Director of Public Utilities steps down after widespread water bill overcharges

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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego's Director of Public Utilities is retiring amid the continued effort to determine how and why water meter readers from his department overcharged a wave of residents in 2017, spurring multiple city audits and refunds for customers.

"Vic Bianes has informed the City he is retiring from his position as Director of PUD," the City of San Diego announced in a memo released Thursday. "A nationwide search will be conducted to find a permanent director."

The memo also referenced the City's continued efforts to make "reforms in the area of management, internal controls, processes and protocols, employee oversight and public accountability." The sweeping assessment and reforms come after a city audit found that water customers were incorrectly charged at least 2,750 times last year. The collective overcharges were estimated at more than $2 million.

In a news conference Thursday, PUD's Johnnie Perkins added that an audit also revealed troubling news about work performance in the department's lid/box replacement division. In some cases, he said workers were getting paid for a full day's work but were only actually working three hours.

"It's the culture issue," said Perkins. "We are working to get rid of that culture."

Before his exit, Bianes had been given broad authority to make his own reforms to the department while separate audits were conducted by the city. In March he announced the department had:

  • Created a log to track customer information and complaints obtained at community meetings focused on the billing issues -- customer service calls are tracked separately
  • Conducted refresher training for all staff involved in billing and customer service
  • Investigated every customer billing complaint
  • Had supervisors review daily meter reading reports and sign off on them
  • Waived the $66 fee that is normally charged for "meter controversy" tests
  • Added staff to reduce call waiting times and expanded customer service hours.

Now the department will continue to reshape their practices under new leadership. In the meantime, the City said Department of Finance Assistant Director Matt Vespi will serve as an interim director.

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