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Oakland landlords sue over ballooning garbage rates

Oakland landlords alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that the city’s trash and recycling contracts are an unfair and improper tax and are therefore unconstitutional under state law.

Wayne Rowland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, whose 1,200 members manage or own 18,500 apartments, condos and duplexes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, said the suit seeks “to right the many wrongs and injustices” in Oakland’s trash collection fee system.

Attorney Andrew Zacks, who filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court, said that under state law, fees for property-related services such as garbage collection aren’t supposed to exceed what is required to provide the actual service.

If they do, they’re considered a tax and must be approved by two-thirds of voters, Zacks said.

He said the city allowed its collection contractors, Waste Management and California Waste Solutions, to pass a $30 million franchise fee onto ratepayers without justifying the size of the fee or how the money was to be used.

Zacks said the city has admitted that a large portion of the franchise fee is being put into the city’s general fund to cover expenses not related to the services provided by the contractors.

Three small landlords are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit but Zacks said the suit is also filed on behalf of all property owners in Oakland who are harmed by the contract.

Zacks said many of the lawsuit’s allegations were confirmed by a critical report issued by the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury last week that raised questions about how the city handled the awarding of the garbage contracts.

The suit seeks immediate injunctive relief and reimbursement of all illegal fees to property owners.

Zacks said:

“The city should go back to the drawing board and find a fair and lawful way of assessing services.”

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