Reservoir on idle grounds

It is property with a view of Alcatraz and a structure that has gone unused for 60 years.

In the neighborhood where cable cars run down Hyde Street, residents walk their dogs at the modest Bay Street Park and tourists snap photos of the Bay, there is clamor for change at a Russian Hill site on Francisco street, between Larkin and Hyde streets.

Bruce Keene, president of the Russian Hill Improvement Association, is among a group of vocal neighborhood residents who think the dormant property should be transformed for open-space uses. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission owns the 2.7-acre water reservoir at the Russian Hill property.

Keene said he hopes the PUC will transfer the property to the Recreation and Park Department, which could use the vacant lot for open-space use, ensuring it never falls into the hands of high-rise developers. He said that particular area of Russian Hill has a dearth of park spaces.

“There is clearly a need for open space here,” Keene said. “I think the neighbors have put up with the reservoir because we’ve always feared the alternative.”

Although Rec and Park has little funding for major development projects, Keene said neighborhood groups could raise money to back a transformation at the Francisco Street reservoir.

A coalition of neighborhood organizations is in the midst of developing detailed plans for the reservoir, he said. The other option, he says, is development.

Keene and other residents say they have long-standing suspicions that the PUC will cash in on its prime piece of real estate by declaring the property surplus, allowing them to sell to the highest bidder for commercial development.

Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the PUC, said the department has no immediate plans for the reservoir, despite an ever-circulating swirl of rumors from neighborhood groups.

“If we ever decide to change the use of this property we will certainly include a robust, transparent public review process that will involve all interested parties,” Winnicker said.

Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis said the agency cannot consider any proposals for the reservoir until significant actions occur that would allow the department to enter into long-term planning.

Until any decision is made for the property, however, the aging wooden-roofed reservoir, which has not been used since the 1940s, will continue to sit empty.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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