THE BLOG
11/10/2010 06:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

San Francisco Poised to Set Environmental Policies that Will Impact Its Citizenry for Generations to Come

Last week I was elected president of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). What an exciting time to be involved in California politics! My old friends and colleagues Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom have risen through the ranks and are moving onto the global stage. Jerry Brown squashed the megalomaniac and her $162 squillions. And thank goodness it's Barbara and not Carly. We are poised to kick some proverbial environmental butt with that lineup. As a lifelong environmentalist, its all adding up to a pretty big deal.

The SFPUC is a massive agency -- the third largest municipal utility in California -- with an operating budget of $611.3 million and a staff of 2,200. In addition to providing clean drinking water to millions of Bay Area residents and power services to all SF's municipal buildings, the SFPUC is engaged in the epic-scale, multibillion dollar rebuilding of both our water and wastewater systems. As a volunteer public servant, I hold the environmental policy seat of this powerful five-member Commission. And now I am the president.

I plan to tackle some of the most critical environmental issues of our time. The conservation of our precious drinking water, our transition to a fossil-free society and the challenge of what to do with our municipal waste for starters. I also want to identify any PUC lands that might be available to support growing food and the fledgling urban farming movement. Energy efficiency (lets change out those energy-sucking appliances in everyone's house), recycled water (are we really using our drinking water to water our golf courses?) and reduction of our biosolid volume (what are we going to do with it) all need attention. Moreover, programs, policies and infrastructure design must happen with an eye toward that fast-approaching train-wreck called climate change. Every city, especially those with low-lying waterfront properties like San Francisco, needs to prepare for the rising tides through adaption and mitigate. I mean how would we feel without our beloved ATT ballpark and world champion Giants? Not to mention our threatened coastal sewage treatment plants and diminishing Sierra water supply.

The history of the SFPUC is fascinating, and I am proud to be a part of the continuing legacy. Nearly a century ago, the City of San Francisco decided to dam the Hetch Hetchy Valley. While the construction broke John Muir's heart and continues to be a point of debate in the environmental community, it also stands that our forefathers left us a reliable supply of the purest, tastiest water in the country, and a less polluting supply of power then most municipalities have.

Fast forward to 1997, when then-Mayor Willie Brown asked me to become the president of the newly formed Commission on the Environment for the City of and County of San Francisco (CCSF). He charged me with establishing the new Department of the Environment and getting all of the other City Departments to collaborate on a Sustainability Plan for the city. "Tell them we are going to green this city department by department, and we are going to make San Francisco a world leader on environmental issues. Tell them they must participate."

Long story short, in my four years at the environmental helm, San Francisco acquired more than 300 electric and low-emission city vehicles, established an Ocean Beach task force to deal with erosion, was the impetus in getting the California quail named as the official city bird, obtained a $13 million state grant for Bayview-Hunters Point and Potrero Hill communities, selected 10 model green building projects including the California Academy of Sciences, drafted and implemented pesticide reduction and urban-forestry legislation, and positioned San Francisco to become the greenest city in the nation.

So when I got the call in 2008 from then Mayor Newsom asking if I was interested in the environmental seat of the highly influential SFPUC, focusing on arguably the most important environmental issues of energy, water and sewage, I said yes.

To my new position I will bring my lifelong commitment to the environment, and my extensive experience in the environmental movement -- including my roles as San Francisco's first president of San Francisco Commission on the Environment and later as Director of the Department of the Environment and my jobs with Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace, CARE Madagascar and the Chez Panisse Foundation.

The decisions made today by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will impact all of us long into the future. I know my fellow commissioners share this sense of responsibility and agree that we must work to identify inventive solutions that address the challenges facing our communities, our city and our planet. San Francisco has always been home to creative and innovative thinkers, and we are poised to create policy that other urban municipalities can benefit from as well.