San Diegans agreed this election cycle that the city should be able to charge everyone for trash collection. While the city could impose it as soon as a 12-month cost of service study is complete, it’ll likely take a lot longer.
Recall that until Measure B passed this month, most single-family homeowners could expect the city to collect their waste at no charge. Now the city has the legal grounds to study how much trash collection should cost every resident, and pass a new fee for that service.
Any new fee governments charge for a service goes through what’s called a Proposition 218 process, which typically involves hiring a third-party consultant to crunch a bunch of data layered with economics and spit out prices for that service. But that can take a year to 18 months to complete.
If the City Council wanted to, it could start looking for that consultant on Dec. 9, a day after the certification of midterm election results, and pass those proposed fees as soon as they’re published. But Councilman Joe La Cava, chair of San Diego City Council’s Environment Committee, says the process will be much more deliberative.
“We want to be very authentic about community outreach because we really promised it during the campaign,” La Cava said.
One major concern, La Cava said, is ensuring that a new fee won’t be overly-burdensome on a low-income resident who previously received free waste collection. Part of this research is about deciding what options the city has to soften the blow, with a subsidy or by spending other money dedicated to climate equity.
The plan, La Cava said, is to first gather public feedback on the state of the city’s waste collection system. The form that would take, whether online surveys or community forums, is to be determined. Then Mayor Todd Gloria’s office needs to initiate the cost-of-service study.
La Cava said he and Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who led the effort to get Measure B on the ballot, would likely lead the public outreach effort and communicate with the mayor’s office to push the process along. He offered summer of 2023 as a deadline for public input, but said the search for a consultant for the study could start earlier, as soon as spring of 2023.
“It’s really at the city’s discretion,” La Cava said. “We’ve cleared this major hurdle and there’s not a mandate to get this done as soon as possible.”
Some climate activist groups view the passage of Measure B and the fee it allows as a way to fast-track the city’s recent Climate Action Plan commitment of generating zero waste.
“Our hope is now that Measure B has passed, the city can adopt policies that will allow for really serious waste reduction and source separation which is the best way to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions,” said Mikey Knab, policy director for Climate Action Campaign. “I expect the Council to act as quickly as possible.”
San Diego’s landfills are already leaking planet-warming methane which is 80 times better at trapping heat closer to the Earth’s surface than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. The more people throw away, the quicker San Diego has to close its landfills, extend their life or search for new ground to cover in trash. Plus, the city committed to rolling out a new waste stream that collects and recycles food waste in just six weeks. The longer a large swath of San Diegans receive free waste collection, the more that cost compounds on the city budget.
“I don’t disagree,” La Cava said. “I know there are some who argue that by imposing a fee, especially a pay-as-you-throw fee, you begin to incentivize people to be more careful about waste,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to achieve those goals anyway and use this fee as a cost-recovery mechanism.”
There are a few hiccups on the horizon. The City Council could get through both the cost study and public outreach and then decide not to vote on imposing the trash fee, or delay it. As Voice of San Diego wrote in its Politics Report, all this work could likely finish in a big election year: 2024.
Not a choice time for politicians to send bills out to residents.
Other News Around this Coastal Desert Ecosystem
- The California Public Utilities Commission released new proposed costs for rooftop solar users. Here’s what locals had to say. (KPBS)
- In other CPUC news, investor-owned utilities got the greenlight to move forward with a $1 billion vehicle electrification project to help accelerate the number of electric trucks on the road. (Union Tribune)
- Sweetwater Authority drained some of its water from the Loveland Reservoir to meet customer demands as the drought persists. (inewsource)
- A question I posed on Twitter about the lifespan of downtown San Diego’s one-way streets sparked a compelling debate.
- San Diego’s transportation planning czar pushing for per-mile fees on drivers says he may leave San Diego if leaders can’t agree on bold vision for public transit. (Union Tribune)
- San Diego is woefully behind on its tree planting goals. (Voice of San Diego)