Disputed Hetch Hetchy ballot language remains unchanged

S.F. Examiner File PhotoReservoir vote: Proposition F will ask voters to authorize an $8 million study on draining and replacing Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Proponents of a November ballot measure to study the overhaul of San Francisco’s water supply remained unsatisfied Tuesday morning when a Superior Court judge declined to alter the proposition’s wording.

Proposition F supporters want voters to approve an $8 million study of how Yosemite National Park’s dammed and flooded Hetch Hetchy Valley could be drained and restored to its former state, and replaced with alternative sources of water and hydroelectric power. But the proponents didn’t like how the Elections Department and the City Attorney’s Office simplified the issue for voters, so they sued last month to have the language changed.

Yet the ballot question remains: “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?”

Attorneys for Restore Hetch Hetchy argued in court that the ballot language could confuse the electorate into thinking they are voting on immediate draining of the reservoir, rather than a mere study of how to conduct such a task. Proponents also questioned the sequence of the ballot question’s phrasing, which they argue would lead voters to believe that the water and power source would be eliminated before alternatives are identified.

But Tuesday, Judge Harold E. Kahn issued a written opinion saying it’s not the court’s place to usurp the city attorney’s discretion on the wording unless there is “clear and convincing proof” the ballot material is “false, misleading, biased or otherwise not in compliance with the Election Code.”

While Kahn said it would be better to clarify that the issue before voters is just a study, he said it would be inappropriate to intervene.

“While I believe that inclusion of such language would add both clarity and completeness and can be done in a way that does not significantly increase the number of words, the absence of such language does not make the City Attorney’s formulation misleading, inaccurate or partial to one side,” Kahn wrote.

November’s ballot action is just the latest part of a century-old fight over the reservoir, which was created in 1915 to shore up water resources following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. City officials generally oppose the ballot measure, which Mayor Ed Lee has called “stupid.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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