Two and a half weeks later, Ojeda replied. “We are working with the comptroller’s office on issuing refunds. We will submit refund checks to the owners in your unit.”
He added that the City would refund overcharges for only the previous year, not for all four years when the inequity occurred.
Casey responded: “Your offer to refund for only one year to only the property owners who filed an appeal is not acceptable. I will continue to pursue this for all the taxpayers that were incorrectly assessed.”
Another two months went by, and Casey hadn’t heard back from Ojeda. At the November Property and Business Improvement District meeting, Ojeda informed Casey that Adam Wander at the city attorney’s office was handling the matter. Casey contacted Wander on December 10, and he informed her that attorney-client privilege prevented him from discussing the overcharge with her.
Casey went back to her computer, and on January 4 she typed in Ojeda’s familiar email address. “It has now been over six months since you met with Councilman Faulconer and Mayor Sanders. Why haven’t the affected citizens been notified of the incorrect charges? Continuing to hide this error does not give me any confidence in the ethics of city government.”
Two weeks later, Ojeda emailed Casey, instructing her to file a form with the Office of Risk Management. He included the form for Casey to download.
“The form is totally inappropriate,” Casey told me on January 30, two days before she submitted it. “It’s for damage to persons and property. It asks for Social Security number, the date of the accident, and witnesses. It’s not the right form, and it is starting to seem like the City is trying to hide this from the public.”
Casey and her friend Carol Marino, who was also overcharged on her assessment, delivered their completed forms on February 1 to the Office of Risk Management, located in the Civic Center complex.
Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for Councilmember Faulconer, was confident in a February 6 phone interview that this was the course to take. “[Councilmember Faulconer] has met with city staff, and he has been assured that everyone overcharged will be reimbursed. We are directing folks to file a claim with Risk Management.”
The reason Faulconer had not informed his constituents of the problem, Manolatos said, was that “We don’t have a list of names of folks that have been overcharged, and there is no list we can grab and use as a mailer. If there was we would certainly do that.”
When asked why Faulconer’s office didn’t notify everyone in the Property and Business Improvement District of the error so people could check the assessment roll themselves to see if they were overcharged, Manolatos replied, “Yeah, I suppose you could go that route.”
The response from John Hanley, executive director of Clean and Safe, wasn’t much different. In a February 8 email, Hanley said it is the City, not the Property and Business Improvement District, that is responsible for the mistake. “When this issue was brought to our attention, we immediately contacted the City to have them address this issue. The City is responsible for the assessment process.”
Additional calls placed to Hanley asking why the Downtown San Diego Partnership had failed to notify residents of the problem were not returned. Phone calls and emails to Ojeda were not returned.
On February 18, Casey received a letter from the Office of Risk Management stating that her claim had been denied. “Because the claim was not presented within the time allowed by law, no action was taken on the claim,” read the letter.
Casey and DiFrancesca filed appeals.
On April 8, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith informed Casey that her claim had been forwarded to SCI’s insurance carrier. Goldsmith concluded his letter by saying, “We apologize for the lengthy process and trust SCI’s insurance carrier will be responding to you, and to the City, soon.”
“The City is very important to me,” DiFrancesca says, “and when you treat your citizens this way, people lose trust. When you see the City operating like you don’t exist and nobody calls you back, it’s really disturbing.
“When I make a mistake and overpay on my federal or state taxes, they contact me and say, ‘Here’s a check.’ You would expect that governments always refund what you overpay. It’s a matter of ethics and morality.”