Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

San Diego City Council committee advances ballot measure to allow trash pickup fees

San Diego's November ballot could include a measure to allow the city to charge fees for trash pickup. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the proposal took a step forward today.

The San Diego City Council Rules Committee voted Wednesday to start drafting a ballot measure that would allow the city to charge trash pickup fees to single-family homes.

San Diego is the only major city in California that provides free trash pickup to most single-family homes while requiring apartment buildings and businesses to hire private waste haulers. Single-family homes on private streets must also pay for private trash pickup.

The policy is due to a century-old law called the People's Ordinance that can only be amended by voters.


Council President Sean Elo-Rivera announced last year that he would spearhead a campaign to change the law, which he says is unfair, regressive and harmful to the city's waste reduction goals. His proposal is co-sponsored by Councilmember Joe LaCava.

RELATED: Councilmember seeks to change 'unfair,' 'two-tiered' trash pickup system

The policy has also been sharply criticized by three San Diego County Grand Jury reports. Another report from the City Auditor's Office found a loophole in the People's Ordinance: It requires the city to pay for trash pickup at short-term home rentals, which are technically homes but operate as businesses.

Past city councils have shied away from proposing changes to the law, fearing a backlash from their constituents. But Elo-Rivera urged his colleagues to keep his proposal alive.

"Reforming the People's Ordinance does not need to be a quagmire or an albatross or a third rail," Elo-Rivera said. "It can be those things if we make it one. But doing this is doable, and it's imperative that we do so."


The Independent Budget Analyst's Office found the city's inability to charge for trash pickup will cost roughly $43.2 million this fiscal year. Those costs will increase as the city works to comply with a new state law that requires organic waste recycling.

Councilmembers Raul Campillo and Stephen Whitburn expressed concerns that the measure would ultimately fail at the ballot box — though both ultimately voted to move the measure forward.

"The virtues of the policy proposal are obvious," Campillo said. "But ultimately when we vote in Rules Committee and as a council to put forward an initiative, we're not voting on the virtues of the proposal. We're voting on a campaign."

Councilmember Chris Cate cast the only "no" vote on Wednesday's action.

Once the ballot language is drafted, the measure must return to the Rules Committee, and then the full City Council, for a vote to place it on the November ballot.

Even if voters were to approve the measure, the city could not automatically start charging homes for trash pickups. Doing so would require a "cost of service study," similar to those that authorize water and sewer fees, plus approval from the City Council.

  • A 25-year-old from Kiev is saying the same thing as other asylum seekers and advocates: border officials continue to deny asylum to people of color while letting in white Europeans. Meanwhile, San Diego’s November ballot could include a measure on charging single-family homeowners for trash pickup.
  • As global leaders continue to drop restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, all-too-familiar warning signs are emerging that point to the same uncomfortable reminder: this pandemic isn’t over yet.