Lawyer hired to fight Nealon Park golf club well

Menlo Park plan riles neighbors

Attorney Craig Breon, a Portola Valley native and conservationist, now represents a group of neighbors living near Nealon Park, the proposed site of a city well to irrigate the private Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club.

"We are spending time and money on this because we think the proposed project is poor public policy and sets a bad precedent. Water is a limited, public resource. The project would allocate this valuable public resource largely to a non-essential, private use," said JoAnne Wilkes, who lives near the park.

She said she's been waiting for the city to answer questions about the plan for more than a month. Citing lack of disclosure as a chief reason for hiring the attorney, Ms. Wilkes raised concerns about the project possibly skipping both the Planning Commission and a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review before reaching the council this fall.

Mr. Breon wrote the City Council on Oct. 11 stating he'd filed an extensive public records request because of the lack of detailed information and environmental review forthcoming from the city.

The list of 20 questions in his records request includes asking about the proposed pipeline route; the club's yearly water consumption and how much it pays; and how much the city has spent researching the well and whether the club is covering the cost of staff time.

The attorney's request also asks why a report in 2006 showed the club using 78 million gallons of water per year, while the country club recently told the city it uses 60 million.

Saying the city's current "frequently asked questions" document on the project "barely scratched the surface of the issues," he's asking for a more detailed response to be posted on the city website, along with an outline of the public process for the project, before the plan reaches a commission or the council.

"In a previous document, city staff noted that they would be taking comment until September 30th. However, without a detailed staff report and some form of CEQA documentation, the public can hardly be expected to provide the informed comments needed for such a significant decision," the attorney wrote.

The club wants to pay for the well and a pipeline to water its golf course, which could also irrigate three city parks and a school. The project would save the club money by switching to groundwater for irrigation instead of potable Hetch Hetchy water, but what the Menlo Park gets out of the deal remains unclear.

The city held an informational meeting on Aug. 24 that raised more questions than it answered. Matt Oscamou, the city's interim engineering manager, said that every aspect of the project, including construction cost and the direction of pipeline alignments between the park and club, had to be factored in before calculating any type of financial numbers. The city would also need to negotiate an agreement for the club to cover ongoing maintenance costs.

City staff suggested the proposal could help the city meet the state's mandate to cut water consumption 20 percent by 2020 by saving about 60 million gallons of Hetch Hetchy water annually. However, residents said the proposal only changes the source of water, not the amount used.

On Sept. 22, Mr. Oscamou said staff continued to evaluate elements of the project and gather information that would be released to the public.

The well would be located in front of the tennis courts facing Middle Avenue, within a 10-foot by 30-foot area enclosed by screens designed to match the court fences, according to city engineering staff. They estimated construction would take six to nine months, and need one week of 24/7 drilling, which didn't appease the neighbors.

"Two wells at Hillview Middle School were used to water the golf course in 1960s. Why aren't those wells being re-tapped?" asked Elizabeth Houck, who also supported hiring Mr. Breon. "In Palo Alto if you want to do something with a public park, it has to go to a vote of the people. It's not like that in Menlo Park. Do not use a precious natural resource for a non-essential use."

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Like this comment
Posted by janet
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm

What does this do to the dog park? It also seems unfair that a golf course can just grab land, inconvenience many people, and take from the water table. Why don't they put in a gray water system that other people can also use. Seems like a very selfish and unenvironmentally-friendly thing to do. Hope the neighbors win their law suit and get costs back from the golf Course lot.

Like this comment
Posted by Nealon Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Hey, I've got an idea! Let's dig up part of a public park, put in a 600 foot deep well and all the equipment to run it. Then we dig up all the streets from downtown to the top of Sharon Heights near 280 for a pipeline and then pump the water up hill for a private country club who gets the water free for the price of the pipeline. Oh yeah, let's position it as a 'water conservation' project 'cause we don't have to BUY water from the Menlo Park Water District anymore!! Woo Hoo, free water for life!! Woo hoo.

Like this comment
Posted by Roxie Rorapaugh
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Oct 12, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Good for you Nealon Park area residents for hiring a lawyer, this well idea is ridiculous. The City staff should just tell the Golf Course they pay triple for their water-- the golf course will learn to conserve or find somewhere else for water. Where is the City Council when people try to pull this crap! Thanks for standing up!

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 13, 2011 at 12:05 am

Don't forget that residents' water bills will go up to cover the fixed costs for Hetch Hetchy water, now that this large customer will be escaping.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2011 at 2:06 am

And don't forget folks - Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club is an IRS Income Tax Exempt Organization as a 501(c)(7) organization. 2009 revenues totaled $10.8 million. All the info is available on the club's publicly available 2010 IRS form 990 filing.

Don't forget the elitist nature of the facility according to its own website - "Coupled with its elite membership the club has maintained traditions for service and facility excellence that have enabled Sharon Heights to achieve their position as a Platinum Club of America, one of the top 100 club communities in the United States!" Web Link

Remember these are the folks who want the free water.

Like this comment
Posted by Kathleen Mudge
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 9:17 am

I would really want to know what the financial cost is to residents. Will the loss of revenue from the Golf Club's current water use be passed on to the residents with higher water bills? And I am assuming there will be some cost to the Golf Course for use of the ground water but this has not been disclosed. We need a lot more information before an intelligent decision may be made.

Like this comment
Posted by Allied Arts Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 13, 2011 at 10:26 am

It's good to see this article in the Almanac, and I hope it catches plenty of eyes.

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth H
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 13, 2011 at 11:19 am

Here is what I know about this project:
*The only reason the city continues this project is because the County Club is footing the bill for staff's time.
*It is NOT a water conservation project.
*It is not an "acceptable use" for a park/open space zoning.
*Country Club's own projections is that they get the water free.
*In theory, using ground water instead of Hetch Hetchy is a good thing, but only for "essential use;" watering golf greens is about as far from an 'essential use' as it gets.
*It should not be CEQA exempt.
*Despite repeated requests to work with the city and the Country Club to come up with alternatives, they have yet to communicate any willingness to do so.
*This aquifer is tapped by many users, yet, no comprehensive numbers exist because Stanford isn't required to declare it's use (we estimate it could be millions per day.)


Like this comment
Posted by long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm

The city continues to entertain this idea because it is a money maker for the city and it uses very little of the park. At least the club had the courtesy to pay for staff time. Many of our local activists don't.

No ones bills are going up as a result of this project.

Pumping from the aquifer isn't really the issue because there is plenty of water down there. Many of the residents of the Willows are now in a water district pumping that water without water meters (unlimited).

A country club is no different than a group of private residences. The analysis of this project should be based on whether the city benefits and not if the recipients are wealthy.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

This may or may not help those interested in this local water issue learn about other local water issues & what they all have in common:

Wed, October 19, 7pm Unitarian Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston, Palo Alto, Fireside Room, James Forrest, water activist, will describe & show slides of the UULM's Water Justice Tour of 2011. It will open your eyes to water issues in Calif. Web Link

Oct 15-16, the Los Altos History Museum will kick off an exhibit entitled "Shaped by Water" with "Riveropolis", a 30-foot kinetic sculpture and waterway installation intended for the entire family. An opening reception is be held at the Museum on Saturday evening, 6-8:30pm. "Shaped by Water" will be at the museum through April 22, 2012. Check out: Web Link

I truly hope that this self-titled elitist country club does NOT get away w/this. It's a gorgeous country club which can afford to pay for water. Like Mr. Davis says - water bills will go up for others & of course, there will be now-invisible costs to the project.

Remember what your mama told you: Water doesn't grow on trees! ;-)

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth H
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Long time resident should do a little fact checking before making assumptions about claiming a "group of private residences" gets well water for free. They pay a flat rate of $75/per month per household for their water.

I wouldn't be so quick to give away water and park land for such a non-essential use.

Like this comment
Posted by witcher's brew
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 13, 2011 at 8:30 pm

There is so much underground water that could be tapped around the Golf Course, even horizontal wells into the hillsides which just spring forth with abundant ground water. A drive down 280 south of Woodside Road is all it takes to observe the weeping hillsides above the Golf Course.
Why drill down in the flats and cause negative externalities with noisy pumps running all night long and possible settling around the Nealon Park neighborhood and proposed pipeline route?
Must be another Menlo Prez concoction?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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