On June 17, program manager for the City of San Diego's Economic Development Division, Luis Ojeda, responded to a claim from downtown resident Kathy Casey that approximately 2500 downtown residents living in condominiums were overcharged on their property and business improvement district (PBID) assessment. In her building, Kasey says 38 of the 54 units were improperly assessed. In all, the city overcharged anywhere from $10 to $60 per resident for a span of four years from 2500 downtown residents, totaling $260,000 for the entire assessment district.
Ojeda agreed that an error had been made: "Typically, under this type of circumstance, we either issue a refund check to the property owner or apply a credit toward the following assessment year," responded Ojeda in his email. "I will also try to ensure that the other property owners need not file an appeal, as we will work [toward] making any corrections. I will stay in contact with you and the others...with any new information regarding this issue."
Staying in contact is exactly what didn't happen, says Casey. After that email, Casey has been given the runaround. She has placed phone calls and sent emails to Ojeda's office, councilmember Kevin Faulconer's office, and representatives from the city attorney's office, most going unanswered.
"It has been three months since the error was discovered," wrote Casey in a September 18 email to Ojeda. "Why can't you tell me how the refunds are going to be processed?"
Ojeda’s response: "The City has a new financial system that replaced one that was over 30 years old. We are working with the comptroller's office on issuing refunds with the new system."
In that email, Ojeda reneged on his pledge that he would notify "other property owners" within the downtown property and business improvement district of the mistake so that they wouldn't have to file individual appeals. "Although [only] a few submitted an appeal from your complex, I will honor my word and refund the...property owners only in your unit in addition to anyone else who submitted an appeal. The refund issued will be only for last fiscal year ending June 30, 2009."
Casey was incensed: "Your offer to refund for only one year to only the property owners who filed an appeal is not acceptable," she wrote in a email to Ojeda. "I did believe you would be taking care of refunds for all affected taxpayers. I will continue to pursue this for all the taxpayers that were incorrectly assessed."
Now, seven months after bringing the issue forward to Ojeda, Casey and 2500 downtown residents continue to wait for refunds, or any word from the City on when to expect the refund. On January 12, Casey got through to James Lawson, a representative from councilmember Kevin Faulconer's office.
During their conversation, Lawson said he would contact Ojeda's office and get back to Casey with a response.
"It's not the money, it's the fact that the government knows there's been an error, and they are not doing anything about it. They are treating me like I'm invisible. If I don't pay my taxes, they add interest. It is an issue of ethics."
This correspondent contacted Luis Ojeda's office for comment, but there was no response.