Vote yes on Prop A for competitive bidding for garbage and against Recology monopoly

Pub date June 3, 2012
SectionBruce Blog

As a reporter for the old Redwood City Tribune in 1965 or so, I got a call one day from the late  Luman Drake, then an indefatigable environmental activist in Brisbane.  “Bruce,” he said, “you are good at exposing scandals on the Peninsula, but you have missed the biggest scandal of them all. Garbage, garbage in the Bay off Brisbane, garbage alongside the Bay Shore going into San Francisco.”

He then outlined for me, his voice rising in anger, how the scavengers of an early era had muscled through a longtime contract to dump San Francisco’s garbage into the bay alongside the Bay Shore freeway.  And, he said, they are still doing it. Why can’t you fight it? I asked naively.

“Fight it, fight it,” he replied. “The scavengers are the most powerful political force in San Francisco and there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it.” I checked out his story, then and through the years, and he was right.  Everyone driving in and out of San Francisco could watch with horror  for years as the scavengers kept dumping San Francisco garbage into a big chunk of the bay.  (Note the oral history from Drake and then Mayor Paul Goercke and others who fought the losing fight for years to kick out the scavengers from Brisbane.)

Five decades later, the scavengers are still a preeminent political power in San Francisco. The scavengers (now Recology) have operated since 1932 without competitive bidding, without regulation of its high residential and commercial rates, without a franchise fee, and without any real oversight. Finally, after all these years as king of the hill, Recology’s monopoly is being challenged by Proposition A, an initiative aimed at forcing Recology for the first time to undergo competitive bidding and thereby save city residents and businesses millions of dollars  in rates and service.

Let me say up front that I salute former State Senator and retired Judge Quentin Kopp and Tony Kelly, president of the Potrero Hill Boosters and the Guardian’s candidate for District l0 election (Potrero Hill/BayView/Hunters Point). They have taken this measure on when nobody else would, without much money or resources, and up against  a $l.5 million campaign by Recology and enormous, nasty political pressure.  I also salute those who publicly signed on to their brochure: Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, San Francisco Tomorrow, SF Human Services Network, David Bisho,Walter Farrell, George Wooding, Irene Creps, Alexa Vuksich, the San Francisco Examiner, SF, and the Guardian. 

I was delighted to get a Yes on A brochure at my house in West Portal and find that Kopp and Kelly et al had money enough to make a strong statement in a strong  campaign mailer.  Kopp and Kelly persuasively summarized the key points for A and against more galloping  Recology monopoly in the brochure.  Meanwhile, the  Recology forces have been  using  gobs of money, a massive mail campaign, robot calls, and deploying the kind of political muscle their predecessors used to keep dumping garbage in the bay off Brisbane for decades. Since the Yes on A camp has trouble cutting through the cannonading and the flak, let me lay out the A  arguments verbatim from its brochure.

Question in the brochure:  “Why is Recology spending millions to buy this election? Recology has contributed $l,580,292.70 against Prop A. (Form 460 SF Ethics Commission.” Answer in the brochure;  “So they can raise your garbage rates after the election! ‘San Francisco Prepares For Recology to Raise Garbage Rates’ (Contract is Proof Recology Plans to Hike Garbage Rates Following Election’”) Then they laid out l0 reasons to vote Yes on A.

1. “71 Bay Area cities have competitive bidding or franchise agreements for garbage services. Because San Francisco doesn’t, residential trash collection rates have increased 136% in the last 11 years, with another massive increase coming after the election! We pay more than twice as much for garbage and recycling as San Jose, a city with twice the land and about 400,000 more people.

2. “The garbage collection/recycling monopoly now grosses about $220 million per year from the city’s residents and businesses, without any regulation of commercial rates.

3. “How did we end up paying so much? In 2001 the monopoly requested a 52% rate increase, Department of Public Works staff recommended 20% and the then DPW director (now Mayor) Ed Lee granted a 44 %rate increase. That’s why the Examiner said: ‘no-bid contracts generally make for dirty public policy, and this includes…The City’s garbage collection monopoly…’

4. “Don’t believe the monopoly’s 78% recycling rate claim backed only by its puppet city department. A former Recology recycling manager has testified under oath that fraudulent reporting, excessive state reimbursements and even kickbacks to and from Recology employees are behind this bogus claim.  Another ‘whistleblower’ has revealed that even sand removal from the Great Highway was included in this 78%.

5. “With a far smaller population, Oakland receives $24 million each year as a franchise fee, which supports city services and prevents other tax and fee increases.  San Francisco receives zilch from the monopoly holder in franchise fees for our General Fund.

6. “Proposition A is on the ballot through citizen/ratepayer time and effort, in the face of intimidation and harassment by the monopoly’s agents and its multi-million dollar campaign against it.

7. “Proposition A is simple: it authorizes the Director of Public Works and the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Analyst to prepare competitive bidding regulations for residential and commercial collection, recycling, and disposal, by modifying an outdated 1932 ordinance.

8. “Like all other competitive-bid city contracts, the winning garbage service bid will be ratified by the Board of Supervisors without any political tinkering.  The winning bid will contain the best deal for city ratepayers.

9. “If the monopoly is truly the corporation portrayed in its expensive campaign to defeat Prop A, it would easily win every bid.  As the Examiner stated last year, ‘…contracts won by competitive bidding are always better for the public in the long run.’

10. And then the list of endorsers ‘and tens of thousands of other ratepayers.’”

Kopp and Kelly et al are providing a major public service by challenging an arrogant monopoly of an essential public service and keeping alive the concept of competitive bidding on city contracts in San Francisco.   I drink to them from a pitcher of Potrero Hill martinis. Vote early and often for Prop A.  B3