Nearly every other city in California charges residents a special fee for trash pickup.

But in San Diego, a law called the People’s Ordinance prohibits the city from charging single-family homeowners for trash collection. Apartments and condos do have to pay for pickup.

The ordinance was approved by San Diegans in 1919 to stop what residents viewed as unfair dealings by private garbage collectors, who were accused of profiting after being hired by the city to pick up garbage but then selling it for a profit to pig farmers.

We wanted to know what city’s declared mayoral candidates thought of the law, which costs the city millions annually. We asked them whether they support the People’s Ordinance and what would have to happen, if anything, before they’d consider charging residents a special fee for garbage collection.

We also asked them to evaluate an idea proposed by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. He wants to get the city out of the business of serving single-family homes and allow private contractors to take over their trash pickup.

Here’s what they said:

Carl DeMaio, city councilman: The city’s financial problems stem from out-of-control spending – and new taxes and fees will not solve the financial crisis. New taxes and fees only allow out-of-control spending to continue while imposing a higher cost-of-living on working families that are already struggling to make ends meet.

I support the will of San Diego voters who long ago made it clear: Trash collection is a core service of city government and should not be based on additional taxes and fees.

Recently, the mayor and City Council decided to go around the will of the voters and exploit a technicality to discontinue trash service to more than 14,000 San Diegans. I proudly led the charge against that decision, working with countless residents and homeowner associations.

I do not support the city attorney’s proposal. I believe we should focus on saving tax dollars through managed competition and other reforms.

Bonnie Dumanis, district attorney: I do not support undoing the 1919 People’s Ordinance to allow the city to charge additional San Diego residents for trash collection at this time. Although I recognize the long-standing disparity between multi-family housing and single family residences, which the city attorney raises an important concern with regard to fairness. However, I am a strong proponent of managed competition and outsourcing and believe we need to look at our own operations of managing our landfill and collections to identify any potential savings and efficiencies first. We need to ensure the city’s costs are as low as possible before we can justify any additional charges for trash collection. For more information on my campaign, please visit

Bob Filner, congressman:

The congressman failed to respond.

Nathan Fletcher, assemblyman: The voters of San Diego have been very clear time after time that they are not going to pay more for city services and we have to do the best we can with the revenues we have. As mayor, I will look into the city attorney’s idea to see if there is a more efficient way to deliver service, but not if it increases the cost to our citizens.

We need to take a fresh look at many of things the city of San Diego does – from paving streets to how we deal with trash collection. Let’s take a look at innovative ideas already working in other cities. Many are turning their food waste and other trash into energy using clean, non-burning technology along with increasing recycling programs. These are not only good for the environment, but have the potential to be a financial benefit for our city.

David Cardon, real estate broker: I do support the 1919 People’s Ordinance…I’m not sure if current cost of doing business were taken into account when the ordinance was drafted, but the spirit of it makes sense. In our current situation it seems that the City should maintain control of trash collection and not sell off to private corporations. If we currently need more revenue for the service, including the maintenance and procurement of vehicles, employment of staff, and landfill management, then allocation of funds should be dispersed accordingly.

Hud Collins, trial attorney: Absolutely support the 1919 People’s Ordinance; and during a double dip recession, there should be no special fee increase charged to the residents. Regarding the city attorney’s outline to get the city out of the business and allow private contractors to take over again absolutely not! There should be no outsourcing of trash collection. Fully back the employees. Since taking office the mayor has done business reorganization and that department should be lean and mean. As of this date, we do not even have a confirmed audited opinion. As I said before, I have a full pension reform plan which can be instituted within 30 days (which would allow $120 million immediately – no need for outsourcing!) After transferring $2.145 billion to the retirement fund (now that it must be reported on the city’s ledger side); they would be 100% funding – at the point we would close the defined – benefit plan and start a 401(k) for all employees. This would save $2 billion dollars over the next five years. Then we’ll have a credit worthy city and have available money for things like the homeless, road repair and allow services to go back to 100% (2001 levels).

Sunny O. Enyoghwerho, businessman: I do not support the 1919 people’s ordinance that prohibits charging single-family homes fees to collect their trash. If the apartments and condominiums are paying fees, it should include every resident, nobody should be excluded. That is one of the ways city generates revenue. There is nothing wrong for the city to charge fees to collect our trash, but in return, they should fix our infrastructures, especially our roads. After the city might have generated enough money to come out of recession, the special fees can be dropped. From my understanding, the city has a negative balance in their last budget. The city needs every penny it can get at the moment. I do not support the city attorney’s proposal to contract the service to outside entity. Any service given to a private contractor will result into a high fee being charged. The city should prohibit given small contracts to private contractors. The city should hire their own employees to do some small jobs, and contract the big projects to private contractors. This is one of the ways that the city can save money and generate revenue. Work done by a private contractor is always too expensive.

Steve Greenwald, compassionate physician, businessman, and civic activist: I would not support another regressive tax on the middle class homeowners. Likewise I support no privatization of refuse collection or for that matter the Miramar Landfill. All privatization does is ship profits out of the city, as well as administration jobs out of the city along with state income taxes, sales tax revenues and property tax revenues!! Great examples the present urban ambulance services to Scottsdale, Arizona!!!! Another is the backup contract for computers to India via Los Angeles with the resultant loss of 270 well-paying jobs from San Diego.

Tobiah Pettus, unemployed: Yes, I fully support the 1919 People’s Ordinance that prohibits charging single-family home s for the service of trash collection. I will never charge a fee for trash collection. In fact, homes on non-city streets, apartments, and condominiums should not be charged for trash collection because they also pay property tax and sales tax to the city.

Personally, we pay $316.56 per month in property tax. We already pay enough! $316.56 per month sounds like a car payment!

What we pay in property tax should already include enough for paying for our trash collection. Thus, we do in fact pay for trash collection already. Trash collection in San Diego isn’t done for free – our tax bill is just inclusive, not itemized.

The only way that I would ever support the city attorney’s idea of having private contractors take over trash collection and charge residents’ fees is if our property tax is lowered by the amount that trash collection was costing the city. This would pass any savings on to San Diego’s residents. The challenge is that there are other “governments” involved with property tax – such as the county of San Diego. Proportionally lowering property tax might not be possible.

Scott Wilson, businessman: I firmly believe that all San Diegans should be paying the same amount per household for refuse and waste collection. This being the case, I believe apartment and condominium owners should NOT be charged and additional assessment, nor should owners of single-family residences be charged extra. Rather, the funds for trash collection should come from a general fund, paid into by all San Diegans in the form of sales taxes. This way, everyone pays into the system (homeowners as well as renters), and everyone benefits. Much like my initiative to bring alcohol back to the Beaches of San Diego. For more information, go to

Lamii Kpargoi is an international fellow working with He will be working on elections issues and media best practices in community relations. You can reach him directly at and 619.550.5671.

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