A short take on Recology's black bin blues -- plus, a group mounting a crusade against pro sports homophobia
CASH FOR TRASH
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."
OPENING THE LAST CLOSET DOOR
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.
It's remarkable (or maybe, sadly, it isn't) that in 2012, not one openly gay man has played in any of the Big Five pro sports (football, basketball, hockey, baseball and soccer). There are, everyone knows, plenty of gay athletes, and the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and various soccer associations all have gay players. Some of them have come out after they've retired. But on the field (or on the floor, or on the ice)? No way.
Why does anyone care? Because youth sports are still, even in this town, full of homophobic language and homophobic attitudes, and it's hard to imagine what young LGBT football or basketball players have to endure. Even one gay player could make a world of difference.
"What I saw with the San Francisco Giants, all of the Latino players, was such a source of pride to Latino boys and girls," Campos told us. "We can't feel that in the LGBT community. We know there are gay baseball players, but the LGBT youth don't have those role models to look up to."
The Last Closet campaign emerged out of a documentary film project that sought to look at homophobia in pro sports. "It became clear that some members of the sports hierarchy were not going to make themselves available to speak about this taboo subject," the group's website notes.
In fact, Fawn Yacker, one of the project directors, told us that nobody in a senior position in any sports organization was willing to talk -- and that's turned the movie into a political campaign. "We want the fans to push the sports leaders to address this," she said.
In fact, all The Last Closeters want right now is for the commissioners of the major sports leagues to make a statement that homophobia is unacceptable and that the leagues will do everything possible to make sure that out gay players are accepted. Seems like a pretty simply no-brainer — but so far, not one sports official has gone along.
It's pretty crazy, considering that it's almost inevitable that a few major sports athletes will come out in the next few years — and the leagues are going to look foolish if they pretend it's not going to happen. Any bets on which sport is going to be the first? "I don't know," Yackey said. "I think it might be hockey."