News - August 31, 2011

Residents protest: Private club seeks public well

by Janelle Eastman and Sandy Brundage

The city's proposal to install an irrigation well in Nealon Park, a popular communal open space located at 800 Middle Ave. and owned by Menlo Park, aroused the ire of the park's neighbors at an informational meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 24.

The Sharon Heights Golf and Country Club, located at 2900 Sand Hill Road, 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 well would save the club money by switching to groundwater for irrigation instead of potable Hetch Hetchy water, but what the city gets out of the deal remains murky.

Matt Oscamou, the city's interim engineering manager, said aspects of the project that still need to be worked out, including construction cost and the length and direction of pipeline alignments between the park and club, would have to be factored in before calculating the financial numbers. The city would also need to negotiate an agreement for the club to cover ongoing maintenance costs.

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, David Alfano, a 24-year resident of Menlo Park who attended Wednesday's meeting, said the well proposal does nothing to meet this requirement; it only changes the source of water from Hetch Hetchy to the park's aquifer.

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 sweeten the deal from the neighbors' perspective, despite staff's promise of a temporary noise barrier.

Residents objected to the proposal on environmental grounds as well as the appearance of a private club benefiting from diverting a public resource.

"I believe any public-private venture in open space and depleting a valuable natural resource is not an acceptable use. This appears to be a sweetheart deal for a private country club," said Elizabeth Houck, a lifelong resident of Menlo Park.

The suggested non-recreational use of the park provided another avenue of objection.

"We want our park to be a park and not used as a light industrial space. Just a month ago they proposed to plant cell-phone towers at Nealon. I'm wondering if there will ever be a time when we can just relax and not have to worry about our park being used for non-recreational purposes," Mr. Alfano said.

Toward the end of the meeting, a club representative mentioned that another private business is also interested in the aquifer, but declined to identify that business.

Staff plans to present the proposal to the City Council in October or November. If approved, construction could start in fall 2012, once the pipeline alignment also gets the green light.


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