Shooting Blanks

A former Lake Merced gun club has been sued for $8.25 million by the "cruel and intolerant hand" of S.F. politicians.

The club closed in April of 2014 to allow the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to conduct a multi-million cleanup. (Photo: Mike Koozmin)

When Pacific Rod and Gun Club shuttered in 2015, some people — not least the dog walkers who visit nearby Fort Funston — breathed a sigh of relief. The seemingly neverending booms of bullets leaving the barrel of a gun and colliding with clay pigeons near Lake Merced were over. But for the city, work had just begun: Crews cleaned up 83 years’ worth of shotgun pellets and contaminated soil, to the tune of $15 million.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved a settlement against the club, which required it to pay $8.25 million to cover the cleanup costs the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission took on after the closure. Based on findings from a 2011 study, three feet of topsoil had to be removed across the 14-acre site, as it contained toxic levels of arsenic, benzo(a)pyrene, and lead.

“The actual cleanup included excavation and then appropriate offsite disposal of approximately 58,600 cubic yards of contaminated soils,” Charles Sheehan, spokesperson for SFPUC, tells SF Weekly. “Crews then backfilled excavated areas with clean fill material. Following completion of all earthwork, the site has been re-vegetated with appropriate native grasses to prevent erosion.”

The cleanup was extensive, but it could have been worse. Founded in 1934, when environmental awareness was nearly nonexistent, the club banned lead shot only in 1994, and, in 2000, replaced petroleum-based targets with clay. But 82 years of toxic bullets took their toll, and now, the insurance carriers of the club are forced to pay up. It’s a good thing the club was insured, too: On June 3, a Facebook post stated that the club’s website was shut down as it “can’t afford” to keep it up.

“We hope you have all found new places to enjoy our beloved sport and culture, but we will always miss this irreplaceable place that has been taken away from us by the cruel and intolerant hand of San Francisco politics,” it stated.

The Chronicle reports that, based on 2016 tax records, the club only had $9,787 to its name. Lawsuit aside, there are plans in place for the old gun-club site. Lake Merced Recreation LLC submitted a proposal to build a $2.9-million recreation center that would offer kayaking, paddleboarding, yoga classes, and more. Once built out, the space would include bocce ball courts, a fishing pier, a farmers market, and a space for the nonprofit Yellow Bike Project, which refurbishes old bikes for low-income communities. The project is currently under environmental-impact review, and, if approved, could be completed as soon as 2020.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera sees the suit as a win.

“I’m very pleased we were able to reach a settlement that provides a substantial amount of money for cleanup costs,” he tells SF Weekly. “Our office is dedicated to protecting the best interests of all San Franciscans, and we showed that in our dogged work to secure more than $8 million from a defunct entity like the Pacific Rod and Gun Club. This money will help ensure that San Franciscans will be able to enjoy a clean Lake Merced for generations to come.”

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