SFPUC Commissioner Sophie Maxwell Encourages More Activism

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Former District 10 Supervisor, Sophie Maxwell, spends most mornings at Lake Merced, enjoying the scenic views and natural landscape that surrounds it. The lake, which now serves as an emergency water supply, was San Francisco’s main drinking water source until it was replaced by the Hetch-Hetchy reservoir in the Sierra Nevada almost a century ago.

Hetch-Hetchy is owned and operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is responsible for supplying potable water to 2.7 million Bay Area residents, among other duties. 

Maxwell, a Potrero Hill resident, is one of five SFPUC commissioners, who collectively regulate water, power, and sewage rates. 

“Everyone should get to experience the beauty of San Francisco and we have an obligation to the environment as well as to our residents,” she said. “We need to do a better job of recycling water and improve how we deliver water to our residents.” 

Maxwell was appointed to the SFPUC by Mayor London Breed in 2019. She previously served three terms on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, representing District 10; Potrero Hill, Bayview, Hunters Point, Visitacion Valley, Silver Terrace, Dogpatch, Little Hollywood, and Portola. 

“We are a compassionate city, but we have to ask ourselves, how did we get to this point?” she said of chronically high levels of people without fixed shelter.  Maxwell pointed to decisions made decades ago to close mental hospitals and offer less public housing as key to increasing inequality. 

Maxwell is concerned that civic engagement has faded in recent years. 

“It’s an honor to serve,” she said, “but also much easier when the people of the community are engaged. So many people come and go, sometimes even the most committed eventually move on elsewhere. And those who stay are often so busy and distracted with their daily lives that it becomes harder to sustain the same degree of dedication as previous generations. And let’s face it, a lot of people prefer the status quo. Letting things stay as they are doesn’t hurt, and it’s easier not to ruffle too many feathers.”  

She cited District 10’s dedicated activists during her tenure as supervisor as key to the closure of fossil fueled power plants located in Hunters Point and Potrero Hill in 2006 and 2011, respectively. Maxwell worked with former City Attorney, now SFPUC General Manager, Dennis Herrera, on that effort.  Herrera was appointed to the position earlier this year after the Commission’s previous head, Harlan Kelly, resigned in the wake of fraud allegations. Kelly pled not guilty to felony charges of fraud and corruption.

“Coming from a completely different sector will surely be a challenge, but Dennis has the ability and potential to manage, and I believe we can all work together,” Maxwell said. “He understands it’s up to the Commission to provide a good set of policies and we’ll do just that.”