Shit happened

A short take on Recology's black bin blues -- plus, a group mounting a crusade against pro sports homophobia



Recology, the city's garbage monopoly, has a problem: It charges residential customers only for the black cans full of unrecyclable material headed for the landfill -- but thanks to city policy and environmental consciousness, there's less and less traditional trash out there. Ultimately, the company wants to get rid of the big black cans altogether.

So a business model based on offering free recycling and compost doesn't work any more -- and everyone has known for some time that it had to change.

But there was no discussion of rate changes earlier this year; in fact, Recology folks said there were no plans for an immediate rate hike in the works. That's because the June ballot included a measure that would have created competitive bidding for the city's garbage contract -- and the last thing Recology wanted was the threat of a rate hike to drive voters toward amending the 1932 City Charter provision that gives just one company complete control over the lucrative waste franchise.

Ah, but the June election is long over, and Recology beat back that effort -- so the rate hike we all expected is now on the table.

On Sept. 11, Recology informed the city that it intends to apply for a new rate structure -- and while the process is long and convoluted, we'll see the details in a few weeks, and you can expect to start paying more for your service by next summer.

There's no formal proposal yet -- that will come in December. The director of the Department of Public Works has to approve it, and so does a Rate Board made up of the city administration, the controller and the head of the Public Utilities Commission. But both Recology and the city say there will be some significant changes in the way San Franciscans pay to have their refuse removed.

"We can't focus our financial operations on a black can if we're trying to get rid of it," Recology spokesperson Eric Potashner told us.

Douglas Legg, the finance director at the Department of Public Works agrees. "As we've been pushing diversion, the blue and green cans have been pretty heavily subsidized."

But shouldn't good habits, like recycling, be subsidized? Should people who recycle and compost more be penalized? "That's the challenge," Potashner said.

And in the end, it's going to be more than a shift in which bins cost how much. There's no doubt that your bills will be rising, perhaps by a significant amount. "I assume it will go up," Legg said. "There hasn't been a cost-of-living increase since 2010."

Which, of course, brings back the competitive bidding point. If others had a chance to make a play for the city contract, might rates be lower? Or might the city get more out of the deal?

Retired Judge Quentin Kopp, who helped spearhead the campaign for competitive bidding, thinks so. "If we had competitive bidding," he told us, "these rate hikes would be more moderate."


While most everyone's attention was focused on electoral politics in late October, Supervisors David Campos and Christina Olague were talking about a different level of political issue, one that's still a huge taboo: Gay men in professional sports. At an Oct. 30 press conference, the two LGBT supes joined with representatives of The Last Closet, an SF-based campaign that's trying to get gay professional athletes to come out.

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