Restore Hetch Hetchy conjures corporate boogiemen

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Hetch Hetchy Valley, it's beautiful, except for all that water, apparently.

The campaign for a ballot measure that seeks to create a plan for tearing down the O'Shaughnessy Dam – San Francisco's main source of clean water and power – and turning the Hetch Hetchy Valley into a tourist destination must be having a hard time collecting the 9,702 signatures it needs by July 9 because it is resorting to conjuring up unlikely boogiemen to win public sympathy.

Restore Hetch Hetchy just sent out a press release accusing opponents of the measure of preparing a “tobacco industry-style negative ad blitz” funded by venture capitalist Ron Conway and other corporate evildoers.

“Just like the tobacco industry’s big money confused so many people into opposing the Prop. 29 tobacco tax they initially supported, now we’re seeing corporate money flowing like a dirty river right into the coffers of what promises to be yet another nasty negative campaign,” said Mike Marshall, campaign director for the Yosemite Restoration Campaign, which his Restore Hetch Hetchy group is sponsoring.

It cites a statement made by the Bay Area Council – which they helpfully remind us includes “PG&E, Chevron, and Mitt Romney’s former company Bain & Co.” – that Conway has pledged $25,000 to the opposition campaign.

Where do I even begin to unravel this ridiculously hyperbolic and misleading appeal? Let's start with the fact this has nothing to do with Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Capitalists, or Big Utilities. It isn't corporations that are standing in the way of spending billions of dollars to tear down the dam and replace the lost power and water – it is just about every elected official in the region, from across the political spectrum, and any San Franciscan who has at least as much reason and sentimentality. As for PG&E, I'm sure the utility would just love to see San Francisco's main source of electricity torn down, which would only expand its monopolistic control of our energy system.

Frankly, the misleading release reeks of desperation, and when I asked campaign consultant Jon Golinger whether the campaign is in trouble, he responded, “We are certainly quite clear this is a David versus Goliath situation, or whatever analogy you want to make.”

Okay, how about a Fantasy versus Reality situation? Or a Past versus Present situation? Or San Franciscans versus Dan Lungren, the right wing member of Congress who has been pushing to remove the dam supposedly because he loves Yosemite Valley so much and wants to create another one (or, more likely, because he wants to tweak the San Francisco liberals and get us fighting among ourselves over something pointless and distracting).

I'm sorry, but I just can't get my head around the appeal of this idea, which the Sacramento Bee editorial writers actually won a Pulitzer Prize for conjuring up in 2004, certainly another sign of the modern decline in journalism standards. I get that legendary conservationist John Muir was right and this dam probably shouldn't have been built, and that it might be kinda cool to have another beautiful valley to hike in once the sludge dries up over a few decades.

But when we can't even find adequate funding for public transit, renewable energy sources, and the multitude of other things that really would help the environment – not to mention while we're heading into an era when water supplies in the Sierras could be depleted by climate change – do we really want to spend billions of dollars to fetishize one valley and destroy the engineering marvel that is one of the best and most energy-efficient sources of urban water in the country?

Or am I just shilling for Big Tobacco and Mitt Romney because that's how I see it?