Water bills up across La Jolla, meeting reveals


The issue of increased water bills has spilled over from the Muirlands area to WindanSea, La Jolla Farms, La Jolla Alta North, Soledad Mountain and The Village, it was revealed at a second meeting to discuss unexplained increases, Jan. 22 at La Jolla Library. It followed an initial meeting Jan. 2 that was attended by mostly Muirlands residents confounded by their bill spikes. Committing to stay organized and refusing to back down, the residents agreed to schedule yet another meeting, at a date to be determined.

On Jan. 2, about 20 residents gathered to share horror stories about increased water bills — some topping $4,000 — and being charged for exorbitant, inconsistent (and some said inaccurate) amounts of water use. At the Jan. 22 meeting, a new group of about 25 residents spoke out with the same experiences. A common thread was an intense spike in the month of November.

The response from the City’s Public Utilities (Water) Department was that the cause of many of the increases is likely a leak, combined with a longer-than-normal billing cycle.

Having reached out to different governmental entities, many residents expressed “disappointment” at the lack of response from elected officials, and meeting coordinator Joyce Abrams said representatives from City Council member Barbara Bry, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Water Department were all invited to attend the meeting, but none were present.

“I’m feeling frustrated,” Abrams said. “At our first meeting … City Council member Barbara Bry sent a representative (policy adviser Rayman Khan). He was very attentive and told us he would make every effort to relay what we discussed here.”

Abrams read from an e-mail correspondence with Khan, dated Jan. 17, to provide an update: “We’ve been fielding many calls and e-mails regarding numerous constituents and individual water bills … I’ve been funneling these e-mails to our contact at the Public Utilities Department (PUD) to make sure these cases get the proper assistance and respect.” Khan added that he could not make the Jan. 22 meeting, but requested an update.

Abrams said: “Someone should be here from that office and we should have gotten a report that had more information. So this e-mail was a disappointment. If a group of people get together to say something is the matter, there should be someone in government interested in making the change, and that hasn’t happened.”

She also reported reaching out to the Mayor’s office, but got no response.

Nationwide problem

One resident, who requested anonymity, said having done some research, she found this to be an issue in cities across the United States. “Baltimore, Austin, Pittsburgh, Santa Fe, Jackson (Mississippi) showed similar situations. The fault in some cases was found to be meter interfaces not working on newer meters. If the systems are not installed correctly, you’ll get billing problems. The first response in these cases has been leaks at the residences,” she said, noting that has been the response thus far from the City of San Diego’s PUD. She suggested, based on what worked in other cities, a PUD audit.

Abrams said she considered the audit could be a viable long-term solution, but the more immediate solution would be to engage City Council representatives. “(Barbara Bry) needs to hear the frustration we all share, because we all have the same story,” she said.

San Diego problem

Other areas of San Diego that experienced water bill spikes in recent years, a resident reports, include Allied Gardens, Del Cerro and San Carlos in Council District 7 in 2016; Normal Heights in Council District 3 in 2017; and Mountain View and Scripps Ranch in Council District 5 in 2017.

When raised in District 7, under Council member Scott Sherman, the belief is that water rates went up in 2015, and soon after, residents took notice and started calling their council member, reports Sherman’s communications director Jeff Powell.

Meter readings

Many residents also said that in engaging with PUD representatives, they were told the older odometer-based meters are “more reliable” than the City’s new digital Smart Meters. But residents with both older and new model meters have seen an increase.

As a next step, the residents agreed to gather data — including photos of water meters, copies of water bills, etc. — and organize all into a presentation on the problem, and ideally meet with Council member Bry, if not the entire City Council. A meeting date will be published as soon as it is announced.