trash pick up san diego
A side-loader city of San Diego sanitation truck collects trash in a residential area in North Park on Dec. 23, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post originally appeared in the Sept. 20 Morning ReportSign up for the daily newsletter here.

The news: Tommy Hough, a Democrat running in the San Diego City Council race against Kent Lee, opposes Measure B, which would allow the city to study and eventually implement a special fee for trash collection. Union-Tribune writer David Garrick surveyed Council candidates for their stances on the initiative, which could be a big deal in November. 

Explainer dispatch from me: Few common claims are guaranteed to generate more responses to a journalist in this region than the assertion that residents within the city of San Diego get trash picked up “for free.” So, the Union-Tribune probably heard from plenty of people when, Sunday, Garrick wrote the article with the headline “Repealing free trash pickup in San Diego: Where do your City Council candidates stand?”

I can’t tell you how many times I or another Voice of San Diego writer wrote something similar and then watched our inboxes fill with: “Nothing is free, you nimwit! I pay my taxes!” Or “Nothing is free! We have to pay for that service and, if we charged a fee, it would free up money to make the city better!”

It is true residents and visitors pay property taxes, sales taxes and tourist taxes and those are what pay for trash collection. San Diego is the only city in California without a special fee for trash collection. 

But almost half the city actually does have to pay special fees to trash haulers to get service. What gives?

Garrick wrote “The freebie, guaranteed by a 1919 law called the People’s Ordinance, doesn’t extend to businesses, apartments or condos, whose owners must pay private haulers.”

The “freebie” … wow, so brash! But this sentence is also not precise. The law says that if you can get your trash to a city street, the city must collect it. That means, most people living in single-family homes can access the service (however, people living on private streets don’t get the benefit). And that means most people living in apartments and condos must pay haulers although some do have normal cans they can get to a city street. 

Can’t get enough? Here: We’ll be hosting a special debate about Measure B at Politifest, Oct. 8. Council President Sean Elo-Rivera will debate Haney Hong, the CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. Elo-Rivera supports the measure and first broached the idea of making this change in a Voice story last year. 

Head over to our Instagram for a chance to win a set of tickets.

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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  1. Just watch the chameleons in the D2 SDCC race. The two Melinda candidates will show voters skill in tightrope walking. But alas, they will fail for being ethically top heavy. SAD! Voters will be taken again and again and again!

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