Bills flood water users after yearlong freebie 

  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • The new SFPUC offices.

A free ride on bills for 133 San Francisco utility customers has come to an abrupt end — and a year’s worth of charges for every last drop is all that remains.

Staff members at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission failed to promptly follow up on an “exceptions list” of meter readings — designed to temporarily halt large inaccurate charges that resulted from glitches — resulting in customers going a year or more without receiving monthly water or sewer bills.

Of the 133 customers, only two called the SFPUC to inquire about why they weren’t being charged, agency spokesman Tyrone Jue said.

Lump-sum bills have been sent out, along with an apology letter explaining the problem and a payment-plan offer. The SFPUC said it needs to collect $269,000.

“We want to sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” Jue said, noting that the average monthly water and sewer bill for a single-family home is about $80.

Jue said the faulty readings came from both traditional meters, which are tracked by SFPUC staff, and the smart meters that electronically send information to the utility. However, the smart meters are not the same as the controversial devices used by PG&E for electricity and natural-gas service, although they employ similar technology.

The three to four members of SFPUC’s staff who failed to follow up on the list of faulty charges faced “administrative action,” Jue said.

“The system wasn’t done correctly here,” he said. “A lot of the human error will be fixed.” Jue added that the affected customers were not concentrated in any particular neighborhood.

He noted that 133 customers represent a tiny fraction of the SFPUC’s 108,000 single-family accounts, and that the mistakes were made for a mix of residential units and commercial buildings.

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Dan Schreiber

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