NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Late water bills hit $75 million and counting for San Diego, 1 customer owes more than $2 million

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria says the city needs more cash, but the water agency is doing little to collect big, unpaid bills and won't reveal the identities of those who owe at least $100K.
water faucet san diego
Posted at 5:11 PM, Apr 19, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — While thousands of San Diegans don't get their water bills on time, the city has another problem — massive late payments.

Team 10 has uncovered that unpaid bills later than four months have skyrocketed to $75 million in 2023, while four customers currently owe more than $1 million to the city.

One of them owes more than $2 million.

However, the city will not turn off the taps to make customers pay, nor will officials release the names of those who are not paying what they owe.

That's because San Diego adopted a no shut-off policy in 2018 because of problems at the city over whether bills were accurate.

When that policy began, bills later than four months totaled almost $9 million. That figure has since grown eight-fold.

As that policy stays in place, water and sewer rates for the city's 283,000 households and businesses continue to increase.

Water rates since two years ago will have increased nearly 16% in July, while sewer rates have gone up 14%. More hikes are projected under the City Council and Todd Gloria, who has repeatedly said the city needs more money for services.

A typical water and sewer bill for a home is about $140, city records show.

Public Utilities Director Juan Guerreiro told Team 10 that a few customers owe the city more than $1 million.

"They are not individuals. They're usually organizations that are, you know, pretty big throughout the region that... So if they use it for irrigation or, you know, other types of activities. It's typically not your typical household," he said.

Team 10 wanted to know who wasn't paying their bills and asked the city through a public records request for the names of all customers who owed more than $100,000.
The city denied the request, stating that information was confidential.

However, Team 10 appealed and pointed out state law allows that information to be released if it's in the public's best interest.

The City Attorney's Office has not made a decision on the appeal.

At least 83 customers owe more than $100,000

The city did disclose some information on Friday.

Team 10 was told that 83 customers have "delinquent balances" of more than $100,000. Some of those customers may have more than one account.

Here's a breakdown, according to city records obtained by Team 10.

  • $100,000 to $199,999: 54
  • $200,000 to $299,999: 10
  • $300,000 to $399,999: 7
  • $400,000 to $499,999: 4
  • $500,000 to $599,999: 1
  • $600,000 to $699,999: 0
  • $700,000 to $799,999: 3
  • $800,000 to $899,999: 0
  • $1 million to $1,999,999: 3
  • $2 million plus: 1

Of the 83 customers, 24 are commercial accounts, 21 are government and 38 are residential (single-family and multi-family), records show.
The largest amount owed by a residential customer is $314,433, records show.

City records show the largest amount owed by a business is $756,430.

The city was unable to answer questions Friday whether a customer with multiple accounts or a government entity owed more than $1 million.

    'Why don't we go after that money'

    City Councilwoman Vivian Moreno has been a critic of the Public Utilities Department and its poor service.

    She voted against raising water and sewer rates in 2023, and she said the city should be more aggressive in going after the unpaid bills.

    "You know, why don't we go after that money when it was half a million or $250,000," she said. "How long does it have to go on for it to get to $1 million?"

    Moreno added she still doesn't want to shut off water service for non-payment because that may hurt children or senior citizens.

    Mayor deflects question on unpaid bills

    Team 10 asked Mayor Todd Gloria about the large, unpaid water bills — especially those who owe over $1 million.

    This was his response:

    "Through the course of the pandemic when families were struggling just to to be able to keep the lights on and care for themselves and their children, the city, I think, did a responsible thing, a merciful thing, by saying we will not cut people's water off and we will work with them," Gloria said.

    The city actually began the policy of not shutting off water for non payment in 2018 — two years before the pandemic began.

    Meanwhile, Gloria said the city secured other tax dollars to help pay down the debt.

    "The city has gone out with very sharp elbows to get resources from the state and federal government to try and diffuse those debts, as well to bring down that overall costs," Gloria said. "As we get back into a more normal environment and the pandemic phase is in our rear view, we will have to be more aggressive about pulling in these resources."

    Records show that had the city not received about $29 million in extra tax dollars, the city would have about an $84 million water bill debt.