Nancy Wuerful, one of San Francisco’s greatest citizen advocates, died peacefully on August 5, 2023
A Life of Service and Outspoken Advocacy
•••••••••• August 31, 2023 ••••••••••
At a June 13 meeting of the SF Board of Supervisors, Wuerfel was honored for her efforts with a resolution commending her for her “exemplary advocacy and stewardship in promoting preservation and conservation efforts in the City and County of San Francisco, recognizing her significant contributions to historic preservation, environmental protection, neighborhood-based planning and expressing gratitude for her dedicated service to the citizens of San Francisco—(File No. 230721).
“I was very fond of Nancy,” said Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who sponsored the Resolution in her honor. “We shared a commitment to public service that was informed by many similar passions, from water conservation and historic preservation to fiscally responsible and transparent budgeting. She may have started her political activism by joining my 2001 fight to stop the destruction of the Bay from the SF Airport’s proposed runway extensions - but she quickly became a one-woman defender of everything from the California Quail to the historic schools. While she never shied away from standing up to elected officials, perhaps more impressive was her dogged persistence in fighting the anonymous bureaucracies of departments like Rec & Park, always demanding integrity from every city staff. She will most certainly be missed by many.”
Wuerfel was on the forefront of the effort to stop former Mayor Willie Brown from adding two square miles of Bay Area landfill for additional runway separation. When the SF Recreation and Park Department (RPD) prioritized making money on public parkland rather than keeping the public land natural, she fought many of the RPD’s projects.
Read Nancy’s article for the Westside Observer about the water treatment plan.
Sierra Club member and Director of Ocean’s Edge, Katherine Howard praised her, “As a member of the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, Nancy worked to prevent the Recreation and Park Department (RPD), from building a water-treatment plant on parkland, again in Golden Gate Park. The project included a chemical building and other important sites. As a result of community efforts, the SFPUC made a decision to move the project out of Golden Gate Park.” In addition, Howard said, “Nancy was a staunch ally in fighting the RPD’s relentless efforts to privatize and monetize San Francisco’s parks.”
Perhaps the greatest compliment I heard paid to Nancy, and one that she treasured, was given by a highly placed administrative assistant in the Mayor’s office who said to a colleague, ’Oh no! You don't want Nancy Wuerfel on your case! That woman does her homework, which means that you're going to have to do yours as well!’ ”
Perhaps Wuerfel’s greatest accomplishment as a citizen advocate was to help force San Francisco to begin to complete the Emergency Water Supply System (EWSS). The EWSS is a high-pressure water system designed to fight large fires. The West Side of San Francisco needs the EWSS system immediately, but The EWSS was stalled for years because of political interference and City financial finagling. Despite significant challenges, Wuerfel, with her many friends and contacts, moved the project again. She wrote several authoritative articles for the Westside Observer about the EWSS, including Could the City’s Westside Burn After An Earthquake?
Tom Doudiet, Assistant Deputy Chief, SFFD, retired, and 60 year Westside resident said “I worked closely with Nancy on what turned out to be her last great civic improvement effort, the attempt to get the City to undertake a meaningful expansion of the high-pressure fire hydrant system into the 15 neighborhoods which still remain unprotected from the specter of post-earthquake conflagrations.
“Having observed her during the course of many public meetings, which Nancy faithfully attended even as she battled illness, I came to understand that, as a civic activist, she was a research dynamo who was both respected and feared at City Hall.
“Perhaps the greatest compliment I heard paid to Nancy, and one that she treasured, was given by a highly placed administrative assistant in the Mayor’s office who said to a colleague, ’Oh no! You don't want Nancy Wuerfel on your case! That woman does her homework, which means that you're going to have to do yours as well!’ ”
Nancy was born in Detroit, Michigan on March 15, 1943. She was born to Richard Karl and Esther Lee Wuerfel, both now deceased. She was the middle sibling, with an older sister, Judith, and a younger brother, Randall. Judy married an Englishman in 1965 and lived the rest of her life in England. Randy now lives in Vancouver, WA.
In 1952, the Wuerfel family moved from Detroit to Catonsville, MD. Nancy graduated from high school at 17, and she worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for a head surgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. After a couple of years, the surgeon retired, and Nancy decided to travel the world before seeking a new job. She spent a few months traveling throughout South America (dodging several political coups along the way). She then decided to travel the Pacific, where she booked passage on an ocean schooner to see many of the islands in the South Pacific. (She nearly married the skipper of the schooner!)
After these journeys, Nancy settled in San Francisco and found a job as an administrative assistant at UCSF. To be near the campus, Nancy rented an apartment on Willard Street close to the Haight-Ashbury district — quite a lively place in the early ‘60s. In 1979, Nancy saved enough money to purchase a home in the Parkside/Sunset district, where she lived until she became critically ill earlier this year.
Randal Wuerfel shared: “As her younger brother, I never had a chance to see Nancy in action on her work in San Francisco City projects. But I remember visiting her and hearing of all her City battles, trials and tribulations. She had an incredibly sharp mind, remembering facts, poring through budgets, and knowing/remembering the names of everyone she ever dealt with. I’ll miss her regaling about all the battles she fought (with a few wins) with the City’s various departments over the years.”
Many City officials and friends shared their memories of Nancy Wuerfel.
“City government is at its best when our residents are deeply involved in what we’re doing and holding us accountable for results.” Ben Rosenfield, SF’s Controller said. “I knew Nancy for years, and while I didn’t always arrive at the same conclusions she did, I always knew she had done her homework, read everything she could find on the topic at hand, and was motivated by a belief that we could do better. That’s the memory of her I will always hold.”
City Administrator, Carmen Chu reminisced, “A fierce advocate. A formidable champion of the West Side. Nancy was always armed with facts and research. She never shied away from saying exactly what was on her mind and she always held us to account. I will miss her tenacity, the knowing (and slightly mischievous) twinkle in her eyes and most of all, I will miss her friendship.”
Katy Tang, Director of Small Business: “Nancy was a fierce guardian of what she believed was right and just. Whether it pertained to the environment, fiscal matters, or government processes, you could count on Nancy’s diligence to greet you on the street corner in the Sunset or the offices of City Hall with vigor.”
Nancy helped represent the citizens of San Francisco against the ignorance and chicanery of some of City Hall’s lesser politicians and department heads. She spent hours researching budgets, legislative archives, and planned projects; you could always count on her as a good friend and knowledgeable supporter. She was a wonderful person who cared about the people who live in San Francisco.”
Former District Four Supervisor Gordon Mar: “Nancy was a fierce advocate for the Sunset and the Westside. We miss her dearly, but her impact and legacy live on in our community.”
Neighbor Kathleen Bergerson: “Nancy was instrumental in the building of the Dianne Feinstein School. She organized neighbors to get involved with the planning and started the group “Parkside 4 Kids.” Nancy held community meetings and organized neighbors to speak at school board meetings, all in the effort to make sure the plan for the school fit the neighborhood needs. The school opened in 2006.”
SPEAK President Austra Eileen Boken: “Nancy was a long-time member of Sunset-Parkside Education and Action Committee (SPEAK) and also served on its Board. She championed many issues in the Sunset-Parkside neighborhood. Nancy was the primary advocate for replacing the seismically unsafe Parkside Elementary School with the Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. She worked with SPEAK on historic preservation projects, which included the former Shriners Hospital, the Lycee Francais School, and the former Dennis Sullivan beach cottage. Nancy was a fierce advocate for the Sunset and the West Side. We miss her dearly, but her impact and legacy live on in our community.”
Former SPEAK President Marc Duffett: “Nancy was a long-time board member of SPEAK, and her unique investigative skill set, broad range of City government connections, and tireless passion made an invaluable contribution to all we accomplished.”
Sally Stevens, President of Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood Association: “Nancy has always been an extremely independent woman. She loved her home. She spent hours gardening in her backyard, often listening to the Met Opera on the radio while she worked. She loved photography and would wait for hours for just the right lighting to take pictures of flowers and plants in her yard.”
Shana McGrew: “Nancy was a unique person. You could always count on her to be prepared. She asked me to take her place on SPEAK — really big shoes to fill. I was honored.”
Neighborhood activist Tomasita Medal: “Nancy Wuerfel was the Sherlock Holmes of City bureaucracy for decades. She set her magnifying glass on obscure volumes of City records to find corruption, contradictions, incompetence and malfeasance. She was a formidable champion of City efficiency. She is a legend and will always be remembered.”
“Nancy was an extremely persuasive writer for the Westside Observer,” Editor Doug Comstock said, “from her very first article in September of 2010, ‘Mismanagement: Harding Park Contract-The Final Insult’ excoriating the RPD for its expropriation of funds for the ‘Clubhouse built from funds intended for the most heavily populated and most economically disadvantaged area’ through her activism to expand and enhance our high-pressure emergency firefighting water system to the West Side, her withering attacks on malfeasance and misappropriation always hit the mark.”
As a friend and fellow neighborhood activist, I can only add, “Nancy helped represent the citizens of San Francisco against the ignorance and chicanery of some of City Hall’s lesser politicians and department heads. She spent hours researching budgets, legislative archives, and planned projects; you could always count on her as a good friend and knowledgeable supporter. She was a wonderful person who cared about the people who live in San Francisco.”
George Wooding, Neighborhood Activist Emeritus