Eyeing La Jolla bill spikes, City Council member Barbara Bry demands water department audit
To discover the source of spiking water bills across La Jolla, Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry announced on Jan. 31 that she has called for an audit of the water department. The suggestion to conduct an audit came up at both meetings residents held in January to better understand the situation and what could be done about it.
“In November, my office began receiving complaints from District 1 residents regarding abnormally high water bills,” Bry said in a statement. “My team has been meeting with constituents and connecting them with the Public Utilities Department (PUD) to have their individual situations investigated. In many cases, the PUD found no leaks or clear reasons to account for the increased water usage, so we are still seeking answers as to why these hikes are occurring!
“Based on conversations with my Council colleagues and recent news reports, it is clear this issue is having an impact citywide. In order to ensure the water bills San Diegans are receiving are accurate and precise, I have asked our City Auditor, Eduardo Luna, to conduct a comprehensive audit of the PUD’s data acquisitions and billing procedures. I am grateful that Mr. Luna has agreed to expand the scope of an already scheduled Fiscal Year 2018 audit of the PUD’s Customer Support Division to include this additional review, and I look forward to seeing the results of this audit by (this) June. I have also reached out to (District 2) City Council member Lorie Zapf, the chair of the Audit Committee, who confirmed her support of this audit moving forward.”
Locally, La Jolla residents have been meeting to discuss these unexplained increases in their water bills. They held two meetings thus far at the La Jolla Library, and another meeting is planned for the end of February with residents and local government officials.
Joyce Abrams, who organized the meetings, said she was “very happy” to see some response from City Council. But of the fact that a City Auditor would be conducting the audit, she said: “An independent audit would be the preferable method.”
The Public Utilities Department was recently audited in 2013, and the results determined: “Customer billing and meter reading controls are effective, but can be improved.” Within the audit, PUD’s Customer Support Division’s internal controls found: “The initial meter reading control should be analyzed to identify any potential increases in effectiveness and further reduce erroneous meter readings, investigations and billing adjustments; and the Customer Support Division can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its exception review process through analysis of their exception data.”
However, in 2014, the City began installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure or “smart meters” to register water usage. At La Jolla meetings, several residents report having a smart meter, and questioned whether they were accurately recording water usage.
One resident said he was told by a water department employee that the previous meters were “more reliable.”
WANT TO KNOW MORE? Find details about smart meters at sandiego.gov/water/gen-info/ami/faq
TO REPORT HIGHER-THAN-NORMAL WATER BILLS or suspected misreading of a water meter, call any or all of these offices:
- SD Public Utilities Department: (619) 515-3500
- Council member Bry’s office: (619) 236-6611
- Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office: (619) 236-6330.
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