Rod & Gun Site Gets a Makeover
SFPUC's $88 Million Clean-up is Complete, What's Next for Lake Merced?
“Lake Merced has drawn humans and wildlife to its shores for centuries, initially as a brackish lagoon and more recently as a coastal freshwater lake. It has endured many challenges, but today the heart shaped park in the southwest corner of the city breathes life into our metropolis as a significant natural habitat and recreation area.” Laura Thompson - Hoodline August 27, 2016
Shaped like a heart with four ventricles and arterial conduits created by man and nature, modern Lake Merced prevails as the largest wetland habitat and coastal freshwater lake between Marin and San Mateo counties. Lake Merced was the major supplier of drinking water to San Francisco beginning in the 1860s until Hetch Hetchy reservoir in the Sierras replaced it in 1934. Lake Merced serves as an emergency source of non-potable water for city residents.
;From 1934 through 1994 the Pacific Rod and Gun Club used lead pellets as shot which resulted in about 27 tons of lead in the lake per year. Lead pellets and targets containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have also been found in the upland areas.”
The Lake Merced West Project proposes construction of new recreational areas in the 11-acre region at 520 John Muir Drive, “serving park users of all ages, fitness levels and experience at this unique and natural waterfront setting.” Publicly accessible recreational elements include picnic areas, walking paths, a boathouse, ropes course, bird watching areas, multi-purpose sports courts, a playground, skateboard park and a community center with restrooms and a restaurant. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has taken the lead in issuing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Lake Merced West Project as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
CEQA informs decision makers and the public of a project’s potential environmental effects, engages the public in the environmental review, discloses significant impacts generated by the project and offers mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts. The Lake Merced West Project EIR is expected to be released for public comment later this year.
The San Francisco Planning Department issued a Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the proposed EIR in June of 2021 and a virtual community scoping meeting was held on June 23rd. The Lake Merced West project has historic and archeological impacts stemming from its eligibility for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Watch the Video - A Day on the Lake: The historic Lake Merced West Region.
Adverse impacts of planned tree removal on natural habitats and ecological niches promises to incite environmental protectionists along with proposed demolition and construction along Lake Merced’s southwestern shoreline.
Suggestions from the scoping meeting include enhancing public transit access to Lake Merced West via an L train shuttle to reduce motor vehicle traffic. Muni transit lines #57 and #18 stop nearby.
The most significant project impacts, however, center on potential human health effects from activities of the former tenant. The Pacific Rod & Gun Club operated at 520 John Muir Drive from 1934- 2015. According to Jackie Suen - Rec & Parks Project Manager for Lake Merced West: “From 1934 through 1994 the Pacific Rod and Gun Club used lead pellets as shot which resulted in about 27 tons of lead in the lake per year. Lead pellets and targets containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons have also been found in the upland areas.” (Lake Merced West Project EIR Scoping Meeting 06/23/21)
Watch the video -Lake Merced West Project Scoping Presentation.
In May of 2015 San Francisco Public Utilities Commission began a one-year remediation of the site, excavating 88 thousand tons of “contaminated” soil to depths ranging from one to 10 feet. The contaminated soil was hauled to a landfill and backfilled with clean soil at a cost of $22 million dollars. The Regional Water Quality Control Board released the property for unrestricted use.
In 2017 the Pacific Rod & Gun Club “forked over” $8.25 million to settle a court battle with the City of San Francisco, accepting its role as the principal “discharger” in the region.
In 2016 Rec & Parks issued a request for proposals for a 20-year lease of Lake Merced West that “prohibits recreational activities resulting in direct deposit of any waste, hazardous material or foreign substance at the site.”
SFPD Firearms Training - Lake Merced Range November 5, 2012
The San Francisco Police Department, however, conducts firearms trainings from 7pm to 11pm at nearby 700 John Muir Drive generating peak noise disturbances above 160 decibels - toping the list of undesirable impacts to romantic restaurant diners!
“At the end of the last ice age 15,000 years ago, the ocean flooded Merced Valley creating a small inlet or bay. At that time Lake Merced extended further east and was open to the ocean.” ... Vivian Matuk and Nick Salcedo - Geography Students SFSU
Watch Video - A Day on the Lake: Entering Lake Merced Watershed
A watershed is an area of land with rivers and streams draining into a larger body of water. Lake Merced is a watershed. Healthy watersheds provide clean drinking water, fisheries and outdoor recreation areas that support our environment, economies and quality of life through water capture, water storage and water release.
Lake Merced’s role as San Francisco’s water source changed as surrounding neighborhoods became more developed and surface runoff to the lake became more polluted. The southern portions of the original watershed were diverted from flowing into the lake. According to SFSU graduate researchers water quality in Lake Merced suffers from turbidity, alkalinity and high phosphorus and organic content.
Described as “an island of wildlife habitat in an ocean of urban environment” by SFSU geographer Elizabeth Proctor whose graduate thesis details the dwindling diversity of Lake Merced’s mammal, reptile and amphibian species over time due to water pollution and human disturbances… including shooting ranges and golf balls!
Ahimsa Sumchai Porter, MD, West Portal, Medical Director Golden State MD Health & Wellness is a longtime neighborhood and environmental activist