Mar 27 2012

Civic Circus on LA Board of Public Works New Trash Collection Scheme

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Civic Circus Civic Circus with Ankur Patel breaks down local politics, with a weekly report on city, county, and state bureaucracies. (LAFD).

Trash is big business in Los Angeles as the county generates 23 million tons of waste and recyclable materials annually. Out of that, the city of Los Angeles is responsible for about 10 million tons. This translates into a 3 billion dollar industry that employs 29,000 people county-wide.

LA City’s trash management is divided between single family residences and small apartments, which are served by city workers versus large apartments and businesses, which are served by private waste haulers.

Currently, large apartment buildings, other multi-family residences, and businesses (which constitute over 2,000,000 people) are served by private trash haulers that operate under an open-permit non-exclusive system — that is soon going to be changed to an exclusive franchise waste hauling system.

Right now we have about 140 private waste haulers that compete for the trash collection of large apartments and businesses. The new plan will create 11 franchise areas in the city, each area being serviced by a single waste hauler.

Environmental organizations and unions have lined up to support this partial monopoly, while business interests, waste haulers, and city watchdogs are lining up opposite. Each group has its own reasons for taking their respective positions.

Diverting waste away from landfills to recycling facilities or other alternative methods of trash disposal has wide ranging impacts on air quality, pollution, and sustainability. Environmental organizations believe that having a single operator will create efficiency and raise our current waste diversion rate of 65% (which is actually the highest in the USA for large cities) to the goal of 70% by 2013 and 90% by 2025. However, the environmental impact reports have not yet confirmed this.

Unions are claiming that the new plan will promote better working conditions and increase worker safety. Unions will also gain influence in an industry that has not yet been unionized. And finally, politically connected unions are going to be in a prime position to pick up the exclusive contracts that will be doled out by the Board of Public Works.

The current trash fees are determined by competition and what customers are willing to pay, but the new system would give that power exclusively to the city’s Board of Public Works. The Department of Public Works is the City’s third largest department with over 5,000 employees and an annual budget approaching $2 billion. This department consists of the Bureau of Sanitation, Street Services, Street Lighting, Engineering, and Contract Administration. The Board of Public Works, made up of 5 commissioners, is led by Andrea Alarcon, daughter of councilmember Richard Alarcon of the North East Valley. (This is no way indicative of the nepotism and incestuous nature of Los Angeles politics.)

Business interests and waste haulers point to the financial reports put together by different organizations that say the new plan will result in an increase in the cost of waste management.

Small waste haulers would likely be booted out of business as they wouldn’t be able to compete for the exclusive contracts. In addition to the monopoly argument, the other claims that the waste haulers are making is that they are capable of hitting all of the environmental and efficiency goals with some simple regulation and oversight, which currently does not exist.

And lastly, the criticism from city activists revolves around the documented incompetence, corruption, and political favoritism that goes hand in hand with city contracts and request for proposals. Small businesses and politically unconnected companies will likely be marginalized.

And of course, last but not least, the Bureau of Sanitation is calling for the creation of new bureaucracies to oversee the system and handle all of the customer service – which we all know the city does so well…

Out with the old and in with the new, but it’s still just trash.

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