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Tom Selleck, water district reach tentative settlement in dispute

It had all the makings of a latter-day water war, pitting a Ventura County water district against actor Tom Selleck.

The Calleguas Municipal Water District accused Selleck of illegally moving water over district boundaries from Thousand Oaks to his 60-acre Hidden Valley estate, and it spent about $22,000 on a private investigator to track the deliveries, according to a complaint filed in Ventura County Superior Court.

As California's drought ravaged water supplies and the district sent cease-and-desist letters to Selleck's addresses, the unlawful deliveries continued, the complaint said.

But the skirmish came to a halt Thursday when the water district announced that it had reached a tentative settlement with Selleck. Details are confidential pending approval by the water district's board, said Eric Bergh, Calleguas' resources manager.

The board is scheduled to consider the settlement at its meeting Wednesday.

“We're happy about it,” Bergh said. “It's good news.”

The tentative resolution caps an episode that, fueled by celebrity and the novelty of the purported misconduct, prompted fascination and still more questions: Was Selleck himself, the mustachioed “Magnum, P.I.” and “Blue Bloods” star, pulling up to a fire hydrant and plundering the city's water system? Did it not constitute a crime, such as grand theft?

According to the complaint, a water tender truck was spotted multiple times filling up at the same Thousand Oaks fire hydrant on Irving Drive, then delivering the water to Selleck's property in Hidden Valley. A delivery was first observed about Sept. 30, 2013, according to court papers.

Residents say the same man -- not Selleck -- usually pulled the truck up to the hydrant about 6 a.m.

Jay Spurgin, director of public works for Thousand Oaks, said water sourced from the hydrant described in the complaint was legally purchased during the last two years.

With a $710 check, the Thousand Oaks-based construction company Burns Pacific Construction Inc. secured a city-approved water meter on the fire hydrant in early August 2013, according to city records.

Construction companies and contractors typically obtain special meters that allow them to draw water from hydrants for large-scale projects such as controlling dust or mixing concrete, Spurgin said.

After the meter was installed, the construction company could use as much water as it needed -- even sell it to a third party -- so long as the monthly bill was paid, he said. That monthly bill included a flat $564 fee plus $5.32 for about each 750 gallons, a rate higher than for residential customers, he said.

“Whatever water was taken from this construction meter was paid for,” Spurgin said.

In June, the water meter was removed.

It's unclear whether Selleck, his employees or a contractor purchased the water directly from the construction company or from another source. Representatives for Selleck have not responded to several requests for comment.

A receptionist at the construction company said the company had no comment about the use of the hydrant.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department reviewed the allegations and was unable to establish that a crime had occurred, according to a department spokesman.

The issue for Calleguas -- which provides water to smaller purveyors in Simi Valley, Moorpark and other parts of southeast Ventura County -- was the movement of water outside its territory, which is prohibited by law, Bergh said.

Selleck's ranch, which he has owned for nearly three decades, is within the boundaries of the Hidden Valley Municipal Water District, an agency that exists largely on paper and does not actually provide drinking water. The approximately 37 ranches in Hidden Valley, including Selleck's, rely on wells.

During droughts, residents sometimes look elsewhere. It's common for residents to own or rent tankers to shuttle water to their horse stables and estates. Another Hidden Valley resident also received a cease-and-desist letter and apologized to Calleguas, Bergh said.

In 2009, when the state was mired in its final year of a drought, Selleck and about five others gained permission to fill up trucks from a water hydrant in nearby Lake Sherwood, said Reddy Pakala, then the director of water and sanitation for the Ventura County Public Works Agency. That agreement lasted a few months. Pakala said it was canceled after he learned about a law that bans transferring potable water outside a district's boundaries.

But Hidden Valley faces a steep admission fee if it wants to join a water district such as Calleguas and secure a supply of state water: about $9,000 for each acre of land, plus the cost to install a public water infrastructure, officials said. Some ranches in Hidden Valley are hundreds of acres.

To stabilize the upscale area's water supply, Calleguas rolled out a special spigot this year for Hidden Valley customers to buy recycled water, which can be used for irrigation or other outdoor needs.

The valve provides reclaimed water and does not run afoul of the law that Selleck is accused of violating, officials said. On a recent morning, a line of white tender trucks were waiting to fill up.

Staff writers Sarah Parvini and Amanda Covarrubias contributed to this report.


Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


July 10, 12:03 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional details.

6:02 p.m.: The article has been updated with additional background.

This article was originally published on July 9 at 4:11 p.m.