With a governing document called a Memorandum of Understanding from 1950 that is in need of revision, the future of San Francisco's Lake Merced is in need of not only maintenance but leadership.
On September 9 the members of the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) met at City Hall to discuss the need for better care for Lake Merced. Part of the conflict is that San Francisco's Recreation & Parks Department has been overseeing the leases and vendors of the recreation aspects of the lake. But the overriding authority is the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. As an governing entity the SF PUC ensures that the lake is protected and cared for as a freshwater resource. Many in the local community see this arrangement with Rec. & Parks as "business as usual."
Dozens gathered for a community meeting at the Lake Merced Harding Park earlier this summer on July 19, many expressed skepticism that the continued arrangement with SF Rec. & Parks would be beneficial to the Lake's overall maintenance.The members at the PROSAC meeting on Sept. 9, echoed much the same. They too were dissatisfied with the draft of the Memorandum of Understanding which has yet to be officially revised and updated.
"This draft is a bit anecdotal, permissive, rather toothless," as far as Rec. & Parks Dept. is concerned said one PROSAC committee member at the meeting. Others chimed in agreement, "yeah where is the teeth in this MOU?" As it is now the Rec. & Parks Dept. manages all the vendor and rental spots along the lake. That includes fishing, boating, as well as food sales, etc. The City of San Francisco owns Lake Merced but has given jurisdiction to the SF PUC. The overall surface of the lake itself is over 300 acres. But the lake and all the land surrounding it averages to over 600 acres.
Residents of the Lake Merced area which includes Stonestown, Parkmerced, and Westlake areas adjacent to neighboring San Mateo County all complain that care for the lake's recreational venues has been in decline for years. The members of the PROSAC meeting for that Tuesday evening expressed similar doubts about the competency of the Rec. & Park Dept. to continue in the recreational, leading and vendor management role of the Lake's facilities and overall care. Rec. & Park would be the one to attend to the trees, shrubs, flowers, grass, and so on.
The SF PUC has absolute authority over the lake and looks after its environmental aspects such as water levels, toxicity reports, wildlife habitat, etc. Yet, the SF PUC continues this long-term relationship with SF Rec. & Park. Perhaps the question is why?
Long-time community advocate for the lake Jerry Cadagan has been very outspoken about Lake Merced's decline over the years. He was among the first to form a group over 15 years ago, seeking to improve the care the 600 acre watershed receives. But he is disappointed that not much has changed for the Lake. Cadagan was not able to attend the PROSAC meeting (yes, that is the acronym for the advisory committee, sounds just like the drug), and sent a two page letter in his place to be handed out.
In that letter he points to six items of concern, mostly the reiterate what most people have been saying, the lake needs better care and Rec. & Parks Dept. is not the one to handle it anymore.
Fortunately for Lake Merced and SF PUC, Steve Ritchie who serves as Assistant General Manager of Water Enterprises for the SF PUC is respected and well liked. As this reporter has observed on several occasions, at meetings and other gatherings, even Ritchie's opponents respect and admire him. He has said that the SF PUC is not in the business of handling vendors and leases. But as a land manager SF PUC oversees a significant portion of watershed land in more than just San Francisco County.
Yet as some observers have noted to this reporter, Ritchie is "walking a very fine and difficult line" as one person put it, (asking to remain anonymous). Ritchie must negotiate between two very powerful entities in San Francisco which oversee or hold a significant portion of land and resources in one of the United States most popular major cities.
Much of the lack of care according to Rec. & Parks Dept. is the dwindling City budget, which when stretched to meet all the needs of every park and open space in San Francisco is very thin. Some at the PROSAC meeting on Sept. 9 said that Ritchie should petition to find another entity to manage the Lake's recreational and food venues. Perhaps an outside management group as some at the PROSAC meeting suggested.
Ritchie would only say that in terms of a revised MOU and Rec. & Parks Dept. continued role at the Lake, "the SF PUC will be firm with Rec. & Parks when needed," he noted. Yet, many still were not convinced of Ritchie's earnest efforts to revive the "status quo" of an agreement with Rec. & Parks Dept. Regardless of the skepticism at the Sept. 9 PROSAC meeting, Ritchie was resolved to say, "Rec. & Parks Dept. will continue to work with the SF PUC and the community."
In observing some of the details of this meeting a bit further as well as the earlier meeting in July, this reporter recognized the on-going complexity of this unique situation. Lake Merced is open to the public. It is specifically utilized by all the schools in the area, some that actually practice as a rowing team. A gun club which has been at the lake for more than 75 years has a lease with the City. Harding Park Golf Course at Lake Merced since 2004 has been upgraded to PGA status and much has been invested in its renovation.
The fine details and specifics are not simple ones; which as this reporter sees it, goes beyond the rebuilding of a boathouse or the management of venues and vendors. The future environmental life of a natural resource hangs in the balance as various stakeholders claim their special interests over the lake.
When time for public comment was permitted, people like Dick Morton spoke, saying that with the SF PUC's help water levels at the lake have been restored. Morton commended the work. But he said that the "SF PUC should have and exercise full control over the lake." Like many others Morton said that "Rec. & Parks Dept. has been absent" and that "We don't have confidence that Rec. & Park can continue to manage the lake."
Founding member of the Lake Merced Task Force, Dick Allen agreed, saying in his comment that "Lake Merced has become an orphan between two very powerful departments - entities while they have let the lake deteriorate." Despite the lack of confidence in Rec. & Parks, Allen said, "yet we do have confidence in Steve Ritchie."
Nancy Wuerfel, who is a former PROSAC committee member spoke saying, "this struggle has been on-going. And, I don't understand why we as a community don't have a greater respect for Lake Merced as a natural resource." "This watershed, said Wuerfel is a glory for San Francisco. The MOU needs to be revised and all these issues must be resolved," she said. Lake Merced is the largest natural lake and fresh water shed resource in all of San Francisco.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com