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Toney San Francisco Homeowners Repay City For Decade Of Free Water

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- An exclusive San Francisco street that has made plenty of headlines of late is getting new attention for excessive water use that tax payers have been footing the bill for over the past decade.

Presidio Terrace may look familiar after being in at the center of a real estate controversy last year.

A San Jose couple was able to buy the ritzy private San Francisco street at auction following a tax bill mix-up with the Presidio Terrace Homeowners Association.


The San Francisco Board of Supervisor ended up giving the street back to the homeowners.

Now it turns out there is a reason the exclusive street is so full of lush vegetation. The homes on Presidio Terrace have been consuming up to a million gallons of water a year on the tax payers' dime.

The posh San Francisco neighborhood lined with multimillion dollar mansions, expansive green lawns and exquisite landscaping.

As it turns out the elite Presidio Terrace – past homeowners on the street have included both Senator Diane Feinstein and Representative Nancy Pelosi – haven't had to pay a dime for all the water required by the sizable yards that the homes boast.

The reason? The city of San Francisco never sent the Homeowners Association a water bill.

When KPIX 5 asked San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell how it could just be coming to light that the city has not been billing the residents on the street for their water for almost a century, he was bewildered.

"I have no idea. We're obviously digging into it right now," said Farrell.

Rachel Gordon with the SF Public Works office did not have the answer either.

"I'm sorry, I don't know," said Gordon.

As it happens, Presidio Terrace is not the only street enjoying water at the tax payers expense. There are about 2 dozen of these situations s across the city.

"We are in the process of transferring them over to the proper property owner," explained Gordon. "Most of them are under the jurisdiction of other government agencies."

The Public Works department said it discovered it was paying for other people's water during a recent audit of its 200 active meters.

According to PUC records, Presidio Terrace alone has racked up nearly $60,000 in water bills over the past decade.

The community was built around the turn of the century, but the water bills only date back to 2007, when Public Works began paying them.

Needless to say, skirting their water bill is not a good look for the affluent community. So last week, they voluntarily cut the city a $59,000 check to pay tax payers back.

"They came to us and said they want to make right with the city," Gordon said.

The Presidio Terrace Homeowners Association declined an interview, but issued a statement that said in part, "As soon as the HOA learned that the common area water was billed to a city department, they requested the full amount, and then promptly paid it in full."

While the city was unsure of how exactly this error happened, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the issue likely dates back to a 2007 law. When it went into effect, city agencies had to start paying for the water they used -- before the law, they got it for free.

The city started assigning water meters for public spaces to various agencies. Somehow, the Presidio Terrace water meter was assigned to the Department of Public Works, even though the posh street is clearly not a public space.


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