Oakland A's Exec Billy Beane One of East Bay's Biggest Water Guzzlers
Until Thursday, Oakland A's executive Billy Beane was a guy fans were mad at because he'd just engineered one of the worst seasons in his team's history.
Now Billy Beane is, at least for today, the face of our new pariah class: the guy who's hogging water in the middle of the drought.
Beane, a resident of hot, dry, gated Blackhawk in Contra Costa County, is No. 3 on the East Bay Municipal Utility District's list of 1,108 residential water users recently issued penalties for excessive water use.
The utility says that in the most recent two-month billing cycle, Beane used 360,000 gallons of water. There are all sorts of way to parse that: If his billing period was exactly 60 days, that comes out to 5,996 gallons a day. That's 24 times the amount used by East Bay MUD's average residential customer, 246 gallons a day.
And I like to think of it in more personal terms. Like many people in the Bay Area, our household in Berkeley has heard that it's been dry for a while. Like many others, we've tried to find ways to conserve water. And it shows: Our yard looks like a drought hit it. We've got buckets in the kitchen and bathroom to try to make sure that nothing that comes out of the tap is wasted.
The result is our household water use is down to a total of 50 gallons a day, according to our most recent EBMUD bill. That means we used about 3,000 gallons in the last two-month billing cycle. And Billy Beane? His average use between midnight and noon averaged 3,000 gallons. Every day.
The Bay Area News Group, which was the first to publish the EBMUD data, contacted the A's exec to ask him about his water use. His response: "Beane said he has tried to reduce his water use this year but added that he has a large landscaped yard. 'I certainly pay for it,'" he said.
That's good of him. By my calculations, figuring in EBMUD's basic water rates, drought surcharge and penalty for excessive use, Beane paid around $4,000 for the water he used from mid-July to mid-September.
(EBMUD's penalty scheme seems exceedingly generous, by the way: In the midst of the worst drought in the state's history, the district asks water guzzlers to pay the penalty only when they exceed a base amount of 1,000 gallons a day. One thousand gallons! That amount is four times the amount used by the average EBMUD residential customer, and it's more than double the estimated use for a "typical" California household.
What happens if you're an EBMUD customer who uses more than 1,000 gallons a day? You pay $2 for every billing unit of water over that amount. A billing unit is 100 cubic feet of water, or 748 gallons. )
Back to Billy Beane. Let's not lose sight of the fact he was just No. 3 on EBMUD's list of top water guzzlers. The top spot went to one of Beane's Blackhawk neighbors, George Kirkland, a recently retired Chevron executive whom the water district says used about 12,580 gallons of water a day.
The Bay Area News Group story says Kirkland, whose spread includes two vineyards, blamed a water leak for the excessive use.
The No. 2 spot on the EBMUD list went to Mark Pine, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur residing in Alamo.
That top trio reflects a pattern on the EBMUD List of Shame: 80 percent of those hit with penalties for excessive water use live in half a dozen communities in the torrid zone beyond the East Bay hills -- Alamo, Danville (which includes Blackhawk), Lafayette, Orinda, San Ramon and Walnut Creek.
In one sense, that's unsurprising. It is hot out there in the summertime. And the rule of thumb in California is that in most locales, about half of all domestic water is used outside -- on lawns, landscaping and, in the more well-heeled neighborhoods, for swimming pools. So yes, naturally, it's an established but nonetheless often grating fact that people out in the warm belt use more water than EBMUD customers who live in the blessed cool zone on the west side of the hills.
Yet, there might be something else going on here. Just as in a place like Berkeley, where low water use is something to brag about, a wealthy place like Blackhawk, which maintains rigorous landscaping standards, might encourage the opposite kind of behavior.
Check out Billy Beane's neighborhood, a private enclave called Saddleback. It was dreamed up in the 1970s as a place where horse lovers could live side by side with their horses, and lot sizes range from an acre to 7 acres.
Yes, Beane and his neighbor George Kirkland are the princes of excessive water use there. But EBMUD's list suggests that about three dozen of the 50 or so customers in the development were hit with excessive use penalties. That may understate the number of water hogs in the development, since not all of them have been billed for recent use yet.
If you have to use a lot of water to keep up appearances, well, you just pay for it, like Beane says. The drought and all its consequences -- that's happening in some other world, where people can't pay to pretend it's not happening.