San Diego doesn’t charge for trash pickup single-family homes. / Image via Shutterstock

This story is a part of The People’s Reporter, a feature where the public can submit questions, readers vote on which questions they want answered and VOSD investigates.

The question from Steven Baratte of Hillcrest: “Why must condominium complexes pay for their own garbage and recycling service when they pay local taxes just like single-family homes?”

And Liz Flynn of University Heights: “Could you remind me again why I don’t pay anything for city trash and recycling services, but my neighbors next-door do? Some old lawsuit?”

To submit your question or vote on our next topic, click here.


A century-old city law has left the city in a predicament that’s complicated local trash policies ever since.

Back in 1919, 85 percent of San Diego voters approved the so-called People’s Ordinance which mandated that the city collect trash from homes – and allowed city leaders to levy fees to do it.

The latter part of the ordinance was never implemented, meaning the city must pick up trash at single-family homes without a special fee.

Voters have made some tweaks to the law since 1919. Perhaps the most significant one came three decades ago, when the ordinance was updated to bar free service for new apartments and condos.

Since 1986, the city has collected trash from single-family homes but not apartments, condos, private streets or gated communities. Residents of multi-family units and their landlords have to contract with private companies to handle their trash.

So San Diegans who live in single-family homes get free trash service and those who don’t must pay up.

In 2009, the San Diego County Grand Jury estimated about 304,000 households in the city benefit from the freebie. The Grand Jury urged city voters to change the ordinance and concluded the annual subsidy costs the city more than $50 million annually.

“It is a costly program that the city of San Diego can no longer afford,” according to the report.

Many other groups and advocates, including the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, have also advocated for policy changes over the years.

Yet 100-year-old law remains on the books – and seemingly remains a sacred cow.

Asked at a 2013 mayoral debate whether he’d consider changing the so-called People’s Ordinance, Mayor Kevin Faulconer had a straightforward response: No.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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