Mayor Sanders 2012 budget proposes to stop trash removal services for more than 14,000 households because they are on private streets.

His arguments, reiterated yesterday in a press release: One, it would be fairer. Two, it would save the city money.

At the heart of this issue is a law passed in 1919 called the People’s Ordinance, which stops the city from charging directly for trash collection, though residents do pay indirectly through taxes. Equity issues come into play because the city is not required to offer trash collection for households on private streets, even though they pay the same taxes as households on private streets. The city has, however, until now been paying for trash pickup on some private streets.

The mayor’s plan is equitable (from the mayor’s point of view) because it will more consistently force households on private streets to both pay the same taxes as the rest of the city and pay for their own trash pickup. It’s not equitable, from another point of view, because those private households could be described as paying twice and because there are still a large number of household in mult-unit complexes who also must pay for private pickup.

David Cohen agrees with the mayor’s version of fairness:

Only a vote of the people can undo this situation. But try to get stingy “I won’t pay (more) for anything”-taxpayers/voters to give up their unfair advantage. Even many of the people who have to pay the same property tax (directly or through rent) as anyone else AND pay additional for trash collection will vote against it because of the anti-tax, anti-fee, anti-government, anti-you-name-it infection going around.

Others argue about the “free-ness” of this service. If you pay taxes and get trash service, aren’t you still paying for it, even if it’s not a direct fee? On a Union-Tribune article by Craig Gustafson (which includes a good list of debunked myths about the law), papillion4ever is of the opinion that because citizens do not directly pay for trash removal out of property taxes, it is essentially a free service:

You are wrong when you say that this is covered in your tax bill… It is a free service for most of those that reside in the city, not all… You can keep saying that we pay it out of our property taxes but you are wrong.

To which user Vigilant Satyr argues that nothing is free as the city is run by tax revenue:

You are wrong when you say it is a free service. There is nothing free about it. The City provides the service and pays for it with money from the General Fund. The General Fund does not fill up as if by magic. It is filled with tax revenue. This tax revenue is gathered from the people that live in the city, use those services and pay those taxes.

The estimated cost to cover trash collection for the average household is around $20 a month, which is too much for some, but a bargain to others.

User ChrisMay says it’s cheap:

You don’t mind paying around $32.00 per gallon for your coffee, etc. What’s the problem paying for garbage collection? It’s YOUR garbage. $20.00 per month is not bad, that’s less than a dollar per day.

So does someone called “guest”:

What a bunch of crybabies. I have always paid for trash pickup in every community I live in. If I lived near Mount Soledad, I could most likely afford $20 a month.

On the other end are users like DZ5059, who believe that San Diegans already have enough taxes:

What’s another fee? Look at property tax bills now. What used to be 1% tax on value of home known as Property Taxes… now has Elementary School Bonds, High School Bonds, Community College Bonds, Health Care District Bonds, and Metro Water District Fees (On top of our monthly water bills). So what’s yet ANOTHER fee?

A North County Times editorial criticizes the mayor’s decision, calling it a “cash grab” and suggested that it might violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

However, in a response editorial, also in the North County Times, Mayor Sanders’ deputy press secretary Alex Roth responds, using as evidence the 1986 amendment to the 1919 ordnance that forbids providing trash collection services to private streets created after the initiative was passed:

The bottom line: San Diegans who live on private streets and have their trash picked up for free have been receiving special treatment for 25 years. The 1986 ordinance gives the mayor the authority to end free trash service for residents on those private streets built before 1986 — some 14,000 residences. We have chosen to exercise this authority so we can save roughly $800,000 — money that can go toward public safety, libraries, rec centers and all other services threatened during this historic recession.

Roth points also out that if the “two-tier system is unconstitutional, this system has survived for a quarter-century without anyone successfully raising that legal challenge.”

Mayor Sanders’ decision will be put into effect July 1st, and the City Council meets on May 2nd to consider revoking the Mayor’s authority to remove trash collection services and continue pickup on private streets.

Wil Stocker is a senior at High Tech High International and an intern at voiceofsandiego.org. Interns can be reached on Twitter at @vosdinterns and in email at vosdinterns@gmail.com.

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