In a Riptide article posted May 27, I questioned the legality of the proposed Recology rate increase for senior citizens scheduled for August 1, based on the wording of the section entitled "Rates For Service." It turns out that in another section of the contract, the city has agreed to allow Recology to "replace" the senior rate. Under the section "Customer Services," rate changes are discussed:
"A new lifeline rate for low income (PG&E lifeline account will be used for eligibility). (sic) The lifeline rate and the 20-gallon container rate will replace the senior discount. All customers interested in the lowest rate for regular service can subscribe to the 20-gallon container regardless of age or income." (sic)
But the "Rates For Service" section reads: "The rates for service, with the approval of this assignment, will remain unchanged through July 31, 2010 (italics mine). On August 1, 2010, with the implementation of new services and containers, the rates will increase by 5% (this reflects the increase in disposal fees on July 1, 2010 and adjustments in CPI (Consumer Price Index) over the past three years when there was no rate increase." (sic)
Since the senior rate has been a regular part of a rate structure and is still being paid by customers, these sections seem to contradict each other. Given the language of the "Rates For Services" section, how can senior rate increases of 20 to 120 percent be justified? The least the City Council could do is clearly organize and carefully word a contract with such major rate increases.
Jacking Up the Senior Rate In the new contract there is a complete avoidance of the financial implications to seniors of the jacking up of their rate. The senior (over 65) rate is currently $14.43 per month for a 32-gallon can. But under the new Recology regime, the rate for all ratepayers for a 32-gallon can rises to $31.70 per month, irrespective of one's age and financial condition. That's almost a 120 percent increase from the $14.43 per month now paid by senior citizens. To see how much less people pay for garbage collection from the same company south of Devil’s Slide, read GARBAGE
Under the new contract, there is a "Life Line Program" with a discount for low-income households. It applies only to a 20-gallon can and is $17.20 per month. That’s a monthly rate hike of almost 20 percent, from $14.43 to $17.20. Households of one or two people would have to prove a total yearly income from all sources of less than $30,500 to qualify. So the poorest among us will get a percentage rate hike four times that of regular ratepayers.
If you are unfortunate enough to make a dollar over that $30,500 figure, you will pay the new regular rate for a 20-gallon can of $20.24 per month. That’s a 40 percent rate hike, or eight times the percentage increase of regular ratepayers. The senior rate has indeed been replaced, and the more financial pressure you may be under, the worse it looks going forward from here.
Recology of the Coast General Manager Chris Porter did not respond to an email request for comment on removal of the senior citizen rate.
Recology of the Coast and the Pacifica Tribune recently cosponsored a contest for most creative reuse of old Coastside Scavenger recycling bins, offering a $500 donation to a local charity of the winner's choice. Mike Mooney won for his idea: gopher-proof planter boxes (see Tribune photo above). Mike chose Pacifica Resource Center to receive the $500 prize. Recology encourages you to reuse old bins in your home and
garden. If you have no use for old bins, return them to the recycling yard at 1046 Palmetto Avenue, Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you cannot take them, curbside pickup will be at the end of May on a date and time to be announced. UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, BINS WILL BE RECYCLED. For questions about new garbage, recycling, and composting services, call 650-355-9000. Most individual needs can be accommodated. (Thanks to Recology general manager Chris Porter for this information.)
By Julia Scott, San Mateo County Times, May 16, 2010 A Pacifica man is suing the city to prevent officials from voting to raise trash fees without notifying residents, which he says would violate the California Constitution. Pacifica resident Lionel Emde was first in line to criticize the city's decision to sign an eight-year, no-bid contract with Recology in February to replace Coastside Scavenger as Pacifica's trash hauler. Coastside owed Pacifica more than $800,000 for unpaid fees and legal costs, and Recology offered to pay off all the debts — and throw in an extra $100,000 "assignment fee" as a sweetener. Faced with the chance of losing the money, and a clause in its existing contract that allowed Coastside Scavenger to select another company to replace it in case of financial hardship, the city signed on.
At the time, Emde condemned the move as undemocratic. Now he says the city will attempt a 5 percent rate increase in August without giving residents sufficient notice under state law — and the opportunity to protest. The new contract allows Recology to raise rates in August and to submit a request to raise rates again in March 2011, a projected increase of 4 to 8 percent. Pacificans already pay the highest trash and recycling fees in San Mateo County. A basic 32-gallon trash toter costs residents $30.19 per month in Pacifica, $22.34 in San Bruno, and $12.16 in San Mateo, according to a staff report put together last week in San Bruno, which uses Recology. "It's basic outrage on my part. I don't feel the city government cares at all about the struggles people are going through in terms of pay cuts, losing their jobs and even losing their homes," said Emde, who filed the suit in San Mateo County Superior Court on May 3.
Emde said he understands that Pacifica needs the revenue — Pacifica's existing waste-disposal contract collectively charges residents $1.15 million a year over and above the 11 percent annual franchise fee. He just wants the city to fulfill what he says is its legal obligation to notify each resident of any attempt to raise trash collection fees. If a majority of residents protests, the city cannot proceed. Pacifica City Manager Steve Rhodes said he would not comment on pending litigation. The crux of Emde's argument is that the city has told him it does not intend to mail any type of notice regarding a rate increase to Pacificans, which he contends is a violation of Proposition 218. The proposition, passed in 1996, requires voter approval on all local taxes and most charges on property owners.
Emde may win the day in court. Lori Hsu, senior policy analyst on state and local finance for the California Legislative Analyst's Office, said public notification requirements do apply if the fees involved are tied to ownership of a property — and that waste fees, like sewer and water fees, are considered to be a property-related fee. "Local governments need to notify property owners for imposing local property-related fees," said Hsu. The text of Proposition 218 specifies that cities mail information regarding the proposed fee to every property owner and hold a public hearing at least 45 days after the mailing. (Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340.)
AFTERWORD: It's pretty obvious that Pacifica must notice ratepayers for each and every rate increase for garbage collection, and allow protest, as dictated by law (Proposition 218). The California Legislative Analyst's office is not given to hyperbole. I urge readers to call or email our City Council members and ask them to change course and NOT fight this lawsuit in court. It very possibly would be a total waste of taxpayers' money. (Lionel Emde)
BY LIONEL EMDE (plaintiff to the court in the lawsuit)
On May 3, 2010, I filed a lawsuit in San Mateo Superior Court, asking that a judge rule on our contention that the City of Pacifica is in violation of the California Constitution in refusing to notice and allow protests from property owners about garbage collection rate increases. Click here to
Download Final complaint or click here to see the court filing of the LAWSUIT
A public-interest law firm is helping me in this suit, and this is not about making money from the city. My agreement with the law firm that I signed a retainer with says in part: "We will not seek a refund for you for any alleged overpayments. ... Client acknowledges that this litigation is being initiated for the benefit of the citizens of Pacifica as a whole and not on behalf of the client as an individual."
This lawsuit is about the public interest. The city has shown total disregard for Pacifica ratepayers in its signing of a garbage collection contract that not only obligates citizens to the highest rates in San Mateo County but drives the rates higher over the next year.
Proposition 218 (part of the California Constitution) mandates that some fees and taxes levied by local government be noticed by mail to property owners, and that written protests be allowed. If 50 percent plus one person protest, the rate increase is not allowed.
The city has taken the position that garbage rate increases are exempted under Prop. 218 because a franchisee provides the service, doing collection and billing. But the city collects almost $1 million in fees yearly from this current contract with Recology of the Coast. The city controls the contract and sets the rates. The lawsuit contends: "The refuse collection services are property-related services and the fees at issue herein are imposed by Pacifica ... as an incident of property ownership."
That’s precisely what triggers the mandate of noticing and right to protest under Prop. 218. If the city had signed off on the contract with Recology and were not taking a dime from the contract for itself, that, according to my attorney, would exempt the city from Prop. 218’s mandates.
I hope that the city acknowledges its error, and notices the coming rate increase (August 2010) hearing with a 45-day advance notice. Written protests, including email protests, should be allowed. The City of San Bruno, for example, allows email protests.
We can ill afford the risk of a large sum of money being denied to the city, but in our rush to find funds, we cannot trample the constitutional rights of ratepayers to be informed and to be allowed to protest.
Recology of the Coast is working with the community to iron out any wrinkles in the cart delivery. We will have smaller carts available June 1. We ask our customers to work with the carts they have received and if after 30 days the carts still do not meet their needs, an exchange can be facilitated by calling our offices at 650-355-9000 or emailing me at RECOLOGY (click this link or go into your email and type in firstname.lastname@example.org). The carts have very sturdy lids and are constructed to make tipping over difficult (bungee cards can help secure the lids against raccoons). Food waste can be put into brown paper bags, but plastic bags cannot be used in the greenwaste/organics cart. Pet waste goes in the regular trash can. Notices will be mailed later this summer for your choice of a new wheeled garbage can. The sizes available will be 20, 32, 48, or 64 gallons. A reminder to all customers: The new programs begin the WEEK OF MAY 3 ON YOUR REGULAR GARBAGE PICKUP DAY. The 64-gallon greenwaste/organics toter will then begin a WEEKLY pickup schedule along with your regular garbage can. The 96-gallon recycling toter will then be picked up EVERY OTHER WEEK with your other two containers. Don't know what week to put out your recycling? Use your old greenwaste schedule to pinpoint which week is now recycling pickup or check our website at RECOLOGY OF THE COAST for a very user-friendly calendar and street listing schedule. The April 28 Pacifica Tribune features a full-page ad listing all Pacifica streets and calendars for May through July 2010, showing exact pickup dates. If you still have a question, please call me at 650-355-9000 or email me at RECOLOGY (click this link or go into your email and type email@example.com).
Recently we urged people upset about the closing of the Palmetto greenwaste drop-off service to write to Recology CEO Mike Sangiacomo. Has anyone heard back from Mike? One letter writer tells me that his letter has not been answered. He also says someone at Recology told him Coastside Scavenger simply trashed Styrofoam waste that customers dropped off assuming that it was being recycled. Apparently, the big white foam blocks from appliance boxes are not recyclable, so it goes straight to landfill. On April 15, we received this response from Chris Porter, general manager of Recology of the Coast:
"[Recology CEO Mike] Sangiacomo has referred all correspondence [about
the end of Palmetto greenwaste drop-off service] to me...for response
and review, and I have personally responded to all. Regarding the
Styrofoam: Markets for recycling of this material, both peanuts and
large blocks, have come and gone over the years. There is currently no
available market to recycle this material. As Pacifica's new service
provider, we will gladly continue to take your material at the recycling
yard to ensure proper handling and disposal and prevent it from ending
up in our streams or on our beaches."
Comment posted by Recology general manager Chris Porter: "RECOLOGY OF THE COAST tends to focus on what items we do take versus
what items we don't take in our flyers. All items you have a concern
about are mentioned in our very informational RECYCLOPEDIA that will be
part of a larger brochure we are currently working on that will be
titled the RECOLOGY OF THE COAST ANNUAL CALENDAR, SERVICE BROCHURE, AND
RECYCLOPEDIA. This booklet will cover all aspects of the operation, such
as recycling yard, debris boxes, office operation, and all recycling
and composting programs. Two company reps will be at the EARTH DAY and
POOCH PARK festivities to pass out literature and answer questions. We
have had two flyers mailed, one delivered with the toters, articles in
the TRIB, info on the RIPTIDE and FIX PACIFICA blogs, and we are working
on a video segment with Channel 26, so we are trying to use all venues
available for communication with our customers. Finally, all customers
will receive a card in the mail in the next few months allowing them to
select the size of garbage cart they will need, either 20, 32, 48, or 64
gallons. These carts will be delivered in August, so until then our
customers should continue to use their current garbage can. The new
programs begin on the week of May 3 and GARBAGE, RECYCLING, AND
GREENWASTE/ORGANICS ARE STILL PICKED UP ON THE SAME DAY, WITH THE ONLY
CHANGE BEING THAT GREENWASTE/ORGANICS ARE PICKED UP EVERY WEEK AND RECYCLING
EVERY OTHER WEEK."
All Recology info I have received and read in the Trib fails to mention regular garbage pickup (trash not recycled or composted, such as waxed cardboard soup cartons, kitty litter, light bulbs, broken china, plastic bags, Styrofoam pellets, etc.). Recology needs to specify what NOT to recycle or compost, and that those items go in the regular old trash can for weekly pickup, same as before. Recology needs to issue a new flyer and press release clarifying this important point. Also, tell people to recycle plastic bags (in collection bins at most grocery stores) and take styrofoam pellets to the UPS store on Crespi Drive. What should people do with Styrofoam blocks that come in appliance boxes? Are any other items not covered in the brochures?
I salute Recology for trying to educate the public, but frankly I find the existing literature confusing and incomplete. For one thing, it would be helpful to label illustrations with printed captions. Do not assume that a tiny picture tells a thousand words. Recology needs to provide absolutely clear, comprehensive instructions, leaving nothing to chance, guesswork, or assumption. A service transition like this is difficult for everyone to understand and comply with, especially the elderly, the non-English-speaking minorities, the airheads who don't know how to read anymore, the visually or mentally impaired, and the rest of us who aren't mind-readers or who really do need to be schooled every step of the way.
As a blogger and columnist, I am happy to help Recology get the word out. I have been posting stories about the new service here on Riptide (see our Recology category on the left sidebar of this site). I thank Recology general manager Chris Porter for commenting our posts, and invite her to continue commenting here. I believe in and practice recycling, reuse, and other forms of personal environmental responsibility. I consider Recology's new service an important part of Pacifica's overall environmental health. But Recology still needs to fill in the gaps in the big picture, to make sure everybody in town "gets it" and complies with the new rules. Let's show everybody we know how to be the greenest city in the Bay Area.
Recology of the Coast is moving up its new waste collection programs to May 3. Between now and then, Recology will deliver to each ratepayer's property a 96-gallon can for recycling (paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, metal, etc.) with instructions on what to recycle. You also will get a 64-gallon can for greenwaste and food waste (wet garbage) to go to the composting facility (four pickups per month). Recology General Manager Chris Porter (former manager of Coastside Scavenger, which Recology recently purchased) says that the company is keenly aware of the community's difficulties with losing household greenwaste drop-off. She encourages people with excess greenwaste to call her at 650-355-6000 if their greenwaste needs will exceed four monthly pickups. This courtesy is not extended to gardening or tree-trimming services.
Also, we asked Porter to explain what happens to all the thousands of red, white, and blue plastic recycling bins issued over the years by Coastside Scavenger. In a brochure mailed out recently, Recology urges consumers to reuse the old bins around the house and garden for storage, etc., and in a new Riptide post April 2, Porter says Recology is sponsoring a contest and $500 prize for most creative reuse of the bins. After May 3, bins not needed or wanted for reuse can be returned to the Palmetto Avenue recycling yard or Recology will pick them up at curbside on a date and time in late May (to be announced).
(Thanks to our solid waste expert Todd Bray for additional reporting on this story.)