Supervisor's Report

Francisco Reservoir: A once in a lifetime opportunity

photo: earl adkins

We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. According to the latest census, more than 800,000 San Franciscans now call this seven-x-seven square-mile city their home. Part of what makes our urban environment so beautiful is our parks, open spaces and recreational facilities. These are critical public resources that enhance city life for all San Franciscans and help to keep families in San Francisco. It is true that great parks make a great city.

Today, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a brand-new park in the middle of Russian Hill — one of the densest neighborhoods in our city. That opportunity exists at the site of the old Francisco Reservoir, which has been dilapidated and boarded up for decades. It is an eyesore with an amazing amount of potential.

The Francisco Reservoir: What it is now

The Francisco Reservoir site is approximately four acres of land bordered by Hyde, Larkin, and Bay Streets and homes on Chestnut Street in Russian Hill. It is perched on a hillside with panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, and the entire bay, and is the perfect location for a park with viewing amenities that highlight the natural amphitheater of our bay. It is also located along the Hyde Street cable car route and close to several of our most popular tourist attractions, including the Hyde Street Pier and Aquatic Park, Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square, and Fisherman’s Wharf.

The property consists of a grassy area and hillside on Bay Street under the jurisdiction of the Recreation and Park Department (RPD) that is open to the public and used as a dog park. There are a few benches at the site, but most of it consists of grass and trees. The abandoned reservoir and the vegetated hillside just above the reservoir are under the jurisdiction of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and is not being utilized whatsoever.

The old Francisco Reservoir is an eyesore with an amazing amount of potential.

The City and County of San Francisco purchased the property back in 1930 and transferred it to the SFPUC’s predecessor, the San Francisco Water Department, for use as a reservoir. Built in 1861, the Francisco Reservoir closed when the Lombard Reservoir opened a few blocks away in 1940 and has been empty and boarded up for over 70 years.

The entire Francisco Res-ervoir property is currently zoned Public, designated as Public Open Space in the City’s General Plan and included as open space on city maps and in the city’s summary statistics. The Francisco Reservoir is also listed in the city’s Ten-Year Capital Plan as a property to be explored for the preservation of open space.

In general, San Francisco is critically short of open space, with only one-half the national standard, which is 10 acres of open space per 1,000 people. Our unique topography and current density make open space acquisition a particular challenge, but if we are going to take concrete steps to improve our quality of life here in San Francisco, I believe we need to leap when opportunities present themselves.

A chance to piece together a parcel the size of the Francisco Reservoir may not present itself again in San Francisco, and transforming this site into open space is one of the greatest opportunities I have been presented with as a supervisor.

Great parks need great partners: The potential

A number of years ago, the SFPUC indicated it was inclined to try to sell the property to a private developer — forever losing the opportunity for public recreation and open space and limiting this area of San Francisco to the enjoyment of just a few. However, after extensive meetings and a strong dialogue that developed with the SFPUC over the past two years, I am excited to report that my office is in negotiations with the SFPUC to sell the Francisco Reservoir site to the City of San Francisco. The current intention is to place the Francisco Reservoir site within our Recreation and Park Department, acquire the property using the Open Space Acquisition Fund, and build a brand-new four-plus acre park in the middle of Russian Hill.

I will work to transform an eyesore into a
park and open space for the entire City.

We are extremely lucky to have a strong level of commitment in the community to turn this vision into a reality. One of the best parts of my job as supervisor is working with the incredible neighborhood groups we have in District 2, and Russian Hill is fortunate to have a number of strong neighborhood organizations, including the Russian Hill Neighbors and the Russian Hill Improvement Association, as well as adjacent groups, including the North Beach Neighbors and Aquatic Park Neighbors. Together, these four neighborhood groups have formed the Francisco Reservoir Working Group, which has been working very closely with my office for more than two years now and has taken great strides to advance our vision of a park in this location.

The Francisco Reservoir Working Group has not only shepherded community meetings about the potential design of the new park, but it is also dedicated to fundraising to renovate and endow the new park. Ultimately, it is projected that $25 million in private donations is needed to make this vision a reality — $5 million of which would be dedicated to ongoing maintenance for the park — so we have our work cut out for us. At the moment, there are several concepts of what a park at this location would look like, and the working group has engaged several individuals to come up with ideas.

We are currently working on acquisition of the land and then will turn our attention to a community process to develop how the final version of the park will be designed.

How we make it happen

My office has been working with the SFPUC, the RPD, and the Francisco Reservoir Working Group for over two years now. This truly has been an organic process, with the drive to create a dramatic piece of open space coming from the surrounding neighborhoods. The neighbors have stepped up to hold community meetings to solicit feedback on what a park of this size could be and what features the city could greatly benefit from. The Francisco Reservoir Group has joined together and continues to spend the hours and hours necessary to make this dream a reality for all of us.

I will continue to work on the logistics and issues involved with transferring property from one city agency to another, and I will work with our great neighbors to raise funds and transform what for many years has been an eyesore into a park and open space for the entire City to enjoy. For more information on these efforts, or if you would like to get involved, please visit their website at: www.franciscoreser As District 2 residents, we are all extremely lucky to have such a dedicated and motivated group of neighborhood volunteers shepherding this vision.

I will continue to provide updates on our progress through my newsletter and social media updates – you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter at, or follow me on Facebook at> or Twitter @markfarrellsf. Please always feel free to call the office if you have any questions at 415-554-7752 or e-mail me at [email protected].

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In the August 2013 Marina Times, we will publish the third and concluding chapter of Supervisor Farrell's examination of the San Francisco budget, which will be deliberated and passed by the Board of Supervisors in late July.