Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

San Diegans struggle to pay utility bills

 January 23, 2023 at 5:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Monday, January 23rd.

San Diegans are struggling to pay their utility bills. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

######

A Camp Pendleton Marine and two other active-duty marines were arrested last week on misdemeanor charges for taking part in the January 6th attack on the U-S capitol.

Micah Coomer is stationed at Camp Pendleton, Joshua Abate is stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland and Dodge Dale Hellonen is stationed at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune.

Authorities say the men spent about 52 minutes inside the Capitol on January 6th 20-21.

Their fellow Marines helped investigators identify them in footage.

The three men face charges including illegal entry and disorderly conduct.

########

County health officials are urging San Diegans to get a bivalent COVID-19 booster.

So far, more than 540-thousand people in San Diego County have gotten the booster.

The C-D-C recommends a bivalent booster for everyone six months and older.

COVID-19 vaccines, including bivalent boosters, and flu vaccines are available at county vaccination sites, pharmacies and local medical providers. 

Meanwhile, the number of reported COVID and flu cases have declined over the last couple weeks.

########

It’s officially tax filing season.

The I-R-S is now accepting 20-22 federal income tax returns as of today.

The deadline to file your tax returns and pay any remaining federal income taxes owed for last year was originally April 18th.

But, San Diego County qualifies for a tax relief extension because of recent storms in California.

The I-R-S is offering relief to any area declared a disaster area by FEMA.

You now have until May 15th to file your returns.

#########

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

##########

S-D-G-AND-E customers are opening surprisingly high utility bills this month.

Natural gas rates are more than double what they were a year ago, and electricity costs are up too.

KPBS Environment reporter Erik Anderson says there is plenty of financial pain to go around.

Michelle Bales has lived just east of downtown San Diego in the same South Park apartment for nearly 20 years. “It’s cozy.  It’s warm.  I really like it.  It’s close to work as well, which is a huge plus.” But her 650 square foot home has been anything but warm recently as Bales braces for a big San Diego Gas and Electric bill. She’s already changing her daily routines. “I try not to use the gas heater.  Obviously, I have to cook.  I try not to turn on all the lights.  Sometimes I’ll sit here at night with candles and just the TV. Just to not rack up the fees.” Bales spent half of the past month house-sitting elsewhere, and her January bill still topped $100.  She only paid about $60 dollars in November.  Bales is able to make on time payments, but many San Diego Gas and Electric customers are not. Anthony Wagner, San Diego Gas and Electric “We have about 3.7 million customers of that, approximately 341,000, or 25 percent, are at some level behind on their bill.” SDG-and-E’s Anthony Wagner says delinquencies are counted as people who are at least 30 days behind in their bills. Most of those are more than 60 days late.  It is a surprisingly large number. “Five years ago the numbers were more like 10-15 percent that were behind. Mark Wolfe is the director of the National Energy Assistance Directors Association “25 percent clearly suggests that the cost of home energy is becoming unaffordable for many families. And the programs that are in place are not sufficient to help them pay these bills.” In fact, about a third of San Diego Gas and Electric’s customers are already enrolled in a rate assistance program. The two biggest programs are the California Alternate Rates for Energy and the Family Electric Rate Assistance program. Both offer rate reductions based on family income. But SDG-and-E still has about $200 million dollars in delinquent customer debt. “And the dilemma here is that utilities go to the front of the line because they can shut you off from power.  You lose access to internet.  Lose access to air conditioning.  Your heating.  And so that places a very significant burden on families where as prices go up for food, you can substitute one item for another.  You can stretch your food budget out.  There are things you can do.  You have more control over it.” Power shut offs have not happened in SDG-and-E’s service area since March of 2020. But the statewide COVID prohibition on disconnections expired in 2021. SDG and E has not cut off power for overdue bills since 20-20 but company spokesman Anthony Wagner says that will likely change this year.  He says the utility needs to start collecting the $200 million dollars from customers with past due bills. He is also quick to say customers who are struggling still have options. “As long as you’re in communication with us and you have a strategy with the utility on how to pay off your arrearage  you’re not going to get yourself disconnected. But you have to be in communication with us.” Wagner says the astronomically high gas bills should begin falling next month, when temperatures climb, demand fades and gas rates are reset.  That is welcome news for Krasna Svoboda.  She lives in an Oceanside apartment and the high bills have her making tough budgetary choices. “I’m an old person and I’m on a fixed income.  So there isn’t going to be any more money than there is. And I need to budget it every month. Things that vary from month to month significantly impact me more perhaps than people who are still in the earnings years.”  Even customers who are not struggling financially may end up feeling the fiscal pain.  If San Diego Gas and Electric can’t collect on outstanding debt, the utility will roll that debt into electricity and natural gas rates. That raises utility prices and keeps pressure on customers who are already struggling. Erik Anderson KPBS News

##########

Homelessness has been dropping among veterans in San Diego County… but Supervisor Nathan Fletcher wants a regional strategy to end it completely.

KPBS reporter Melissa Mae tells us more.

MM: The Regional Task Force on the Homeless says there are now 700 homeless veterans in the county… and about half of them are staying in temporary shelters. MM: Fletcher says getting all those vets off the street will involve using federal resources and local commitments. NF “We have to do now is partner with the VA. We got to step in and identify where are our gaps? What are additional things we can do? Where can we step up and help? How can we bridge that connection between that veteran who’s struggling and that help that is available to them? And that’s what we’re going to do.” MM: He says next month, he’ll introduce a policy to create a County task force, to figure out the resources needed to end veteran homelessness and he wants a plan in place in three months. Melissa Mae KPBS News.

##########

Coming up.... A local author talks about her new novel about the pressures of being a teen. We’ll have that and more, just after the break.

##########

California’s new organic waste recycling law will apply to school campuses… when enforcement begins next year.

KPBS Education reporter M.G. Perez has more on one school district’s effort to start composting now.

Chula Vista Elementary School District is home to 37 campus gardens across the South Bay…maintained by students, parents, and teachers who volunteer their time. The garden sites are fertile ground for students to learn about climate change and the new state organic waste law requiring composting and conservation…. Michelle Posada parent and coordinator of the half acre garden at Finney Elementary in Chula Vista. “if we can teach the students about composting and organic waste from the cafeteria and then reusing it in the garden …and grow new things and reducing what we’re sending to the landfill…we can make a big impact.” The Chula Vista Elementary district already has an aggressive wellness policy…promoting movement and exercise for all students and it eliminates almost all junk food and candy from campuses. MGP KPBS NEWS

In other environmental news, the San Diego environmental group Wildcoast will soon string a permanent trash net across part of the Tijuana River to catch plastic waste.

KPBS sci-tech reporter Thomas Fudge says this will be the second one they’ve done.

The hills of Tijuana are home to many neighborhoods with unpermitted homes. A lot of them don’t have trash collection service. Visit the Tijuana River Estuary any time and you’ll see piles of trash, swept off the streets of Tijuana by the rain. Fay Creshovay is with Wildcoast. She says her group is already capturing trash in one Tijuana river tributary, and over two years they’ve stopped 133 thousand pounds of trash from reaching the ocean… most of it is plastic and tires. “We sort it. We weigh it so we are creating real data. And we are trying to reuse as much as possible and recycle the rest.” This year Wilcoast has raised money to build another trash boom, as they’re called, on the US side of the border to catch trash in another tributary. SOQ. 

##########

San Diego author Tracy Badua’s new young adult novel “This is Not a Personal Statement” is now on bookshelves.

It follows sixteen-year-old Perla Perez, the youngest graduating senior in her class and a well-known overachiever.

But when she is rejected by the college of her dreams, her whole world is thrown into disarray and she forges an acceptance letter in a panic.

This is Badua’s second book and she’s soon releasing a third.

She’s also a practicing attorney… and a mom.

She joined KPBS Midday Edition host Jade Hindmon to talk about the book and writing.

Could we start by having you read an excerpt of the moment Perla finds out she’s been rejected from her dream university?

What inspired you to write a story about college admissions and overachievement?

Perla contends with expectations from her immigrant parents, from her community. Her high school classmates even nickname her “Perfect Perlie Perez.” She decides to forge an acceptance letter which begins a lie about getting into her dream school. You said you can understand why someone might do this…why?

Why did you want to write about those outside pressures and how it can affect teens like Perla?

In addition to being a published author, you are a practicing attorney and a mom of young children. By most standards a very high achieving person – did you draw from personal experiences in writing this book? 

I wonder if as an adult what wisdom you might have to share with your younger self about achievement and success and family obligations?

Perla’s pursuit of perfection could resonate with a lot of high school students stressing over college admissions. What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

TAG: That was San Diego author, Tracy Badua, speaking with KPBS’s Jade Hindmon.

##########

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

San Diego Gas and Electric customers are opening surprisingly high utility bills this month, as natural gas rates are more than double what they were a year ago. In other news, homelessness has been dropping among veterans in San Diego County, but Supervisor Nathan Fletcher wants a regional strategy to end it completely. Plus, a local author talks about her new novel about the pressures of being a teen.