Sierra Foothills town has ties to SF

August 12, 2008 4:20:55 PM PDT
In the Sierra Foothills, there is a place that's as far removed from San Francisco as you can imagine. But everyone in the town of Moccasin, has close ties to the city. Without its residents, the water to 2.5 million people in the Bay Area wouldn't run.

At the intersection of Highways 120 and 49, it doesn't look like much. You could easily drive by the town of Moccasin on your way to Yosemite and barely notice it.

A power plant and a small lake mark the spot where San Francisco meets the Sierras.

The town of Moccasin was once a gold mining town. It became a trading post in the 1920's when San Francisco was building the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and O'Shaughnessy Dam.

Today, the entire town is owned by the city of San Francisco. The water for 2.5 million people in the Bay Area flows from the Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park, through pipes past the town of Mocassin.

Amy Sinclair is with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the agency ultimately that oversees the day to day operations of Moccasin.

All the laws of San Francisco apply there. Residents even vote in "the city's" elections.

"The people who live here in Moccasin are city workers. They are paid by the city and county of San Francisco, they get the same benefits as city workers do, and it's a great place to live," said Sinclair.

There's a post office, but that's about it when it comes to amenities. The one room schoolhouse is closed, the only store in town hasn't been open in years. In fact, the nearest grocery store is 18 miles away.

"When they said Hetch Hetchy and Mocassin, I had no idea where that was. Now I do," said Moccasin resident Maya Fischer.

Fischer came to Moccasin from the city seven years ago. Her half mile commute to the office beats taking Muni any day. She is one of the 70 or so people who live and work there.

"It's a small town and the good part is you know everybody. The bad part is you know everybody, but we all get along pretty good," said Fischer.

The original hydro-electric power plant was replaced in the 1960's. It and two others supply San Francisco with the electrical equivalent of 39 million gallons of oil a year.

"In the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's this turned into a thriving little town, and we built a powerhouse here. And so a lot of people live here, we built the homes over the years, and it's a great place for people to live," said Sinclair.

Norm Rickson is the Assistant General Manager of Hetch Hetchy. He, like many people, affectionately refer to the town as a "camp." The housing is subsidized by the city. In exchange, residents are always on call.

"There is real advantage to having people who can respond to things in emergencies right here in camp," said Rickson.

Rickson grew up in Moccasin. He left for college, but came back. And while he may not live there now, he feels a strong connection to Mocassin.

A handful of people who grew up there also came back, and now call Mocassin home.

Martin Sanchez came back to Mocassin to live and work as an adult. He's a maintenance supervisor.

"It's a very safe place for kids. I think that it's probably the best place in the county for children to grow up. You know they can play outside your house and come in after dark. You don't have to worry about their security," said Sanchez.

"As a kid it was fantastic. We had 4th of July fireworks, Easter picnics. We had Halloween for costumes, prizes for the best costumes. That's just what I remember is one fun event to the next," said Mocassin resident Tammy Egger.

Egger works on water quality. Her grandfather worked on the Hetch Hetchy project and her father moved the family there in the mid 1960's. She went to school and came back.

"I work seven days a week. All of the water quality, most of it functions seven days a week and it's basically doing your job the best you can, every day of the week," said Egger.

She and others say that's a fair trade-off -- when you can live in San Francisco and not have to deal with all the hustle and bustle of city life.

"The Hetch Hetchy and city and county of San Francisco is one of the best places in the country to work," said Sanchez.

San Francisco actually considered closing the town in the 1990's. But after 9/11, it realized the value in always having people to respond in an emergency.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.


Load Comments