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City Council Balks At Revamp Of Trash Collection System

Bulldozers push around piles of trash at San Diego's Miramar Landfill.
Katie Orr
Bulldozers push around piles of trash at San Diego's Miramar Landfill.

The San Diego City Council on Monday voted against a proposal to revamp the city's trash collection system, siding with city staffers who were skeptical of the recommendations from an outside consultant.

The changes recommended in a report commissioned by the city would have created a system of waste hauling districts, each with one trash collection company. Currently, homes and businesses can choose from a list of waste haulers to pick up their trash, no matter where they live in San Diego. This is called a "non-exclusive" franchise agreement.

The report notes inefficiencies in the current system: Multiple dump trucks can end up collecting trash on the same street in a single week, and there can be hidden costs such as unnecessary wear and tear on streets and increased pollution because of the longer distances dump trucks have to drive.

Councilman Mark Kersey said his neighborhood had two separate waste collection companies for homes and businesses.

"And so you've got different trucks, different days, doing effectively the same thing," he said. "It just doesn't seem all that efficient to me."

The city's Environmental Services Department, which oversees trash collection, said the current system encourages competition among haulers, putting downward pressure on the cost to consumers. It recommended keeping the current non-exclusive system but requiring haulers to transition more quickly to cleaner and quieter vehicles.

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The department also proposed charging haulers an extra dollar for every ton of garbage they transport, starting in July 2019, with another dollar increase in July 2022. The extra revenue, estimated at about $800,000 per year, would go into the city's general fund. Staffers said the money was intended to be used for road repair to offset the damage caused by inefficient waste hauling.

Council members voted unanimously to support the staff proposals.

Their decision comes after heavy lobbying by the San Diego County Disposal Association, which represents waste haulers. Lobbying disclosures show Jim Maddaffer, a former City Council member who now runs his own lobbying firm, communicated with the mayor's office, the city's Environmental Services Department and each of the nine City Council offices several times earlier this year to urge them to preserve the current system.

In justifying their recommendation to stick with the current non-exclusive hauling system, city staffers cited the rocky transition to a district-based system in Los Angeles. After the switch, some residents and businesses reported big increases in their trash collection rates, missed trash pickups and unanswered calls to the trash collection companies. The city is also facing a class action lawsuit over the new system.

Had the City Council opted for a district-based system, it would have had to wait until 2024 to implement it.

City Council Balks At Revamp Of Trash Collection System
San Diego City Council members opted to stick with the city's current trash collection system after an outside report found it was inefficient and caused unnecessary damage to streets. The city says it can improve the current system with smaller changes.

Corrected: September 28, 2022 at 8:59 AM PDT
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the type of contact lobbyists for the waste hauling industry had with city officials.
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