Taking out the trash - Page 2

Garbage disposal contract headed for approval despite legal and electoral challenges

Recology would complete its monolopy over city waste disposal with the latest contract.

That same week, a coalition led by retired Judge Quentin Kopp, community activist Tony Kelly, and Waste Solutions CEO David Gavrich announced that it had submitted enough signatures to qualify an initiative on the June 2012 ballot requiring competitive bidding and franchise fees from any company that seeks to win any aspect of the city's solid waste business.

Kelly says his group was unable to collect enough signatures in time for the November election because Recology hired the city's two biggest signature-gathering firms to circulate what he calls a "phony petition" in support of Recology's performance in San Francisco. And signature gatherers say they were harassed by Recology boosters while trying to petition citywide.

"But I believe the question of whether candidates support competitive bidding will continue to be a defining issue this fall," Kelly said.

The board's decision on the landfill agreements has already been delayed several months, following a February 2011 Budget and Legislative Analyst report recommending that the board consider submitting a proposition to the voters to repeal the 1932 refuse ordinance so that future collection and transportation services be put to bid. The report also recommended that future residential and commercial refuse collection rates be subject to board approval.

But with two progressive supervisors running in citywide elections this fall, and with Recology exerting massive pressure on elected officials, the Kelly coalition could not find four supervisors to place such a charter amendment on the November ballot, forcing them to launch their own initiative.

And at the July 20 meeting of the board's Budget and Finance Committee, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who is running for sheriff, and Sup. Jane Kim rescinded their initial decision to send the agreements to the full Board without recommendation. Instead, after the committee had moved on to other business, they joined Chair Carmen Chu, one of the most conservative supervisors, in forwarding the Recology agreements to the full board with unanimous support.

Mirkarimi interrupted the committee's next discussion to rescind the landfill vote. "I think there was some misunderstanding a little bit in wrapping up the landfill agreements with Recology, " Mirkarimi said. He said that he asked for the vote to be rescinded, "so we can accurately reflect some of the sentiments being articulated here. I think we just learned some things on the fly."

In many respects, the switch by Kim and Mirkarimi made sense: prior to their initial vote, they made positive statements about the proposed agreements, but also stated an interest in exploring the appropriateness of the city's 1932 law.

"Overall, I think this was a good contract," Kim said. But she noted that, thanks to the 1932 ordinance, the city doesn't get franchise fees. And she claimed that it only gets half of what other Bay Area cities get from their waste contractors. "So, I'm really interested in continuing that conversation, but I think it's a separate conversation," she said.

Mirkarimi said it was his concerns that led the committee to "put a pause" on the Recology agreements until it could "undertake more homework." He also noted that his office "held a number of meetings" and he tried to "leverage this opportunity to reanimate activity at the Port."

"I was hoping that we might be able to arrive at something much more deliverable," Mirkarimi said, presumably referring to the fact that these efforts resulted in DoE unveiling an amendment to include two "possible changes" to operations and facilities at the Port of San Francisco in the agreements.