Monday, May 17, 2010

Man suing Pacifica to force notification to residents of trash fee increases

By Julia Scott
San Mateo County Times
Updated: 05/16/2010 11:21:55 PM PDT

A Pacifica man is suing the city to prevent officials from voting to raise trash fees without notifying residents, which he says would violate the California Constitution.

Pacifica resident Lionel Emde was first in line to criticize the city's decision to sign an eight-year, no-bid contract with Recology in February to replace Coastside Scavenger as Pacifica's trash hauler.
Coastside owed Pacifica more than $800,000 for unpaid fees and legal costs, and Recology offered to pay off all the debts — and throw in an extra $100,000 "assignment fee" as a sweetener. Faced with the chance of losing the money, and a clause in its existing contract that allowed Coastside Scavenger to select another company to replace it in case of financial hardship, the city signed on.
At the time, Emde condemned the move as undemocratic. Now he says the city will attempt a 5 percent rate increase in August without giving residents sufficient notice under state law — and the opportunity to protest. The new contract allows Recology to raise rates in August and to submit a request to raise rates again in March 2011, a projected increase of 4 to 8 percent.
Pacificans already pay the highest trash and recycling fees in San Mateo County. A basic 32-gallon trash toter costs residents $30.19 per month in Pacifica, $22.34 in San Bruno, and $12.16 in San Mateo, according to a staff report put together last week in San Bruno, which uses Recology.
"It's basic outrage on my part. I don't feel the city government cares at all about the struggles people are going through in terms of pay cuts, losing their jobs and even losing their homes," said Emde, who filed the suit in San Mateo County Superior Court on May 3.

Emde said he understands that Pacifica needs the revenue — Pacifica's existing waste-disposal contract collectively charges residents $1.15 million a year over and above the 11 percent annual franchise fee. He just wants the city to fulfill what he says is its legal obligation to notify each resident of any attempt to raise trash collection fees. If a majority of residents protests, the city cannot proceed.
Pacifica City Manager Steve Rhodes said he would not comment on pending litigation.

The crux of Emde's argument is that the city has told him it does not intend to mail any type of notice regarding a rate increase to Pacificans, which he contends is a violation of Proposition 218. The proposition, passed in 1996, requires voter approval on all local taxes and most charges on property owners.
Emde may win the day in court. Lori Hsu, senior policy analyst on state and local finance for the California Legislative Analyst's Office, said public notification requirements do apply if the fees involved are tied to ownership of a property — and that waste fees, like sewer and water fees, are considered to be a property-related fee.
"Local governments need to notify property owners for imposing local property-related fees," said Hsu.
The text of Proposition 218 specifies that cities mail information regarding the proposed fee to every property owner and hold a public hearing at least 45 days after the mailing.
Contact Julia Scott at 650-348-4340. 

It's pretty obvious that Pacifica must notice the ratepayers for each and any rate increases for garbage collection, and allow protest, as dictated under the law of Proposition 218. The California Legislative Analyst's office is not given to hyperbole.

I would urge readers to call or email our city council members and ask them to change course and NOT fight this suit in court. It would be, very possibly, a total waste of taxpayer's money.

-Lionel Emde


Council Flunky Dog said...

If you don't like the way this city is run, Mr. Emde, you can move. This is our town, not yours.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this the pot calling the kettle black. You have had a vendetta against Coastside for years and now are dragging the new company into it. I like my new service and my garbageman. The rate increase was part of the new contract that had public hearings. We pay 11% franchise fees and have no businesses in this town. That is why we pay what we pay. Try to work to get businss in this town instead of always being so negative.

Kathy Meeh said...

No business, no potential. Start by firing the current city council.

Lionel Emde said...

"We pay 11% franchise fees and have no businesses in this town."

Part of that might be the highest commercial garbage rates in the county as well. What business there is is being crushed by such unreasonable fees.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the point as always Mr. Emde. If we had a shopping center like Westlake or Serramonte or Tranforan or Hillsdale or King's Plaza or anything like we should have had in the Quarry the garbage rates would be much lower for the homeowners. This is an economic known fact that commercial people always subsidize residential folks. We could have had something like that if people like you would not have stopped it. Now you're complaining that the garbage rates are too high and want people to agree with you and force the city staff to agree with you by brow beating them with emails and telephone calls. You got one legal person to agree with you. You don't think the Pacifica staff had legal people advise them? Which one is it? And you are even turning against your no growth friends on the Council by suing the City. You seem to be a continuing contradiction. Whatever way will make your point seem correct.

Kathy Meeh said...

Anonymous, Lionel could be right about the 218 law suit. City legal isn't friendly to citizen inquiry. A reasonable city legal explanation, confirmation or follow-up research might have slowed-down or stopped some of those those phone calls you said occurred.

Pacificans pay $75,000 per year to the Frontier Park Remediation Fund (Fund 22), and it seems that Pacificans should have an accountable explanation, with factual exhibits.

Of course the quarry should be developed to provide services, jobs and tax revenue for this city-- then, issues of city tax and fee gouging might not occur. As you mentioned the existing 8 year city council and their friends didn't support that-- dumb and dumber, and disaster for this city. Just my opinion.

Lionel Emde said...

Gosh, if only people would address the issues.
Too much to expect.

Coastside Scavenger (Louis Picardo) gouged the city for years with unjustified rate increases which our city council (twelve years at least, Kathy) passed on without review.

When an audit was finally done in 2006, (and we know what happened to the city staffer responsible for initiating that audit, don't we?) it was revealed that we pay both the highest residential and commercial rates for garbage collection in San Mateo County.

So tell me why places like Atherton and Hillsborough, neither of which have ANY commercial, pay lower rates than working-class Pacifica?

I'm assuming that anon. is a Recology employee so I have a question for you: I've heard that Recology has laid people off and is forcing overtime on the remaining staff. Any comment on this?

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel, there were no rate increases at Coastside Scavenger for several years, and from my view the 11% gross (before any bills or salaries were paid) was big-time gouging. Remember Coastside lost a ton of money in the last couple of years, not my definition of gouging for them.

The bill that annoys me most is cell phone from ATT, of course I could quit. But, in event you every want to go after them, I'll gladly cheer you on.

Lionel Emde said...

You're forgetting about the 8% increase in the rates in 2008.
Any delay in increases had to do with Coastside Scavenger's absolute refusal to fully cooperate with the auditor's attempt to look at the books of both CS and Seacoast Disposal. Ya think they were maybe HIDING some things?!

And here's another question for Chris or any other Recology employee posting under Anonymus:
Why is it that Montara, Moss Beach, etc. pay HALF of what the good pigeons, er, I mean people of Pacifica pay for garbage collection?

Must be the huge amount of commercial there, or that there's no trees, and everything is layed out on a perfectly square grid pattern.

Anonymous said...

Let's push the City of Pacifica to build a cemetery, a football field, a Target, amusement park , a theater, etc. Anything that would bring revenue to this "GHOST TOWN". The garbage company are doing fine. They need to keep going and they need to maintain the employees busy. Dont' be selfish . Believe or not the city needs RECOLOGY.

We must get new council people. The next few months are going to be crucial for Pacificans.

vreeland said...

Can the taxpayers pay for bronze statues of me all around town like Sadaam Hussein had in Iraq. Every corner should have a statue of Vreeland with comb over!!!

Hail to Vreeland. All you haters bow down I was mayor and on the council for 12 years and you where not!!

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel, in business and with considerations of any balanced sheet, lets see if we can figure-out that 8% increase in 2008: hostile city/city council targeting Coastside, collections of past due debt passed to coastside from the city, Picardo ranch greenwaste law suit against Coastside, gas prices skyrocketed, equipment replacement, people transitioning to small cans, a bunch of extra "freebee" services expected by the city; then there is that ongoing extra $75,000 per year, 11% gross, (Coastside's upside profit can only be 8% and they sure haven't been making that). For 50 years plus Coastside provided an excellent, friendly and careful service to this community.

Lionel, I wish your focus were more on the larger picture, and how to develop and build a viable, sustainable, functioning, improved, debt reduced city. And, as you know my concerns and focus are much more in agreement with what Anonymous said at 9:12 AM (5/18/10).

Steve Sinai said...

Lionel isn't going after Recology in this lawsuit. It's the city's method of sneaking taxes onto your garbage bill that he's trying to stop.

Jeffrey W Simons said...

I'm kind of at a loss on the attacks on Lionel. The City Council pretty much makes a mockery of the Prop 218 requirements for the sewer bill, because there's never been a 50%+1 protest to overturn the charges. They could double sewer fees and there wouldn't be enough businesses and homeowners to file a protest. It would require over 6,000 protests . . .

So the big question is, why would the city even care if they have to send out a notification to raise your garbage rates? No disrespect to Lionel's efforts, but it seems a rather moot point to allow notification and the right to protest considering the history of the egregious sewer hikes that clearly did not go to maintenance and operation of the sewer plant.

The city needs to cave on this issue rather than waste even more money fighting it. Lionel and his attorneys seem to have the legal requirements correct.

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that Council is tasking a private company (Recology) to provide a tax/fee collecting function for the city, thus skirting notification requirements.

This stinks, in my humble opinion.

Mr. Emde is just calling the City to task on this.

Chris Porter said...

Lionel..I don't ever have to be anonymous when I comment. I chose not to paricipate in this discussion because it is the "facts" according to Lionel.

Anonymous said...

Many sets of opinions. Only one set of facts. How about giving us the facts, Chris Porter, as to why we are paying more than anyone else in the county for garbage services? And Kathy, please don't answer for your friend Chris.

Kathy Meeh said...

Lionel's Prop 218 lawsuit asking for what may be required compliance notification is positive city governance, but compare to Prop 218 sewer notification.

Meeting minimum (lowest letter-of-the-law) standards at 51% of property owners required for rate protest, and going through such ineffective motions to comply also "stinks" from my view-- because no one at city hall is listening anyway.

As a property owner don't you feel jerked around receiving a "trust me green sheet" fee notification with an "INVITATION to protest" by mounting a major city campaign to overturn fees and/or related issues (if known) within 1 month? 6000 stamps to mail in such a protest @ .44 cents each would in itself cost $1,440. If you think about this process its down right insulting to those of us property owners who pay these bills.

Can't this city and its vendor affiliates do better than that by its citizens? How about an end-of-the-year business report including an explanation of services rendered and planned, and a balance sheet (if nothing else posted on a public website, and at city hall?

At city council meetings rather than the "dog and pony" show with extended explanation of "you have the right to protest", how discussing real and related issues which concern these services? After all paid city council and city staff are required to show-up anyhow, and citizens have a vested interest because we pay the bill.

Smart government would be preferred to the process pap we've been delivered for several years now. Here's the a medical analogy: The medical staff met the minimum conditions of the required process and the patient died.

This is the 21st century, the public wants "smart government", transparency, and fair dealings.

Kathy Meeh said...

Anonymous (5/18, 11:33 am), the above is my position. Which has nothing to do with your redundant micro-world, nor do I speak for Chris or either trash/greenwaste/recycling concession. What I say is simply from my observation and business knowledge.

Structural and "spirit of the law" and government transparency issues in this city are a major concern from my view.

council runs amok said...

Well the council ran amok with no one watching for so long. When people started questioning what they where doing you got lumped into a couple groups, rouge realtor or crazed republican.

Actually straight from the horses mouth 2 of the reserve guys at the garbage company got laid off.

Second week and everything went pretty smoothly considering many residents where confused last week on the recylcing blue cans and had them out.

Anonymous said...

My hunch, even if Lionel wins, the garbage company would have to pay for the notification. They own the company, not the city. Thanks Lionel. You cost me, John taxpayer, money to defend your suit and then if you win, you cost me money for rate notification. thanks for nothing.

Jimmy Vreeland said...

I poop on you all for trying to take away the lastest increases.

Wait till I get re-elected. I know who you are denouncing me.

I poop on you twice!

Pacifica Truth Police said...

I suspect if Lionel wins there will be a Hefty fine for the City to pay. Of course, the City could always refuse to fight this battle but I suspect that they think they've already got this one in the bag. The Courts rarely dispose of these types of lawsuits so expect a fight. Regardless, trashing the messenger/plaintiff doesn't excuse the Council from trying to pull another fast one. I really wish Council would can these kinds of recycled tactics and be the transparent civil servants they claim to be when they are scavenging for our votes each and every election cycle.

Lionel Emde said...

Well I'm glad to see that someone confirmed what two others have told me that layoffs have begun at Recology. That's why our rates are going up, because the payroll is shrinking!
The city, or the company, or both, can well afford to send the notices to ratepayers about rate increases. Most of the town has no idea what's going on and that's the point for me--let the people decide if they like frequent and repeated rate increases.

Anonymous said...

The legalities of methods of communication aside, many Pacifican's -- individuals and businesses -- have the ability to lower their monthly waste removal fees. We can do this be embracing the reduction of trash. We should all be paying more attention to what we purchase, the packaging and how we dispose of things. For individuals the new generously sized composting/green waste and recycling bins should be maximized.
I'm thrilled Coastside Scavenger is no longer our trash provider -- they offered minimal support for reducing waste and owed the City (all of us) significant amounts of money that Recology paid off. I'd now like to see Recology really focus on educational information that will help the community reduce the amount of "trash" we produce.

Lionel Emde said...

I've got some questions for Chris Porter. I know she's reading this blog, so everyone can see the answers:

A. How many employees were there when Recology bought the company?

B. How many have been laid off to date?

C. How many more layoffs are planned?

Anonymous said...

Lionel, Those seem inappropriate questions for this blog and for Chris, particularly "how many more layoffs are planned". Also, how do they pertain to suing the City for lack of disclosure on rate increases?

Lionel Emde said...

How do you figure what's "inappropriate" for this blog?
Recology of the Coast has a monopoly contract for solid waste collection in Pacifica--it is a quasi-public agency.
We have every right to ask whatever question we please--whether or not it concerns litigation.
Considering it was a backroom deal that screwed the ratepayers, I'd expect a little more curiosity than you display--or maybe you benefit from the public's ignorance??
Do tell us.

Kathy Meeh said...

What are you talking about "inappropriate", Anonymous? Clean question, but, why would you ask such questions Lionel? It takes a certain number of workers to pick-up city trash, And I think someone already mentioned two reserve part-timers were cycled-out.

Lionel, I don't get it, you seem to have this "thing" about Coastside, now Recology. How about give it rest? City disclosure fine-- messing with a private company when you know near zero about running such an operation doesn't make you look good or smart-- some of us suspect you may be at least one or the other, sometimes both.

other anonymous said...

I can understand why Lionel would want to know how many employees have been and will be laid off. Downsizing the workforce and raising rates at the same time give the appearance of gouging the customers, and we deserve an explanation. Of course, this probably isn't the most appropriate arena to announce future layoffs.

Kathy Meeh said...

Oh I get it, the transfer, plastic bucket garbage cans, new system with new trucks, greenwaste, recycling, legal and $1 million fee to cover the prior contract result of the City gouging must have been "free". Thanks for that update "other anonymous".

Anonymous said...

Look, if this lawsuit is going to make the city of Pacifica start behaving in a more business like manner, I'm all for it. It hasn't mattered in the last 30 years who has been at the helm of our little City, things have been handled with a handshake, a wink and a nod to the generally accepted way of handling the public trust.

It's never too late to demand that our City government become accountable and put every decision, deliberation and tax opportunity up for review and discussion and they have the reponsibility to make sure we their employers get a real opportunity to say "no". This is just the tip of the iceberg people, wake up and stand up.

Anonymous said...

This should be simple. If Recology wants to raise rates there should be full and open disclosure of their books. Sorry folks, I don't believe that Recology is losing fact I am sure they are far from it. They got this contract originally without public agreement and the city council keeps letting them gouge us.