Big bump in SF garbage rates approved

After shutting down recycling centers throughout much of San Francisco, saying curbside recycling made them obsolete, San Francisco Monday gave Recology Sunset Scavenger a green light to raise collection rates, charging residents more for trash, recycling and compost.

At City Hall Monday morning, the three-member Refuse Collection and Disposal Rate Board unanimously rejected 53 different objections to the proposed new trash rates, which will increase garbage bills by an average of more than 14 percent starting July 1.

Rates will then increase over the next two years by more than 5 percent until, by 2021, most garbage bills will have increased by more than one-fifth.

Those who showed Monday to voice their objections included Inner Sunset architect Thomas Soper, who was there with his wife, Kathleen. He noted that for two-unit buildings with 32-gallon black, blue and green bins, the increase goes above 36 percent:

“It’s a very unjust and unfair decision in relationship to two-to-five-unit buildings. … The reality of these fixed-agreement or fixed-costs that they claim that is driving this need for an additional, heavy-handed charge, unit-based, is an overreaching attempt to recover the cost. …  To overburden, in a disproportionate way, the people that are residents of two-to-five unit buildings is really unfair.”

Apartment buildings of six units or more would see their overall garbage collection rates increase by 10.75 percent.

In his Director’s Report, Mohammed Nuru addressed a perception that Recology makes sufficient revenue on the selling of recyclables to mitigate its need to request a rate increase:

“Recology’s net recycling revenues in (2018) are projected to be $20.6 million, or about 15.5 percent of RSF’s total operating costs. … About 60 percent  of that revenue comes from mixed paper and cardboard. Aluminum and certain plastics (PET) account for another 20 percent of recycling revenues. These revenues are applied to the benefit of ratepayers.”

Nuru also addressed concerns over recycling theft:

“Members of the public expressed considerable frustration about pilfering from recycling bins and the loss of material revenue that could help mitigate the rate increase. I understand and share the public’s frustration with poaching from residential recycling bins. Some ratepayers suggested deterrent measures, such as tamper-resistant bins or anti-theft stickers.”

Nuru added:

“Staff has looked extensively at bin designs and concluded that no design is theft-proof and some tamper proof designs are cost prohibitive, can lead to more expensive bin damage or even theft of the bin itself, as well as collection costs that are larger than the resulting revenue. Recology testified to the complexities of preventing pilfering and estimated it would cost at least $6 to $7 million to save about $1.2 to $3.5 million annually. … Stickers, and even language molded into bins, have been tried in the past with little deterrent effect.”

In the same document, Nuru stated that an overall rate increase is necessary for a number of reasons:

“The largest cost driver is an increase in what can be characterized as the regular cost of doing business, followed by the maintenance and expansion of existing programs in response to greater public participation, and the implementation of new programs in support of the City’s zero waste goal. Costs related to the new landfill agreement are also a substantial contributor. Finally, the increase in regulatory-related costs for the composting operations and capital investment in the new West Wing facility to transfer compostables are also contributing costs.”

Peter Reitz, executive director of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, an organization he claims has about 2,000 members, says many in the organization are owners of two-to-five-unit buildings, and this includes a lot of immigrants:

“A lot of our people are really struggling to make their mortgages and I think that we can find a way to continue the recycling program in San Francisco without extortion of these small property owners that often provide rents of $300 to $500 a month. … It’s a sector you want to maintain in this city.”

Gideon Kramer said he was not convinced that Recology needed to raise the rates based on its claims about the cost of doing business:

“I do not believe Recology has made a compelling case for those rate increases. … In my case, a four-unit building, the rate will go up by 36.5 percent…. I think that’s way, way out of line….”

He noted that a significant portion of this increase was related to the blue recycling bins:

“If you want to incentivize people to eliminate or minimize black (bin) trash, you want to increase the rate for black (bin) trash; then you want to incentivize people to put more into the green and blue bins. And instead, Recology is proposing to triple the rate for blue and green trash (bins)…. It may look good from a marketing standpoint but in terms of achieving the goal that the City has, it seems to be completely the opposite. It makes no sense to me.”

The board chair, Jennifer Johnston, said she agreed that a 20 percent increase is significant:

“And it is not lost on me that will have an impact on single-family homes and smaller apartment buildings and the expense will be passed down to tenants,” Johnston said…. “Although it is a significant increase, I do feel that it’s merited.”

Board member Ted Egan, from the City Controller’s office, acknowledged that a possible equity issue has been raised along with the new garbage rates.

“I think that the rate structure that has been proposed is fair,” Egan said. “I think that moving forward it (will be) more along the lines that it could pay the cost of service.”

Michael P Carlin, a deputy general manager with the Public Utilities Commission, agreed with Johnston about the necessity of the new rates.

“The required revenue that Recology has here is reasonable,” Carlin said. “It does make sense that if the landfill costs go up; the rates have to go up. If more people are participating in programs that has to be paid for, and that overall costs of doing business in the City are rising. That includes Recology’s costs.”