The battle over the November ballot measure aimed at restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley to its natural state is so charged that a spirited fight has erupted over wording selected by the Department of Elections to describe it to voters.
The war of words occurred at The City’s Ballot Simplification Committee, which is charged with summarizing ballot measures in voter information pamphlets.
The campaign for the Water Sustainability and Environmental Restoration Planning Act said the committee’s wording is way off. It plans to file a lawsuit asking a Superior Court judge to force some edits.
Mike Marshall, director of Restore Hetch Hetchy and head of the measure’s campaign, said he wants the debate to be based on facts.
“Let’s not stack the cards against it,” Marshall said.
There is a united front of elected city officials opposing the measure, which Mayor Ed Lee has lambasted as a “stupid” and “insane” idea. It could lead to closure of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a source of drinking water and clean energy.
The five-member committee took final action Tuesday, giving Marshall 10 days to file a lawsuit, which he said he plans to do.
“The BSC, at the specific and direct request of political opponents of the measure, rewrote the digest to include the phrase ‘drain Hetch Hetchy’ four times,” said an Aug. 3 letter to the committee. “We believe these changes create a political bias against the measure, do not accurately reflect the language of the initiative, and mislead voters.”
The letter said that “‘draining’ a reservoir and ‘restoring’ a valley are fundamentally different.”
The letter also said the description leaves the wrong impression on voters.
The measure would require The City to spend up to $8 million on a study, to be completed by 2015, about shutting down the reservoir.
In a letter to the committee, Kevin Heneghan, an attorney for the Save Hetch Hetchy campaign, which is opposing the measure, called the requested changes “Orwellian language” and “euphemistic language,” and specifically supported the use of “drain” since it “clearly conveys the purpose of the initiative.”