You can call it snotty. You can call it vapid. You can call it nipped, tucked, smoothed and straightened beyond recognition. But whatever you do, don’t call Beverly Hills a laggard when it comes to water conservation — at least in the presence of Mayor Julian Gold. He's already well-aware. And he's working on it.
Over the past year, Gold and city leaders have strived to reverse this well-heeled Los Angeles enclave’s status, per the California Water Board, as one of the state’s most egregious users of residential water. In fact, Beverly Hills — where 50 to 60 of water used is to keep XL-sized lawns obscenely hydrated — is home to two of California’s top 10 known residential water users as determined by the Center for Investigative Reporting using data furnished by the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water. (Neighboring Bel Air dominates the list).
Tasked with reducing his city’s water consumption by 36 percent — later eased to 32 percent — over the past year as California struggled with a historic four-year drought, Gold and officials got busy — busy educating, fining and writing nasty-grams to those defying water usage restrictions.
He told CBS News last April: "I'm going to go knock on their door and tell them to stop. I think it's going to come down to neighbors policing neighbors."
While it’s doubtful that Gold actually went knocking on doors, the city’s aggressive recent efforts to cut back have paid off. But it didn’t happen overnight.
This past October, Beverly Hills hit a new low when it was fined $61,000 for failing to meet water conservation goals for four months straight — the only city in California not located in the desert to be penalized. Other communities across Los Angeles County met their conservation goals, some with flying colors. But not Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills failed, falling short of its conservation target by nearly 12 percentage points, according to the New York Times.
"I'm not sure why that is," noted Cris Carrigan, the California Water Board’s chief of enforcement. "There are other affluent communities in the state where conservation is cool. In Beverly Hills, for whatever reason, people are not motivated."
In addition to doling out a hefty fine, Carrigan noted that the water-wasting residents of Beverly Hills “should be ashamed.”
Heads hung low, "very concerned" city officials vowed to make dramatic improvements — and tout de suite.
Following last year’s very public — and very costly — scolding, Beverly Hills finally seems to be conserving. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the city cut its water usage by 26 percent in January — the highest in eight months of reporting and almost double the conservation rate in December. A 26 percent reduction still falls a few points shy of the city’s established standard, and Beverly Hills certainly isn’t out of the woods yet as far as penalties go. But hey, it’s a marked improvement.
Laying down the law
So what tactic ultimately worked in a city seemingly populated by water conservation scofflaws? Beverly Hills officials believe a round of stern letters that went out in November to the 86 highest single-family residential water users might have done the trick. Each letter specifically addressed a two-month billing cycle, most, but not all, ranging from June through August.
"These letters were the latest in our toolbox to encourage the top water users to be more conservation minded,” Gold explained to the Times.
So here we are, thanks to a request under the California Public Records Act filed by the Times, with the names — and the detailed soggy indiscretions — of just a few of the biggest water guzzlers in Beverly Hills.
Most of the names aren’t entirely shocking. There's a legendary media mogul (David Geffen), a hotshot Hollywood director (Brett Ratner), a prominent real estate developer (Geoff Palmer) and an Emmy-winning television producer (Max Mutchnick of “Will & Grace” fame).
And then there’s Amy Poehler.
Not that Poehler isn’t immune to flagrant acts of waste, but the “Saturday Night Live” alumna’s name on the list is surprising. You certainly wouldn’t expect Leslie Knope of all people to use 170,000 gallons of water between May 14 and July 14 — that’s $2,200 worth of water over a two-month billing cycling.
The average amount of water used by Poehler on a daily basis is also, as Quartz points out, just a wee bit higher than that of the average American family per Environmental Protection Agency estimates: roughly 2,786 gallons versus 400 gallons per day.
And here’s the thing: it’s unclear why exactly Poehler is guzzling such an egregious amount of H2O.
While the other water-wasters named by the Times responded to the article, Poehler, newly minted Water-Wasting Queen of Beverly Hills, has remained mum. Palmer, Mutchnick and Ratner all, personally or through a representative, responded to the Times’ queries. All claimed to have leaks on their property that they plan to fix if they hadn't been fixed already. Geffen, who used a staggering 1.6 million gallons of water over a two-month span (that's 27,000 gallons a day) to the tune of $30,000, responded via email to say that he’s in the process of securing permission from the city to drill a private well on his property enabling him to “access the underground river that flows beneath my home instead of water from the city.”
So there's that. When your net worth is in excess of $6 billion, I suppose a $30,000 water bill is just a drop in the proverbial bucket. Still, that's a crazy amount of water.
As for Poehler, until she publicly addresses her naughty water-wasting ways, it will remain one of life’s great mysteries: why does a single mother of two need 2,786 gallons of water a day? Gawker has made some guesses — backyard almond farming (1.1 gallon per almond), repeatedly filling up a shark tank (400 gallons), “ripping up Will Arnett’s unsold scripts and flushing each piece individually” (as many as 7 gallons per flush.) But here’s hoping it’s just one big, yet-to-be-detected leak.
That said, please fix this, Amy.
Via [Quartz], [LA Times]