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Muni destroys park, dumps sewage, wastes millions crossing Islais Creek

by Maurice Barbara George David Erickson (editor [at]
Racism of all kinds in San Francisco
MUNI Destroys Park, Dumps Sewage, Wastes Millions Crossing Islais Creek

by Maurice Campbell, Barbara George and David Erickson

BEFORE: Three years ago, the beautiful Muwekma Ohlone Park and Wildlife Sanctuary on the north bank of Islais Creek was alive with Indian Gumweed, a medicinal flower used by Native Americans, and bevies of other flowers and plants, the last remaining colony of Pacific Chorus Frogs on Islais Creek, great blue herons, snowy egrets, red-tailed hawks and dozens of other bird species, including many rare ones, and flocks of school children, who came to help maintain the park, play on the beach and learn the secrets of this magical habitat.

AFTER: On Thanksgiving Day 2001, most of Muwekma Ohlone Park suddenly turned into bubbling mud when Muni, while trying to run this conduit under the huge sewer main that carries 80 million gallons a day of effluent from the sewage treatment plant into the Bay, cracked the concrete sewer main, flooding the park and adjacent property. Since then, the conduit, which is now filled with six large 115kV electrical cables, has been compressed to an egg shape and flooded, and Muni and PG&E are arguing over a better way to get electricity for the light rail line across Islais Creek.

It is well known that Muni’s Third Street Light Rail project has had a devastating impact on communities in southeast San Francisco. All up and down Third Street, Black businesses have closed because of the endless construction mess — three years and counting — that blocks sidewalks and leaves no room for parking. Muni has not met its minority and women (MBE and WBE) hiring and contracting goals. The only Blacks working on the project most days are flaggers and street sweepers — hardly a career path.

Less well known is the environmental and financial disaster related to the City’s incompetent construction of the electrical conduit for the rail line across Islais Creek, the pretty stream that runs just south of Cesar Chavez Street and divides Bay View Hunters Point from Dogpatch and Potrero. On Thanksgiving 2001, local artists were enjoying their hard-won little Muwekma Ohlone Park next to the bridge across Islais Creek when they noticed sinkholes and sand sprouts appearing all over the park. David Erickson grabbed his camera and photographed the sinkholes gradually getting bigger. Then the asphalt of a parking lot next door started to crack and a bulldozer sitting in it sank through.

What had happened is that the crew installing Muni’s electrical conduit, the pipe that holds and protects electrical lines, had tunneled under the huge “force main” sewer line carrying 80 million gallons a day of secondary sewage effluent from the Southeast sewage treatment plant. The force main runs along the north bank of Islais Creek and empties into the Bay some distance offshore.

Faulty construction of the electrical conduit had undermined and cracked the sewer main, pouring sewage into the creek and extensively damaging the park.

Why is this still an issue, three years later? It turns out the repairs, which further demolished the park, were as shoddy as the original construction, and the sewer main is leaking again. This time the situation is even more serious, as six large 115kV (kilovolt) electrical cables have been loaded into the conduit, which is now compressed to an egg shape and flooded.

Last week Muni delivered the devastating news that what little is left of Muwekma Ohlone Park will be excavated soon to make further repairs to the huge concrete sewer main. “Three years ago, they said the repairs would be complete in a couple of weeks,” recalls park guardian David Erickson. “All of this would never have happened if Muni had not chosen to drill at this location and had used one of the alternate routes currently being discussed.”

Meanwhile, the City is desperately trying to get PG&E to share the cost of rebuilding the conduit once again. PG&E and the City had been discussing a joint project whereby PG&E would run a new “AP-1” transmission line between its Potrero and Hunters Point substations in tandem with Muni’s electrical lines. PG&E claims that this transmission line will speed the closing of its Hunters Point power plant without the need for new power plants in the city. The plan is now delayed.

PG&E’s May 24, 2004, filing at the California Public Utilities Commission describes why PG&E is refusing to have anything to do with the City’s project and plans to route its transmission line around the west end of the creek instead. PG&E’s engineering analysis shows that the underwater crossing of Islais Creek should never have been attempted at all, because the soils in the area are unstable and subject to liquefaction in an earthquake:

“Now, with its reckless demand for time-consuming reconsideration of a routing alternative that months of expert engineering investigation have already shown to be infeasible, albeit financially advantageous for the city, CCSF (the City and County of San Francisco) places both of these important goals at risk,” PG&E’s filing states.

“Further, the underwater conduit is currently flooded that was constructed by CCSF without following basic engineering practices such as backfilling the casing with grout to prevent intrusion of water and was installed atop soils subject to liquefaction and other seismic problems.”

Bermuda Triangle in San Francisco?

by David Erickson

The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary, the only wildlife habitat located on Islais Creek, is truly the Bermuda Triangle of San Francisco. This wildlife sanctuary, officially established 11 years ago by community volunteers in conjunction with the Port of San Francisco and having received $105,000 in federal grants for habitat restoration and environmental education, is now facing final extinction due to a construction disaster created by Muni.

Nearly three years ago, during horizontal drilling under Islais Creek, Muni caused the Department of Public Works’ secondary effluent force main sewage outfall line to collapse, requiring the excavation of nearly 30 percent of the park and loss of the habitat of the Pacific Chorus Frogs. Within the next month, DPW will return to the park for more repairs and essentially destroy what little is left of this thin sliver of habitat on Islais Creek.

The drilling project, costing millions of taxpayers dollars, led by Muni to provide electric transmission lines for PG&E, will now be abandoned, and alternate routes, costing millions more dollars, are under way.

Not understood or known by many is that this location is under public and multiple jurisdictions, which include the Port of San Francisco, the DPW, SF Muni Third Street Light Rail, SF PUC, PG&E, SF Transportation Authority, various other city agencies, and some very important federal permitting agencies, including the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and, to a lesser degree, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

In a nutshell, the hypocrisy and, technically, the illegalities of any destruction or construction at the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary on Islais Creek, located in public jurisdiction, is that there has been no public process or notifications on record.

We request immediate tracking, documentation and publication of any permitting or public process that is associated with this area, the “Bermuda Triangle of San Francisco” and adjacent areas, under the Freedom of Information Act and federal law before the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary on Islais Creek is completely destroyed.

Local residents and the Community First Coalition of Bay View Hunters Point are also asking why the City ever allowed this project to go forward. They have a number of questions for the City:

• A Nov. 17, 2000, U.S. Geological Survey map shows liquefaction zones in San Francisco, including in this area. Why wasn’t this taken into consideration? The map was included in our Prop P implementation plan for cleanup of the Shipyard to residential standards, which was unanimously endorsed by the Board of Supervisors.

• Whose decision was it to build the conduit in this area? Was it Muni? Was it DPW (the Department of Public Works)? Was it SFPUC (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the City’s water and power agency)?

• What other City agencies are involved?

• Where does the San Francisco Department of Environment stand on protecting the environment? We’ve had millions and millions of gallons of secondary effluent going into Islais Creek while the main sewage outflow was being repaired. This violates state and federal laws. What is this doing to plant and fish life, the natural species of the creek, and the people who live and work around there – and go fishing in the creek?

• Did the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) take these impacts into consideration, or were they omitted?

• Where is the state’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? Have they been notified of these violations?

• How is this disaster impacting San Francisco’s budget deficit? This multimillion dollar job is trash. How much is it costing the City – for the faulty engineering design, to digging the trench, to placing the conduit, to repairing the sewer main outfall line, the parking lot and the other areas that were damaged, including the park, and then rebuilding the conduit? What is the total accumulated cost? What is the estimated cost of repairing it all over again?

• If the force main has to be repaired, how long is it going to take? How many gallons more effluent will pour into Islais Creek and what will be the environmental effect on the community?

• Whose budget is this coming out of? Muni’s tubes for the light rail are funded by the County Transportation Authority (CTA), which disburses federal transportation money. Muni is taking money out of the operations budget and putting it into construction, making the unions unhappy. Does that have something to do with finding money for this project?

• What is the estimated cost of building PG&E’s line using an alternate route? If PG&E puts in a separate line — which they and their experts say is necessary – it means that the ratepayers will end up paying for that separately. The people of San Francisco are being double-billed.

• Will the City’s Muni conduit be abandoned?

• PG&E’s consultant, Black & Veatch, did the independent study showing the engineering problems on the Muni’s Islais Creek route. What was the cost of that?

• Was PG&E involved in the City’s project in any way? The City and PG&E have held many meetings to plan their joint project. When did those meetings begin, and what was discussed?

• Will San Francisco taxpayers have to pick up the cost of Muni’s fiasco? What recourse or mitigation is there for taxpayers, electricity ratepayers and members of the impacted community?

• Was this project insured and bonded? Will the insurance companies relieve the taxpayers’ burden and go after the contractors and all the people at fault?

• This is a power project, which would involve the SFPUC. PG&E’s document mentions that the City planned to use the conduit for other projects but is now abandoning those plans. What are those projects? Were the City’s proposed “peakers” going to use these lines? The peakers are the new power plants the City wants to site alongside the existing Potrero power plant, just a few blocks from this area.

• SFPUC happens to have billions of bond money for rebuilding Hetch Hetchy. Is Muni attempting to raid these funds? Why is Susan Leal, now the city treasurer, being moved to SFPUC? Would she try to cover this up?

• Could this have been prevented if Muni had hired local people who would have been proud to do this work and are likely to have been more careful? Instead, the work was done by people who get their paycheck and leave town, who don’t care.

• Are the buildings in that area in danger of collapse?

• The community meeting to discuss PG&E’s project was held Thursday, the same night as the monthly meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) for the Shipyard. Many environmental activists in Bay View Hunters Point were tied up at the RAB meeting. Why are so many environmental meetings in this community held on the same night as the RAB?

What you can do

Readers are encouraged to contact the Board of Supervisors and ask them to conduct an investigation based on these questions. Demand fair treatment on jobs and contracts and demand environmental protection. Insist on money to rebuild Muwekma Ohlone Park, since we as taxpayers and ratepayers are going to pay for this fiasco. The community and all City residents are entitled to a clear explanation of what happened, including a financial breakdown.

Maurice Campbell, mecsoft [at], is convener of the Community First Coalition, a member of executive committee of the Hunters Point Shipyard Citizens’ Advisory Committee, co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), and host of “Connecting the Dots” on alternate Thursdays at 1 p.m. on KPOO 89.5 FM. As head of the Economic Committee of the RAB, he caused the Navy to contract locally in 94107, 94124 and 94134. He received the City’s Unsung Heroes Award for his work. Barbara George, bgwem [at], heads Women’s Energy Matters, fighting for energy rights and environmental justice. As an official participant in cases at the California Public Utilities Commission, WEM is leading a statewide effort to dramatically increase energy efficiency in California. WEM and CFC have forced PG&E and the San Francisco Department of the Environment to provide more energy efficiency in BVHP. See David Erickson, zabudam [at], is an artist, environmental guardian of Islais Creek, and founder of the Muwekma Ohlone Park. For more information, visit

By July 2003, when this picture was taken, the 115kV lines had been installed in Muni’s conduit, but PG&E refuses to run electricity through the lines because the conduit is leaking and is located in a known liquefaction hazard zone. Muni’s incompetence is costing taxpayers millions.
Photo: David Erickson

Muni’s incompetent engineering and installation of conduit under the concrete force main sewage line cracked the line, an environmental disaster that poured 80 million gallons of sewage a day into Islais Creek, destroying the park and the adjacent parking lot. The disaster is one more excuse for keeping the Hunters Point PG&E power plant open.
Photo: Maurice Campbell

For more information, visit Wildlife photos are at,, Please enter your comments or suggestions at Email David at zabudam [at]

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§Main Sewer Outfall Line 80 million gallons a day
by Maurice Barbara George David Erickson (editor [at]
Environmental Disaster about to repeat costing taxpayers and ratepayers millions of dollars and leaving the community devastated
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