Utility Watchdog in San Diego

San Diego is the country’s eighth largest city with very high rates for water services. Unfortunately for many San Diegans, the city does not currently have any program or funding available to help low-income residents pay for water services.

UCAN has heard from people with difficult financial situations who are struggling to afford basic water services. Often these people call because they are behind on their water bills and at risk of having their water shut-off. Once the water is shut-off, not only do people struggle to pay the past due amounts, but they then have to pay an additional reconnect fee and deposit.

In early 2014, UCAN began discussing the issue of how to help people avoid water shut-offs with officials of the City’s Public Utilities Department and individually with members of the San Diego City Council. While City officials were sympathetic to the idea of trying to provide assistance, concerns remained regarding the legal constraints on funding such a program.

In July, UCAN made a proposal which addressed those legal constraints to the City Council’s Environment Committee. UCAN suggested that San Diego establish a voluntarily funded Low-Income Ratepayer Assistance (LIRA) program. UCAN also mentioned that two local nonprofits (Campesinos Unidos [CUI] and MAAC project) that already provide assistance to low income SDG&E customers, and which have the standards and procedures in place with trained personnel to efficiently operate such a program wanted to help..

In October, UCAN met at Mayor Faulconer’s office with his Director of Water Policy, representatives of the Public Utilities Department and the City Attorney’s office, and with the Executive Director and the Manager of Campesinos Unidos’ San Diego office and MAAC project’s Director of Healthy Homes & Health Services. In November, the Public Utility Department provided a progress update to the City Council’s Environment Committee, and the Committee directed them to further study how to most effectively implement and administer this program. UCAN is continuing to track these developments in the hope that the City will establish this program and have it up and running sometime during this next year.