In battle against a ‘beast,’ watchdog group members find camaraderie, an unlikely customer service rep, and sometimes relief
Nichole McCall’s day job is in the visual arts, but she may have never visualized what her life would be like today.
Since last summer, the Palm Springs resident has been serving as a customer service agent, detective, legal advisor, lobbyist, and counselor for hundreds of Coachella Valley residents. She is paid for none of her efforts, but still reaps rewards.
“I try to devote a little bit of time each day,” McCall explained last week via Zoom. “There are so many seniors affected that I just can’t say no.”
McCall is the founder of a group now known as Edison Watchdogs. What started as a handful of neighbors on Nextdoor and Facebook calling themselves “Southern California Edison Overcharges in Coachella Valley” (profiled earlier in The Post here) is now an organization more than 500 strong. Their mission? Slay the beast that is Southern California Edison (SCE), the power provider to 15 million people that employs more than 13,000.
The utility company might be wise to hire McCall. Her efforts at turning hundreds of crowdsourced complaints into usable data — first intended to help with a possible class action lawsuit — has resulted in often easily explained reasons, and possible solutions, for problems that can take weeks or months for SCE to dig into, if they elect to dig at all.
“I’ve realized how alienated and victimized people are feeling,” McCall said as she reflected on her efforts. “There are a lot of people out there suffering alone.”
Watching McCall listen to and advise a group member from Desert Hot Springs over Zoom last week was like watching an efficient assembly line. McCall runs through a checklist of information SCE might ask for (prior bills, a meter number), explanations SCE might reach for when first contacted (dirty solar panels, an older meter unable to work with the current SCE system), and more. By the time the call is over, the end product is not a mass-produced widget or a vehicle heading off to a dealership. What McCall delivers is hope that the customer with an unusually high solar power settlement bill from SCE had enough information to successfully argue her case.
McCall certainly delivered hope for Celia Garton. The Sunmor Estates resident went six months without receiving a bill from SCE (one of the most common issues reported in the group), and when she did receive a bill it appeared to be for another customer’s meter.
“Last November when SCE replaced a meter that was malfunctioning they transposed meter numbers so that my meter was being read as another meter elsewhere in the Valley and I was being charged for that person’s usage,” Garton explained. “That’s when the bills stopped and they recognized there was a problem. But nobody could give me any answers.”
Garton discovered the watchdog group on Nextdoor, joined, and soon after McCall and others went to work solving her case. As of last week, Garton said, she now has a bill, a credit on that bill, and has been “hounded by SCE.”
“They are calling to make sure everything is OK after not responding for months,” she said, adding that her sense is that “something’s shaking somewhere.”
Garton is thankful that Edison Watchdogs exists and that it may have helped bring attention to her situation. But like many others in the group, she’s frustrated it needs to exist at all.
“It worried me, actually, because I thought, ‘What’s going on? This is not just an isolated case. This is a huge problem,’” she said of the moment she discovered the group. “Certainly a big utility company has got its act together to give me accurate billing. I have no confidence in my electrical situation whatsoever.”
SCE has tried to ease that sense, explaining earlier that the utility company’s data shows a 99.53% accuracy rate among the millions of bills it sends out. Because it’s easier for the small portion of customers who receive an incorrect statement to connect via social media, an SCE spokesperson said it may appear billing errors and other issues are more widespread than they actually are.
Edison Watchdogs doesn’t have a spokesperson. And McCall knows that ultimately, in order to bring an investigation into SCE that might result in reforms to its business practices, the group would need not just a public relations team, but an army of attorneys gathering testimony and data from customers throughout Southern California. Attorneys who have agreed to consider working with the group have advised that due to SCE’s complicated business, thousands of billable hours could be spent preparing a case.
“The complexity of the issues is what attorneys are having issues with,” said McCall. “Our job is to gather the data. We are trying to to do as much as we can and then hand over the baton.”
McCall doesn’t expect that hand off any time soon.
“This is a fossilized beast that really isn’t used to accountability,” she said of SCE. “They’re essentially getting away with this via the complexity. They’re just counting on the fact I’ll get tired of this.”
Garton, for one, is hoping McCall and other members of the group find the energy to continue the fight.
“I’m very thankful to her,” Garton said of McCall. “It would be just a bunch of us complaining on Nextdoor about our utility bills if she hadn’t done this. She’s the only one who stepped up. She’s the only one who really took the bull by the horns.”
Potential lawsuit and reforms aside, McCall said encouragement from Edison Watchdogs members like Garton, and the small victories the group has achieved so far, may have to be enough for now.
“It’s actually really empowering for people,” said McCall. “It allows you to feel as if you have some control over your bills. If something special grows out of this, it’s the connections that are made and the people feeling like they have somebody to talk to and feel like they are getting heard.”
More information: Interested in joining Edison Watchdogs or getting help with your SCE issue? McCall has created a site with all the information you need. Visit that site at https://linktr.ee/edisonwatchdogs
PSHS EDUCATOR HONORED: Erin Graham, an English teacher at Palm Springs High School, was recently selected to receive one of the five 2021 Carlston Family Foundation “Outstanding Teachers of America” awards. The awards are given only to California public high school teachers who primarily teach in the most challenging school environments. A teacher must be nominated by former students who are either currently enrolled in a four-year college or university or who already have earned a college degree. Graham was nominated by Montag Chambers, a former student and member of the class of 2016. She will be recognized Tuesday during the regular meeting of the Palm Springs Unified School District Board of Education. READ THE COMPLETE STORY HERE
ARRAIGNMENT SCHEDULED: A Palm Springs man suspected of trying to arrange a sexual liaison with a 13-year-old-girl he met online who was actually an undercover investigator is scheduled to be arraigned today at the Larson Justice Center in Indio. Roy Phillip Basquez, 27, was arrested July 9 in Indio after allegedly attempting to meet the girl, who turned out to be an investigator with the Riverside County Child Exploitation Team, according to District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall. Basquez, who is free on bail, is facing one felony count each of attempting to commit lewd acts on a child under 14 and communicating with a minor with intent to commit the specified offense.
MIZELL CENTER: The Mizell Center, 480 S. Sunrise Way, offers chair yoga, a widow or widowers group, party bridge and more, starting at 8 AM. A complete list of all today’s classes can be found online here.
MINING LECTURE: Dr. Stephenie Slahor presents a lecture titled “Mining in the Old Days” on Zoom, starting at 3:30 PM. Slahor is the author of the book Meteors, a university professor, and a member of the Shadow Mountain Gem and Mineral Society of Palm Springs. anyone interested in the lecture is asked to email Julie Warren in advance of the meeting at [email protected].
REDISTRICTING: The city of Palm Springs holds a redistricting workshop to show a consultant’s draft maps and demonstrate how to utilize an online mapping tool at Demuth Community Center, 3601 East Mesquite Ave., starting at 5:30 PM. More information about the redistricting process is available at www.psdistricts.com.
HUMAN RIGHTS: The city’s Human Rights Commission holds its regular meeting at 5:30 PM via Zoom. Complete instructions on how to participate in or view the meeting can be found here.
Palm Springs comes alive in December with events for all ages and all tastes. The Post has put together a list of those events, organized by category, from reader submissions. Click here for the complete list. Want your event included? If it’s happening in Palm Springs, or involves a Palm Springs-based organization or business, Email [email protected]
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
SPEAKER SERIES SOLD OUT: The Mizell Center’s sound bath event with master Lisa Botts, scheduled for December 15 starting at 6 PM, is sold out. The free introductory experience is designed to engage participants, particularly older adults, who are new to the sound bath experience. Information for attendees is available here. Mizell Center is located at 480 South Sunrise Way.
SANTA PAWS 5K: Run Palm Springs presents the annual Santa Paws 5K run and walk on December 18, starting at 9 AM. Gather your family, friends, and neighbors (dogs and reindeer, too) and join the organization for the happiest Christmas race around. All 5K participants receive a five-piece Santa suit, festive T-shirt, beautiful finisher medal, and milk and cookies at the finish line. The course is located in the iconic Las Palmas neighborhood and is expected to sell out. To enter or find more information, turn to the event page here.
MOBILE CHRISTMAS: Well in the Desert is again planning its annual Christmas event as a mobile event due to COVID-19 restrictions. The drive-up event will be held Saturday, December 18, from 11:30 AM until 3 PM at The United Methodist Church, 1555 East Alejo Rd. Volunteers will distribute a frozen turkey and pie, as well as gifts for children to open on Christmas Day to any family in need. Donations can be dropped off at churches where The Well serves hot meals, between 11 AM and 1 PM: Mondays and Tuesdays: United Methodist, 1555 East Alejo Rd.; Wednesdays: Church of St. Paul’s, 125 West El Alameda; Thursdays: Our Lady of Solitude, 151 West Alejo Rd.; and Fridays: Our Lady of Guadalupe, 204 South Calle El Segundo.
INTERFAITH EVENT: Several city congregations are collaborating to present “Blue Christmas: Longest Night Service” on December 21 at 6 PM at The Church of St. Paul in the Desert, 125 West El Alameda. The service is designed as a contemplative service for those carrying grief and trying to manage the holiday season with so much loss and pain.
10K YOUR WAY: Angel View’s biggest fundraiser of the year — the 10K Your Way event — begins December 31. The public is encouraged to register to swim, run, walk, bike, or roll 10 kilometers and collect donations to support their efforts. Funds raised will support the organization, a nonprofit founded in 1954 that is dedicated to helping children and adults with disabilities. Last year, despite the pandemic, more participants joined in than ever and fundraising surpassed $80,000. Anyone interested in raising money through swimming is invited to the Palm Springs Swim Center, 405 South Pavilion Way, during its open hours on December 31. To register, send email to [email protected] or call 760-835-0464