Home -> James H. Barry Press -> A Crisis in San Francisco

Home Up One Level

A Crisis in San Francisco by Mayor James Rolph, Jr.

This is short pamplet encourages the citizens of San Francisco to purchase the Spring Valley Water Company. The pamplet was wriiten by then Mayor Rolph of San Francisco. Mayor Rolph later went on to infamy by suppressing the dockside strikes in San Francisco during the 1930's.

The copy of the pamplet this e-text came from was found at the Sutro Library, part of the California State Library.

A Crisis in San Francisco

by James Rolph, Jr. Mayor.
(Written for "Everywoman" Magazine.)

San Francisco is at a crisis in its history. On April 20 its citizens will decide whether this city shall go forward at once in the development to which it is obviously entitled, or will stand still for the next decade, while every other city on the pacific coast is outstripping it in growth. The proof of this is given in the figures of the U. S. Census Bureau, which show that in the last four years Sacramento has grown 42 1/2 per cent., Los Angeles 37 1/2 per cent., Berkeley 28 per cent., San Diego 23 1/2 per cent., Oakland 21 per cent., Alameda 12 1/2 per cent., while San Francisco has grown but 7 1/2 per cent., in spite of the fact that these four years have seen the opening of the Panama Canal and have included the period of construction of a $50,000,000 Exposition for this showing by San Francisco. Only an immediate increase can save San Francisco from lagging behind in the prosperity and growth which are enjoyed by all other cities of the Pacific Coast.

There never was a clearer question for the people to decide. The cities growth depends absolutely upon its ability to get additional water immediately. That immediate increased supply can be had only by the purchase of the Spring Valley properties, the increase of its supply and the extension of its mains. If the people do not purchase this plant they still could not hope for additional water from Hetch-Hetchy for eight years at least. An entirely independent Hetch-Hetchy system would not produce a cent of revenue from water sales until the entire cost of $54,000,000 had been expended to bring water to the city and serve it to consumers in a distribution system paralleling the existing pipes of Spring Valley. The city would then be in competition with a system now furnishing 40,000,000 gallons of water a day to 72,000 consumers. During the years of development work on Hetch-Hetchy the tax payers would have to pay out $12,262,500 in interest and $5,000,000 for retirement of bonds, a total of $17,262,500, which can be raised only by taxation. This would add at least 50 cents to the tax rate in the next ten years.

At the same time San Francisco by purchasing Spring Valley will not relax its development of the Hetch-Hetchy project. None of the city officials has the slightest thought of neglecting this magnificent supply of water from the high Sierra, for the City Engineer's plans already prepared, provide for such development work as may be needed in the next few years, completing a power plant as the first unit to furnish electricity for our street railroads and public lighting, which combined now cost the city $750,000 a year. This will pay interest on the bonds for its construction, and after the competition of the Calaveras Dam and the extension of the distributing system, Hetch-Hetchy will then be drawn upon as the city's water needs develop.

The proposal for the purchase of the Spring Valley is almost to simple to need argument. The present receipts from the sale of water will pay operating expenses, the interest on the $34,500,000 bonds, depreciation, and will leave a surplus for extension. Here are the figures: In 1914 the total receipts were $3,463,294.78. Assuming that those would have been receipts under city ownership, the ordinary operating expenses and taxes outside of San Francisco which the city would have to pay would have been $936,193.51. Leaving an operating profit of $2,527,101.27, from which deduct $1,552,500 interest on $34,500,000 bonds would have left a net profit of $874,601.27 for extensions and sinking fund. The figures are conclusive. By paying for water what they are now and long have been paying the people will be able to acquire their own water system. And in addition more than $1,000,000 will be returned at once to the rate payers from the water rates impounded during the litigation between the city and the company.

It is exactly as though a person were able to buy his own home by paying the very same rent he has always been paying for the house or apartments in which he lives. It is impossible to think that people will not apply the same common sense to their public business that they do to their private affairs. It is difficult to see why any person would not vote for the purchase of the Spring Valley property, or every argument in opposition breaks down before the facts. The danger lies in the public apathy and the question is of such vital importance that one who is interested in the prosperity and future greatness of San Francisco cannot but feel the deepest concern in the outcome of the election on April 20.

What Leading People Say About Spring Valley

We would not resell the Spring Valley properties for many millions in advance of what we can purchase them for if we can obtain them once.

The acquisition of Spring Valley has been a political football for forty years. Let us put the question forever behind us. - Mayor James Rolph, Jr.

The absence of water is largely responsible for a big percentage of our population living outside of the city. Instead of increasing taxes the purchase of the Spring Valley properties will make money for the city. - Ex-Chief Justice Matt I. Sullivan.

The critics opposing the purchase of Spring Valley are as false and misleading on the water question as they were on the building of the Municipal Street Railway System. San Francisco is the only great city in the United States dependent upon a corporation for its very existence. - City Engineer M. M. O’Shaughnessy.

The citizens of San Francisco cannot be behind those of other cities in the ownership and control of their own water supply. - Marshall Hale.

The woman of San Francisco will assist the men in the solution of a problem that has kept them worried for nearly forty years. - Mrs. A. P. Black.

I have been in favor of the purchase of Spring Valley ever since I reached the years of discretion. It is always possible to put a spoke in a wheel by raising the question of price. - Walter MacArthur.

We have had an administration which has done intelligently great things for the city and which I am satisfied is in the matter of this proposed purchase equally intelligent and at the same time honest to the bone. The value of the property has been estimated by experts of this administration and I am willing to take their opinion as final. The controversy with Spring Valley has been a running sore for many, many years. It is now time to eradicate it. - Hon. Edward Robeson Taylor, Former Mayor of San Francisco.

Home Up One Level