Proposition A - Water Bonds

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2002 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This measure would authorize $1.6 billion in revenue bonds to repair and improve the Hetch Hetchy water system which delivers water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite Valley to San Francisco and 1.6 million suburban users.

Why it is on the ballot

The Hetch Hetchy water system is currently in disrepair and in need of substantial improvements. A combination of bad management, a water rate cap, and a practice of transferring funds from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) into the General Fund has conspired to create a giant backlog of deferred maintenance. Things have gotten so serious that the system is in grave danger of going down in an earthquake. It is estimated that with the system in its current state, a catastrophic seismic event could cut off the city's water supply for as long as 30 days.

The SFPUC developed a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to fix the system. The original total cost for capital improvements to the regional water system and local sewer system was at $4.6 billion.

Various bills have been introduced in the California legislature that, if enacted, could remove the system from the city's control. State Senator Jackie Speier has introduced compromise legislation that is supported by the City and County of San Francisco. Under the legislation, a joint powers board would be formed by San Francisco and the suburban users to finance the portions of the system that lie outside San Francisco. Because the regional water system would be funded separately under the Speier legislation and because the sewer project isn't ready yet, the total dollar amount of Prop. A has been reduced to $1.6 billion.

To pass, the measure requires the support of a fifty percent plus one simple majority of voters.


Those who support Proposition A state:

  • A reliable water system will be crucial in the event of a seismic disaster. In its current state, the system is vulnerable to disruption, which would cause human suffering and economic catastrophe for the city and region.
  • Despite past problems at the SFPUC, the CIP has been through multiple layers of independent review for quality and found to be well conceived.
  • If San Francisco does not take the necessary steps to repair and improve the system, the city runs the risk of losing it to a state takeover. The Hetch Hetchy system is an extremely valuable asset, and the city should take the necessary steps to retain it.


Those who oppose Proposition A state:

  • The SFPUC does not currently have the capacity to implement a capital program of this magnitude. Currently, hiring and contracting guidelines are antiquated and prevent the SFPUC from finding and retaining the staff required for the program.

SPUR's analysis

Proposition A revenue bonds would be repaid by San Francisco water consumers. Proposition A funds would be used to catch up on deferred maintenance as well as to bring the system up to current seismic standards and add new system components. In addition, Proposition A funds would be used to improve and expand the city's water recycling facilities, develop conservation and demand management programs, improve water quality, and implement other environmental protections.

In the peak year of the Capital Improvement Program, the average single family household water bill would rise about $14.50 per month, from $26 to $40.50.

Repair and improvement of the Hetch Hetchy water system must be one of the city's first priorities. SPUR has reviewed the PUC's capital plan and we believe it is sound. However, it is also important that organizational reforms accompany the revenue bonds to ensure that the SFPUC will be capable of undertaking a program of this proportion. Proposition E is a companion Charter amendment that would give the SFPUC many of the tools it will need to carry out the CIP in an efficient, responsible manner. Approval of both measures will be an important step in ensuring the water system's long term reliability.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition A.