Richard Sklar dies at 74; engineer ran San Francisco utilities and helped rebuild Bosnia after civil war

Times Staff And Wire Reports

Richard Sklar, an engineer who as general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission from 1979 to '83 oversaw the city's water, power and sewer operations as well as its public transportation network, has died. He was 74.

Sklar, who led the U.S. effort to rebuild infrastructure in war-torn Bosnia in the 1990s, died Tuesday of pancreatic cancer at his home in San Francisco, his wife, Barbara, told Bloomberg News.

Often outspoken, sometimes abrasive and usually effective, Sklar put his stamp on many San Francisco projects, overseeing the construction of the convention center and the rehabilitation of the aging cable car system.

In 1976, then-Mayor George Moscone hired Sklar to take over the city's long-delayed $1.5-billion project to build a sewer system and water-treatment plant. The project was completed under budget and on time, his family said.

Sklar's success in dealing with the project prompted Moscone to ask him to oversee the building of the Yerba Buena Convention Center project. It later became the Moscone Center, named after the mayor, who was assassinated in November 1978.

Sklar served as general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission after being appointed by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein. The agency runs the city's water system, which stretches from the Sierra Nevada and provides electricity for cities and towns throughout the Bay Area. At that time the PUC also oversaw the Municipal Railway.

He served another term on the commission beginning in 2004 at the request of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

In 1983, Sklar left the PUC and went to work for O'Brien-Kreitzberg Inc., a mammoth, San Francisco-based construction management firm that specializes in public works projects. The company supervised construction of the Metro Rail Green Line in Los Angeles and the rebuilding of the Los Angeles Central Library.

In 1996, President Clinton asked Sklar to help supervise the reconstruction of Bosnia after the 1992-95 civil war in that country. Sklar was instrumental in restoring water and electricity and reopening Sarajevo's airport.

A year later Clinton named Sklar to be an ambassador to the United Nations for management and reform.

After a short tenure, Sklar returned to the Balkans to help with Montenegrin independence.

Then-California Gov. Gray Davis asked Sklar in 2001 to help speed the construction of power plants after the state's power crisis.

Sklar, the son of an engineer, was born Nov. 18, 1934, in Baltimore. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering from Cornell University and then worked at the former Allied Steel and Tractor Corp. in Cleveland. He later became president and co-owner of the company.

A longtime Democratic Party supporter, Sklar is survived by his wife, two sons, two daughters, eight grandchildren and a brother. The family plans to hold a memorial service.

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