Trash Hauler Debate Picks Up at City Council Meeting

They talked a lot of trash at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, as the city officials continue weighing whether to reduce the number of residential waste hauling companies serving La Cañada Flintridge from three to one.
Or maybe two. Unless council members opt to keep all three but divvy up the city into zones.
Whatever the eventual decision, the City Council likely won’t make it for seven months.
After much debate, and to the disappointment of some in attendance, council members directed the Solid Waste Subcommittee to reconvene and create an outline of all the potential variables, which it will present to the council in three months before presenting a final analysis four months after that.
“No matter what, we’re going to make somebody unhappy,” Councilwoman Terry Walker said.
Since its incorporation, La Cañada Flintridge has had a “nonexclusive open market private waste-hauler collection system” that allows for multiple haulers. Longtime resident Wes Seastrom said Tuesday that he can remember when more than 20 haulers served the city.
Currently, it’s served by three: Allied Waste Services, Athens Services and NASA Services. The multi-hauler policy makes LCF unique in L.A. County, according to Mayor Jonathan Curtis.
Though the LCF City Council considered for the first time whether it should transition to an exclusive, one-hauler system in 2009, they stuck with the policy but made plans to revisit the matter again in five years.
So, in May 2014, the subcommittee — currently consisting of council members Michael Davitt and Leonard Pieroni, consultants Constance Hornig and David Davis, and Public Works and Traffic Commissioner Clyde Hemphill — took up the issue.
In February 2015, 400 LCF residents responding to a phone survey reported that they preferred an open-market system: 54% favored multiple haulers, 36% supported a single-hauler system and 10% had no preference.
Still, the council kept exploring the issue. During the recent election, all three candidates — including the since re-elected incumbents Curtis and Dave Spence — indicated that they would be in favor of reducing the number of haulers in town. Advocates of a decrease insist it would reduce wear and tear on streets and improve safety, the environment and the quality of life on trash day.
“Through all the subcommittee meetings, there was a lot of discussion and mindfulness about the results of the survey,” Pieroni said. “But there was also a lot of discussion about the impacts to safety and road wear, and the disturbance to residents is a huge thing.”
The conversation was complicated further by recently passed state legislation that increases policy goals related to organic pickups as well as the amount of solid waste that is to be recycled and composted by 2020, said Mary Goytia Strauss, a senior management analyst for the city.
A suggestion that the city wait until 2020 to make a decision was dismissed, though Curtis ventured, “I appreciate that it’s a little more difficult than at first blush.”
Seven of the eight speakers who shared their thoughts at Tuesday’s meeting advocated for a decrease.
Scott MacDonell described the “constant, unmitigated din of trash collections going up and down our street, nine trucks to the east and nine going to the west.”
Keith Eich, who ran for a City Council seat in this month’s election, said his research told him the city could get a better rate if it went to a single hauler, potentially saving residents $100 per household.
Daniel Drugan, a member of the Public Works and Traffic Commission, said the City Council has “an opportunity to lessen the burden on our roads.” And his fellow commissioner Charles Gelhaar suggested that the city could reduce its budget for street repair by $100,000 or more.
Gelhaar also cautioned council members to consider the dangers of so many waste haulers on LCF’s streets, referencing an email sent his way by a resident about the death of an 8-year-old boy killed when he was struck by a trash truck last year in Newport Beach.
But Seastrom asked council members to consider the survey data favoring choice between haulers: “It wasn’t a month ago [Southern California Edison] was in here because the City Council was frustrated with the type of service and response you’ve gotten to their service and their outages. We don’t have a choice; we have to go with SCE.
“On the other hand, I have not heard of one person who has complained about their trash hauler. There are two reasons: The trash hauler has quite an incentive to make that customer happy, and if not, that person can easily switch to one of the other two trash haulers.”
Councilwoman Walker agreed.
“If we’re going to look at these surveys and pay the expense and take the time of our city to do them and analyze them, and if they come back with results we may not agree with and say, ‘It wasn’t a valid survey,’ for God sake’s, let’s not do surveys anymore in our city,” she said, adding that neighbors were welcome to organize and select a single hauler for their area to avoid having so many trucks visit on trash day, as Eich and his neighbors did.
“But then I hear, ‘We can’t agree on one.’ I’ve heard that time after time, and if the people on a cul de sac can’t agree on one, and they’re the most heavily affected, then they want choice.”
She also argued that it’s unfair to compare the rate in other cities, considering LCF’s often difficult terrain: “We’re not an easy city to pick up trash in,” she said. “We don’t have straight streets in a grid, we have steep, windy roads.”
She also balked at committing to one hauler with the forthcoming state legislation to consider: “If we lock ourselves into a single contract, what revisions will come with revised pricing? Then all of a sudden we don’t have any negotiating power.”
But Gelhaar, one of the most prominent proponents for reducing haulers, wasn’t as concerned by that notion: “It’s clear these legislative issues are going to be there whether you have three or four or two or one.”
According to Goytia Strauss, the city’s contracts with its three current haulers have been extended through June 30, and after that, the city has the option to extend them for as long as 48 months on a plan that works for the city, whether it’s on a month-to-month or six-month basis.

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