Trash Talk: LA City Council to the Rescue … Not!

LA WATCHDOG--At the conclusion of a six hour meeting of the City Council’s Energy, Climate Change, and Environment Committee (formerly known as the Energy and Environment Committee) to discuss the City’s botched rollout of the monopolistic Exclusive Trash Franchise system, most came away with the impression that little had been accomplished other than letting the Committee members blow off a lot steam.  

 

Commercial building owners, businesses and employers, owners and managers of large and small apartment complexes are still being forced to endure unacceptable levels of service while, at the same time, being slammed with astronomical price increases, some that are two, three, and four times their previous bills.  

Commercial and residential tenants, who are also being impacted by poor service, will end up, sooner or later, footing the bill for the 56%, $125 million increase in trash fees.  This does not include all the Mickey Mouse add on fees that are being imposed unilaterally under the monopolistic pricing system.  

The seven waste haulers who “won” the eleven exclusive monopolistic franchises were thoroughly trashed by the members of the Committee.  They were also the subject of many unflattering comments by the over 60 people during the two and a half hours of public comment who were upset about poor service, huge increases in their monthly bills, unilaterally imposed extra fees, and unresponsive service providers.  

The companies acknowledged that they had provided unacceptable levels of service, in large part because of the difficulty of transferring 80,000 customers to a new system with higher environmental standards in a relatively short period of time (6 months).  They also had to incorporate more customers than expected into the system as well as haul the increased tonnage, creating significant equipment, personnel, and logistical problems. 

At the same time, the haulers indicated that they had provided acceptable service in excess of 99% of the time.  They also indicated that the number of complaints about failed service has continued to decline, a claim supported by the Bureau of Sanitation. 

The members of the Committee, who have been bombarded by complaints for several months and understandably had short fuses after waiting for several hours to sound off, unloaded on the service providers, discounting their problems with too many customers and threatening them with fines and the termination of their contracts.  

Unfortunately, none of the Committee members acknowledged that the City Council blew it by approving a monopolistic system that has resulted in skyrocketing prices and a lower service levels. This includes Paul Krekorian and Paul Koretz, who, along with Mayor Eric Garcetti and Jose Huizar, were proponents of the Exclusive Trash Franchise and torpedoed the non-exclusive trash franchise proposed by former City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana and favored by both the customers and the trash haulers. 

Nor did they accept any of the blame for this fiasco, including the imposition of a radical rate structure that is sending the signal that our City is business unfriendly.  

At the end of the meeting, the Committee directed the Bureau of Sanitation to work with the RecycLA franchise service providers, the City Attorney, and other city departments to address four areas of concern: Service Reliability and Quality, Pricing, Customer Challenges and Disputes, and Ongoing Transition and Next Steps. 

One of more interesting directives is to investigate having the Bureau of Sanitation serve as an advocate for the customer, using its expertise to help solve service issues and billing disputes. 

The biggest loser in this fiasco is the City of Los Angeles and its four million residents.  It has added over $125 million in overhead to the City’s economy without improving its productivity.  The local and national media are also having a field day at our expense, commenting on how City Hall was bamboozled by the Teamsters and the environmentalists and laughing at the botched rollout of this monopolistic system that has resulted in higher prices and poorer service.  This sends a loud and clear message to employers that LA is not open for business.  

It is time for our Elected Elite to get their act together.  As the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “Council members and Garcetti need to own the problem they created.  Then they need to solve it.  If they can’t guarantee quality service and reasonable prices, they ought to start working on Plan B – which should be extricating the City and its customers from trash-hauling monopolies and instituting a non-exclusive franchise system.”

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw