Restore Hetch Hetchy conjures corporate boogiemen

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?


It's more "Unbelievably, pathologically narcissistic" to assume I want to destroy SF's water and power system.

You obviously know very little of the system. Or the grid.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 16, 2012 @ 9:18 am

This plan is a pro-dams plan (plural). It would require the teardown of one dam and then the building of two or more additional dams downstream - as well as the displacement of communities and recreational usage downstream. You really should just come out and say the truth: this is a pro-dams plan which would replace a clean, reliable source of water with a dirty, unreliable and potentially toxic source of water as well as destroy recreational usage. It would add enormously to CO2 emissions. And all because some people want their weekend hikes to be prettier. It's NIMBYism (tear down the Hetch Hetchy dam and put two or more up somewhere else!) on an unimaginable scale. And worse - it's an entirely wasted effort because both of CA's senators have said they will make sure money for this plan is never allocated from the federal government.

Why don't you spend your time advocating for the removal of dams on the American and Klamath rivers which impede salmon runs? Those dams are useless, benefit no one and have contributed enormously to the decline of salmon and steelhead runs in CA.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

It's more a matter of where those dams are.

Upstream in, say, a world-class national park?

Or in the foothills and closer to the consumers?

Not much point in having national parks if we let narrow interest groups hijack the concept for personal gain.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

City water supplies need to be as far from populated areas as possible in order to reduce the risk of contamination, particularly from agricultural runoff.

Building two dams for every one removed is a terrible idea. Destroying the water supply for 2.4 million people is a terrible idea because people want to look at nice scenery is a terrible idea. This idea is terrible no matter what way you put it. Congress will never agree to it - one of the few things Congress does that I would support.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2012 @ 7:49 pm

By your argument, that's the best solution.

There are plenty of dams and reservoirs near populated area's. Your argument is a crock.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 18, 2012 @ 5:22 am

steve, whatever drugs you are taking that are making you write something that's actually factual and reasonable and well thought out, PLEASE KEEP DOING IT . It is nice to see not everyone is drinking the Kool Aid with this bogus proposal to take out our water and power system.

News flash, hippies: if there was no Hetch Hetchy there never would have been a San Francisco in the first place. Sorry, facts are hard to swallow sometimes. Take your nonsense and leave SF and go back to the suburb you hippies came from.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 1:49 pm

Remember that many of hippies you refer to are against this proposal for the same reasons as Steve: dismantling Hetch Hetchy would run public tap water from San Francisco to Hayward and emit millions of pounds of carbon.

This proposal isn't 'hippie' as much as it's 'fringe'.

Posted by Adrian Covert on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

It's hard to know where to start responding to Mr. Jones. But, let's start with his assertion that "just about every elected official in the region" opposes Hetchy Hetchy Valley restoration. Are these the same elected officials that have approval ratings in the low 20's? How about decent people who aren't elected officials? -- Examples being Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and well regarded philanthropist? How about three former Superintendents of Yosemite National Park – Bob Binnewies, B.J Griffin, and Dave Mihalic? Or four former California Resources Secretarys – Huey Johnson, Mary Nichols, Doug Wheeler and the late Ike Livermore? (Two Democrats and two Republicans). And, of course, there are some elected officials -- State Senator Lois Wolk and Congressman John Garamendi, for example, who have had the courage to publicly support valley restoration.

And, it ought to remembered that there was a time not too long ago when "just about every elected official" opposed integrating the races in our public schools. Elected officials need to be led.

Mr. Jones laments the "decline in journalism standards" while mentioning that the Sacramento Bee's editorial writer Tom Philp won a Pulitzer for his excellent series on the Hetch Hetchy restoration effort. We'll all wait with great anticipation the announcement of an award to Mr. Jones from an organization more prestigious than Pulitzer.

The $10 billion cost figure mentioned in one comment is totally bogus. That is a number submitted to the Dept. of Water Resources by none other than the SF Public Utilities Commission. It later was learned that a senior SFPUC employee acknowledged that it was a "back of the envelope" guesstimate.

Restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley makes sense, and sooner rather than later. There are numerous studies demonstrating that it can happen at a reasonable cost. They can all be found at

And much like the restoration of the Statue of Liberty under President Reagan, much of the cost (realistically between $2 and 3 billion) can be paid for with private donations. In addition, a surcharge on park fees at other National Parks would be a fairly painless way to raise some of the funds to accomplish restoration. And we all know that Congress spills more than $2 or 3 billion every year. No one is saying that SF rate payers or California tax payers should bear the bulk of the financial cost.

Posted by Guest Jerry Cadagan on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

Jerry, maybe you can explain why this makes fiscal or environmental sense, rather than being based on mere sentimentality or the desire to create yet another tourist destination drawing ever-more cars into the Sierras. It isn't even an anti-dam position because you acknowledge the need to build new dams downstream. I read the Bee series and it was all appeals to emotionalism rather than reason. Honestly, I'm trying to keep an open mind, but I have yet to hear an argument for this that makes sense given our current economic, political, and environmental realities. Instead, all I hear from your side are ridiculous parrallels (Did you really compare this issue to the Civil Rights Movement? With a straight face?) and starry-eyed sentimentality.

Posted by steven on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

You dance around a lot of issues because it's difficult for you to address the very serious concerns there are about this plan - like cost, like the increase in carbon emissions and pollution, like removing water from other places to feed San Francisco and other areas. These are terribly inconvenient for you because they illustrate quite clearly what a ridiculous concept this plan is.

I also imagine Thurgood Marshall is turning over in his grave at your comparison of destroying SF's clean water and power supply to the integration of public schools.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

Thank of all the electricity and water that would generate.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 4:10 pm

The only person talking about building new dams is you and the crazed promoters of this absurd proposal. This should be renamed the "Spend $10 billion and build new dams" proposition.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 4:24 pm

spending 10BN to remove an old one.

If money is the only issue, then we should dam Yosemite too.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 15, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

Just because we wouldn't build the O'Shaughnessy dam today doesn't mean we ought to tear it down today.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:47 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

Typical far-left black or white thinking.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

You mean the same Tom Philp who now works as a consultant for LAMWD?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 16, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

we spend 30 billion a yr on foreign aid. What do we honestly get out of that, here we have an annual return 200-300 million into the local economies(based on an additional million visitors, which i see as realistic). It wouldnt be nasty and filled with sediment that would take decades to dry up it would look as it did before the dam within a few yrs(tress would take a bit longer to get to size and the bath tub ring will be here longer than me).but remember how pristine that water is, no filtration needed. unlike the other valley it would be opperated like zion with buses the plans have already been drawn up. no new dams would be needed don pedro could be raised and the difference could be gotten from cherry or any other nearby dam that is not currently being used for a water supply. its gonna happen people drink up

Posted by Guest on Jun. 17, 2012 @ 10:20 pm

those who want to keep the dam is that they're often liberals who would never dream of building one there. It's just they've got this weird idea that the government should be running utilities, and so are ideologically bound to support a dam that has been an environmental tragedy.

Pull the damn dam down now!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 18, 2012 @ 5:28 am

Why is it a weird idea that the government should run utilities? It's done by a couple of big governmental entities right now, with generally better results than the big private ones.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 11:48 am

The idea of nationalizing utilities has vanished from serious discussion outside of SF.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

And governments have fallen after privatizing utilities.

How about you all play capitalism with everything but food, water, housing, utilities, education and health care?

That should leave you plenty of economic sectors to fuck up that are not life essential.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 12:23 pm

When a trend is happening in more than, say, 100 countries you have to ask yourself whether you're on the wrong side of the arc of history.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

And yet SMUD and Los Angeles DWP are doing better than ever.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

I've read the articles, and all of the discussion in the comments, and frankly, I don't know what to think. I'm an environmentalist. I really can't tell if the restoration is a good or a bad thing. One thing seems clear to me: it will be very expensive.

Posted by Dahlia on Jul. 17, 2012 @ 11:39 pm