Free songs

New plan for collecting L.A.’s trash advances

After hours of heated testimony Monday, city officials moved forward with a plan that would dramatically change the way much of L.A.’s trash is collected.

The plan approved by the Board of Public Works calls for a handful of private waste haulers to be assigned exclusive rights to pick up trash at commercial and large apartment buildings in 11 newly drawn franchise zones. It now moves to the City Council.

Board commissioners said the plan will help increase recycling and ease the traffic that is a byproduct of the current free market system, in which trucks from competing companies crisscross neighborhoods to service clients around the city. They say it will also give the city better oversight over the conditions for truck drivers and trash sorters who work in the industry.

Opponents of the plan said it will create a monopoly by putting some trash haulers out of business and raising rates for some businesses and apartment owners.

Both sides packed into City Hall for Monday morning’s hearing. The crowd was so large that the meeting was moved from the Board of Public Works room into the larger council chambers.

Apartment building owner Mike Panetta told the commission that he knows firsthand that waste collection rates are higher in cities with exclusive franchise systems. He said he pays about $150 more each month for waste collection at his apartment complex in Gardena, which has such a system, than he does at his complex in South Los Angeles. He said service from the hauler in Gardena is inferior because the garbage company there isn’t competing for customers.

“Keep the free market system in place,” he said. “Let the market do its job.”

But another property owner, Terry Jackson, said the city’s current system is unfair because it means neighbors often end up paying wildly different prices. He said he doesn’t have the time to negotiate choice rates like some larger property owners.

“I’m a small fish in a big sea,” Jackson said.

Supporters of the plan, who include labor organizers and environmentalists, say it will help shield those who need it most. “What about protecting the men and women that work in this industry?” asked Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Several industry workers told of dismal working conditions. One woman described coming across needles at the recycling center where she worked. A truck driver said his company, American Reclamation, does not maintain the safety of its trucks and forces workers to drive on bald tires and with bad brakes.

“We feel that the company sees us no differently than the trash we pick up,” said the driver, Duan Draper.

Commissioner John Choi said that until now, commercial trash hauling has mainly benefited the industry. But he said it was now time to take into consideration “a broader interest” that includes working conditions for those in the trash industry and the environment.

Choi and other commissioners expressed concern over testimony from several people who work in the film industry who said the new system could hurt their business. For years, they said, they have worked closely with several small trash hauling companies that help them with their unique needs, such as trash pickups from film shoots in the middle of the night. The commission voted to investigate whether some exemptions could be made for that industry.

The plan will next be taken up by several City Council committees and eventually the full council. If it is approved, the city will issue a request for proposals for contracts with trash haulers.

“The selection process alone would take six to nine months,” commission President Andrea Alarcon said. “It’s going to be a long process,” she said. “This is a complete overhaul of our system.”

By Kate Linthicum