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This post originally appeared in the Oct. 9 Politics Report. Sign up for the Politics Report today, an exclusive newsletter for members.
For decades, advocates and grand juries have urged the city to dump the People’s Ordinance to no avail. Now a new generation of leaders and advocates want to repeal the century-old policy that keeps the city from charging some residents for trash pickup — and they seem to be gaining traction.
City Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera all but officially kicked off his effort to get a repeal measure on a future city ballot at a City Council Environment Committee meeting last week. The committee, which Elo-Rivera leads, reviewed a report he requested from the city’s independent budget analyst that documents the massive cost associated with free trash pickup the city now provides to residents with street access, many of whom are single-family homeowners.
“The People’s Ordinance is irresponsible. It is unfair. It is costly and a major barrier to achieving our environmental goals,” Elo-Rivera said.
As the Union-Tribune reported, environmental groups and city labor unions called into the committee hearing to laud Elo-Rivera’s quest.
And fellow City Council Democrats Joe LaCava and Marni von Wilpert, who also serve on the committee, said they’d support continued discussions about a potential ballot measure.
“It is no longer the third rail in San Diego politics or a San Diego Special, but an issue that demands collective effort,” LaCava said, using a term coined by Mayor Todd Gloria referencing long-running San Diego challenges that other cities have figured out with much less heartburn.
Only Councilman Chris Cate, the sole Republican on the committee and the City Council, said he wasn’t sold on the idea. He has previously said he’s concerned about hitting cost-burdened residents with another bill.
Elo-Rivera last week tested an argument he’s likely to deploy again when Cate and others raise cost concerns in the time of COVID: Repealing the People’s Ordinance won’t mean immediate sticker shock for San Diegans.
“The charging of fees is years away and there are steps that we can take to mitigate the impact. The first step that we have to take is simply asking voters to make a change to the language to untie the city’s hands,” Elo-Rivera said before pledging that he’d push for fees to ramp up over time and to aid those struggling to pay.
Indeed, city officials said the city would need to conduct a cost-of-service study process expected to take two years before charging new fees if the People’s Ordinance is repealed.
Elo-Rivera also tried this angle: “Under the People’s Ordinance, as written, the city cannot charge free riders and those who exploit this free service. I’m talking about property owners who run mini-dorms and short-term vacation rentals, some of the folks who frustrate San Diegans the most. The city cannot charge them despite operating their property essentially as a business and no matter how much trash they generate, think about that.”
Expect to hear a lot more takes like that as discussions about the People’s Ordinance continue.