Thursday, November 23 , 2017, 11:15 am | Fair 77º

 
 
 
 

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Santa Barbara Homeowner Loses Appeal for ‘Astronomical’ $10,000 Water Bill

For a couple of hours on Tuesday, Santa Barbara City Hall turned into an episode of The People’s Court, in the case of, “Where did all the water go?”

The city of Santa Barbara billed Keith Schofield and Kay Robinson $9,977.45 for water use from Nov. 17, 2016 to Dec. 20, 2016.

The amount of water used is equivalent to a non-stop, constant flow of 6.8 gallons per minute, or 392 hundred cubic-feet, running for 30 days.

City Finance Director Bob Samario and Schofield presented their cases Tuesday before the City Council, in full courtroom style, during the appeal hearing. 

The homeowners at 1617 Paterna Road said they never used that much water.

“Mr. Samario believes the water district delivered it to us and he wants the money,” said Schofield, who represented himself at the council chambers.

“We say ‘no,’ we never got the water. We are not paying for something we never got.”

Samario disagreed, saying, “We have to assume the water was used.”

Schofield believes the meter that reads water usage malfunctioned, while Samario said there’s no evidence to support that theory.

Schofield said at the meeting that he wasn’t going to pay nearly $10,000 for water that he didn’t use, no matter what the city alleged.

“We are not here merely to bicker about this bill,” he said. “To me this is a matter of principle. We did not get this water. We’re not talking about a large amount of water we are talking about an astronomical amount of water.”

Schofield presented the council with a historical summary of his water usage, which showed a giant spike during the month in question, and then a return to normal the week after. The property uses a monthly average of 29 HCF of water.

Schofield also said it was mere common sense that the amount of water billed for that month never flowed. 

“We would have been flooded, the neighbor would have been flooded, and the whole hillside would have been flooded,” Schofield said. “This volume is impossible, absolutely impossible. There is no way the water could have disappeared, period.”

He also said that he and his wife would have heard the water running at their Riviera home.

“It’s very quiet. If we ever have a faulty toilet or anything in the house you hear it. It makes noise in the pipes.”

The city, however, contacted the meter manufacturer and determined that the meter had no history of malfunction.

The verdict? After Schofield's plea and earnest self-representation, he lost.

The City Council voted 4-3 to deny his appeal, with council members Frank Hotchkiss, Bendy White, Cathy Murillo and Jason Dominguez saying that he should pay the bill.

Council members Gregg Hart, Randy Rowse and Helene Schneider sided with the homeowner.

Schofield will only have to pay $2,393, which was an offer made by Samario that Schofield had previously rejected.

The city grants bill adjustments in the cases of water leaks or water theft, and charges the lowest rate for the water used, which is what would lower the bill to this number. 

The city’s general fund will eat the cost of the remainder of the high water bill. 

“I don’t have any idea what happened, but I believe Mr. Schofield,” said Hart, noting that in his 12 years on the council, he had never seen a situation like this one.

Rowse agreed.

“You are looking at a pattern of use that doesn’t speak to this huge spike,” Rowse said. “This is lot of water. This is a hard one. I am having hard time finding that the Schofields used this water. Where did the water go?”

White said the decision was imperfect, but it is at least stepping toward these “conscientious people.”

“We’re protecting the city’s fisc and that is where I land on this,” White said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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