Ballot language describing November’s Proposition F confusingly suggests the measure would mean swift removal of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, attorneys for an environmental group argued Tuesday.
Restore Hetch Hetchy’s lawyers noted that their proposal merely asks city voters to spend $8 million to study how San Francisco could replace the water and power supplied by the reservoir. Any decision to remove the reservoir’s O’Shaughnessy Dam would require another vote, possibly in 2016.
Nearly every aspect of the 35-word summary was debated in San Francisco Superior Court, where measure supporters said The City’s Elections Department improperly synopsized the issue. Judge Harold Kahn is now set to rule on the wording’s nuances.
If he approves the current phrasing, it will ask voters, “Shall The City prepare a two-phase plan that evaluates how to drain the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir so that it can be restored by the National Park Service and identifies replacement water and power resources?”
Restore Hetch Hetchy lawyers also critiqued the phrasing sequence, which they say would confuse voters into thinking the reservoir would be drained before water and power alternatives were identified.
But Deputy City Attorney Mollie Lee said the reference to a “plan” makes it clear enough that the actual draining is not before voters in this election. Lee also objected to alternative wording proposed by Kahn before the hearing: “Shall the city prepare a two-phase plan, whose implementation can occur only after voter approval, which provides 1) establishment of a sustainable water system and 2) drainage of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir?”
Lee took issue with the word “sustainable” because it might suggest the current water system is unsustainable. Prop. F proponents welcomed that wording.
Tuesday’s back-and-forth was just the latest part of a century-old fight over the damming of the reservoir, which was adamantly opposed by the Sierra Club and its founder, John Muir. San Francisco leaders have taken note of The City’s environmentally conscious voting tendencies by touting the reservoir’s exceptional water quality and ability to generate clean hydropower.
City leaders have largely opposed the measure, which Mayor Ed Lee has used uncharacteristically strong language to describe as “stupid” and “idiotic.”