City mostly clears Pagemill Pastures in hydrant-water case | March 3, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 3, 2023

City mostly clears Pagemill Pastures in hydrant-water case

Palo Alto investigation finds a tanker-truck driver took hydrant water just once and by mistake

by Sue Dremann

After a lengthy investigation into whether a Palo Alto equestrian center had been illegally taking water for years out of a city fire hydrant, the City of Palo Alto Utilities department has concluded that it occurred only one time and was inadvertent.

Pagemill Pastures, located at 3450 Deer Creek Road, a half-mile from Interstate Highway 280, was under investigation after a city employee witnessed a water truck from the center getting water from a fire hydrant near the property early in 2022. The city sought to determine if Pagemill Pastures had accessed the water illegally and, if so, for how long and how much water had been taken. In March 2022, the city informed the equestrian center that the utilities department had no record of the center having a valid permit for hydrant use or a city-registered meter.

Pagemill Pastures, a 200-acre horse-boarding facility, leases its land from Stanford University. The investigation found that Stanford Land, Buildings & Real Estate management had requested that Pagemill Pastures use its water truck for a one-time delivery of water to another Stanford Land parcel that was using a herd of goats for vegetation management.

Pagemill owns a water tanker truck with a 3,000-gallon capacity used for supplemental water deliveries to its two horse properties, one on Deer Creek Road and the other in San Mateo County.

A tanker-truck driver who works for Pagemill in both San Mateo County and Palo Alto filled up a truck from the Palo Alto hydrant instead of the hydrant in San Mateo County, Palo Alto Utilities Director Dean Batchelor said in an email.

The only problem was that Pagemill, while it has a valid water hydrant meter issued by San Mateo County, has never had a hydrant meter issued by Palo Alto.

"Since the volume of the tanker truck is around 3,000 gallons (equivalent to about 400 hundred cubic feet or ccf), we estimate this was the volume of water used in this incident," Batchelor said.

As a result of the investigation, Pagemill will need to pay the city $34, utilities spokeswoman Catherine Elvert said.

"This inadvertent, though still illegal, access of the Palo Alto system was viewed by CPAU (City of Palo Alto Utilities) staff who correctly determined that a Palo Alto hydrant meter was not being used to measure the water to fill the truck. This is what led to the initial allegation of theft of water," Batchelor said.

"There was coverage in the press and public outcry as this was a dry, hot time of year," he said. "This was unfortunate because CPAU had not had time to fully investigate the issue."

As part of its investigation, Palo Alto Utilities monitored, graphed and evaluated the daily water consumption of Pagemill Pastures and found consistent usage for its allotted horse population over the years. Wide-scale use of non-metered water by the tanker truck would have resulted in much greater fluctuations in their use of metered water over the years, he said.

"Therefore, it appears the unmetered use of water was inadvertent and does not suggest that Pagemill Pastures was knowingly (or unknowingly) using water without paying for it. Since Pagemill Pastures is the tenant at this location and the utilities customer on record, the company will be billed for this water use to rectify the situation," Batchelor said.

Pagemill owner/manager Giselle Turchet said by phone that she had no comment on the investigation but indicated she felt vindicated by the findings.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]


Posted by Nancy the real Nancy
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2023 at 6:34 pm

Nancy the real Nancy is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Observer
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 2, 2023 at 1:42 pm

Observer is a registered user.

This incident should be a lesson to the local media. The original article made it appear that CPAU and that media had ample evidence of ongoing water theft over many years. Apparently there was no such evidence at that time not since. This almost certainly has been distressing to Pagemill Pastures' owner. After such a fiasco, the least CPAU could do is to waive the fine (a paltry $34) and issue a written apology, as should the media who ran with the "horror" of this supposed ongoing threat. They should be glad they are not being sued for damages! FYI, I have no connection with Pagemill Pastures or its owner, but I do recall the article and the (undeserved) bad publicity PP received.

Editor Response: Observer, we regret that our original story turned out to be in error and have removed it from Google search engines and posted an explanation on the story. The story, however, accurately reported what city officials said at the time. We had no means of investigating the accuracy of the city's position on Pagemill's water use other than to request a response from Pagemill Pastures, which declined to respond to our inquiries or discuss the city's claims. Just like a defendant in a civil or criminal case who faces charges that are ultimately dismissed or successfully defended, the best journalistic efforts to ensure fairness and accuracy in our reporting can sometimes fail and inflict harm. We're sorry that happened in this instance.

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