We need the city to act

We need the city to act

Please post your frustrations in this blog, thanks!

5 thoughts on “We need the city to act

  • Riz Gache

    ***Open Letter to SFPUC Re: Flood Grant Program*** ‪#‎SolutionsNotSandbags‬

    Dear Ms. Walsh,

    My name is Riz Gache and I am one of the sewer failure victims. I am reaching out to you because I would like to know why PUC even offers this Floodwater Grant Program as mentioned in your email below? As it turns out, this does not apply to many of us.

    The minute I was informed about this grant, I went through proper channels by first checking in with Dept. of Building Inspection. I showed them my intent to install the backflow unit and got their approval. They told me that in order to get the grant, the project had to be permitted. With El Nino closing in, I did not want a three-peat of the tragedy that happened to us in 2004 and 2014. So I hired a licensed contractor immediately, paying nearly $5,000 for the backflow, other drainage improvements and permit fees. The work was inspected and approved by the City. I then prepared a detailed 30-page booklet with receipts, forms, photos and a drawing as required by the grant application program.

    Yesterday, I got a call from the grant office denying my application. Since my property is below street level, I was notified that it is required that I have a backflow preventer regardless. As a consequence, this makes me ineligible to receive financial assistance according to them. In 13 years I have owned this home, I never heard of this requirement from the City. This is clearly something the City should enforce when one buys or sells property. I am aware of sewer backflow preventer being required for homes near coastlines and other low bodies of water. And even though my house was built in 1925, it is situated 100′ above sea level. This area is not a designated flood zone when I bought it; otherwise, I would have reconsidered my offer. Had I known also that I would be ineligible for this grant, I would have opted for a cheaper alternative such as a drain ball valve or an off-the-shelf pump without permit required. This misleading grant program actually cost me a lot of money that I could have spent on my kids.

    Ms. Walsh, of all the PUC flood meetings I have attended, they mentioned about this grant offer. Unfortunately, this does not help any of us with sunken structure. The rules seem to imply that if my house would have been located up the hill where it would less likely flood, but at the same time above street level, I would be more eligible to receive financial assistance than the homeowner living below me who needs the backflow unit more. With all due respect, can you please offer an explanation on this? Why are we being told to apply for this grant knowing it would be a waste time for the ones who really need assistance? Because of inadequate sewer service in our neighborhood, this backflow preventer may just work but not as long-term solution. Perhaps PUC should offer us financial grant to lift our homes instead? This grant is full of misleading information. Even the flood barrier products specified in the grant are difficult to get nor available locally.

    I have lived most of my life in San Francisco and volunteered countless hours improving my community since I was a kid. I never missed paying utility dues and property tax when I became a homeowner. My mother and uncle both worked for decades and retired at PUC. Making me pay for a chance to save my home from future sewer failures the City is responsible for is unthinkable. I have already lost thousands of dollars in sewer failure damage from 2014. On that one, my 88-page claim package was denied without proper communication/coordination by incompetent claims department staff, forcing me to join the lawsuit I did not wish to partake.

    Please, Ms. Walsh, I request the PUC Flood Grant Program reconsider and approve my application. Many of my neighbors are counting on this. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thank you,
    Riz Gache

  • Donna Marie Ponferrada

    Dear San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board Members:
    Ms.Terry Young Ph.D, Chair, Mr. Jim McGrath, Vice-Chair, Mr. John Muller, Ms. Margaret Abe-Koga, Mr. William Kissinger, Ms. Newsha Ajami Ph.D, Mr. Steve Lefkovits

    Thank you for hearing yesterday’s public comments from SolutionsNotSandbags.org regarding the sewer failures on and along Cayuga Avenue in San Francisco. We appreciate your continued exploration into this critical public health and safety matter. We share in your mission to “ensure the highest reasonable quality for waters of the State,” specifically, “water quality protection”. Protecting the waters of the state is important, however, as found in the health and safety code under ‘sewers’, this MUST be done without risk to public health and without being a nuisance. The health and safety code specifically gives the regional board authority to address this nuisance.

    Continued delay should not be accepted.
    We understand this is a complex process, however, SFPUC has studied this since the 1960s, conducted further extensive studies following the 2004 sewer failure, as well as documenting in the sewer system master plan reports from 2009-2010.

    A reasonable request.
    Our request to the City of San Francisco has been clear, we are NOT asking SFPUC to solve flooding, we are asking for SFPUC to NOT dump human waste into our homes at the 100-year flood level and to not flood the streets at the 10-year storm level.

    Resident perspective.
    To recap the multi-generational working-class immigrant perspective I spoke of on-record, my family has owned two properties located at the start of Cayuga Avenue, at the cul-de-sac where a berm meets I-280, for more than 30 years. My grandmother is 93 years old with Alzheimer’s. In her time living in this neighborhood, she has experienced at least four major sewer failures (twice in 2004 and twice again in 2014, each failure occurring within weeks of each other). It is to be noted that the untreated liquid sewage that spewed from street manholes reached more than six feet in 2004; near similar levels in 2014. Dramatic, real-time video footage and photo archives can be seen on the website, along with press articles and media coverage on this long-standing issue across at least three districts.

    Action Steps.
    To date, minimal assistance has been given to the Cayuga neighborhood. City contracted crews in hazmat suits aided in demolishing contaminated basements after the 2014 sewer flooding. But nearly one year later, they have yet to assist in helping rebuild damages caused by sewer engineering negligence and atrociously blatant dismissal of public health and safety. Seniors and children are especially affected as most homes continue to be left without working furnaces, water heaters, and washer/dryers this winter season in the midst of El Nino.

    As for discussions, there have been two official meetings with SFPUC and affected communities between 2014-present. I emphasize that residents understand the lengthy process involved in finding a resolution but we want:
    to ensure the constructive conversation continues to move forward,
    our questions and concerns answered — specifically why small improvements to the upstream system for minor drainage issues were made but done with little or no regard to downstream impacts, and
    viable sustainable infrastructure solutions presented in discussions — no more short-term band-aid fixes like sandbag distribution or flood barriers that may possibly/may not work. Nor do we want to see City intention to address the sewer problem by incorporating a plan of action on technical memorandum budgets only to have it tabled/removed from the budget.
    Again, my family and fellow Solutions Not Sandbags supporters thank you for your continued support! We appreciate your time and full consideration in this matter. And look forward to continuing this conversation with Lila Tang, staff, and board members, assisting best we can to implement long-term sustainable urban planning infrastructure solutions.

    Kind regards,
    Donna Marie Ponferrada
    Cayuga Avenue, San Francisco

  • Nancy Huff

    My name is Nancy Huff and I too, was flooded in last December’s sewer failure. Our estimated damage was $50K and we still have not recovered one year later. We’ve had to spend a good deal of money putting in stop-gap measures like backflow preventers and sump pumps and a backup generator with no clear idea if this will really prevent such further events.

    I’m here because I would like to get clarification from the water board regarding SFPUC’s Technical Memorandum 405. I have copies here.

    In TM405 page 2, SPFUC clearly states that that backup and outflows from the sewer create a SIGNIFICANT NUISANCE AND POTENTIAL HEALTH RISK to citizens.

    But then goes on to state that state and federal regulations to not address backups and outflows that do not reach bay wafers and that CSS systems like what San Francisco has does not have to meet California State General Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs)

    And further states that San Francisco’s CSS system does not have to meet Clean Water Act guidelines either because the types of sewer failures that endanger our health do not reach ocean waters.


    Well, apparently this isn’t true at all. Under the Master Plan and then in the SSIP. SFPUC has budgeted money to fix the sewer in our area. In 2010 , the budget was $750M to fix sewer infrastructure in Ingleside/Alemany and now in 2015, not a dime. Where did the care and concern SFPUC had for us go? The latest proposal from SFPUC was to put up a $15M retaining wall in our area, which won’t even help many of us in the neighborhood at all.


  • Lisa Dunseth

    Dear San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board members:

    Four of us Mission Terrace residents spoke during public comment at your meeting last Wednesday about the sewer-flooding issues in San Francisco. I would like to thank you for your time and attention to this serious problem. We hope you will be able to help the City of San Francisco understand their responsibility and liability in this matter. I have included below my statement for your reference.

    Additionally, I would like to request your support in preventing the development of an open space in our neighborhood at 203 Cotter Street. I believe that Board Member John Muller will have a specific interest in this as it relates to the subject of urban agriculture.

    There is currently a small farm cultivating the property, at 203 Cotter, called Little City Gardens: they are the only commercial farm currently operating in San Francisco. They have turned a derelict lot into a fully functional, if small, enterprise and transformed a problematic property into a community asset.

    This open space, which easily absorbs rainwater and does not have a sewer hook-up, provides a great service to the neighborhood, especially during the rainy season. Any development of this lot will negatively impact the sewer-flooding in the immediate area. For more information about this please see SaveTheFarmSF.com

    Below are my comment from last week’s meeting:

    Good morning members of the Regional Water Quality Board. My name is Lisa Dunseth. I’m a resident of Mission Terrace, in San Francisco. Our property was not flooded last year or in previous years. But I am horrified by the situation my neighbors are having to deal with. I’m here in support of them and the widening circle of San Franciscans we have met who are experiencing these offensive sewer-discharges into their homes and businesses. I am here because I am disgusted by this situation.

    The SFPUC TM 405 clearly states that the “backups into residences and businesses … create a significant nuisance and potential health risk.” The CA State Health and Safety Code, Chapter 6, General Provisions With Respect to Sewers, Section 410, Sewage and Other Wastes, defines a nuisance as “anything which is injurious to health, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property…or comfortable enjoyment of life or property and affects, at the same time, an entire community or neighborhood.”

    The San Francisco City Attorney has decided that this particular phrase from the CA State Health and Safety Code, DOES NOT relate to the sewers: “The nuisance…occurs during, or as a result of, the treatment or disposal of wastes.” But according to the Clean Water Act “treatment” includes “sewers.”

    And we are talking about sewers–the sewers which dump sewage into people’s homes. San Francisco itself has claimed to the Regional Water Quality Board that its system provides treatment before a combined sewer discharge into the Bay.

    The City Attorney thinks they have found a loophole in the law which allows them to discharge sewage into people’s homes and businesses without any legal consequences.

    San Francisco residents need the Regional Water Quality Board to clarify that the Regional Water Quality Board DOES INDEED have the authority to require the City of San Francisco to address this issue on behalf of its citizens. We San Francisco residents request the same level of protection which was provided to Sacramento residents who experienced similar problems. Thank you for your time.

    Again, we thank you for your time and look forward to having this issue added to your meeting agenda in the very near future.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.


    Lisa Dunseth

  • Blane Bachelor

    Dear Ms. Tang and other Water Board and EPA executives,

    Thank you for the opportunity for concerned residents to present at the recent regional water boarding meeting. I was unable to attend, but my neighbors told me it was very helpful to have the chance to speak in person about our shared concerns over the dangerous public health risk caused by the long-term failures and inadequacies of the SFPUC.

    As you all know, this is a complicated issue with many layers, but the bottom line is that it is unacceptable, and unlawful, that the SFPUC has been allowed to continue discharging raw human waste into hundreds of homes and businesses, at great risk to public health, for decades. We are not asking SFPUC to “prevent all flooding,” as they continue to state, but instead fix the known engineering problem that they have documented and studied for decades, using tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.

    I believe my neighbors left you with copies of a recent article about our challenges, but here’s a link just in case. It provides an excellent overview of the city’s longstanding knowledge and negligence, and the harsh toll that has taken on residents: http://www.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/news-san-francisco-sewers-floods-el-nino-sfpuc-wastewater-cayuga-mission-district/Content?oid=4160430

    I would also like to emphasize that, as San Francisco continues its exploding growth, this is a major issue that will affect a rapidly increasing number of San Franciscans.

    Thank you again for your time. We look forward to working with you ASAP on next steps.


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