The 28 percent hike in garbage rates for single-family homes approved by the San Jose City Council by a vote of 8-2 on Tuesday seems to have been a very unpopular move. The increase averages about $5.65 per month, raising the current rate from $20.15 to $25.80 for about 55 percent of the city’s residents. (Putting it into perspective, the increase equals about 20 miles’ worth of gas in one of those jumbo SUVs that can be seen with the naked eye from the moon or an iceberg lettuce side salad at an average overpriced Silicon Valley restaurant.)
While I agree that the rate increase is unusually hefty, it’s hard to see how the council could have done anything else under the circumstances. The Norcal scandal backed the city into a corner and it didn’t make sense to renew their contract. It is best to put that behind us and move on, although the trial is looming and I am sure we will hear a lot more about it in due course. The city isn’t in the business of hauling garbage and so we are stuck with negotiating private contracts.
However, when I look at the complicated structure of the new service in the city, it seems even worse than the bureaucracy of a city-run service. There are three companies involved in the pickup from each single-family address. Garden City Sanitation will pick up trash, Green Waste Recovery will deal with yard waste, and California Waste Solutions will handle recycling. Added to that, GreenTeam will pick up from multifamily housing, where there will be a very modest 4 percent increase in rates. Then, there is the city’s environmental department that oversees it all and deals with public complaints. “Waste” seems to be the operative word in this system. Why have one responsible entity when four will do it for twice the price? Perhaps the new garbage pickup system is modeled on our ridiculous so-called healthcare system.
It’s important to realize that these new contracts were approved by last year’s city council, leaving the current one with little choice in the matter. The city cannot justify an overall subsidy, so whatever the cost of the new contract is must be passed on to the citizen homeowners who use the service. The majority who voted for the hike on Tuesday expressed dismay but voted to pass the increase anyway. Two council members, Nora Campos and Pierluigi Oliverio, voted against raising the rates. Oliverio told me: “I voted against the garbage increase on May 8th because the City of San Jose does not have a true, transparent, competitive bidding process for garbage contracts. For this reason, San Jose residents now have to pay more then they should for garbage collection.”
Oliverio is correct. Is this really the best we can do? Our new council and mayor must seek a better solution for the problem and negotiate lower rates in the future through an open bidding process. Until then, it looks like the citizens affected will have to cough up the extra $67.80 a year.