SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The restaurant industry is hanging on by a thread during the pandemic from complete shutdowns, partial re-openings, take out only and outside not inside dining. They've been through a lot. However, one Santa Barbara restaurateur came close to getting a knock out blow.
Jesse Gaddy is co-owner of Barbereno and Cubaneo Restaurants, Venus in Furs - a wine bar and Barb's Pies. His problems started back in March, 2019 when he noticed Edison never sent power bills for his restaurants.
"All of the times that I called previous to that, I was told just to not worry about the billing and they would get back to us," said Gaddy.
But, Edison never did call him back, so Gaddy would call again and again. He said Edison representatives never explained in detail what was going on except to say there were problems putting his businesses in the system to automate the billing.
"For the first year I called once a month roughly, I called 8 or 9 times and most of the time they basically told me not to worry about it and sometimes they were really frustrated that I was continuing to call," said Gaddy.
Gaddy's biggest concern was getting one big bill at some point. And that's exactly what happened in November. He received a $22,000 power bill just days after Covid rules shut down his restaurants for a second time.
"It turned out to be all of our unpaid bills," said Gaddy.
Gaddy called Edison again and tried to explain what a bill that size during a pandemic could do to his businesses, especially when he had already lost 75% of the revenue.
"Oh yes, yes, they have many times. 'We understand your frustration, we understand why it seems unfair', but they say there's no way to solve this for us," said Gaddy.
Gaddy believes Edison's mistakes prevented his account from qualifying as a small business which would give him billing relief under something called, Rule 17.
Edison's rule states, If for any reason the duration of a delayed billing period exceeds three months for residential and small business customers, the customer will only be responsible for charges incurred within the most recent three months from the date the bill was generated. Everyone else not covered under Rule 17 is responsible for all charges up to three years.
"Rule 17 and the small business profile was never shared with us until after we got our billing. But the only way for those things to actually give you credits would be if you qualified for the small business profile way ahead of time which was actually impossible for us because we were not yet in the system because SCE didn't have us in the system," said Gaddy.
It took Edison about 20 months to put Gaddy's company into the system. He claims an Edison representative even admitted they don't tell customers about Rule 17 because it's confusing and complicated. We found discussions online that seem to back that up. We found one thread on Reddit titled 'No bills from SCE for 9 months now.' Posters worry they'll get hit with a huge bill at some point. One person with the handle 'sparklaw' advises readers to 'Look up Rule 17 on sce.com.'
"I'm very frustrated. I am still waiting, we're still waiting for a higher up manager to call us basically," said Gaddy.
Gaddy tried to plead his case for Rule 17 relief once he found out about it, but Edison refused. So he called our NewsChannel Tipline out of desperation. We checked Gaddy's documentation to prove his case and contacted Edison on his behalf. Within days, SCE erased more than $18,000 from Gaddy's bill.
"Right away they apologized. They kindda said it was a misunderstanding. They didn't really go into the details of the rules but apologized profusely. I think this is a case of the power of the press really doing its thing and holding a big company accountable. Which is great," said Gaddy.
Edison officials sent us the following statement for this story: SCE has been working closely with the customer and was able to reclassify the account. In accordance with Rule 17, the account reclassification allowed the customer to have their bill adjusted and a corrected statement was issued. We will continue to examine our processes to ensure that our customers receive the support they need while reaching out to SCE for assistance.