The wait is coming up on two years for DWP customers owed refunds for water and power bills that suddenly skyrocketed as a result of the problem-plagued transition to a new billing system.
Just last summer, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power promised to "make whole any customer who was overcharged" in agreeing to settle a class-action lawsuit, but that still awaits "preliminary approval" by the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Some of the suing lawyers not involved in the original negotiation contend the agreement has weaknesses, and details are still being amended. This past week, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle ordered revisions and additions to be reviewed on Dec. 21. Approval would clear the way for notices to be sent to DWP customers early next year.
"Almost two years I've wasted so much time," said Christianny Lima, a martial arts pro and fifth degree Tae Kwon Do black belt who runs two studios with her husband and fellow Tae Kwon Do master Andre Lima.
Before the rollout of the new DWP billing system in September, 2013, their monthly power bill used to be $300 or less for their studio in a Los Angeles neighborhood near Torrance, she said, with a
drawer full of statements to prove it.
Then two billing cycles went by without a statement. As Lima wondered what was going on, February, 2014 brought a whopper: a bill for $6,242.75.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Lima said.
The bill put new charges at $3,611.35, and also sought $2,631.40 for "corrections" to make up for what DWP asserted were previous undercharges.
It triggered a series of phone calls to customer service, and visits to the DWP office.
"They told me there were some problems with the computer that will be corrected," Lima recalled being informed several times.
However, her monthly new charges continued to hover around $1,200. Lima has not been paying what she estimated to be the continuing overcharge; DWP now figures she owes $28,298.92.
As part of the settlement, DWP agrees to the oversight of a court-appointed expert for its accounting to the billings for 1.6 million customers.
it overbilled $44 million, which averages out to about $27.50 for each account.
The average refund will be on the order of $10, but it some cases will be much larger, DWP has acknowledged.
With some limitations, the DWP will also be permitted to bill for discovered undercharges.
The utility's customers will have a choice whether to be included in the settlement, or opt out. But the expectation is that decision will have to be made before the accounting determines what individual customers are owed — or owe.
DWP puts blame on PricewaterhouseCoopers, the outside company hired to provide and set up the $70 million billing system. The city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit to recover $88 million in
lost commercial billings, and more than $40 million spent trying to fix the system problems.
An outside audit done at DWP's request found the DWP was unprepared for the rollout, and was aware of problems, yet moved forward.