We put out our trash. It gets picked up. Most of us don't know how the system works, only that it does.
But the City of Los angeles has brought trash collection to the forefront, and people are taking notice.
As the city of Los Angeles explores the possibility of changing the way haulers collect garbage from multifamily buildings, an increasingly charged discussion among the competing interests of labor and the environment and business communities has emerged.
In one corner: supporters of the franchise system under consideration by Los Angeles officials. Under a franchise arrangement, proponents contend, the city would be able to regulate trash fees and to impose tougher environmental standards by encouraging recycling, designing fuel-saving routes for trucks instead of the current zigzag pattern that they follow, and mandating more fuel-efficient trash trucks.
In the other corner: the opponents of the franchise system, who charge that switching from the current “open” system would eliminate competition, increase costs and create an environment that takes away business owners’ abilities to negotiate, according to a pro-business coalition that includes the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, Central City Association and Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.
The Bureau of Sanitation is expected to release a report on the issue this month. Unlike with single-family houses -- which have their trash picked up by city sanitation workers -- apartment buildings with five or more units, as well as commercial buildings, rely on private haulers who are permitted through-the city.
There are 141 private trash haulers in the city, according to the Bureau of Sanitation; they negotiate their fees and schedules directly with building owners.
In July 2006, sanitation officials notified waste haulers that they were considering a switch to a franchise system on the residential side. The notice prohibited the city from taking action for until 2013.
Preliminary plans would divide the city into five or six wastesheds. It is unclear at this point if each wasteshed would have one designated hauler or several. Either way significantly would reduce the number of private haulers operating in the city.
A franchise system would ease the burden on the Bureau of Sanitation, which is responsible for tracking the private haulers and helping Los Angeles reach environmental goals set by state and city leaders, said Alex Helou, assistant director of the bureau’s Solid Resources Management.
With a franchise system, “One, you can track (haulers). Two, there will be less environmental impact because in the same neighborhood instead of having three different companies coming in picking up from three or five apartments, you only have one or two,” Helou said.
Of the roughly 600,000 multifamily units in Los Angeles, 400,000 have subsidized recycling through the Bureau of Sanitation. City officials could mandate recycling and clean-fuel vehicles under a franchise agreement, Helou said. Currently, Los Angeles diverts 65 percent of its garbage away from landfills. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hopes to bring that number up to 70 percent by 2013.
Tenants in Los Angeles’ residential and commercial buildings send 2.5 million tons of trash to landfills every year, generating $17.3 million in fees for the city paid by haulers.
It is the financial aspect that concerns the business community.
“We still think that it eliminates competition, and we’re going to wind up with higher rates,” said Jim Clarke, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. “Think about the person who owns maybe a couple of buildings in different areas of the city. I mean, you’d rather have one contract with one waste hauler. You’re going to get a better deal.”
In a recent editorial in the Daily News, VICA President Stuart Waldman warned that the changes would take away the bargaining power of haulers and building owners.
“By drastically altering the structure of its waste hauling system, the city puts itself in jeopardy of creating monopolies that will lead to higher trash costs. Instead of segmenting the city into multiple wastesheds, officials should use models employed by Pasadena and Long Beach that use one citywide shed to maintain competitive pricing,” Waldman wrote.
The franchise agreement is backed by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s “Don’t Waste L.A.” campaign, and those supporters say cost concerns are unfounded. If anything, the franchise agreements will reign in what is best described as the wild west of trash disposal, they argue.
“It is unconscionable to just allow this free for all in terms of rates when you know that certain businesses and certain size businesses are set to benefit and others are not,” said Greg Good, LAANE’s director of the Waste and Recycling Project.
On the environmental front, Los Angeles is hurting itself by keeping the current system in place, Good said. The South Coast Air Quality Management District recently passed a requirement known as Rule 1193, which requires trash haulers to operate clean-fuel trucks.
The rule does not apply, however, to private haulers who provide services to cities without franchise agreements.
“Despite the fact that the two most crucial regulatory bodies in the state, SCAQMD and (California Air Resources Board), have identified waste hauling trucks as crucial to ensuring clean air for our cities, we in effect, by not having a franchise system in the city of Los Angeles, we are creating a carve-out for polluting trucks,” Good said.
Fifty-nine of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities have franchise agreements in place. “We literally are creating a donut hole for polluters in L.A. County by not having a franchise system,” Good said.
It’s not just the environment that LAANE is concerned about; it’s also a labor issue. The average employee at a recycling plant in Los Angeles makes $28,000 a year, compared with workers at landfills who make an average of $44,000, according to the group.
“The city can’t require haulers to be union,” Good said. “We and our partners hope every worker in the waste and recycling industry has a good, middle-class, union job. The city cannot require that.”
Los Angeles officials cannot mandate that trash haulers unionize their workers, but the city’s living wage ordinance would apply if the city switches to a franchise system. That law requires vendors to pay employees $10.30 an hour with health benefits or $11.55 an hour without.
Los Angeles City Council members Jose Huizar and Paul Koretz introduced a motion in November asking for the report on franchise agreements, and questioned whether commercial customers should be included in the discussion.
“The benefit for businesses in a franchise system is that with fewer competitors in a single area, routes are more efficient, which brings down costs. Currently, there are over 120 different waste hauling companies serving Los Angeles, with several per city block. This is inefficient and contributes to the amount of air contaminants,” Huizar and Koretz wrote in their motion, which was seconded by five other members of the council.
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