Public discussion is a hallmark of good governance. There have been some insightful comments by readers. For example, Get a Clue writes:

San Diego had quite an effective competition program before Uberuaga and Ewell dismantled it. But here’s the bottom line: unless [city] starts managing effectively, it won’t make any difference how the services are provided.

There are several historical facts that are lost in political sloganeering and exhortations. One of them is that the city already had a competition program (Council Policy 000-30), that the public is little aware of. Reader Prop C (referring to the 2006 ballot) writes:

Who is pushing competition in government? San Diego voters!

Private contractors are already engaged in a large number of city functions, so it is naive to think that there is no competition. Regarding Proposition C, it was spun not as privatization, but as competition. As I have described in my previous post, the terms managed competition, competitive sourcing and competitive procurement make private contracting sound reasonable. But it is questionable whether these terms will have any meaning, after the failures of the Bush administration that used them as a tool for drowning the government in a bathtub.

People of San Diego were fed up with profiteering and poor performance by private contractors as early as 1919 when the People’s Ordinance was passed by 85 percent of the people of San Diego. According to historical information provided in a recently released city report:

Prior to 1919, collection and disposal services were provided by an exclusive contractor engaged by the City. Residents paid a fee for garbage and refuse collection services. According to newspaper articles, there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with those services and fees. Citizens complained that the private service was too costly, unreliable, and encouraged illegal dumping. In addition, citizens were frustrated that the private garbage collector not only charged citizens a fee for garbage collection, but also retained the revenues from selling the garbage to hog farmers for feed.

On April 8, 1919, by a vote of 12,204 in favor and 2,130 opposed, the voters of San Diego approved the original People’s Ordinance. That ordinance required the City to provide for the weekly collection of all City refuse. It also required the Council to levy a tax sufficient to pay the cost of the collection and disposal services. The original intent was that the cost of City provided refuse collection services would be funded from both the tax and revenues from the sale of the garbage to hog farmers.

City forces began collecting, transporting and disposing of City refuse in May 1919, using six mule drawn wagons, and have continued to provide residential refuse collection services to the present date. Today the City’s residential refuse and recyclables collection system serves approximately 304,000 residences and small business using a fleet of 160 refuse collection vehicles and collected 474,275 tons of refuse, recylables, and yard waste in Fiscal Year 2007.

What can better free trash pickup that receives over 90 percent customer satisfaction in every survey? A national award in fleet management that our Environmental Services Department received. The FleetOwner magazine says:

Most city residents don’t think much about municipal trash collection. They want it picked up when it should be and they don’t want to hear their taxes will go up to pay for the service.

How those twin demands — not to mention a few others, like environmental compliance and safe operation — are met is the duty of vocational fleet managers of the municipal variety.

But let it be known that few, if any, have rose to this multifaceted challenge as the managers responsible for the Refuse Collection Div. fleet of the City of San Diego’s Environmental Services Dept.

There is no point in subjecting the guy who picks up your trash to a rigmarole and uncertainty around reengineering and competition. Repeatedly, they have proven themselves to be the best, public and private combined. Ian Trowbridge summarizes the point succinctly.

Outsourcing blue collar jobs will not save money if trash collection is a typical example. Personal observation indicates that the men and women of this department work extremely hard and effectively.

Finally, some humor. Mr. Mark E. Smith has some well-meaning caution for me:

You can expect an IRS audit, many unwarranted traffic citations, and a severed horse head in your bed.

As long as the IRS audits are not done by private contractors commissioned by political appointees, the red-light cameras not rigged to make a profit at the expense of safety, and the horse is not a Blackwater police horse, there is hope …


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