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Morning Report: Water Bills Spiked for Hundreds (Maybe Thousands) of Customers

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For months, customers across San Diego have been complaining about abnormally high bills.

This year alone, nearly 1,100 city of San Diego water customers have complained about bill spikes and other billing problems – far more than usual.

But there may be even more customers who have yet to complain: In a joint analysis of customer billing records by Voice of San Diego and NBC 7 Responds, we found hundreds if not thousands more customers had billing spikes in 2017 and early 2018. Some customers saw their bills go up by 500 percent or more from one bill to the next.

The city argues this may all be OK and that a confluence of justifiable factors explain most spikes: rising water rates, increased water use coming out of a drought, leaks, filling pools and family and friends visiting. Also, customers with newly installed water meters could see their bills spike because older meters may have been undercounting use, essentially giving people free water.

But now two audits are looking into the billing problems to see if they reflect deeper systemic issues. Both will be made public in coming weeks.

New Headaches in Court Under Zero-Tolerance

The federal government’s zero-tolerance approach to prosecuting those who cross the border illegally have been wreaking havoc on San Diego’s federal courts as a surge of illegal entry misdemeanors flow in, adding hundreds of extra cases to the court’s load each week.

The latest problem we’ve discovered include interpretation issues facing non-Spanish speakers, who make up quite a few of the people caught illegally crossing the border in California.

The hearings for defendants who speak indigenous languages from Guatemala and Mexico, for example, are grueling – they require what’s called a “relay interpretation,” where every sentence during the hearing needs to be translated first from English to Spanish and then from Spanish to the indigenous language. Those defendants have trouble communicating with their attorneys.

Two Indians barely ate for days because they couldn’t tell employees at the detention facility where they’ve been held that they were vegetarian.

Problems Reuniting Families Continue

The government fell short of its first family reunification deadline Tuesday to reunite all children under 5 with their parents. KPBS has been following the story of one family that has been separated since December and chronicled the emotional father’s reunification with his 1-year-old son. The son spent two months in a tender-age shelter that has since been closed after allegations of abuse. The child’s mother said when he was returned to her, he was covered in dirt and lice.

City Ballot Measure Update

The City Council will vote on whether to place two homelessness-related measures on the November ballot.

The City Council’s rules committee on Wednesday forwarded both a $900 million housing bond and City Councilman David Alvarez’s proposal to increase tourism taxes to support homeless programs to the full City Council.

Alvarez’s measure would increase hotel taxes by 1 cent while bond backed by affordable housing advocates would raise property taxes to fund an estimated 7,500 homes for homeless and low-income San Diegans.

In both cases, City Council Democrats Chris Ward, Barbara Bry and Myrtle Cole voted to advance the measures while Republicans Chris Cate and Mark Kersey opposed doing so.

Ward, who also supports a hotel-tax hike to bankroll a Convention Center expansion, homelessness programs and street repairs, said Wednesday that he wanted the City Council to have multiple homelessness-funding options to consider in the next month.

His comments were a reflection of the tight timeline for the Convention Center measure. The campaign turned in signatures this week in hopes of qualifying for the ballot. The county registrar’s office is now conducting a random sample to determine whether the group has the 71,646 signatures needed to qualify.

The City Council must decide the fate of all three ballot measures by Aug. 10.

Opinion: Solana Beach’s CCA Claims Are Misleading

Earlier this year, Solana Beach became the first city in the county to establish an alternative energy program, giving residents the ability to buy electricity from someone other than SDG&E.

Louise Abbott, a Solana Beach resident, says she opted out of the program and in a new op-ed criticizes claims made by the government-run energy program.

“This new program is billed as greener and cheaper, but the facts tell a different story,” she writes.

In Other News

  • The San Dieguito High School District has seen better days. Its superintendent unexpectedly resigned. There’s a possible recall of a board member in the works. And as Voice’s Jesse Marx writes in this week’s North County Report, the district is expected to dig heavily into its reserves over the next three years to stay afloat.
  • Separate judges have decided that dueling initiatives over the fate of the former Chargers stadium and surrounding area can go to the ballot in November. Both the SDSU West and SoccerCity initiatives were challenged by the San Diego city attorney. (Union-Tribune)
  • With the release of a draft environmental report, the airport is one step closer to beginning work on its $3 billion redevelopment plan. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diego County is asking the state to fund air monitors in some of the region’s most polluted neighborhoods. (inewsource)
  • A report by the San Diego Taxpayers Educational Foundation says the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park’s contributions to the regional economy have grown sharply in recent years. (Union-Tribune)
    The Morning Report was written and compiled by Maya Srikrishnan and Andrew Keatts, and edited by Sara Libby.
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