The Rising Price of Garbage

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.


  1. Once again, after the city wastes huge piles of money on frivolous items like Mexican Heritage Plaza, the “Aquatics Master Plan”, the Grand Prix and the San Jose Repertory Theater, the taxpayers get stuck paying more for essential services. Garbage rate increase, sewer fee increase, what’s next?

    Bend over, San Jose, here it comes again.

  2. Jack, you shoulda let Rich Robinson write today’s column.  He absolutely nailed this one last year in nostradamus-esque fashion.

    BTW, my neighbor told me that San Jose will soon be putting up toll booths on the expressways.  Is this true?  I thought he was crazy but I thought I’d check here first.

  3. Remember that most of this year’s Council is the same as last year’s Council that got us into this mess.
    Also, don’t forget to thank Ron Gonzales for this gift. What a deal—pay more for less service. Can it get any better than this? Oh yeah—how about the sewer tax increase.
    You can protest the sewer tax increase—read the notice you received in the mail.

  4. Two service companies, one for waste the other for recycle means twice as many big trucks on our streets.  Twice the road damage and twice the air pollution.  So I guess its safe to say we will NOT hear anything from our council about green house gas reductions.

    Question: do we know what happens to the recyclables? if they are worth money shouldn’t it cover the cost of pickup?

    Many years ago when the city started its first curbside recycle program I went to CH and bought a copy of the 80 page report to find out what happens to the recycle.

    79 &3/4 pages of the report detalied info about truck size, signage on the truck, etc.
    One paragraph in the whole study gave any indication of what happens to the recylables.
    (NOTE: this is a lesson on how to write a $100,000 study for the city)

    The one paragraph said that the recyclables would be sold to the the highest bidder in 50 mile radius.  If there were no bids, then sold to high bid in 100 mile radius.  If no bid then the recyclables go to – – – -yup, they go to the dump.

    My question is for all the extra $$ we spend for the separate recycle pickup, are we getting our monies worth?

    The other thing is the multi dwelling units (MDUs).  they don’t have to recycle, its all in one big dumpster.  This programs falls unfairly on the single family dwelling such as seniors.

    I understand there is a point of the landfill issue, but If the recycle stuff is so valuable that it is handled separately then it should pay for itself and it should be collected separately from the MDUs as well.

  5. Jack,

    I get the point that the previous administration stuck us with this. But, the Merc did the fine service of showing us what neighboring cities charge and I don’t get any thrill from knowing that we are number 1 in garbage bills.

    Chuck has to make a case that we are moving in another direction and he has a plan to prevent this from happening again.

  6. If the uniformed mob had not been so upset over nothing in regard to Gonzales garbage deal, we would not be stuck with these high rates.

    You reap what you sow.

  7. I can only say that I’m so P.O.‘d over this Garbage Proposal and Increase in rates that I best not comment so as not to regret the language and the finger pointing to people I would make. 

    This increase now—- and in a short time—an increase in the sewer charges.  If the city wants to make increase, the get the money from the General Fund and not from the residents of San Jose.

    Enough is enough—Council Members—think about that for awhile——

    Concerned Citizen

  8. Jack,

    Bureaucracy reigns!  I suppose the complexities of garbage hauling will result in a new City department, full of highly paid individuals charged with managing this. 

    I had to laugh when one of the speakers at the City Council meeting noted that he and several of his neighbors could band together and hire a limosine to haul their trash and save money to boot.

  9. It just never ends, but don’t talk to me like a dumb child and break it down in gas prices.
    It is what it is, and that’s criminal.
    The only thing the two have in common is that we have no choice but to pay.
    But thanks Jack for your insight I feel much smarter now…

  10. #10 Ron’s Revenge.
      I would have let Jack’s post slide were it not for you #10.
      What ever ineptness is hanging tight at the City Council level, it is of great importance to me as a home owner and business owner, to see that we eliminate the garbage that was being handed to us in the back rooms of our city goverment.
      The price of ridding my life of some chump playing the God Father is worth any price.
      If however this episode gets brushed aside, or worst, we slip into denial, well, We will deserve to suffer yet another 2 terms in Hell.
      The curse of Quetzalquatle is apon us.
      This is only the beginning. All over town Chickens are being sacrificed, to no avail.
      Wine offerings merely move us to forget our plight.
        The only way out of this garbage can, is to relocate our beloved plastic snake along with Franks Palm Trees to the Mexican Heritage Gardens. Allowing faster turns for our salvation down town, RACING.
        And why has the Old Guard of the GI Forum not come to the rescue of the MHC now that they have the big bucks?
        So much garbage, so little applied ethics!

    The Village Black Smith

  11. Norcal is actually being replaced by 3 companies as I understand it—one for yard waste, one for recyclables, and one for trash.  Three times the trucks.  And from the pricing, it looks like they are all expensing them over the first year.

    So, because Gonzo screws up, the council panics and hires new folks with no experience and no trucks and no place to park the trucks.

    It’s much like the Cisco phone fiasco in the Taj Gonzal.  We end up paying more for a system that doesn’t work instead of slapping Cisco’s had and keeping them on. 

    I am in an area that has Green team/Green Waste.  2004 bill-$33.60, 2005 bill $36.60, 2007 bill $40.30, and set to go up what the Murky News repoerted as only 4% later this year.  The article’s author neglected to metion the 20% increase I’ve already endured.

    I fill a recycle container one every 2-3 weeks.  I fill a garbage container no more than twice per YEAR.  But I pay The same as people who fill both weekly.

    And the check goes to the City of San Jose, not the provider, so there is a layer of bureaucracy built in that just needn’t be there.

    Concerned # 11—Just where do you think the money in the General Fund comes from, the tooth fairy?  It all comes from us, Einstein, so whether its a rate increase or a general fund expenditure, we all pay.

  12. There are more rate increases to come… this is just the first of 3… the overall impact will be approximately 62% over the next few years.

    As for the questions of twice the number of trucks on the road, not really, currently split body trucks are used, which means more trips to the transfer station, with single commodity trucks, it actually works out to be the same on road wear and tear….

    Recyclables have markets thanks in part to our Asian counterparts that are consumer driven, most of our recyclables have viable markets overseas, however markets fluctuate and the revenue to cover costs are not guaranteed…

    Something to keep in mind are the franchise fees and taxes that are paid to the city by the haulers. That money goes to the general fund, and is not used directly to subsidize the rate structure.

    And lastly, ESD did hire several new staff to assist with the transition and management of the contract.  The current contract have performance measures that are fairly stringent and of course require someone to watch them, gotta love gov’t if there isn’t enough of it, make more of it!

  13. I wrote to Pierlugi several weeks ago, suggesting that all the refuse/recycle/green waste routes be evaluated for pickups on *one* side of the street wherever possible.  This would cut the number of drivers, trucks and mileage in half in the best case. (Some streets have 4 lanes, too wide for one-side pickups, but a good number of SJ’s streets would qualify.)

    And IMO, the rates for the smallest refuse bins should be held flat or even decrease, but dramatically increase the costs for the larger bins to encourage more recycling. 

    The city council’s imagination is missing in action – they need new & creative to address the city’s problems.  If all they do is approve every agenda item using a rubber stamp, then somebody is redundant.

  14. If you want to blame anyone for the garbage “mess” blame the elected officals, including Ron, Chuck & Cindy.  All three demanded that the contract be broken up so that 3 contracts would be needed where one was sufficient.

  15. Garbage Rates high?
    Hold on to your wallets – the State is about to take yet another tax bite …
    See AB1610 :

    This bill increases, from $1.40 per ton to $2 per ton, the maximum tipping fee that may be imposed by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) on solid waste disposed of at a landfill or other disposal facility.

            FISCAL EFFECT

          Potential substantial revenue increase, in the range of $6 million in 2007-08 and $26 million annually thereafter, to the Integrated Waste Management Account (IWMA), if the CIWMB were to immediately exercise its authority on January 1, 2008 to increase the state tipping fee to the maximum $2 per ton level.