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Exclusive waste hauling plan moves ahead in Los Angeles

After an intense three-year lobbying effort pitting business against labor, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday launched an effort to give trash haulers exclusive rights to specific neighborhoods.

The new system calls for creating areas in which a single hauler would exclusively collect waste from commercial and multifamily buildings, instead of having multiple trash trucks from different companies rumbling through the same neighborhoods. The city Bureau of Sanitation continues to collect from single-family residences and small multi-unit buildings.

The goal is to improve waste collection and reduce the environmental and traffic impacts of multiple trucks. But smaller waste haulers complain it is shutting them out of the city and making the system less competitive.

The 11-3 vote by the council authorizes work to begin on an intense 90-day schedule to adopt a development plan for the system, continue negotiations with the film and hospital industries, which have special disposal needs, and take steps to conduct a full environmental impact report to have a system in place by January 2017.

The plan, which still could face a number of legal challenges, calls for creating 11 franchise areas in the city for which haulers will submit bids to win the rights to collect all trash in the area from commercial buildings and multifamily housing of more than five units.

Officials said the goal is to get the city to zero waste by 2025 – it is now at 73 percent – as well as reduce the environmental impact of trucks by requiring operators to have a clean fleet, reduce traffic from competing haulers and improve working conditions.

However, opponents said the same goals could be reached by keeping the open competitive system and warned that small haulers could be forced out of business.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, a candidate for mayor next year, said that is one of her prime concerns.

“Many of these are third- and fourth-generation businesses that will not be able to compete with the larger haulers,” Perry said. “And an exclusive franchise prevents businesses from doing business with a company of their choice and, in effect, we are creating waste monopolies around the city.”

City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana had urged the council to keep an open system but have the city use its permit powers to bring in up to $50 million a year and set operating goals for the companies.

“We all share the same desires,” Santana told the council. “We want to reduce waste and improve working conditions. We disagree on the best way to move forward.”

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, said the exclusive franchise system is needed to protect workers.

“These are dangerous jobs, and this is the only way to protect these workers,” Durazo said. “The haulers say this is a cynical move. It is not cynical when you are trying to protect the lives of working men and women.”

Public Works Commission President Andrea Alarcon said the proposal is being designed to give the city flexibility in controlling rates and the level of service. It also has provisions requiring the large haulers to hire subcontractors to help in the collections.

“We will have a highly competitive process through the requests for proposals to make sure we are getting the best for the city and our residents,” Alarcon said. “Our evaluation process will encourage low rates and quality service.”

She said the city also will have some flexibility on its franchise fees to control rates, especially as it applies to residents of apartment buildings.

Supporters of the exclusive franchise agreement said 62 of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County have similar arrangements and have not had any complaints over costs or service.

Alarcon said there are 800 permitted waste haulers in the city, but 755 of those are solely involved with disposal of construction and demolition materials and would not be affected by the city plan.

The remaining 45 haulers would be affected under the exclusive franchise plan, though of those, only 26 collect more than 1,000 tons a year.

“Of those, for a seven-year average, 10 haulers control 95 percent of the business,” Alarcon said. “We think with our proposal for mandatory subcontracting that the smaller haulers will be taken care of.”

Councilman Mitch Englander, whose district includes the Sunshine Canyon landfill, joined Perry and Councilman Bernard Parks in opposing the exclusive franchising plan, saying he is concerned about the staff that will be needed to oversee the program. It was estimated it will need six employees.

“(On Tuesday), we authorized the layoff of civilian workers in the Police and Fire departments,” Englander said. “I cannot support creating more bureaucracy at a time when we are unable to provide our core services.”

Parks said he was concerned that some of the needs of the hospital and health care industries have not been addressed.

Alarcon said she has met with hospital officials and preliminary plans call for excluding hospitals because of their unique needs in disposal of wastes.

By Rick Orlov