code, after a major earthquake the City could have as little as 86 million gallons (less than a one day supply) remaining in its reservoirs, due to the requirement of back-flowing jointly owned water down to the Peninsula cities. An earlier Civil Grand Jury report (2003) cited these same alarming limitations and called for a citywide expansion of the saltwater high-pressure hydrant system.  

These facts, although known, acknowledged, and recorded in the minutes of the SFPUC 15 years ago, have never been disclosed in any public discussion of their proposals to use our drinking water as a major source of supply for an expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system into the currently unprotected neighborhoods.  

Perhaps finally realizing that some members of the public (not to mention retired SFFD firefighters) have caught on to the “drinking water for post-earthquake firefighting” deception, the SFPUC has now decided to add badly contaminated Lake Merced water to supply their proposed high-pressure hydrant expansion in the western neighborhoods. 

Missing from their plan, however, is any rational explanation as to how they will decontaminate the pipes that would normally carry drinking water to the neighborhoods during the days immediately after the firestorms have been defeated. A decontamination process will be time-consuming if it can be accomplished at all in the immediate aftermath of a major earthquake. 

The SFPUC also plans to send Daly City street stormwater runoff into Lake Merced to raise the lake level. To use the same pipes for the severely polluted Lake Merced water for firefighting that the public will soon thereafter have to depend on for water for drinking and sanitation needs, is a recipe for a public health emergency on a vast scale.  

This is not to say, however, that both Lake Merced water and saltwater pumped from the Pacific Ocean can’t be used in the same high-pressure hydrant mains. They certainly can, as long as these mains are entirely separate from any pipes that carry drinking water.

How much water will be needed to fight post-earthquake fires?

Dr. Charles Scawthorn, professor of engineering at Kyoto University and UC Berkeley and the SFPUC’s leading engineering consultant in matters related to water for post-earthquake firefighting, has predicted that there will be as many as 160 simultaneous fires, distributed more or less randomly citywide following a magnitude 7.9 earthquake, the earthquake on which the SFPUC’s hydrant expansion plans are predicated. A magnitude 7.9 earthquake, such as the one that struck San Francisco in 1906, would have about 30 times more destructive power than the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

In the 15 neighborhoods that currently have no high-pressure hydrants, there are approximately 138,000 buildings, the majority of which are of wood-frame construction. In terms of what firefighters call “fuel load,” these neighborhoods are like very dry, densely packed forests, in which, as every Californian knows by now, it is extremely difficult to contain a fire once it starts.  

Based on Dr. Scawthorn’s prediction, it not unreasonable to assume there will be between 40 and 60 simultaneous fires that will spread rapidly in these 15 unprotected western and southern neighborhoods.

Let us assume that the SFPUC will finally adopt a responsible course of action and complete a comprehensive expansion of high-pressure mains and hydrants into these highly vulnerable neighborhoods.

Question: How many gallons of water will be needed to fight between 40 and 60 simultaneous fires in these neighborhoods of wood-frame buildings?

Answer: Although Professor Scawthorn estimates that, for the maximum number of fires anticipated, up to 230,000 gallons per minute will be needed citywide, the total number of gallons that will be needed to fully contain the fires can’t be determined.

Question: Why can’t the total number of gallons needed to contain the fires be determined?

Answer: A multitude of variables are in play when this many fires are burning simultaneously within a city:

• The perhaps 40 to 60 fires estimated for the currently unprotected neighborhoods is only the initial emergency. Due to the limited number of firefighting units available citywide (43 engines and 19 trucks, only half of which might be available in the western and southern neighborhoods), many of these initial, individual fires will not be fought immediately, but will develop into larger fires, encompassing a number of buildings or entire blocks before the SFFD can get to the fire scene.

• The wind conditions at the time of the earthquake will be an important factor in the spread of fires.

• The larger each fire becomes before the SFFD can get to the scene and begin applying water, the more radiant heat will develop, which can lead to buildings on adjacent blocks spontaneously igniting, even in the absence of wind or flying embers.

• Therefore, it must be anticipated that not just a number of individual fires will have to be fought simultaneously, but that a number of conflagrations (firestorms) will have to be fought simultaneously before the post-earthquake fires are brought under control.  

• Thus, it is not possible to verify that a certain number of gallons will be needed for post-earthquake firefighting, but it is possible to say that the inexhaustible (and immediately available) amount of seawater that surrounds San Francisco WILL be adequate, whereas the use of our relatively minuscule supply of drinking water to fight post-earthquake fires would be superfluous by comparison to the volume of the Pacific Ocean.

Weighing in on this point, Dr. Scawthorn stated in his official review of the SFPUC’s plan to use both Lake Merced water and drinking water to fight fires in the western neighborhoods:

“The Pacific Ocean: It was ironic that San Francisco burnt for three days (in 1906) due to lack of firefighting water, when it is surrounded on three sides by the largest body of water on earth. Construction of a West Side Salt Water Pump Station (WSSWPS) would be very beneficial and eliminate the need for using the potable water in Sunset Reservoir, a precious resource particularly following a major earthquake.” – (January 2018) Dr. Charles Scawthorn

Other eminently qualified experts have also sounded the alarm against the use of our drinking water for firefighting in the days immediately following a major earthquake:

“Based on our combined 2,000 years of professional firefighting experience, we must clearly state that the only practical solution for supplying a citywide high-pressure hydrant system, when a multitude of post-earthquake fires must be fought, is to use the inexhaustible supply of saltwater that is readily available on three sides of the City.”  – (August 2021) 67 retired SFFD firefighters, including 31 retired fire chiefs.

“The more hydrants that are opened between the currently planned pump stations and the northern end of the Richmond, the lower the pressure and volume of available water will be to fight fires along Geary Boulevard and California Street. The Sea Cliff neighborhood is the most affected since the SFPUC’s plan would not install even a single high-pressure hydrant anywhere north of California Street, nor would it access the inexhaustible supply of water available at Ocean Beach. 

“There is an obvious remedy for these issues. The existing high-pressure hydrant system in the eastern part of the City is capable of supplying unlimited amounts of saltwater from the bay for firefighting, as it has done reliably since the system was first put into service in 1913. Two northern and eastern waterfront pump stations and three fireboats can provide an enormous amount (88,000 gallons per minute) of saltwater to fight fires, which is exactly what is going to be needed for the western side of the City when the post-earthquake conflagrations start. It is absolutely critical to the survival of the Richmond and Sea Cliff districts that a high-pressure saltwater pump station be built at the north end of Ocean Beach and be incorporated into the high-pressure hydrant and pipeline expansion plan ASAP.”  – (June 2021) Assistant Chief Frank Blackburn, SFFD, retired, whose foresight and planning and was widely credited with having saved the Marina District from destruction by fire following the October 1989 earthquake.

“The AWSS (high-pressure hydrant system) is a proven dedicated firefighting system, which uses the unlimited supply of saltwater that exists on three sides of the City. Because it does so at high pressure, it enables a far more efficient use of the available fire engines during a post-earthquake firefighting situation, when the domestic water mains will not be a dependable source of firefighting water. The failure to extend this dependable system into the presently unserved neighborhoods will make post-earthquake firefighting very nearly impossible in those areas of the City.

“Further, the proposed use of domestic water supplies from reservoirs, without which the citizens of the City cannot survive post-earthquake, is absurd when an unlimited supply of ocean water is so readily available.  That the SFFD administration has agreed to this bizarre fantasy is so irresponsible as to be almost beyond belief to professional firefighters. If the present PUC plan for post-earthquake water supplies for the SFFD goes forward, it is very likely that large sections of the City will be consumed by fire following the next great Bay Area earthquake.” – (April 6, 2016 letter to Supervisor Aaron Peskin) Thomas P. O’Connor, Jr., SFFD Battalion Chief, then-president of San Francisco Firefighters Local 798, International Association of Fire Fighters.

These unequivocal statements by highly qualified professionals, including the SFPUC’s own engineering expert consultant, leave no doubt that the current plan to extend the high-pressure hydrant system without using the inexhaustible supply of seawater that is virtually at the doorstep of the currently unprotected neighborhoods is:  

1. not what the voters were told they would get when they approved the three earthquake safety bonds; and 

2. not going to save the western and southern residential neighborhoods from destruction by post-earthquake fires.

How has the SFPUC been able to pull this “sleight of hand” on the voters: attempting to avoid using the unlimited supply of seawater in the expanded high-pressure hydrant system, and insisting on the use of our limited supply of drinking water instead?

To answer this question, it is helpful to know who decides how the Earthquake Safety bond money is spent. In April of 2018, this question was asked of John Scarpulla, who is the SFPUC’s spokesman for “Policy and Government Affairs.”  Here is his answer from an email to a resident of the Sunset:

“All decisions made regarding how to spend money on AWSS (high-pressure hydrant) projects are made by the Management Oversight Committee (MOC), which consists of:  

• Harlan Kelly (SFPUC General Manager);

• Mohammed Nuru (Director of S. F.  Public Works Dept.);

• Chief Hayes-White; (SFFD Chief);

• Steve Ritchie [SFPUC Water Dept. Asst. General Manager).

The Management Oversight Committee is an ad hoc committee, called on an as-needed basis by one of the members. There is no set location. Regular agendas and minutes are not a part of the process of this ad hoc committee. It will be disbanded once it is agreed upon by all members that it has completed the work it set out to do. Additionally, they are not bound by the rules of other committees and commissions, including public noticing.” (Emphasis added).

How was this decision-making process established?  When the first earthquake bond was passed in 2010, the person in charge of the Capital Planning Committee (the city administrator) apparently determined that the above-named people, without having any official approval from the Board of Supervisors, with no published agendas, no public meetings, no public records being kept, and with no public input whatsoever, would be allowed to determine how hundreds of millions of dollars of funds authorized by the voters for the expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system were to be spent. Note that the Capital Planning Committee (on which both Harlan Kelly and Mohammed Nuru sat) reviews and submits the City’s Capital Plan, the Capital Budget and issuances of long-term debt for approval to the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, based on the MOC recommendations.

The Richmond and Sea Cliff 

have been “MOC-ed”

Let’s review how each of the members of the MOC might be persuaded to subvert the public good in deciding what form the expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system would take:

Harlan Kelly – general manager of the SFPUC (and therefore the Water Department) and long-time friend of the mayor;

Mohammed Nuru – director of the Department of Public Works, and a very close long-time friend of the mayor and of Harlan and Naomi Kelly;

Joanne Hayes-White – chief of the SFFD who served at the pleasure of the mayor, and who didn’t yet qualify for a full pension when the MOC was deciding to use drinking water instead of seawater in the expanded high-pressure hydrant system;

Steve Ritchie – assistant general manager of the Water Department, whose job (and pension) is dependent on pleasing his SFPUC superiors.

Can you say “conflict of interest?”

And who was the chair of the Capital Planning Committee at the time?  It was none other than City Administrator Naomi Kelly, wife of General Manager Harlan Kelly of the SFPUC.

Needless to say, there are very few San Francisco residents at the present time who are unaware of the indictments brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for bribery and related felonies that have resulted in the resignations of Mohammed Nuru and both Harlan and Naomi Kelly, all of whom are long-time friends of Mayor Breed and former Mayor Willie Brown. It is instructive to note that an interview with former Mayor Brown, conducted by Examiner reporter and columnist Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez was published on Dec. 7, 2020, during which the following was recorded:  

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez: “You’ve known these people – Nuru, Harlan, and Naomi, in particular – for years.  Are these allegations a surprise to you? Are the reactions from the public a surprise to you?”

Willie Brown:  “I don’t understand what the object (of people’s ire) happens to be, frankly, because the kind of thing they’re talking about, and the kind of thing they’re doing, doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of implications for the operation of city government. It’s not like someone built a bridge and used inferior products to build the bridge, and therefore risked the lives of lots of people. Or built a rail line and built equipment that risked the lives of people .…”  (Emphasis added).

To these examples of really critical, life-safety sensitive projects, one must add the infrastructure (the high-pressure hydrant system) intended to keep the City from burning down following a major earthquake.

In light of what’s at stake in the expansion of the high-pressure hydrant system into the currently unprotected neighborhoods – the preservation of lives and property (which is the primary mission of the SFFD, incidentally) – could former Mayor Brown’s statement be more ironic?

Passing off as harmless the hubris of public officials taking bribes in the form of trips to China, as the Kellys allegedly did, or shaking down city contractors for contributions to non-profit entities in return for the granting of contracts, as Nuru may have, or allowing a subordinate (Nuru) to pay for repairs to a personal vehicle, as Mayor Breed did, is indicative of the arrogance that permeates San Francisco city government.  

Moreover, what does it say about the willingness of those in positions of public trust to assume that they are so superior to the members of the general public in terms of intellect, talent or expertise that they are therefore free to bend the rule of law, ignore the will of the public (who pass capital bonds and pay the taxes to support the bonds), and put the long-term public safety at risk, to suit their own agenda?  

The assumption in both cases – accepting bribes, on the one hand, and attempting to delude the public as to the efficacy of using drinking water to fight post-earthquake fires, on the other – is that either nobody will notice, or nobody will care enough to call them to account for their violation of the public trust. Clearly, this assumption is wrong on both counts.

Thus, the “Management Oversight Committee,” a small, select group of appointed bureaucrats, several of whom are now in public disgrace for having committed lesser transgressions, has attempted to deceive the public in a manner that will, according to firefighting experts, put much of the Sunset and the Richmond, and all of Sea Cliff, as well as 13 other western and southern San Francisco neighborhoods, in permanent and mortal danger of destruction by post-earthquake fires.  

By insisting that the use of our insufficient supply of drinking water will be adequate to fight post-earthquake firestorms in these neighborhoods, or that contaminated Lake Merced water, having been inserted into drinking water mains, will not harm those residents who will be dependent on having uncontaminated water in the aftermath of the earthquake, the self-anointed members of the “Management Oversight Committee” have clearly demonstrated their contempt for the residents of the unprotected neighborhoods. This is underscored by the fact that they have apparently never bothered to consider how difficult it might be to decontaminate fouled drinking water mains in the immediate aftermath of a major earthquake.

Willie Brown is right about one thing. The corruption that led Mohammed Nuru, and Harlan and Naomi Kelly to resign, although criminal, is small-time compared to the massive deception they intend to put over on the public in regard to the high-pressure hydrant expansion. Unfortunately, even though they are gone from public life, their corruption lives on in the inadequate hydrant expansion plan the SFPUC still intends to force on the public.

The SFPUC is scheduled to present its next report on the high-pressure hydrant system expansion plan to the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Nov. 18, 2021. District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan (Richmond District) sits on this three-member committee.

What must Richmond, Sea Cliff and Sunset residents do immediately to defeat the SFPUC’s disastrous post-earthquake “drinking water for firefighting” deception?

Here is the message that we Richmond and Sea Cliff residents must personally deliver to the mayor and to our representatives on the Board of Supervisors:

1. The SFPUC must be stopped from using drinking water in the expanded high-pressure hydrant system in our neighborhoods;

2. The City’s supply of drinking water will NOT be adequate to fight post-earthquake fires. The expanded high-pressure hydrant system in the western and southern neighborhoods MUST have an inexhaustible source of water – the Pacific Ocean – just as the existing hydrant system on the eastern side of the City has;

3. A high-pressure seawater pump station MUST be built at the north end of Ocean Beach in order to connect to and provide an adequate water supply for high-pressure hydrants in the northern Richmond and Sea Cliff, and the expansion plan MUST include hydrants in Sea Cliff, which is NOT part of the present plan;

4. When the next big earthquake strikes the Bay Area, our drinking water must not be used to fight fires, but instead must be kept safely in the municipal reservoirs for drinking and sanitation needs after the shaking stops and the fires are put out. 

At present, the responsibility for lack of water to fight post-earthquake fires lies with the SFPUC; if we Richmond and Sea Cliff residents fail to take action now against the SFPUC’s disastrous plan to use drinking water instead of seawater to fight post-earthquake fires, we will have taken the responsibility for the eventual destruction of our neighborhoods upon ourselves. We must make our voices heard, and we must do so immediately.

Here are actions you can take today:

1. No matter what neighborhood you live in, call and email the mayor.at (415) 554-6141 (voice); (415) 554-6160 (fax); mayorlondonbreed@sfgov.org; 

2. If you live in the Richmond, call and email Supervisor Connie Chan at (415) 554-7410 (voice); (415) 554-5163 (fax); Chanstaff@sfgov.org;

3. If you live Sea Cliff, call and email Supervisor Catherine Stefani at  (415) 554-7752 (voice); (415) 554-7843 (fax); Catherine.Stefani@sfgov.org; 

4. If you live in the Sunset, call and email Supervisor Gordon Mar at (415) 554-7460 (voice); (415) 554-7432 (fax); Gordon.Mar@sfgov.org. 

San Francisco in flames after the 1906 earthquake. Much of the City was destroyed because of inadequate firefighting water supplies. Will we allow that to happen again as the SFPUC ignores the fact that an abundant source of water for firefighting – the largest body of water on earth – surrounds the City? Courtesy photo of a painting by W. A. Coulter.


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