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San Diego voters will decide whether or not to dump 100-year-old trash law

For over 100 years, many San Diegans — mainly single family homeowners — haven’t had to pay extra fees for trash pickup, thanks to what is known as the People’s Ordinance. But now the people will decide if this will continue. On Monday, the San Diego City Council voted 7-2 to put a reform of the ordinance on the November ballot.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who represents the 9th district, was a "yes" vote. He said the current system was unfair and unsustainable. "We have a 100-year-old rule on the books that is not built for a modern-day society — and we’re all worse off for it. It has a huge impact on our general fund, we’re not able to provide the level of service that we want, and we’ve got people who are free riding," he said, adding that some businesses, such as vacation rental owners, exploit a loophole and pay no fees.

Elo-Rivera said the measure was not a repeal and the city would not profit from the services. "Voters will know exactly what we’re asking from them, and that is simply to provide the city the flexibility by recovering costs to provide a better level of service and to do it in a way that’s fiscally responsible," he said.

Public comment at Monday's council meeting was mostly in support of reform. Kim Knox, the president of the League of Women Voters, said she was not the only person who thinks that the ordinance is unfair. "Owners of condos and homes on private streets, as well as apartment dwellers, aren’t eligible for city-provided trash service and must hire a private trash hauler," she said. "The grand jury recommended multiple times that the so called 'People’s Ordinance' be amended so this inequity be amended."

Rodney Fowler Sr., a retired city environmental services worker and union president, voiced a concern shared by many of those opposed to reform, saying: "Affluent communities have always had the opportunity and ability to advocate for themselves. Under the current proposal, working-class and marginalized communities will be made to bear the cost of being poor."

San Diego voters will decide whether or not to dump 100-year-old trash law

Elo-Rivera said seniors and low income families would not be overlooked in the amendment. He added that trash collection isn’t really free. It’s currently paid for out of the city’s general fund. He said if voters rejected the reform proposal in November, some tough choices will have to be made.

"Our general fund will continue to take the hit, and it takes the hit in the rage of about $50 million per year — and that’s $50 million that won’t otherwise be able to be spent on parks, libraries, firefighters, lifeguards," he said. But, he added, if the measure passes, it would still take a lot of community forums and studies for the city to establish what services will be offered and what they would cost.