SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - Councilman David Alvarez on Thursday held a public hearing with the Public Utilities Department to give customers affected by skyrocketing water bills an update.
The internal review of higher-than-normal water bills, followed several News 8 "Your Stories" reports on viewers who received skyrocketing bills.
Calling it their top priority, San Diego Public Utilities Director, Vic Bianes testified in front of the city's environment committee Thursday. He detailed how the department has handled hundreds of high water bill complaints, and what they are doing to figure out the cause.
"We sincerely apologize to all customers affected by this situation. You have my word and that of my team that we are doing everything we can to correct this challenging situation," he said.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's ordered audit is currently underway. "We need the results and recommendations of this audit to come as quickly as possible, so we can act on any of those recommendations," said Mayor Faulconer.
In addition, PUD has doubled its call center staff and extended hours. They have also issued refunds - the average has been $500 and the highest refund has been $11,000.
"This is an unprecedented situation for our department. We are still getting calls from not just in isolated communities, but as far south as San Ysidro," said Bianes.
PUD continues to insist that some of the high bills are related to leaks, a recent water rate increase and in an isolated incident involving nearly 350 customers, human error.
The rest of the cases, PUD has not been able to explain.
The accountability of water meter readers has also come into question by some of the committee who are also tasked with reading 500 meters per person, per day.
Moving forward, PUD will hold four public meetings where customers can sit down with a representative to discuss their bills.
The department also reassured customers their water would not be shut off if they are unable to pay. "We are working diligently to correct any errors that have been identified and to make necessary changes to ensure this never happens again," said Bianes.
The city announced it will hold three Saturday customer service sessions for bill review.
The first one is this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Public Utilities Department, 9192 Topaz Way.
Another session will be held March 24 at that location from 9 a.m. to noon.
The third session will also be held March 24 at Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, 404 Euclid Ave., from 2 to 5 p.m.
Customers can also contact the department at (619) 515-3500, or email customercaresandiego.gov.
PUD's director has also been asked to do his own review of the department.
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