Boathouse plan ignores needs at lake

There is far more to the Lake Merced boathouse story than The San Francisco Examiner was able to cover in its recent article (“Lake Merced boathouse renovations revealed,” Sept. 5).

Despite the common belief that Lake Merced is a park within the legal jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department, it is not. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission owns Lake Merced, while Rec and Park has very limited management responsibilities for recreational activities because of an outdated agreement the SFPUC made back in 1950.

Between 2007 and 2010, the SFPUC spent $588,464 in ratepayer money having consultants prepare a 188-page “Lake Merced Watershed Report,” which can be found at SFPUC’s website by searching for “Lake Merced.” In dealing with the existing boathouse building, on Page 43 the watershed report suggests that the boathouse should be replaced rather than rehabilitated. The reason given was that there is a real need for more storage space for the boats used by hundreds of high school and adult rowers.

The $2 million renovation proposed by the SFPUC and Rec and Park that was described in The San Francisco Examiner article doesn’t provide a single square inch of additional boat storage space. Page 115 of the watershed report lays out the criteria for replacing and expanding boating-related facilities. Those criteria have been ignored in the current $2 million rehabilitation. In fact, the decision to spend $2 million renovating the existing building was made without any public input, involvement or participation. An advisory committee, including members of the public involved in the preparation of the watershed report, agreed that the old boathouse building needed to be totally replaced. Apparently they don’t count.

The existing boathouse building should have been leveled and possibly replaced by a much smaller building that could house a small  tackle shop for fishermen and a small snack bar. There is no need for a 15,200-square-foot building on the north side of the lake. The need is for more boat storage space and related facilities. A new boathouse and aquatic center should be built on a small portion of the 14-acre site across the lake currently occupied by the Pacific Rod and Gun Club. There is more than enough space for both activities at that site.

The essential problem at Lake Merced has long been, and continues to be, the two-headed management monster mentioned above, with the SFPUC and Rec and Park either getting in each other’s way, or saying that the multitude of problems and deficiencies at the lake are the other agency’s issue. The fact that nobody was really fully in charge goes a long way in explaining why city taxpayers or SFPUC ratepayers may end up picking up the $10 million cleanup bill for pollution at Lake Merced, because neither agency required the gun club to carry the proper type of pollution liability insurance.

The SFPUC should take back full and sole management responsibility and bring on a professional lake or reservoir concessionaire as is done at most recreational lakes and reservoirs in California. Examples in the Bay Area include Lake Chabot and Los Vaqueros Reservoir (both managed by Urban Park Concessionaires) and Del Valle Lake and San Pablo Reservoir (both managed by Rocky Mountain Recreation).

Jerry Cadagan co-founded the Committee to Save Lake Merced in 1993 and has worked continuously on Lake Merced issues as an unpaid volunteer since that time.

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