Carl Demaio

by Kelly Thornton | inewsource

A day after San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio requested a public hearing on problems with the city’s new water billing system, he was informed that such a meeting has already taken place.

DeMaio addressed his memo on Tuesday to Councilman David Alvarez, chairman of the Natural Resources and Culture committee of the council. Alvarez responded in his own memo dated Wednesday, noting that a meeting on that very topic was held Nov. 9 before the committee for the same reasons cited by DeMaio.

DeMaio is vice chair of that committee.

“In response to many constituents contacting the city council offices regarding the level of customer service provided by the city’s new water billing system…over the last few months, I scheduled an informational hearing on the matter,” Alvarez wrote, adding, “Many of the concerns listed in your memorandum were discussed at this hearing.”

Alvarez said Public Utilities Department officials outlined problems they have had with the new $24 million system, which was launched on July 5, “including increased call center queue wait and call duration times, billing errors, and customers’ decreased access to service representatives.”

Alvarez said a number of water customers testified at the hearing about their frustrations. “The PUD expressed their commitment to addressing the unexpected problems with the conversion to the new system and indicated that they are in the process of hiring temporary staff to handle the resulting increased call volume.”

In a video of the meeting, available on the city’s website, DeMaio was present for part of that meeting. But after casting a vote on unrelated Item #2, he picked up his briefcase and left just as Item #3, the presentation on the new water billing system and related problems, was getting under way.

DeMaio, a mayoral candidate, could not immediately be reached for comment. In his memo, he criticized the Public Utilities Department for failing its customers.

“Unfortunately, the level of customer service at the Water Department, which handles billing questions and addresses errors, has become so bad that multiple news articles have pointed out this serious problem,” DeMaio wrote. The memo was copied to other councilmembers.

DeMaio continued: “As elected leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure that taxpayers and ratepayers receive the level of customer service that they deserve, and we are currently not measuring up.”

inewsource first reported problems with the new system in October. In a follow up story Monday, inewsource found that almost six months after the new system was launched, phone lines at the city are still jammed with callers who have been overbilled, not billed at all, or had their water mistakenly shutoff. Thousands more have had to email the city because they could not get through on the phone lines.

According to the council committee’s website, the Natural Resources and Culture Committee’s areas of responsibility include “San Diego’s Clean Water Program, energy and water policy, State and Federal Endangered Species Acts, Solid Waste Disposal, Recycling, Air Pollution Control District/Air Quality, Hazardous Waste, Multiple Species Conservation Program, Regional Parks and Open Space, and Arts and Culture.”

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