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From the Friends of Lake Merced community forum (www.lakemerced.org):

December 15, 1999

I read the article in the Chronicle on Dec. 15th and in basic terms I’m glad to see SOMETHING being done at the lake.  But I’m concerned just what!

I see commissions being formed, I see reports being done, I see task forces forming and with all that money being spent on staffs, cars, meetings, trips to study lakes in faraway places, lodging at these places, and so, and so on..........

But the basic question remains for me:  "Where is the water going to come from to refill and maintain the lake's original level?"

I’m glad to see new toilets in the offing and paving of parking lots, but isn’t that what property taxes are supposed to pay for in the first place?  My fear is this noble effort will turn into another Sierra Club/City of S.F. love fest and bureaucracy.  And some how the elementary task of re-filling the lake will be lost in the shuffle.

I hope I’m wrong.

— Karl........................

Part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Another memo from the Friends of Lake Merced community forum:

October 30, 1999

Again I have read Mabel Teng's letter and after weeks of contemplating her words, I do not consider them anything but political rhetoric. The words are typical San Francisco rhetoric at that, seemingly full of innovation and honesty, and yet clearly just politically postured words.  You are kind to treat the letter with diplomacy.

Just Friday I went to look at Lake Merced with an open mind, trying to be a person who just happened upon it without knowing its history.   I saw two huge round, ugly aqua pipes at one end of a very small green puddle, a puddle ringed with brown.  I see this juxtaposed against a memory of the day before's visit to the artificial lakes of Golden Gate Park, full to the brim, and sparkling with attention.

Overhead Friday was a helicopter, the kind that I rode over the Florida Everglades in with a developer 3O years ago.  Houses now abound in that Central Florida swamp where water once sheltered fragile animals and plants. Was that public land?  Yes, it was.

The PUC’s most recent publication informs the public that Lake Merced is now being taken care of by the mighty PUC, which claims concern for this valuable public water source.  The PUC's publication did not say that it has argued with the Friends of Lake Merced for years, claiming that the lake at best would provide four days of water for the city of San Francisco at current use levels, nor did this newsletter mention the years of effort volunteers such as you have made in putting Lake Merced on anyone's burner, back or front.  In fact, the Friends of Lake Merced was not mentioned!  This is an odd oversight.

Meeting after meeting and concern after concern still do not reflect the neglect that Lake Merced continues to absorb.... birds, please, The PUC credits the Audubon Society, as sincere as its mission is, with keeping the water level low.  As golfers continue to walk on lakewater greens, as gun club members continue to fill the air with noise and the lake with bullets, and as garbage piles up under the shoreline trees, it is not easy to let the PUC give credit to the Audubon Society for the low lake level, even if it is true that the group does wish to protect the birds that have arrived there as the lake fades from its shores.

It is difficult to read the words of either Mabel Tang or the PUC without contempt, and a terrible sigh.

— Meg



District 7: Journey to the west

Thousands years ago, in the southwestern reaches of the great beach that edges the San Francisco Peninsula, a wall of sand dunes carved out a small lagoon. As time went by, six feeder creeks turned the salt water to fresh, and a small lake was formed. Laguna de Nuestra Señora de la Merced, the Spanish called it. Lake of Our Lady of Mercy.

Today Lake Merced occupies the southwestern corner of the city. Long popular among boaters and anglers, joggers and strollers, it can also be regarded as a symbol of the political climate found in the residential neighborhoods nearby. Both are in trouble.

The lake’s ills are easy to identify, and have been presented to the public by numerous local observers. Examiner outdoors writer Tom Stientstra says, "San Francisco’s Lake Merced was once the nation's best example of how to run a city program for fishing, boating, and outdoor recreation. But now it resembles a disaster area, and a restoration program under way by The City is not addressing the sources of the grief." Chronicle reporter Glenn Martin quotes a fisherman named Steven Budovlya: "Look at that water — it's just terrible, all green and cloudy. You can fish here all day and not get a bite." "Lake Merced is basically dying," says Dee Dee Workman, executive director of San Francisco Beautiful. The water level has dropped from a depth of more than 25 feet in the 1980s to about 19 today, leading to lower water temperatures and decreased oxygen content. Algae love the semi-tropical aquarium; trout hate it, and it hates them.

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In many circles, Lake Merced gets as much lip service as Mom and apple pie. Everyone agrees it should be fixed. But no one in a position to do anything about it, does. "One of the major obstacles to getting the lake restored," explains Workman, "is the fact that there are a million different jurisdictions over the lake, with very little communication between them." And until recently, no one had enough political clout or determination to form a bridge. Finally this summer, after six years of labor by the Friends of Merced, a group of more than 35 public, environmental, and grass-roots organizations have formed the Lake Merced Task Force. Do the Friends believe salvation is at hand? Not if past experience is a valid indicator: "We've put together a brief review of the many promises made, and reached the conclusion that by and large we all just wasted our time."

If District 7 ever gets around to cross-stitching a sampler to hang on its figurative wall, that statement will serve as its motto. Residents repeatedly reveal their frustration at what they perceive as a lack of attention from City Hall. When Leland Yee took his annual budget show on the road last spring to palpate neighborhood pulses, he heard the same refrain. City services don’t extend to the parts of the city west of Twin Peaks. Yes, there is little visible poverty on the streets out west, but road surfaces there are pocked; public transit is unreliable; parks are wastelands; the schools are a disgrace. It’s a relatively wealthy area — the median income of $48,582 is more than 15 percent higher than the citywide equivalent. It’s a high property-tax area — 62 percent of the residents own their homes, compared to 35 percent citywide. Looking around their neighborhoods, they wonder where the money went.

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District 7 covers a vast area: David Binder divides it into six neighborhoods that extend from Judah to the southern city limit: West of Twin Peaks, West Portal, Mt. Davidson, Sunnyside, St. Francis Wood/Lakeshore, and Lake Merced/Stonestown. Despite progressive pockets in Sunnyside and Lake Merced/Stonestown, voters tend to support conservative candidates and propositions. Despite an Asian population of about 26 percent, likely voters are predominately white. Affluent, educated, and older, residents seem unlikely to take to the streets brandishing picket signs. And no one, to my knowledge, has begun to campaign under the slogan, "No taxation without representation." But they don’t like to be ignored.

District 7 is Mabel Teng’s turf. Self-described as "the first non-incumbent Asian Pacific American elected to the Board in a city-wide election," she’s running on her record. But she’s not overwhelmingly popular in her home district: in 1998, she came in third, after Tom Ammiano and Gavin Newsom.

To be reelected, Teng will have to overcome five challengers of varying talents and temperaments. Harold Hoogasian, owner of Hoogasian Flowers, is a member of the Republican Central Committee. Maryo Mogannam, another retailer, takes the Gavin Newsom approach to government: "Running a city can be like running a small business." Elbert "Bud" Wilson describes himself as a "neighborhood leader [who has been] working for the neighborhoods since 1987."

Rennie O’Brien has posted signs all over the district, in conjunction with his promise to knock on the door of every voter. O’Brien started campaigning early and hard, and much of San Francisco’s image of this race comes from his letters to the Chronicle editor. A native of District 7 and a product of city parochial schools, he works as a chiropractor and divided his time between Hawaii and the mainland for a number of years. His political stance is Democratic in a frequently Republican area; much of his political activism focuses on the environment or the problems of low-income people.

And then there’s Tony Hall. Hall made news late this summer when the Chronicle announced that he had raised nearly as much money as Mabel Teng. The West of Twin Peaks Observer describes him as a "bandleader and court administrator" with, the Chronicle adds, "strong ties to the city's old-line legal establishment," presumably the source of much of his campaign funding. (Hall himself augmented the happy gigolo image by joking to the press, "A lot of judge’s wives have given me money.")

But he’s also determined to win. Running as a "pro-family, pro-property-owner independent," he has challenged Teng to stay under the $75,000 spending cap, but he refuses to let noble spending principles deprive him of victory. When asked about Ethics Commission reports of expenditures in the thousands to political consultant Terry Price, he notes that "Teng has all the money in the world and can hire many consultants with expertise in many areas."

A 25-year city executive, Hall characterizes himself as the only challenger with actual experience in San Francisco government. He characterizes Teng as a "rubber stamp who has shown no leadership and is the product of special interests" and adds that his own appeal is to the "vested people" who have lived in the district for many years. He speaks repeatedly of tending to the issues that are important to the people in his district.

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At times the rhetoric that surrounds the campaign in District 7 resembles a Hibernian argument at one of Rennie O’Brien’s beloved rugby matches. But even the name-calling rests on a very real anger — from all stripes of the political spectrum — at years of neglect.