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Should San Diego Charge Residents For Trash Pickup?


What are the key arguments for and against charging San Diego residents for trash pickup? How is trash service different in the cities that have privatized trash pickup? Reporter and blogger Tom Fudge joins us to talk about what he dug up in his investigation of the trash pickup issue.

What are the key arguments for and against charging San Diego residents for trash pickup? How is trash service different in the cities that have privatized trash pickup? Reporter and blogger Tom Fudge joins us to talk about what he dug up in his investigation of the trash pickup issue.


Tom Fudge, KPBS News Reporter, and author of the On-Ramp blog on

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. A citizens' commission appointed by the San Diego City Council has recently issued a number of recommendations to help the city raise revenue. The proposals include moving forward with privatizing city services, expanding use of corporate sponsorships, raising certain taxes, and perhaps the most controversial of all, repealing a ban on collecting fees for trash pick up. In the wake of those originations, San Diego City mayor injury Sanders says he wants to end free trash pick up not for all city red debts but for about 19000 homes and businesses. KPBS reporter Tom Fudge, author of the blog On-Ramp is here to tell us who might have to start paying for pick up. And Tom, good morning.

TOM FUDGE: Good morning, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We'd like to invite our listeners to join us as well. Fees for trash pick up. That's been one of the touchiest subjects in San Diego politics. Would you be willing to pay for trash pick up, and if you're not willing, why not? Give us a call with your questions and your comments, the number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-5727 KPBS. So what specifically is it about these 19000 residences and businesses that thinking mayor Sanders think that they should start paying for trash pick up.

TOM FUDGE: Well, he thinks they should start paying for trash pick up because he can make them pay for trash pick up without going to the voters of it's all a little bit complicated, but the thing you have to understand about these 19000 homes and establishments, is they are exceptions to the rule. The People's Ordinance is not telling the city, you've gotta pick up their trash for free. The thing about the People's over nance which requires free trash removal for single family homes in San Diego is there are a lot of exceptions to the rules, but over the years, there have been exceptions to the rules, and these 19000 are exceptions to the rules.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me start with a little back ground because you just did a blog post that kind of goes over a lot of the history of fees for trash pick up, no fees for trash pick up, and how that all developed in the City of San Diego. So tell us about that, Tom.

TOM FUDGE: Well, it all goes back to 1919, when the city passed what is called the People's Ordinance. And the People's Ordinance, I've heard two different stories of the People's Ordinance, but the idea was that the City of San Diego -- there was a time when the City of San Diego would collect people's trash and then turn around and sell it to hog farmers and make a profit on if. And one version of the story says populists of the time said, no, you can't do that, you've gotta give it to us for free. You can't take our garbage and then sell it for money. And then the assistant district attorney city [CHECK AUDIO] called for the city to keep collecting trash, but also to charge people a fee for picking up their trash. But that second part of the equation just never happened. In fact, in the 1980s, the City of San Diego and the voters went so far as to codifiy this free trash pick up. That's a version that I get from Mr. Goldsmith. But suffice it to say that because of the People's Ordinance, about half of the residents of the City of San Diego pay nothing to get their trash picked up. And that's a real anomaly in the City of San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because most cities do pay for trash pick up.

TOM FUDGE: All of them pay for trash pick remember U. 67 typically the way it works, if you're in, say, Chula Vista or Encinitas, the city has a franchise for picking up trash. So they get some company like allied or waste management and they say, would you like to have the franchise and have a monopoly on picking up trash in our city? And they come to an agreement, the trash hauler pays a franchise fee to the city, and then the trash hauler, the independent trash hauler charges all residents. So if I live in Encinitas, for instance, I pay my bills to edco.


TOM FUDGE: It's privatized.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And how do -- people make the claim that this idea that the trash pick up is free in the city of San Diego is not really true because people are paying through their property taxes.

TOM FUDGE: Well, you can make that argument, and I suppose there's a certain amount of logic to that argument, but what I say in response to that is to pose the question: Do people in Encinitas not pay taxes? Do people in Chula Vista not pay taxes.

TOM FUDGE: People in La Mesa pay property taxes, and yet they are paying for trash pick up. It's just that this group of people, about half of the residents in the City of San Diego, who live in single family homes, get a good deal. And they have had a good deal for a very long time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with KPBS reporter, Tom Fudge, he is author of the blog on-ramp. And we are talking about a recent move by San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders says he wants to end free trash pick-up for about 1900 homes and businesses. It comes on the heels of a recommendation by a commission saying that perhaps charging fees for trash pick up to all the residents of the City of San Diego might be a good way to raise revenue. And we're taking your calls to find out what you think. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. It's take a call. Charles is calling from Brawley. Good morning, Charles, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. Of like I said, we're in Brawley, we're imperial valley. We get KPBS out here so I listen to your broad cast.


NEW SPEAKER: We have trash pick up here, and I'm really surprised to hear that people in the City of San Diego get free trash pick-up. I don't like paying taxes, but it is a service that's provided. They have to pay for the equipment, the labor, the landfills of it's a costly venture. And I think the people who would benefit from the, you you know, trash pick-up, should be paid for it.

TOM FUDGE: And thanks very much for calling us while listening to KQVO out there in the imperial valley. Yes, it is a very expensive service that the city is providing for free. As a matter of fact one of my main sources on this is city attorney Jan Goldsmith, and Jan Goldsmith told me that if the City of San Diego went ahead and just privatized trash pick-up in the City of San Diego, said to all those people who are getting their trash haul forward free, now you're gonna pay and you're gonna have to pay allied or edco or some other company, the City of San Diego would save a total of $43 million every year. And this is significant, because the current budget deficit that everybody is TALKing about is $73 million in the current fiscal year and so requiring people to pay for trash pick-up all around the city is something that would get us more than halfway to the goal of solving that budget deficit.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And 234 your conversation with city attorney Jan Goldsmith, he also talked about who has to pay for trash pick-up and who doesn't. And sort of the fairness issue.

TOM FUDGE: He did talk about the fairness issue. The thing about Jan Goldsmith is lees a person, and he lives in the City of San Diego. And he's actually a good example. Number one, he used to live in Poway. And in Poway, he had to pay for his trash removal. Now, even though he lives in the City of San Diego, he lives in a condo in little Italy, and people who live in condos don't get free trash removal. So he has to pay for it. And I asked him about the issue of fairness, and let's hear what he had to say about that.

AUDIO FILE(JAN GOLDSMITH): I pay for mine, I'm a resident of the City of San Diego, I pay my taxes. For 20 years I lived in Poway, and I was a taxpayer and I paid for trash pick-up. Right now, [CHECK AUDIO] that they're -- that they feel that they're being treated unfairly by having to pay for their own trash pick-up.

TOM FUDGE: And so obviously he's commenting on the politics of that, he's saying people in Poway, people in Encinitas, they're not complaining that they have to pay for trash up. But of course of course they've never gotten something for free, [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's hard to give it up. We're taking your calls and your comments about eliminating free trash pick-up in the City of San Diego. The number is 1-888-895-5727; that's 1-888-895-5727 KPBS. Christopher is calling from La Mesa. And welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I just want to say I listen to your show every morning and I enjoy it a lot.


NEW SPEAKER: And the comment was that I live in the La Mesa area, and -- removal.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. I think that Christopher's phone is sort of breaking up. His point was that free services only in the City of San Diego, and it's something of a luxury for the residents of San Diego. But that kind of assumes that the residents of San Diego are ready to give this up. Is there any indication that that's the case, Tom?

TOM FUDGE: Well, there's no serious indication that that is the case. And even though I hear mayor Jerry Sanders talking about trying to eliminate the exceptions to the rule, and the way he put it in Ia news conference two or thee weeks ago, was that he wants to require payment for trash removal in every situation where the law allows. In other words, if every situation where there's an exception to the People's Ordinance, he wants those people to pay for trash. But I don't hear him coming forward and saying, look, folks, this business of free trash collection has got to end. I want to go to the people, I want to put something on the ballot and ask them if they want to give up their free trash pick-up. And I'd love to hear from our listeners on this. I mean, if you have something given to you for free, and the city comes and says, we want to now start charging you for it, I mean, how likely are you to say, you know, you're absolutely right. This is a luxury, and I don't deserve it. . And therefore, I want to start paying for it. It would be very difficult to make that kind of political argument.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I think that's the natural reaction though, Tom, yes, I will start paying for it immediately. What was I thinking? 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call, mark is calling from La Jolla. Good morning, mark and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. Recently we got a letter from the City of San Diego at my condo complex in La Jolla. We had been getting free trash pick-up from the city for over 30 years, and we just got a letter saying they looked at the map and realized we weren't eligible. So in the beginning of January, we're gonna be paying a private hauler to haul or trash. And I think the fairness issue that you raised before is a very salient one. Now my tax dollars are paying to pick up the trash of the people who live in million dollar houses across the street from me, and then I still have to pay through my HOA fees for trash ping up from my complex. So I'm paying did you believe, and my friends who live, you know, a couple blocks away are paying half. That's the -- that's the real unfairness. If it's a municipal service that's provided through tax dollars, everyone should receive it, and if it's not, then everyone should pay for it, privately.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark, thank you for the call. The fairness issue again, Tom.

TOM FUDGE: Yes, the fairness issue is very significant. And like he said, he lives in a cobbedo, and people who live in cobbedos as opposed to people who live in single family homes, as a general rule, they probably are a bit lower income. And so why should they have to pay for trash removal, when people as our culler said, who live in million dollar homes, get theirs for free? And you can imagine, if this went to the ballot, one way that you could campaign in favor of it is to play these people against each other. In order, not appeal to all San Diego voters, but appeal to the issue of fairness, you know, we should treat everybody the same, and then also say to the people who live in condo complexes, hey, look at those people who are getting this for free, these free loaders who are getting free trash pick-up, that's not fair. And you should vote to make sure that everybody has to pay. It just is an issue of disclosure, I want to make it clear that I live in a single family home in San Diego and I do get my trash picked up for free. Just in case anybody thinks that I am, you know, trying to benefit myself in this discussion.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let me just ask you, Tom, I know that you did a sort of a nonscientific survey. You asked people in the KPBS building how many people actually did pay for their trash to be picked up, and how much that cost them. And what did you find out.

TOM FUDGE: Well, what I found out, and I heard back from about 20 different folks who live everywhere from lake side to La Mesa to Chula Vista, you know, all around the county. And it sounds like the average monthly bill is about $20. So in other words, if we privatize trash pick-up in San Diego, that's what you would end up paying in addition to what you already pay, about 20 bucks a month. Now, the up -- there issa an up side to that. For instance, I talked with the person who deals with public works in the city of Chula Vista, and I said, well, how do you convince San Diegans who are getting it for free to start paying for it? And she said, well, keep in mind that here in the city of Chula Vista, and I forget who has the franchise there, she said we pick up grown waste and recycling items every week. In the City of San Diegothey only pick those things up every other week. Also what they have in the city of Chula Vista, and I'm sure a lot of these cities that have franchises and private as Ied garb annual, you have bulk pick up items. For instance, if you want to throw away your water heater, if you've knot an old couch that you want to throw away, the trash company will come by and pick it up. That's not the case in the City of San Diego. Once you've got an old couch, I guess you have to borrow somebody's pick up truck and put it in the pickup truck and drive to the landfill, which is a big hassle. No more hassles if we would do what they're doing in the suburban parts of San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Doris is on the line from Northpark. Doris, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks for having me. My issue is and I haven't heard it yet, is that this is a public health issue. And something we should all pay for. People, you know, illegal dumping will begin, and those sorts of things. I know when the dump fee went up a number of years ago, people started dumping in Northpark in the canyons of and so that's another cost down the road. And a city as large as San Diego should be able to take care of its trash, and everyone should feel confident that it's going to the dump as opposed to illegal being dumped.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that call, Doris.

TOM FUDGE: Illegal dumping. Well, I think she pretty much said it. I mentioned the fact that in the City of San Diego as opposed to suburban areas where trash collection is privatized you can't put out the old couch and have them pick it up, or the old water heretofore. So what can you do? You can be a good citizen, and put it in your truck and take it to the Mira Mar landfill or you can say, you know, there's a canyon out back of my house, maybe I'll just throw it in the canyon.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I just really do have to make the comment that we do -- I do live in a condo, and we do have a private service that comes around. They have won't pick up couches EITHER.

TOM FUDGE: Okay. Fair enough.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just to put that into the mix. Susan is calling from Carmel Valley.

TOM FUDGE: Let me just say something in response to that. If the City of San Diego became a franchise --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It could happen.

TOM FUDGE: It could happen. Because the City of San Diego, you have to confuse, it would be so valuable to some private trash hauler, that they would really want to have that business, and the City of San Diego, said, okay, if you want the franchise, you're gonna offer this bulk item pick up. So could be negotiated.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It could be one of the services negotiated in a new contract. Susan is calling us from Carmel Valley. Susan, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for taking my call. First of all, let me make a correction. I do manage some condos in Carmel Valley. And the city does pick up bulk items at a cost. [CHECK AUDIO] for every item, it's like 10 or $15. And I live in a condo as well. Listening to 134 of the conversation, I think you need a win win situation. The city needs to give up something. Of you know, people -- you gotta be fair. First of all, they did this all withdrawn. They should have charged everyone. Because now you're getting a lot of people that didn't even know that people were getting it free. And autolike anything else, you're taking away something I've always had free. They can't relate to that. So I say the city needs to say, okay, we're gonna charge everyone because the city did put us in this mess. But what they should do is cut the taxes. Give everybody a tax break. Because, after all, if they give us a tax break, we don't mind, okay, so we to thea pay for the -- it's kind of like a win win for everybody. So I say give us a tax break somehow, and then charge everybody for their trash because it's a health issue, and it's a fair thing. You have to -- and that's the only way you get people behind you. What you do, you cause animosity behind the people, and you cause trouble. Of the city just needs to think simple.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Susan, thank you, wouldn't that, though, Tom, under mine the idea of charging a fee for trash in that the city needs this extra money.

TOM FUDGE: Well, there are two, as I think we'ved, there are two issues: One issue is the budget deficit, Jan fold Smith says if we privatize trash pick-up and the city didn't have to pay for it, we save $43 million a year. Now if we do what the caller suggests, it wouldn't be $43 million a year, maybe it'd only be $20 million a year. So there are two issues, one is farness and the other is 1068ing the budget deficit. And I would say one other thing about fairness, one, obviously, one other fair you could make the system fair is just to offer free trash pick-up for absolutely everybody in the city. Financially that would probably be a disaster.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I also want to remind you you can comment on line at Days.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Either way. Andrea is calling from Hillcrest. Good morning, Andrea, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. My comment is one -- this is a really narrow conversation when we're talking about trash pick-up only. The residents of San Diego already receive free services that we're seeing going away. Things like rec centers things like libraries, all kinds of free services that are not being paid for. So I think we take that all into consideration and realize that we are all living in the same city, we should be sharing all of these things. And all of those items need to be taken into conversation when we're talking about something like trash pick-up.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So your point is because of the cut backs that the budget deficit is forcing the city to make in libraries and rec centers and so forth, that paying this fee for trash pick-up is only -- is a part of trying to recompense is bring back those services that should be free.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, exactly. They are already free, and we all enjoy them. And in fact, it is the most vulnerable and the least resourced here in San Diego that are losing on that end as well. That need the services that libraries and rec centers, for example, provide them.


TOM FUDGE: Well, clearly we're talking about trash pick-up and we're taking this out of context, out of the context of the entire budget and the budget problem is a big thing. This is only one part of it. But let me say one other thing that would be an advantage to San Diego privatizing their trash pick-up, and that would be the franchise fee. If you look at cities the size of Oceanside or Chula Vista, they receive franchise fees in the neighborhood of $2 million a year. $2 million a year is not gonna solve the budget crisis, but it might help keep a couple libraries open. When you look at the City of San Diego, which is much bigger than those cities, the franchise fee would be much bigger than what they pay in Chula Vista. So that's one advantage to privatizing. One disadvantage in the minds of a lot of people I know to privatizing would be laying off workers at the city. The trash haulers who work for the city are civil servants, they get good salaries, good middle class salaries, and you can't relish the thought of having to lay all of them off. You would just have to hope that these people would be first in line to get jobs with the private hauler, whoever it is who has a franchise with the City of San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And wouldn't the City of San Diego sanitation department also be able to put in a bid in a managed competition bid?

TOM FUDGE: In a managed competition bid. But let's keep in mind, we're not talking about outsourcing. Outsourcing is different from privatizing. Outsourcing is when the City of San Diego continues to collect the revenue, and then pays a private hauler to do it. Privatizing, which is what we've been talking about, is simply saying homeowners, you're on your own. We'll have a franchise, we'll regulate it, but your not gonna pay us for the service. You're gonna pay the private hauler. And so that's different from outsourcing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell -- we have been expressing, Tom, a lot of different reasons why this would be a good idea. Sympathize for us what the argument is on the other side. Why should San Diego keep a lot of its private homes, private residences on public streets, why should they stop -- why should they never charge a fee to pick up trash.

TOM FUDGE: Well, I'm sorry that we didn't get calls on -- I'm sure there's some people listening out there who feel that way. I'm sorry we didn't get those calls. But I -- you could argue that this is an important function, this is something that cities should be providing. It's a health issue, it's a true service that, really, that people need. Of if you try, if you give it some thought, sure. You can come up with arguments for why this should be done by the city. But the fact is, San Diego is a real anomaly. Very few people -- as a matter of fact, I can't name another city in California that has a sanitation department and offers their residents free pick up. This is a special benefit that people in San Diego are getting. And I think you have to look at our budget and say, can we continue to do this in a responsible way?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And so where does where do all of these originations and proposal goes from here? It's my understanding that mayor Sanders himself can decide to eliminate a large number, maybe thousands of these condos and these private street addresses from the free trash pick-up. But if they wanted to broaden that out, where would we -- would it be a ballot measure.

TOM FUDGE: It would be a ballot measure. You would have to go to the voters and ask them say to them, we've got a budget crisis, and we want to stop charging -- we want to stop giving trash for free. Now upon there, I'm sure are various options you could put to voters. But the most likely option will turn the people 'ordinance, which does dictate free trash pick-up in the City of San Diego.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Terrific, you've given us a lot to think about. And we can continue this discussion on line. For -- on your blog, at,/on-ramp.

TOM FUDGE: Yeah, I've written something on this, so you can read it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Rightful exactly. And or you can go on-line, Days. Tom, thank you so much.

TOM FUDGE: Thanks for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And coming up, we examine the legacy of marine general Victor Brute Krulak. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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