Editorial: Getting the mule’s attention

If the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was following that old-folk advice about training a mule — “First you hit it over the head with a 2-by-4 to get its attention” — then its threat to sue Daly City over delays in fixing the recurrent city line flooding probably succeeded.

So now it is time for both city governments to meet and hammer out a realistic and practical program to double the drainage capacity of the Vista Grande basin. Daly City stormwater overflows at the San Francisco city line during particularly heavy winter rains every few years.

The last major flood damage was in 2004, shutting down John Muir Drive and polluting Lake Merced with toxins such as E. coli, as well as causing water damage to dozens of homes and businesses in both cities. Incensed over millions of dollars in prior cleanup costs covering more than 30 years, the Utilities Commission is demanding that Daly City meet a Dec. 1 deadline for agreeing on a construction timetable to remedy the drainage problems.

“The last time we thought we came to an agreement was two years ago and no progress has been made since,” SFPUC spokesman Tony Winnicker said. He did add that litigation is not in anyone’s best interest and the SFPUC prefers to work with Daly City in a good faith effort that achieves real progress toward funding a specific plan with a specific timetable.

At this writing, Daly City had not yet issued an official response to the SFPUC ultimatum. However, Daly City Director of Water and Wastewater Resources Patrick Sweetland told The Examiner that nearly $4 million has already been budgeted for flood-related construction near Vista Grande over the next three years.

The city plans to go out to bid within two months on engineering research to determine the best of three proposals that would add more drainage capacity to the area, with total improvement costs estimated to reach as much as $165 million, Sweetland said.

As we all know, construction deadlines tend to slip and bureaucracies have a universal tendency to delay taking action on problems not seen as immediately pressing. So it is probably a good thing that San Francisco took out a two-by-four. But having gotten Daly City’s attention, it is time for the posturing to end.

These two neighbors should now get started on serious negotiations to produce an acceptably realistic construction and budgeting timeline by the end of the year.

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