Widow of slain Navy pilot fights city over $2K water bill

SAN DIEGO -- Amber Celani is one of hundreds of people across San Diego who saw abnormally high water bills around the time the city admitted to a rash of mistaken overcharges.

While some have received promises of reimbursement, Celani says she's had no luck in her fight against a $2,000 bill she received for her small apartment.

The shocking charges could not have come at a worse time: shortly after the death of her husband, James Celani, a 43-year-old Navy pilot who was gunned down by a gang member in Horton Plaza. Amber was preparing to lay her husband to rest when she received the eye-popping bill.

"Two thousand dollars for water … that’s how much I had to pay in an apartment where I wasn’t even home all day?" Celani told FOX 5. "I finally got a red notice that just said, 'We’re turning off your water.'"

On Wednesday, a committee appeared before San Diego City Council to give an update on wide-ranging departmental changes as a result of two critical city audits. The two investigations, one on the rash of high water bills and the other on a major backlog of broken meter boxes and lids, were released last year. Both audits blamed crews out in the field for the department’s problems.

In February, the city of San Diego announced a major shake-up within the public utilities department. But the organizational changes on city audits have done nothing for Celani, she says.

“I’m still out that money, and even when I got the letter from them saying, 'We know there’s been an issue, you might be getting money back,' they (eventually) said 'No. Not for you.' So where do you go above them? Where do you go above the city?” Celani said.

After FOX 5 aired an earlier version of this report Wednesday, a representative with the utility said they would reopen Celani's case. She expects to hear back from the department as soon as Thursday.

If you have issues with your bill, the city says you can call 619-515-3500 or email the city at customercare@sandiego.gov.

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