San Diego’s Water Department is in the midst of an overhaul. During the past year several internal audits have looked to find the root of the problems that caused thousands of residential customers to complain about high bills as well as reports of of errant water meter readers and inadequate oversight throughout the department. NBC 7 Responds reported on those issues as well as a host of others in its 30-minute special, Flood of Distrust.
And while the majority of problems centered around residential customers, now some businesses have turned to NBC 7 Responds for help getting through to the water department.
Drew Montoya saw a large puddle of water spewing from the water meter box outside of the Normal Heights music venue the Soda Bar in April of this year.
Montoya, a co-owner of the popular Mid-City nightclub, immediately called San Diego’s Water Department to let them know.
The pool of water evaporated in the following months, but Montoya noticed the area surrounding the box stayed damp.
He said he opened up the lid and the entire meter was submerged in water.
“I opened that box a number of times and it was filled with water,” Montoya told NBC 7 Responds.
He called the city again to let them know.
“They would always tell us that somebody was going to come out,” said Montoya. “They would always say that they were going to follow up with the phone call and none of that stuff really ever really happened.”
The bill arrived at the bar a month later. Montoya said he and other owners were rocked when they opened the envelope. Their bill was for $1,318, five times what the owners say was normal.
Montoya said he called the water department to discuss the bill. He reminded the customer service representative about the leak he reported a few months prior. He said they told him that it was likely due to a leaky toilet.
“It was astronomical,” said Montoya. “It didn't make any sense even if we did have a running toilet, it would not equal that. Not only that but I do all the maintenance here. The toilets are new. I would know if there was a leak. There wasn’t.”
Montoya said one of the other owners called.
“Every person would tell us something different. One person would say, ‘Oh, we sent somebody out there and they said the meter is fine’. And then another person would say, ‘Oh, actually nobody has been out there yet.”
Meanwhile, the city still required the bar to pay the bill, which impacted the bar’s bottom line.
“When you've been paying an average of two to three hundred dollars and then all of a sudden you see this eleven hundred or thirteen hundred dollar bill, it’s concerning from a business standpoint,” said Montoya.
“The whole entire time since this whole thing started. There was not a lot of action taken and we started to get offended.”
That’s when Montoya and others decided to call NBC 7 Responds for help.
We contacted the city.
Montoya said a day later crews came to the bar and discovered a leak and it was the city’s responsibility to fix and pay for.
In a statement, Arian Collins, a spokesperson for the city wrote, “Public Utilities staff confirmed that there was a leak on a City side valve. The Public Utilities is working directly with the customer to process high-bill adjustments for the past three billing periods as the bills were higher than the historical usage.”
The meter has since been changed. Montoya said he’s glad to get back to business.
"I'm just happy now that we are looking to get this resolved and hopefully we can move forward and that this doesn't happen again.”