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 Another SFPUC scam

THE BOARD OF Supervisors has made it clear to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission that the city's deal with Bechtel Corp. to manage the reconstruction of the Hetch Hetchy water system was, and is, a bad idea. By hiring Bechtel, the agency was moving toward the privatization of the city's water system – in essence, giving away control of a priceless public asset, at immense expense, for no valid reason.

Now, as Savannah Blackwell reports on page 12, SFPUC general manager Pat Martel is trying to continue the privatization process – by switching contractors. Just as the Bechtel contract is expiring, Martel is planning to enter into another costly, no-bid contract, with the Colorado-based engineering firm CH2M Hill. Hill would basically take over where Bechtel left off: the private engineers would oversee the repair and upgrade of the water system, which serves some two million Bay Area customers. And the new contract would do nothing to prevent the kind of systemic abuse that took place under Bechtel.

Bechtel, which has been trying to privatize public water systems around the world, charged San Francisco millions of dollars for work that wasn't properly done or never needed to be done (see "The $45 Million Screw Job," 9/12/01). Leaving aside the fancy lunches at high-priced restaurants and the $157-an-hour consultants, the Bechtel contract had a fundamental flaw: the SFPUC never demonstrated why the city needed a big outside firm to manage a public works project. If Martel can't run the Hetch Hetchy reconstruction, she should be replaced with someone who can. If SFPUC staffers need expert outside consulting advice, it should be for specific projects, on a limited basis, with contracts that are properly bid on and monitored.

The board's Finance Committee should look into this CH2M Hill deal immediately and let Martel know that changing the names on the contract won't make a bad deal any better.