A century after the Raker Act, San Franciscans are still illegally denied public power

San Francisco won federal approval to build a major dam in the Hetch Hetchy Valley 100 years ago today.

The San Francisco Examiner has a good story on today’s 100th anniversary of the signing of the Raker Act, federal legislation that allowed San Francisco to build a dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley, a campaign championed most fervently at the time by the Examiner’s then-Publisher William Randolph Hearst.

The article was a good roundup of issues related to the Raker Act, and it included ongoing efforts by the group Restore Hetch Hetchy to try to tear down the dam, but there was a key aspect of the Raker Act that the Examiner left out, one that has been championed by the Bay Guardian over the years.

The Raker Act specifically called for San Francisco to directly distribute the water and electricity generated by the O’Shaughnessy Dam to its residents and for their benefit. The city does so with the water, through the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, but Pacific Gas & Electric used its power and connections to take control of the electricity and keep it, corrupting the political system for nearly a century in the process.

“The result: San Francisco has paid through the nose to PG&E for its power and the city loses about $30 million a year in profits it would get from a public system,” journalist J.B. Neilands wrote in the March 27, 1969 issue of the Bay Guardian, the first of dozens of stories we’ve written on the topic, spanning many unsuccessful public power campaigns, each one dominated by millions of dollars in PG&E spending.

Section 6 of the Raker Act says that the city “is prohibited from ever selling or letting to any corporation or individual, except a municipality or municipal water district or irrigation district, the right to sell or sublet the water or the electric energy” generated by the dam.

That long-standing violation could become an issue that threatens San Francisco’s control over its main source of clean water and power if Save  Hetch Hetchy gains traction in the courts with a lawsuit that it is pledging to file.

While PG&E doesn’t wield the same strong influence that it once did at City Hall, thanks partly to years of aggressive overreach that soured many local officials on the powerful utility, it does still retain close ties to former Mayor Willie Brown (an attorney who has been on retainer with PG&E for years) and current Mayor Ed Lee, who has sabotaged the latest half-step toward public power, CleanPowerSF.    


And a triumph of the masses over an oligarchic government.

Public power never happened in SF because the voters said, time and time again, that they didn't want it.

And even the oh-so-grooby green party folks don't dig it because that dam is an environmental disaster, should never have been built, and should be torn down.

Are you saying it doesn't matter that the voters do not want this? And that you know better?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

More like the first of thousands - you guys never shut up about this issue. It's the same old song but you never get tired of singing it.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

He devoted his life to bringing public power to SF, and failed dismally. Time after time to went to the polls, and time after time, it lost. People may not like PG&E but they sure as hell don't want the folks who run Muni bringing gas into their home.

Tim and Steven just go through the motions. they know the battle has been lost. But it's a quiet news season right now, hence all the stories about some guy stating that homeless people stink, and the attempts at inciting anger about the fact that some people take a bus to work.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

I was shocked to hear Brugmann state from the podium on several occasions during his retirement victory lap that he was not particularly fond about Pacific Gas and Electric, Co. I was shocked, shocked, I tells ya.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

public power when it was shot down in flames was a picture.

His chubby cherubic face went a color somewhere between beet and pomegranate when he realized that he had lost when he was convinced it would win. I thought he was going to have a strike on the spot.

It was all downhill from there.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

in profits from not having the power business the dam generates.

Because I would have thought that "profit" was a dirty word for Guardianistas. And that instead SFBG would argue that that 30 million be given to the consumers as lower bills rather than, say, funneled into public schemes that SEIU has designed to benefit it's members.

Now if public power had been presented to the voters as being non-profit, rather than merely city bureaucrats getting all that profit, then maybe it would have won?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

Let someone else pay the bill - I want free shit.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

That reservoir needs to be drained, the dam removed and the valley restored.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

When we're in the middle of a severe drought - no better time than the present!

Marcos filters and reuses his urine and guzzles rain water he saves from the eaves of the home he stole from a group of indigenous Hispanics. Why can't everyone else do the same?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

It would feed into various smaller reservoirs downstream. In fact, that's the way it works for 90% of the Sierra water.

You lose a little more through evaporation, but it means the water is stored closer to where it is used.

And of course we'd get HH valley back.

That's not to say that I think that Marcos should stop drinking his own piss.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

End of story. Not gonna happen. Next.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 19, 2013 @ 7:23 pm
Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 7:07 am

The land is owned by the city and county of SF.


Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

surrounded by federal land. City workers cannot even get there unless the Feds let them through their land.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

Ed Lee's on retainer with PG&E, too. Just a different kind of retainer than Willie's.

Posted by Mike Murphy on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 10:28 am

As you well know.

The Mayor's position on this is in sync with the 73% of voters who poll as approving of his work.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 10:34 am

That 73 percent approval rating is bullshit, based on an online poll that isn't statistically valid, as we'll soon be reporting. 

Posted by steven on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

on someone claiming a majority opinion?

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

thumping that Lee gave the anti-jobs candidate Avalos in the last election.

Of course, Steven, you are always going tod ent any poll that shows your views as being hopelessly out of touch with the people.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

73% did sound high, especially since all the other polls, and the election, said 60%. The poll was in English only, and Steven will probably find a way to say that if the city's large Asian-Pacific speaking population had weighed in they would have been violently anti Ed Lee.

In any event, the specter of the famed SFBG journalistic powerhouse reporting on the technical aspects of a poll conducted by 2 professors that was positive for Ed Lee will be something to look forward to. Can't wait, especially since Colbert will probablybe in reruns.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

That's what a new poll says.

Big majorities of people want the city to do something about rising rents and evictions.

Lee would still beat Ammiano in a potential matchup, but only by 42-33. The other candidates polled were not far behind, including Avalos. Not enough, but if Ed Lee continues to do nothing about the affordability crisis, he could well lose.

His approval rating is only 51% now, and falling.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 7:53 pm


"The J. Moore Methods poll was commissioned by local political consultant Jim Stearns on behalf of the town's very progressive Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club"

I know, of course, that this omission was an honest error on your part, since you were so good at pointing out any potential bias in other polls. I'm sure that you want to remain intellectual consistent, which is why brought up the matter of the poll's sponsors for you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

Both sponsors are biased, but this was a telephone poll, not an online poll, so I tend to give it more credibility. And yes, it matches the sentiment I see anecdotally. Ed Lee's ratings simply aren't in the stratosphere, and he is vulnerable as long as the tech boom continues to wreak havoc and Lee continues to do nothing. If you want to believe that Ed Lee's invincible, fine, go ahead. But I think you're in for a rude awakening much like Willie Brown was in 2000.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

I don't think that Ed Lee is invincible but I like his chances.

Especially if he runs against someone who proposed a state law protecting the right of people to urinate and defecate in the street. I don't think that will go over very well with a lot of voters.

Posted by C.C.P. on Dec. 20, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

They claim SF is visionary with visionary laws, the citizens passed sit lie and it wasn't so visionary, they even ranted and raved that the wrong people got to vote in the wrong neighbourhoods, the usual sore loser complaints from true believers.

Later the SFBG which claims to prefer local control hazzad Ammiano for trying to pass a state law that would delete sit lie from the city books.

The claims of progressives don't match their comical doings and yet they also claim to be better then the average.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 6:50 am

Anecdotally? Did it ever occur to you that the people someone like you knows are not even remotely representative?

I have never seen an unbiased poll with Lee's support lower than the 60% he got when he crushed the anti-jobs candidate, Avalos.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 24, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

Which group votes less? Occupiers or Techies? Only 30% of SFers even bother to vote. It will be Chinese vs Gays in a get out the vote campaign.

Posted by Richmondman on Dec. 27, 2013 @ 6:06 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.