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Mobile Home Park Attorney Lambasts Lompoc For Billing Snafu

An attorney for Del Norte Mobile Estates has fired off a strongly worded letter saying the residents should not be penalized by the city of Lompoc’s “bureaucratic incompetence” that led to a huge hike in wastewater bills. 

The letter demanded the city retract statements the attorney claims disparaged the business and personal reputations of the owner and management, and asserted that the city should take responsibility for its faulty billing.

Additionally, the city should forgive the past claims, amortize the city mistake over a longer period and provide loans for residents who can’t handle the cost, the letter from Orange-based attorney Maureen A. Hatchell Levine said.

“In summary, the city has falsely characterized and besmirched the business practices and reputation for honest dealing by the owners of the park,” Levine wrote. “Worse, the city has attacked my client’s reputation in the effort to obfuscate the true reasons for city action, which trace back to bureaucratic incompetence of the city. “

City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said the letter arrived in Monday’s mail.

“We have not yet internally reviewed or discussed the letter yet, so we are not yet in the position to provide additional information to the public,” Wiemiller said. “Because it is a private billing account issue, we plan to review the merits of the letter and discuss with the customer or their authorized representative.”

Those who live in the 179-unit Del Norte Mobile Estates at 321 W. North Ave. mobilized in July after receiving a notice from property managers that the added costs would first appear on Aug. 1 bills.

The city claimed it had undercharged the park for sewer costs. Those costs are billed to the park, with space tenants providing reimbursement.

Instead of charging $48.09 per month, the city had billed the park residents $15.32 per month for wastewater costs, park managers said.

The new monthly sewer rate as of Aug. 1 was $53.20, plus another $24.58 that is labeled a sewer adjustment fee, putting the new monthly total at $77.78.

The city maintains “rigid controls” over the cost of space rent at the park in addition to utilities, the attorney said. 

“The ineptitude of local government is emblematically reflected in the recent events, which continued to fester in the hands of the city,” Levine wrote. “Perhaps it is too much to ask for fair and honest treatment and competency in the city’s service offered to property owners in the city.”

In the Aug. 27 letter to city leaders, the attorney contends park representatives attempted to point out the problem to city employees, and spells out five errors allegedly committed by city staff.

While the August 2014 bill at $8,608 was correct, the September 2014 was one-fourth the amount, $2,741, the attorney said.

A park representative notified the city and a correct bill was sent. However, the error reappeared with the October 2014 bill. City staff promised to research and matter and contact the mobile home park, but never did.

A city staff member reportedly told a Del Norte representative in November 2014 that the smaller amount was correct, Levine said.

Since this coincided with a project to replace water lines, Del Norte representatives concluded the improved equipment brought water saving measures that meant lower usage, the attorney said.

In June, the city again sent a bill with the alleged wrong rate, and a day later claimed the statements covering September 2014 to June 2015 were in incorrect, the attorney said.

Yet, the city left it up to the park owner to notify residents of the error and need for reimbursements, Levine noted.

And in July, the city sent a statement with a credit of $11,733.96. When the park representatives inquired, the city claimed an adjustment incorrectly was added as a credit — it should have been listed as a charge. 

“On behalf of the owner, a modicum of accuracy is requested in future billing,” the letter said, noting the substantial time park staff spent trying to unravel the city errors in addition to auditing and reconciling park records, city sewer charges and the park’s collection from its residents.

Del Norte resident Jackie Claycamp is hopeful a resolution will be reached.

“Getting the park’s attorney involved — and that was at the owner’s request — I think that was the best thing to do,” she said.

Even as the city sorts this this billing issue, it is scheduled to settle an overcharging and underbilling matter with Santa Barbara County by reimbursing nearly $235,000 for electric services according to the agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting of the Lompoc City Council.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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