Friday, May 13, 2011


By Lionel Emde

Pacificans have until Monday, May 23, to send in their protests against the Recology garbage rate hike. The forms have to be in the city clerk’s hands by the close of the public hearing on that evening. Please copy and share these forms with friends and neighbors. Here’s the link to the form:

This is the first time that locals have been given the legal process of written protest against a garbage rate hike. A complete lack of long-term oversight and a backroom process in signing the new contract with Recology have resulted in Pacifica’s paying the highest rates for garbage collection in San Mateo County. (Source: San Bruno City Council agenda report rate survey 5-10-11)

Other cities have this strange habit of caring about their citizens, negotiating contracts that better hold costs, such as solid waste collection, in check, but in the wackydoodle world of Pacifica, anything goes! Compare the proposed new Recology rates for Pacifica, San Bruno, and Millbrae:

Per month          Pacifica    San Bruno    Millbrae
20-gallon cart   $21.86       $18.44          $16.87
32-gallon cart   $34.24       $23.78          $27.00

“Citizens are sitting ducks for every trick and scam governments can think up. We are going bankrupt – food and gas are difficult to pay for and you add more fees (and) taxes? No.” (San Bruno resident Wm. Walker’s protest quoted in the San Mateo County Times, 5-10-11) 

Mr. Walker really should come through the looking glass into Pacifica and see how much commercial accounts will pay here versus San Bruno:

Commercial Can/ Cart Solid Waste Pickup Pacifica San Bruno
      32-gallon cart                                                   $39.01    $30.23
      64-gallon cart                                                   $78.02    $60.46
      96-gallon cart                                                   $117.03  $90.69

And check out proposed debris box price differences between the same two cities; local contractors would do well to look elsewhere:

Pacifica (14 yard container) San Bruno (16 yard container)
Two days     $495.56              $419.98
Five days     $619.73               $419.98

Pacifica (20 yard container) San Bruno (20 yard container)
Two days    $638.44                  $461.19
Five days    $784.72                   $461.19

Of course, we’re told that the lack of commercial activity in Pacifica is why residential rates are so high. Who then are our rate-oppressed business people subsidizing? Get your protest forms here, folks. This is just beginning

*Blogmaster's note: I also received the following from Leo Leon. I figured it would be appropriate to include it here -

Hello to all,

I do not agree with and oppose the 8% hike to our Recology service. We are paying more than most now and with this increase will have the highest rates. We also need and must insist on yearly audits of Recology's books. In this week's San Mateo County Times (May 11) a news article on Recology reported that Millbrae just approved an increase of 1.65% and that their Recology contract  calls for increases based on the CPI (it's tied to inflation). Millbrae has the right idea, I can understand that kind of rationale for an increase. Millbrae has had their contract with recology since 1998 (13yrs). Our rate structure needs to be addressed and our rate process needs to be revised. The only way to do that is to PROTEST the increase and force a change. Please take a minute and read the attached article. There is also a protest form attached (please use it). I am not in favor of paying too much for any service. And I definitely want a yearly accounting of Recology's books as part of our service contract.

Sincerely, Leo Leon


Lionel Emde said...

Thanks Steve for posting this, and thanks Leo for the expansion on what Millbrae is doing.
It's a different world in Millbrae and San Bruno, where they actually appear to care how much their citizens have to pay for garbage collection.

Kathy Meeh said...

Okay, Lionel and Leo, but what are the doing business variables of Recology (and Coastside prior)? Is it the case that expenses in Pacifica are higher, and if so why specifically? If these higher expenses are City related, are you proposing they be identified, separated from the citizen billing, and paid by the City?

Transparency issue? A vendor franchise does business with the city, and is overseen by the city under their terms. Detailed business information (specific to Pacifica trash management), however, is apparently not available to the public. More general information not available to the public would include no viewable annual report (again Pacifica specific).

Thomas Clifford said...

I agree with both Lionel and Leo and would like to add one thing at this time. When this contract comes up for renewal there must be a competitive bidding process. No-bid government contracts are just bad public policy.

The Watcher said...

OK you guys, you all want to bitch about the garbage rates, what about the sewer rates for our "state of the art" sewer plant? Those rates have gone up over 250% since 2002! I guess it's OK for the city to gouge the hell out of us. I guess none of you have ever really made any effort to find out how much the garbage company has donated to varous groups, or how many "non-profit" events they pick up the trash for free. Sometimes I think we bitch just to bitch. Leo and Clifford, you're both planning commissioners, you should know better.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... let's see if I've got this right..Recology gets plenty of good PR and probably some real nice tax breaks and sky-high rates for "donating" to various groups and the rate-payer gets, well, one of the previously mentioned three. Charity riding on the back of greed and sweetheart deals is not charity folks no matter what the Recology apologist tells us.

Thomas Clifford said...

watcher, I don't have any problem with Recology.They did what any company would do, negotiate the best deal possible for themselves and their investors. The services for the most part is an improvement over Coastside Scavenger and they have worked hard to become part of the community. My problem is with our negotiating team.In my opinion Staff and City Council dropped the ball.When present will the proposal by Coastside and Recology they should have insisted on opening it up for competitive bids and been looking for a deal that paid off Coastside's back payments plus reducing the base rate of service to compare with the neighboring cities. As special as I like to think Pacifica is garbage collection here is not that different then in San Bruno or Millbrae. So my protest is about getting Council to step up and represent the citizen of Pacifica an nothing more. An 8% rate Increase is to much at this point in time and no-bid government contracts are bad public policy.

Anonymous said...

That's an 8% increase to rates that are already too high. Most of us would be happy to pay lower rates and forego the self-serving and dubious good deeds which we seem to be paying for anyway. Quite true that city council and staff didn't distinguish themselves with this contract. So what else is new?

Anonymous said...

laughing, laughing hard. great way to start a Sunday.

Thomas Clifford said...

Anonymous; Please no personal attacks this is not about Chris Porter it is about an 8% rate increase that is just to much at this point in time.

todd bray said...

Chris Porter is alright Anon @ 7:51 and has the balls to post using her real name.

Kathy Meeh said...

Todd (8:40am), I agree Chris Porter is "alright". And from my view terrific, as is her Recology staff (in office and trash collection outside the office).

History 2004-10, the prior company, Coastside faced hostile action from the city. That's how Coastside acquired the debt, passed-on to Recology. Consequently, that debt is reasonably included in our city trash collection fees. (Tom discussed his view of these high fees in his 5/14, 8:57pm comment). Leo has shown fee differences in his article. Yes, one reason the trash fees in Pacifica are higher is the lagging $800,000 debt left from Coastside.

Why did the $800,000 debt accumulate? 1) the city added additional "free services" to pick-up city trash temporarily (to help-out), which became a permanent expectation. (This happened during the time of General Manager, Joe Tanner).

2) Then, outside implications of "green waste contents", there was the expensive "green waste" legal action, which cost both the city and Coastside (paid by us citizens, of course, whether through Coastside or the city). This legal action was advanced by city legal, whereas the question of "green waste dumping at the Picardo ranch could have resolved over-the-table, and through a statement from David Carmany, past city manager. (Remember past city manager David Carmany? The city fired him and cause another big lawsuit paid by the city, probably thanks to Councilmember Vreeland, some of you may have voted for again).

3) Finally, the city changed its partnership collections responsibility from city to Coastside. For almost 50 years the city handled the delinquent property owner account collections. Through city collections, if payment remained in default, after 1 year the city was reimbursed by the county, which placed a lean on the property. Coastside had no such advantage of ultimate payment guarantee, and had the additional expense of hiring a collections company, dealing with Small Claims Court, and beyond that "eating the default". Additionally 4) the city required its franchise fee, whether the property owner paid or not.

I recall Coastside wanting to create the kind of recycling collection we have now, but improvement is hard to do that when your small company is being attacked and losing money. Anyhow, these issue are in part another reason why "we pay more for less" in Pacifica.

Thomas Clifford said...

Katy I believe you are wrong about the $800,000.00 Debt that Coastside Scavenger owed the City being the reason for higher rates in Pacifica. Recology agreed to pay Coastside's debt to the city if the City of Pacifica would let them take over Coastside's contract plus a five year extension on said contract. The City of Pacifica received the money from Recology it was not add to the ratepayers bill. The real reason the rates are so high is that when Recology took over Coastside already had the highest rates in the county and the City allowed Recology to add a 5% increase to cover the cost of new services(?) and the purchase of new carts and trucks.

Kathy Meeh said...

Tom, yep, I'm probably wrong, the owed amount was probably more like $900,000. You're in business, money has to come from somewhere. There is the structural investment. I know what you're saying about the 5% increase which happened 7/1/10, and the range of increase up to 8% annually there following. And, of course there were the capital expenses for new carts, trucks, education, advertising, transition, etc. But, there is also the outstanding debt incurred by the business, which in this instance would be made-up over the entire contract (including the +5 years, which you mentioned).

This year I have not signed a petition to protest garbage or sewer increases, although I can understand those who have. Rate increases on both garbage and sewer are traceable to the 8+ year failure of this city council majority, as usual. With the WWTP, there was the several year draining of funds away from the plant to make up the deficit in the city general fund, the ongoing neglect fines, solar which took too long to work and a long time to recover cost, the biodiesel fiasco. And, the trash collection issues has been described from my view (1:43pm).

The bottom line is this city is currently functioning with inadequate money. Both sewer service and trash service neglect and cost are symptoms of that several year consequence.

Chris Porter, General Manager Recology of the Coast said...

Corrections to comments posted..Recology does not service Millbrae. San Bruno does not offer its citizens food waste in conjunction with its greenwaste pickup and will just begin offering a twenty gallon can when we have had that service in Pacifica for ten years. You can put up comparisons of rates but unless you are comparing like services the comparison does not ring true. Recology did not pay back the City of Pacifica for the back owed franchise fees of approximately $810,000, Louie Picardo did before the sale of the Company happened. Yes, there was a sale of Coastside Scavenger Company to Recology with four years remaining on the franchise agreement. The City of Pacifica had the right to review and approve the sale and took the opportunity to request more services that the citizens of Pacifica had been asking for (single stream one container recycling, composting). In order to provide the services the City asked for, Recology negotiated an additional three years to be added to the franchise to be able to finance the needed equipment expenditures and bring our office up to date. We also began a new program for customers who have a financial hardship, regardless of age, and used the PGE CARE Program as a measurement for this discount. This replaced the automatic senior discount which went into effect at age 65 whether you had a financial hardship or not. There are close to 500 people on the financial hardship program currently. Also, we do not own the Recycling Yard facility on Palmetto Avenue. It is owned by Jim Payne and we have been paying rent to him since 1990 and this is a facility that is exclusive to Pacifica and the coastside customers. We will not be taking our trash to SF and then by train to Yuba City. Our trash goes to HMB's Ox Mountain Landfill and we were successful in negotiating a deal with them at the beginning of the year to hold our disposal rate as is. The numbers on the rate increase gave from a year audit done by an outside Company and given to the City of Pacifica. Hilton Farnkoff did not audit the numbers again when they did the rate review. The next rate submission will hav e the numbers re-audited by Hilton (or whoever is the City's review people) at an additional cost to the City. The franchise agreement allows for a 4% to 8% rate increase. The documents, after being reviewed by the City and their review people, authorized an over 9% rate increase but the agreement holds it to 8% tops. If people are using the programs and have a 20 gallon cart, they will be paying $21.86 with the increase which is over 25% less than the $30.19 they were paying for a 30 gallon can in 2007. Rate payers can help themselves by recycling and composting as the garbage rate is charged by the size garbage cart you use.

To end I will say this was not a sweetheart deal but a sale of a Company which Mr. Picardo, at 74 years old, had every right to do. He had several offers but felt Recology was the best for him and his employees. Another thing is that Recology found jobs for all our outsourced employees within the Recology family. This is something I as the general manager was most grateful for.

I hope this answers some questions. If anyone has a question they want an answer to, please feel free to call my office or City Hall and speak to Steve Rhodes or Ann Ritzma. I am also sure any councilperson will verify the statements I have made.

Pete Olinger said...

As I recall, our current elected officials articulated and approved the current waste disposal contract which provided for the current rate structure and subsequent several increases in rates. Thank you Lionel Emde for your action to protect the rights of our citizens to have a say in this process. We the citizens of Pacifica are ultimately responsible as we have voted for the individuals who presently serve our city.