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SF voters asked to approve $412M seismic upgrade

April 19, 2010 10:36:20 AM PDT
This coming Sunday, April 18, San Francisco will commemorate the 104th anniversary of the Great Quake of 1906. Perhaps it is fitting then, that city leaders are asking voters to pass a multi-million dollar earthquake safety bond measure.

The $412 million would pay to retrofit neighborhood fire and police stations as well as other public safety facilities. One key priority is to upgrade the city's emergency water supply system. That system is one of a kind. When you step inside, it is like a trip back in time.

San Francisco burned down five times before the 1906 quake. Scientists and engineers had previously been trying to figure out how to create a stable water supply to respond to seismic-inspired fires. What is in place now was built 97 years ago and is an intricate system of storage tanks and pipes that relies on gravity to disperse water throughout the city.

Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Michael Thompson says bay water can be pumped all the way up to Twin Peaks. Fresh water is the main part of the emergency system and is stored in tanks around the city and primarily at the Twin Peaks Reservoir which holds more than 10 million gallons. It is complex and above all, it is old.

"In 1903, they figured out a way to take bay water and send it to Twin Peaks underground which is pretty amazing," he said.

Walking into the pump station near Aquatic Park is like stepping into a time machine filled with valves, pipes and clutches that look like cable car grips. In 1989, during the Loma Prieta earthquake, the aging system suffered a major break. Water did not get to the Marina neighborhood immediately and as a result, homes were lost and fire boats were called into action to suck water from the bay.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisor President David Chiu have sponsored this $412 million bond measure which will go before voters on June 8. Their message to voters is that we need to be as prepared as possible because it is not a matter of if, but when the next big one will hit.

"It's a system that is unique in this nation," Newsom said. "It is a system that will be a God send when the next quake hits San Francisco."

"I think it is important to that know we are not going to be increasing property tax rates over 2006 rates. Generally as we place bonds on the ballot, we do it as other bonds cycle out," Chiu said.

The bond would be paid by property taxes. Under the measure, landlords would be allowed to pass-through 50 percent of the resulting tax increase to their tenants.

It will take a two-thirds majority to pass.


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