(‘Up the creeks’ ladies 40 year journey)
By h. Brown
April 27, 2010
When Bonnie Ora Sherk began her journey to ‘daylight’ the Islais Creek, Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States and Joe Alioto had just become Mayor of San Francisco. The Governor of California was Ronald Reagan who, in recommending the clear cutting of California redwoods, famously stated: “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all.”
Islais and pretty much every other San Francisco creek had already been buried under concrete and dirt for over 100 years. It was not a time when politicians were focused on preserving natural resources. Rescuing natural San Francisco creeks and springs from being mixed with sewage, got little or no consideration at all.
Fast forward to 2010…
Fog City Journal’s one man army Luke Thomas and I, made our way over to City Hall yesterday to cover a meeting between top Mayor Gavin Newsom Department Head, Mike Farrah (Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services), the never-say-die Sherk, and her co-horts of many year’s now, Carole Schemmerling and Jennifer Clary. The proponent goal was the same as it has been since the days of Reagan. That being, to convince those in power to force the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to make a few minor modifications in massive construction plans. Modifications that would rescue at least portions of several primeval San Francisco creeks from being mixed with sewage. I told the ladies afterward that I thought the meeting went well. Sometimes I lie to save folks feelings.
I’d brokered a half dozen or so of these get-togethers progressing further and further up the food chain of political clout and power. Without seeing a light suddenly go on above the heads of those who really can give San Franciscans open creeks in the Mission and the Marina and Bernal Heights and Mount Sutro and the Marina and at the foot of St. Mary’s Park and along the edge of the Allemany Farmers Market.
Supes Sean Elsbernd and David Campos hosted personal meetings for the trio’s presentations with Campos scheduling a Board committee hearing on May 10th and Elsbernd arranging a meeting with pertinent SFPUC staffers. The Chronicle’s Marshal Kilduff and John Diaz heard them out for over an hour and published an op ed from the Creekers later the same week. The Associated Press did a lengthly piece that ran from Europe to the U.S. East coast to Sacramento and numerous other places (but not in San Francisco?). Prominent SFStreetsBlog is running a 3 part series on the subject.
So, why am I pessimistic?
If Mayor Gavin Newsom doesn’t buy into the idea (next to Gay Marriage, it would be his longest lasting and most visible legacy) … Gavin don’t buy it and their goose is cooked. For at least another hundred years and resilient as they are, I doubt they’ll be around to see a pretty little creek flowing alongside Cesar Chavez Blvd.
And time is running short for this Mayor to make this happen. Face it people, Gavin’s gonna be the California Lieutenant Governor this time next year and if he doesn’t choose to order the change orders (very minor and inexpensive to a massive 4.6 billion dollar project) … it ain’t gonna happen.
I hope I’m wrong. Unfortunately, my usually dire prognostications generally turn out to be too optimistic. Anyway, the next step for this 40-plus-year campaign is preparing for their Board hearing which they’re doing as we speak and signing up to present to the Mayor at his next available Public Audience session which they’re coordinating with Farrah and I don’t know when that will be.
Odds and ends and odd ends
Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope. Sarah Palin keeps crib sheets on the palms of her hands. I did the notes for the above meeting on the back of a TNDC flyer announcing that the Pest Control Service would be coming in today for their weekly critter control visit. So friggin’ what does this have to do with anything? Just that Mike Farrah keeps the best notes of a meeting of anyone I’ve seen in my life.
Seriously, he works off of what I assume to be an I-Phone and it’s like watching ‘Fun Two’ pluck a guitar. He quickly entered every pertinent name and location and project and connected them with what must be the City’s most complete computer roledex (he’s been with Gavin a long long time and knows absolutely everyone). He punched in dates without hesitation and never lost track of a single word uttered by participants. He left with links to studies and events and schedules for future meetings. And, he didn’t raise a pencil or a pen nor touch a single piece of paper. He arrived jovial and accommodating and in continual motion and he incorporated the combined 100 plus years of the ‘Open Creek’ task force into what must be hundreds of other items and moved it all forward effortlessly. Kudos to Farrah and to the Mayor for keeping this motorized aide alongside for so many years.