Garbage shuffle - Page 2

Alamo Square group alleges that Recology overbilled as board delays landfill decision

Condo owners allege Recology overbilled them, but the company counters that the residents were oversubscribed.

Fast-forward nine years, and Golan Yona, who sits on the board of the Alamo Square Board Homeowners Association, which represents 200 residents in a 63-unit building on Fulton Street, claims the city gave him the run-around when he complained that, over a four-year period, Recology subsidiary Sunset Scavenger billed his building to pick up two, two-yard compactor containers three times a week but only picked up one. "Each time one of the bins is being put out for collection, the second bin is connected to the trash chute," and thus not in service for pickup, Yona said.

But Recology claims that HSM Management, the company the homeowners association hired to manage its building, "oversubscribed" for waste collection. Recology also notes that the commercial rate the association paid resulted in the building being charged a lower monthly cost, but that Sunset recognized this as an "internal error" and therefore is not pursuing collection of the undercharged amounts.

Recology spokesperson Adam Alberti characterized the disagreement as "a pretty simple billing dispute," even as he claimed that HSM sometimes put two bins curbside.

"Recology has been providing a level of service that was not fully utilized," Alberti said. "They had two bins and were only setting out one, though there were numerous times throughout the year when they set out two bins."

Alberti said the responsibility lies with the condo group, which opted for that level of bin service. "At some point they called to discuss ways to reduce their bill, at which point Recology suggested they reduce their service to one bin. At that point, the homeowners association sought compensation," he said.

"No, this is based on actual consumption," Yona told the Guardian, claiming that Sunset has no problem charging extra if buildings put out extra bins.

Alberti claims it's "far more common" for buildings to oversubscribe. "They plan for peak times," he said. "As a good faith gesture, the company sought to come to terms with the customer — but they weren't able to do so."

DPH's Scott Nakamura confirmed that rate hearings are rare in his department. "This is the first time in 30 years that I have heard of a dispute like this going to the DPH — and I've been working here more years than I'd like to admit," he said.

Based on his experience and Rose's 2002 report, Yona suspects that the reason for this lack of hearings lies with a lack of process — not a lack of complaints.

Yona held up a flow chart that depicts 17 contacts he had with City Hall in a five-week period as he tried to find out how collection rates are set, how homeowners can determine what their building should be paying, and how they can register complaints.

These included calls to the City Attorney's Office, Department of Public Works, Department of Public Health, and the DPH's offices of Environmental Health and Solid Waste.

As a result of his persistence, Yona discovered that the city's refuse collection and disposal ordinance, adopted Nov. 8, 1932, stipulates that DPH's director can revoke the license of any refuse collector "for failure in the part of the refuse collector to properly collect refuse, or for overcharging for the collection of same, or for insolence toward persons whose refuse he is collecting."

In a complaint submitted to DPH director Barbara Garcia on behalf of Alamo Square Board HOA, Yona wrote: "We would like to note that our attempts to talk to the right authority in City Hall have met so far with difficulty. The seriousness of the matter requires intervention of the highest authority in City Hall."