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San Diego City Council Supports Proposed Ballot Measure to Repeal Free Trash Service

PoliticsSan Diego City Council Supports Proposed Ballot Measure to Repeal Free Trash Service

Trash binsCurbside trash bins. Courtesy City of SanDiego

The San Diego City Council took the first step Tuesday in what is likely to be a lengthy process of repealing the 103-year-old “People’s Ordinance,” which prohibits the city from charging for trash pickup for single-family households.

The council voted 8-1 to allow the city’s management team for labor relations to engage in the “meet and confer” process for labor bargaining related to a proposed ballot measure to change that particular quirk in San Diego’s municipal code. Councilman Chris Cate was the sole no vote.

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and Councilman Joe LaCava proposed the ballot measure for this November, which — if passed — would allow for the city to collect a fee for solid waste collection, transport, disposal and recycling, include the cost of bins and force short-term vacation rentals, accessory dwelling units and “mini-dorms” currently receiving city trash pickup to pay for the services.

The ordinance has been criticized for years by activists for being inequitable and not incentivizing residents to reduce, reuse and recycle. In 2009, a San Diego County grand jury concluded that the ordinance had “outlived its usefulness in a 21st Century society.”

It will cost the city an estimated $43.2 million in fiscal year 2022 and is expected to cost at least $234.7 million between fiscal year 2023 and 2027 if not changed, according to city documents.

Amendments to the ordinance in 1981 and 1986 brought about the current system in which the city is prohibited from recovering costs from most single-family residences for trash collection services, while most residents in apartments and condominiums must pay a private hauler for solid waste collection services.

Elo-Rivera reiterated at the council meeting that the ballot measure would not impose a fee. Rather, it would amend the existing ordinance to allow the city to consider other options to the existing model.

Options could include a variable-rate system, where customers with higher volumes of refuse pay a higher fee — suggested by the 2009 grand jury. Such a “pay as you throw” model is currently prohibited by the People’s Ordinance but is a common model throughout California and the nation and is often used to incentivize residents to generate less waste, a city document says.

However, some councilmembers questioned the wisdom of such a ballot measure at a time where gas prices are over $6 per gallon, and inflation in both the housing market and for household goods and groceries appears to be on the rise.

“I am worried, that no matter how laudable the goals are, that to propose this at this time seems precarious to me,” Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert said.

She reminded her fellow councilmembers that not every owner of a single-family home was wealthy. She said convincing seniors on Social Security and others to pay a fee for something many believe is covered in their property taxes would be an “uphill battle.”

City News Service contributed to this article.

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