Guardian endorsements for June 5 election



As usual, California is irrelevant to the presidential primaries, except as a cash machine. The Republican Party has long since chosen its nominee; the Democratic outcome was never in doubt. So the state holds a June 5 primary that, on a national level, matters to nobody.

It’s no surprise that pundits expect turnout will be abysmally low. Except in the few Congressional districts where a high-profile primary is underway, there’s almost no news media coverage of the election.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important races and issues (including the future of San Francisco’s Democratic Party) — and the lower the turnout, the more likely the outcome will lean conservative. The ballot isn’t long; it only takes a few minutes to vote. Don’t stay home June 5.

Our recommendations follow.



Sigh. Remember the hope? Remember the joy? Remember the dancing in the streets of the Mission as a happy city realized that the era of George Bush and The Gang was over? Remember the end of the war, and health-care reform, and fair economic policies?

Yeah, we remember, too. And we remember coming back to our senses when we realized that the first people at the table for the health-policy talks were the insurance industry lobbyists. And when more and more drones killed more and more civilian in Afghanistan, and the wars didn’t end and the country got deeper and deeper into debt.

Oh, and when Obama bailed out Wall Street — and refused to spend enough money to help the rest of us. And when his U.S. attorney decided to crack down on medical marijuana.

We could go on.

There’s no question: The first term of President Barack Obama has been a deep disappointment. And while we wish that his new pledge to tax the millionaires represented a change in outlook, the reality is that it’s most likely an election-year response to the popularity of the Occupy movement.

Last fall, when a few of the most progressive Democrats began talking about the need to challenge Obama in a primary, we had the same quick emotional reaction as many San Franciscans: Time to hold the guy accountable. Some prominent left types have vowed not to give money to the Obama campaign.

But let’s get back to reality. The last time a liberal group challenged an incumbent in a Democratic presidential primary, Senator Ted Kennedy wounded President Jimmy Carter enough to ensure the election of Ronald Reagan — and the begin of the horrible decline in the economy of the United States. We’re mad at Obama, too — but we’re realists enough to know that there is a difference between moderate and terrible, and that’s the choice we’re facing today.

The Republican Party is now entirely the party of the far right, so out of touch with reality that even Reagan would be shunned as too liberal. Mitt Romney, once the relatively centrist governor of Massachusetts, has been driven by Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum so deeply into crazyland that he’s never coming back. We appreciate Ron Paul’s attacks on military spending and the war on drugs, but he also opposes Medicare and Social Security and says that people who don’t have private health insurance should be allowed to die for lack of medical care.

No, this one’s easy. Obama has no opposition in the Democratic Primary, but for all our concerns about his policies, we have to start supporting his re-election now.



The Republicans in Washington didn’t even bother to field a serious candidate against the immensely well-funded Feinstein, who is seeking a fourth term. She’s a moderate Democrat, at best, was weak-to-terrible on the war, is hawkish on Pentagon spending (particularly Star Wars and the B-1 bomber), has supported more North Coast logging, and attempts to meddle in local politics with ridiculous ideas like promoting unknown Michael Breyer for District Five supervisor. She supported the Obama health-care bill but isn’t a fan of single-payer, referring to supporters of Medicare for all as “the far left.”

But she’s strong on choice and is embarrassing the GOP with her push for reauthorization of an expanded Violence Against Women Act. She’ll win handily against two token Republicans.



The Second District is a sprawling region stretching from the Oregon border to the Golden Gate Bridge, from the coast in as far as Trinity County. It’s home to the Marin suburbs, Sonoma and Mendocino wine country, the rough and rural Del Norte and the emerald triangle. There’s little doubt that a Democrat will represent the overwhelmingly liberal area that was for almost three decades the province of Lynn Woolsey, one of the most progressive members in Congress. The top two contenders are Norman Solomon, an author, columnist and media advocate, and Jared Huffman, a moderate member of the state Assembly from Marin.

Solomon’s not just a decent candidate — he represents a new approach to politics. He’s an antiwar crusader, journalist, and outsider who has never held elective office — but knows more about the (often corrupt) workings of Washington and the policy issues facing the nation than many Beltway experts. He’s talking about taxing Wall Street to create jobs on Main Street, about downsizing the Pentagon and promoting universal health care. He’s a worthy successor to Woolsey, and he deserves the support of every independent and progressive voter in the district.



Nancy Pelosi long ago stopped representing San Francisco (see: same-sex marriage) and began representing the national Democratic party and her colleagues in the House. She will never live down the privatization of the Presidio or her early support for the Iraq war, but she’s become a decent ally for Obama and if the Democrats retake the House, she’ll be setting the agenda for his second term. If the GOP stays in control, this may well be her last term.

Green Party member Barry Hermanson is challenging her, and in the old system, he’d be on the November ballot as the Green candidate. With open primaries (which are a bad idea for a lot of reasons) Hermanson needs support to finish second and keep Pelosi on her toes as we head into the fall.



This Berkeley and Oakland district is among the most left-leaning in the country, and its representative, Barbara Lee, is well suited to the job. Unlike Pelosi, Lee speaks for the voters of her district; she was the lone voice against the Middle East wars in the early days, and remains a staunch critic of these costly, bloody, open-ended foreign military entanglements. We’re happy to endorse her for another term.



Speier’s more of a Peninsula moderate than a San Francisco progressive, but she’s been strong on consumer privacy and veterans issues and has taken the lead on tightening federal rules on gas pipelines after Pacific Gas and Electric Company killed eight of her constituents. She has no credible opposition.



Mark Leno started his political career as a moderate member of the Board of Supervisors from 1998 to 2002. His high-profile legislative races — against Harry Britt for the Assembly in 2002 and against Carole Migden for the Senate in 2008 — were some of the most bitterly contested in recent history. And we often disagree with his election time endorsements, which tend toward more downtown-friendly candidates.

But Leno has won us over, time and again, with his bold progressive leadership in Sacramento and with his trailblazing approach to public policy. He is an inspiring leader who has consistently made us proud during his time in the Legislature. Leno was an early leader on the same-sex marriage issue, twice getting the Legislature to legalize same-sex unions (vetoed both times by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger). He has consistently supported a single-payer health care system and laid important groundwork that could eventually break the grip that insurance companies have on our health care system. And he has been a staunch defender of the medical marijuana patients and has repeatedly pushed to overturn the ban on industrial hemp production, work that could lead to an important new industry and further relaxation of this country wasteful war on drugs. We’re happy to endorse him for another term.



Ammiano is a legendary San Francisco politician with solid progressive values, unmatched courage and integrity, and a history of diligently and diplomatically working through tough issues to create ground-breaking legislation. We not only offer him our most enthusiastic endorsement — we wish that we could clone him and run him for a variety of public offices. Since his early days as an ally of Harvey Milk on gay rights issues to his creation of San Francisco’s universal health care system as a supervisor to his latest efforts to defend the rights of medical marijuana users, prison inmates, and undocumented immigrants, Ammiano has been a tireless advocate for those who lack political and economic power. As chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee, Ammiano has blocked many of the most reactionary tough-on-crime measures that have pushed our prison system to the breaking point, creating a more enlightened approach to criminal justice issues. We’re happy to have Ammiano expressing San Francisco’s values in the Capitol.



Once it became abundantly clear that Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting wasn’t going to get elected mayor, he started to set his eyes on the state Assembly. It’s an unusual choice in some ways — Ting makes a nice salary in a job that he’s doing well and that’s essentially his for life. Why would he want to make half as much money up in Sacramento in a job that he’ll be forced by term limits to leave after six years?

Ting’s answer: he’s ready for something new. We fear that a vacancy in his office would allow Mayor Ed Lee to appoint someone with less interest in tax equity (prior to Ting, the city suffered mightily under a string of political appointees in the Assessor’s Office), but we’re pleased to endorse him for the District 19 slot.

Ting has gone beyond the traditional bureaucratic, make-no-waves approach of some of his predecessors. He’s aggressively sought to collect property taxes from big institutions that are trying to escape paying (the Catholic Church, for example) and has taken a lead role in fighting foreclosures. He commissioned, on his own initiative, a report showing that a large percentage of the foreclosures in San Francisco involved some degree of fraud or improper paperwork, and while the district attorney is so far sitting on his hands, other city officials are moving to address the issue.

His big issue is tax reform, and he’s been one the very few assessors in the state to talk openly about the need to replace Prop. 13 with a split-role system that prevents the owners of commercial property from paying an ever-declining share of the tax burden. He wants to change the way the Legislature interprets Prop. 13 to close some of the egregious loopholes. It’s one of the most important issues facing the state, and Ting will arrive in Sacramento already an expert.

Ting’s only (mildly) serious opponent is Michael Breyer, son of Supreme Court Justice Breyer and a newcomer to local politics. Breyer’s only visible support is from the Building Owners and Managers Association, which dislikes Ting’s position on Prop. 13. Vote for Ting.


You can say a lot of things about Aaron Peskin, the former supervisor and retiring chair of the city’s Democratic Party, but the guy was an organizer. Four years ago, he put together a slate of candidates that wrenched control of the local party from the folks who call themselves “moderates” but who, on critical economic issues, are really better defined as conservative. Since then, the County Central Committee, which sets policy for the local party, has given its powerful endorsement mostly to progressive candidates and has taken progressive stands on almost all the ballot issues.

But the conservatives are fighting back — and with Peskin not seeking another term and a strong slate put together by the mayor’s allies seeking revenge, it’s entirely possible that the left will lose the party this year.

But there’s hope — in part because, as his parting gift, Peskin helped change state law to make the committee better reflect the Democratic voting population of the city. This year, 14 candidates will be elected from the East side of town, and 10 from the West.

We’ve chosen to endorse a full slate in each Assembly district. Although there are some candidates on the slate who aren’t as reliable as we might like, 24 will be elected, and we’re picking the 24 best.


John Avalos

David Campos

David Chiu

Petra DeJesus

Matt Dorsey

Chris Gembinsky

Gabriel Robert Haaland

Leslie Katz

Rafael Mandelman

Carole Migden

Justin Morgan

Leah Pimentel

Alix Rosenthal

Jamie Rafaela Wolfe



Mike Alonso

Wendy Aragon

Kevin Bard

Chuck Chan

Kelly Dwyer

Peter Lauterborn

Hene Kelly

Eric Mar

Trevor McNeil

Arlo Hale Smith

State ballot measures




Let us begin with a stipulation: We have always opposed legislative term limits, at every level of government. Term limits shift power to the executive branch, and, more insidiously, the lobbyists, who know the issues and the processes better than inexperienced legislators. The current system of term limits is a joke — a member of the state Assembly can serve only six years, which is barely enough time to learn the job, much less to handle the immense complexity of the state budget. Short-termers are more likely to seek quick fixes than structural reform. It’s one reason the state Legislatures is such a mess.

Prop. 28 won’t solve the problem entirely, but it’s a reasonable step. The measure would allow a legislator to serve a total of 12 years in office — in either the Assembly, the Senate, or a combination. So an Assembly member could serve six terms, a state Senator three terms. No more serving a stint in one house and then jumping to the other, since the term limits are cumulative, which is imperfect: A lot of members of the Assembly have gone on to notable Senate careers, and that shouldn’t be cut off.

Still, 12 years in the Assembly is enough time to become a professional at the job — and that’s a good thing. We don’t seek part-time brain surgeons and inexperienced airline pilots. Running California is complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with having people around who aren’t constantly learning on the job. Besides, these legislators still have to face elections; the voters can impose their own term limits, at any time.

Most of the good-government groups are supporting Prop. 28. Vote yes.




Seriously: Can you walk into the ballot box and oppose higher taxes on cigarettes to fund cancer research? Of course not. All of the leading medical groups, cancer-research groups, cancer-treatment groups and smoking-cessation groups in the state support Prop. 29, which was written by the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.

We support it, too.

Yes, it’s a regressive tax — most smokers are in the lower-income brackets. Yes, it’s going to create a huge state fund making grants for research, and it will be hard to administer without some issues. But the barrage of ads opposing this are entirely funded by tobacco companies, which are worried about losing customers, particularly kids. A buck a pack may not dissuade adults who really want to smoke, but it’s enough to price a few more teens out of the market — and that’s only good news.

Don’t believe the big-tobacco hype. Vote yes on 29.

San Francisco ballot measures




A tough one: Recology’s monopoly control over all aspects of San Francisco’s waste disposal system should have been put out to competitive bid a long time ago. That’s the only way for the city to ensure customers are getting the best possible rates and that the company is paying a fair franchise fee to the city. But the solution before us, Proposition A, is badly flawed public policy.

The measure would amend the 1932 ordinance that gave Recology’s predecessor companies — which were bought up and consolidated into a single behemoth corporation — indefinite control over the city’s $220 million waste stream. Residential rates are set by a Rate Board controlled mostly by the mayor, commercial rates are unregulated, and the company doesn’t even have a contract with the city.

Last year, when Recology won the city’s landfill contract — which was put out to bid as the current contract with Waste Management Inc. and its Altamont landfill was expiring — Recology completed its local monopoly. At the time, Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, Sup. David Campos, and other officials and activists called for updating the ordinance and putting the various contracts out to competitive bid.

That effort was stalled and nearly scuttled, at least in part because of the teams of lobbyists Recology hired to put pressure on City Hall, leading activists Tony Kelley and retired Judge Quentin Kopp to write this measure. They deserve credit for taking on the issue when nobody else would and for forcing everyone in the city to wake up and take notice of a scandalous 70-year-old deal.

We freely admit that the measure has some significant flaws that could hurt the city’s trash collection and recycling efforts. It would split waste collection up into five contracts, an inefficient approach that could put more garbage trucks on the roads. No single company could control all five contracts. Each of those contracts would be for just five years, which makes the complicated bidding process far too frequent, costing city resources and hindering the companies’ ability to make long-term infrastructure investments.

It would require Recology to sell its transfer station, potentially moving the waste-sorting facility to Port property along the Bay. Putting the transfer station in public hands makes sense; moving it to the waterfront might not.

On the scale of corrupt monopolies, Recology isn’t Pacific Gas and Electric Co. It’s a worker-owned company and has been willing to work in partnership with the city to create one of the best recycling and waste diversion programs in the country. For better or worse, Recology controls a well-developed waste management infrastructure that this city relies on, functioning almost like a city department.

Still, it’s unacceptable to have a single outfit, however laudatory, control such a massive part of the city’s infrastructure without a competitive bid, a franchise fee, or so much as a contract. In theory, the company could simply stop collecting trash in some parts of the city, and San Francisco could do nothing about it.

As a matter of public policy, Prop. A could have been better written and certainly could, and should, have been discussed with a much-wider group, including labor. As a matter of real politics, it’s a messy proposal that at least raises the critical question: Should Recology have a no-bid, no contract monopoly? The answer to that is no.

Prop. A will almost certainly go down to defeat; Kopp and Kelly are all alone, have no real campaign or committee and just about everyone else in town opposes it. Our endorsement is a matter of principle, a signal that this longtime garbage deal has to end. If Recology will work with the city to come up with a contract and a bid process, then Prop. A will have done its job. If not, something better will be on the ballot in the future.

For now, vote yes on A.




In theory, city department heads ought to be given fair leeway to allocate resources and run their operations. In practice, San Francisco’s Department of Recreation and Parks has been on a privatization spree, looking for ways to sell or rent public open space and facilities as a way to balance an admittedly tight budget. Prop. B seeks to slow that down a bit, by establishing as city policy the premise that Coit Tower shouldn’t be used as a cash cow to host private parties.

The tower is one of the city’s most important landmarks and a link to its radical history — murals painted during the Depression, under the Works Progress Administration, depict local labor struggles. They’re in a bit of disrepair –but that hasn’t stopped Rec-Park from trying to bring in money by renting out the place for high-end events. In fact, the tower has been closed down to the public in the past year to allow wealthy patrons to host private parties. And the city has more of that in mind.

If the mayor and his department heads were acting in good faith to preserve the city’s public spaces — by raising taxes on big business and wealthy individuals to pay for the commons, instead of raising fees on the rest of us to use what our tax dollars have already paid for — this sort of ballot measure wouldn’t be necessary.

As it is, Prop. B is a policy statement, not an ordinance or Charter amendment. It’s written fairly broadly and won’t prevent the occasional private party at Coit Tower or prevent Rec-Park from managing its budget. Vote yes.


On the Cheap Listings


On the Cheap listings are compiled by Lucy Schiller and Caitlin Donohue. Submit items for the listings at For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Picks.


Pinball tournament Vitus, 201 Broadway, Oakl. 6:50 p.m., $5. Those adept at flipping the bird may discover an easy crossover into the dexterous world of pinball. Vitus hosts a tournament chock-full of raffle prizes.

A Negotiated Landscape discussion University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft, Berk. 6-7:30 p.m., free. Urban studies professor Jasper Rubin follows and examines the political wranglings over the San Francisco waterfront in his latest book, detailing grassroots activism against major development projects.

Stand-up comedy showcase Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California, SF. (415) 831-5620, 7 p.m., free. Bizarro winter germs got you feeling a little under-the-fog-cover? Head out to this yuckfest, featuring Danny Dechi and a passel of his funny buddies: Jill Bourque, Dhaya Lakshminarayanan, Mike Capozzola, and Rebecca Arthur, to name a few.


Inside Story Time Café Royale, 800 Post, SF. 6:30-8:30 p.m., $3-5. Local authors doing readings that match tonight’s theme, “aspirations.” Hopeful readings, at that.

Eric Shanower’s Road to Oz Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission, SF. 7-9 p.m., $5 suggested donation. Accomplished cartoonist Eric Shanower has made it his life’s work to convert L. Frank Baum’s Oz books into Marvel Comics graphic novels. He details his journey down his own yellow brick road as a struggling artist.


Fullmetal Alchemist: the Sacred Star of Milos screening Film Society Cinema, 1746 Post, SF. 2, 4:30, 7, 9:15 p.m. $9-11. The latest installment in an anime series which explores Europe’s industrial revolution, alchemy, and popular resistance comes to the SF Film Society.

SF Dump artist-in-residency art opening Environmental Learning Center Gallery, 503 Tunnel, SF. 5-9 p.m., free; Also Sat/21 1-5 p.m., free. There can be no cooler artist-in-residency program than that of Recology, which sets up its creative types to craft art from the detritus found in the dump itself. Great works have sprung from this collaboration, and this weekend Ethan Estess, Donna Anderson, and Terry Berlier will surely add to that canon.


Gina Osterloh lecture Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. 2-4 p.m., $7. Osterloh’s latest work Anonymous Front, created in conjunction with a massage therapy school for the blind in the Philippines, explores blindness and identity with eye-deceiving photographs.

Ikebana demonstration Ortega Branch Library, 3223 Ortega, SF. 2 p.m., free. Chizuko Nakamura gently coaxes flowers into sophisticated submission in a demonstration of the traditional Japanese arranging art.

Kulinarya: A Filipino culinary showdown Carnelian by the Bay, 1 Ferry Plaza, SF. 4 p.m., free. Featuring a cornucopia of Filipino edibles and goods, this second annual event showcases the pili nut, which according to one expert is pretty much the next macadamia.


Seasonal plant sale Hayes Valley Farm, 450 Laguna, SF. Noon-5 p.m., free. Windowbox chard beats out the six-dollar variety any day. Hayes Valley Farm provides sturdy seedlings, hardy fruit trees (including pluots!), and those ever-prolific seedbombs, perfect for those whose personal green space is constrained to a crack in the sidewalk.


Ben Ehrenreich and Robert Arellano reading The Booksmith, 1644 Haight, SF. 7:30 p.m., free. Ehrenreich’s dystopian novel Ether has been likened to “Bambi directed by Quentin Tarantino,” while Arellano’s Curse the Names is the story of an apocalypse-to-be deep in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.


“The Language of Flowers” lecture San Francisco Library, 100 Larkin, SF. 6 p.m., free. Never send an ill-timed chrysanthemum again! Author Vanessa Diffenbaugh is doing a reading from her new book about the Victorian art of figuring out what severed dead blooms can say about you and the object of your affection.

Adachi video attacks public financing


This is odd: An eight-minute video narrated by Matt Gonzalez in support of Jeff Adachi devotes a considerable amount of time to attacking public campaign financing — something Gonzalez always supported as a supervisor.

The video claims that the $4 million that “politicians” are taking to pay for their mayoral campaigns could have helped the city avoid cancelling summer school and cutting school bus routes.

Actually, the city doesn’t pay for summer school or for school buses; the school district does. But I suppose the city could have scrapped public financing and given the money to SFUSD. Unlikely, but possible. (The city actually does share some money with SFUDS, under a measure that Gonzalez opposed.)

The thing about public financing, of course, is that it allows candidates like John Avalos, who won’t get big business support, to run a competitive campaign. If it prevents special interests from buying elections, it saves the city far more than it costs. Public financing has always been a central part of the progressive agenda, nationally and locally.

The rest of the message is about what you’d expect — pension reform, Recology’s franchise fee, giveaways to the police and fire unions. All stuff that Adachi has made part of his campaign. It’s nicely (if inexpensively) produced, and, as always, Gonzalez is a great presenter.

But what’s up with the attack on public finance?

(UPDATE: Gonzalez emailed me to say that Adachi doesn’t oppose public financing but thinks this is a bad year to accept it. He also said when he chaired the Budget Commitee the city sent a lot of money to the schools. But he did oppose the measure that guarantees some city funding to SFUSD.)

The Real Ed Lee story


The Ed Lee Story has some much-needed competition. The boring, patronizing (to readers) and over-the-top hagiography of the interim mayor was just sitting there waiting for a parody, and now the Leland Yee campaign has obliged.

The Real Ed Lee, written by the Yee team, has a serious political point, but it’s actually funny, sometimes really funny, and it’s much easier to read than the plodding “Ed-Is-Greater-Than-God” prose of the original. A section titled “San Francisco’s Future, Ed Lee Style” notes that if the incumbent is elected to a full term

The Golden Gate Bridge will be now called the PG&E/Recology Golden Gateway to Corruptville. Make sure to show your employee badge at the the toll botth for your discounted rate (wink, wink).

HealthySF will be renamed the Endangered Restaurant Protection Act. You will be charged an additional 42 % on your bill. Please note — no health care will be provided.

Muni buses will now be operated by GO Lorries. Surprisingly, service will remain generally the same.

David Chiu is now District Attorney. Oh, wait ….

The book goes through the details of how Lee rose through the ranks at City Hall, along the way approving a couple of fraudulent vendors and getting caught up in Willie Brown’s sleaze. It discusses how his campaign is taking credit for other people’s work and ideas. It describes how he promised over an over not to run, then went ahead and did it anyway. It’s got a great picture of him steering a 139-foot yacht with the caption “I’m on a boat.”

I don’t know how well this will work, but it’s clear that Lee is falling in the polls and the cumulative impact of his mistakes and the attacks on him by the other campaigns is taking its toll. And for once, we have a campaign piece that made me laugh instead of crying.



The mud flies


Dennis Herrera is out with an ad attacking Ed Lee — and it’s just the beginning of what we’re going to see as the top-tier candidates try to knock the front-runner down.

All the credible polls show Lee at least 10 points out in front. They also show that he has about 30 percent of the voters — which means 70 percent are either undecided or like another candidate. So he’s hardly invincible.

But with so many candidates in the race — most of them competing in the mashup in the middle, without strikingly different policy ideas — the strategists for Leland Yee, Jeff Adachi and Herrera have all decided that attack ads are in order. And the ads all seem to have the same basic theme: Lee is controlled by outside interests.

“Ed Lee says he gets things done,” the new Herrera ad says. “But what’s he doing — and who’s he doing it for?”

There’s a picture of Lee and Rose Pak. There’s a swipe at the Central Subway. There’s a pretty damning charge about Lee trying to raise garbage rates and then getting campaign help from Recology, the local garbage monopoly. And there’s an obvious shot at Lee for calling PG&E “a great corporation.”

The ad ends with some odd Republican lapel pins on the jackets of some unidentified dark-suited gentlemen as the voice-over says:

“Ed Lee’s getting it done — for his friends and his contributors, not for us.”

Hmmm. I didn’t see the Republican connection, but Matt Dorsey, Herrera’s press person, told me that one of the independent expenditure committees raising soft money for Lee is run by a big Republican player. Not sure how many people will get that — but on the other hand, there’s just so much in this ad. The Herrera camp has to figure some of it will stick.

Nothing new, really,  nothing others haven’t brought up. But it’s just the start; expect a lot more trash talk over the next few weeks as Lee tries to stay above the fray and his opponents try to force him to fight.


So much for civility


The San Francisco mayor’s race went from a lackluster affair to a dynamic match as the Aug. 12 filing deadline drew near and two prominent city officials who had previously said they wouldn’t run tossed their hats into the ring.

Mayor Ed Lee’s Aug. 8 announcement that he’d seek a full term prompted several of his opponents to use their time onstage at candidate forums to decry his reversal and question his ties to the moneyed, influential backers who openly urged him to run. Several days later, Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s last-minute decision to run for mayor signaled more tension yet to come in the debates.

At this point, eight current city officials are running campaigns for higher office, and the dialogue is beginning to take on a tone that is distinctly more biting than civil. Adachi, who had not yet debated onstage with his opponents by press time, told reporters he was running because he wanted “to make sure there’s a voice in there that’s talking about the fiscal realities of the city.”

Adachi authored a pension reform ballot measure that rivals the package crafted by Lee, labor unions, and business interests (see “Awaiting consensus,” May 31, 2011). At an Aug. 11 candidate forum hosted by the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the San Francisco Young Democrats, and the City Democratic Club, all of the top-tier candidates who were present indicated that they would support Lee’s pension reform measure and not Adachi’s.

“The reforms that I have championed are reforms that are absolutely needed, along with action,” Adachi told reporters moments after making his candidacy official. He added that after watching the mayoral debates, “I became convinced that either the candidates don’t get it, or they don’t want to get it.”

Those fighting words will likely spur heated exchanges in the months to come, but until Adachi’s entrance into the race, it was Lee who took the most lumps from opponents. Even Board President David Chiu, a mayoral candidate whose campaign platform is centered on the idea that he’s helped restore civility to local government, had some harsh words for Lee during an Aug. 11 mayoral debate.

“I do regret my decision to take Ed Lee at his word when he said he would not run,” Chiu said in response to a question about whether he regretted any of his votes. He also said his first interaction with Lee after the mayor had announced his candidacy was “a little like meeting an ex-girlfriend after a breakup.”

Lee, whose pitch on the campaign trail features a remarkably similar narrative about transcending political squabbling in City Hall, became the target of boos, hisses, and noisemaker blasts when a boisterous crowd packed the Castro Theater for an Aug. 8 candidate forum. He received one of the most forceful rebukes from Sen. Leland Yee, an opponent whom Lee supporters are especially focused on defeating.

“Had the mayor said that he would in fact run, he may not have gotten the votes for interim mayor,” Yee said. “Will you resign from your post,” he asked, challenging Lee, “in order to then run for mayor?” Days later, Yee had developed a new mantra about throwing power brokers out of City Hall instead of “wining and dining with them.”

Yet Lee said his decision to enter the race wasn’t because of the push from his backers, but because of how well things have gone during his brief tenure in Room 200. “Things have changed at City Hall, particularly in the last seven months,” he told reporters Aug. 8. “And because of that change, I changed my mind.”

In yet another twist, former Mayor Art Agnos — whom progressives had looked to as a potential appointee to the vacant mayor’s seat back in December, before Lee was voted in to replace former mayor and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom — delivered a surprise endorsement of City Attorney Dennis Herrera shortly after Lee declared. The decision was particularly significant since Agnos first hired Lee to serve in city government, and has a long history of working with him.

“[Herrera] is an independent person who will empower neighborhoods … and won’t be beholden to power brokers,” Agnos said. He also told the Guardian he wasn’t surprised that Lee had opted to run, given the role former Mayor Willie Brown and influential business consultant Rose Pak had played in orchestrating Lee’s appointment.

“Anybody who is an astute political observer saw the signs from the very beginning,” Agnos said. In response to a comment about his unique vantage point as a would-be caretaker mayor, he said, “I would’ve kept my word and not run for reelection.”

Intense focus on Lee’s flip-flop, and on the Progress for All-backed “Run, Ed, Run” effort that was the subject of an Ethics Commission discussion that same week, stemmed at least in part from the threat the incumbent mayor represents to other candidates. A CBS 5-SurveyUSA poll suggested he became an instant front-runner.

Yet questions about “Run, Ed, Run” — some raised by observers unaffiliated with any campaigns — also served to spotlight the candidate’s longstanding ties with backers closely connected to powerful business interests that stand to lose big if their links to city government aren’t preserved.

Retired Judge Quentin Kopp issued an open letter to District Attorney George Gascón Aug. 1 urging him to convene a criminal grand jury to investigate whether illegal and corrupt influencing had occurred when Pak — a close friend of Lee’s and a key driver behind the “Run, Ed, Run” effort — reportedly recruited executives of Recology to gather signatures urging Lee to run.

Recology, which handles the city’s waste, was recently awarded a $112 million city contract, and Lee’s scoring of the company and recommendation to raise rates in his previous capacity as city administrator benefited the company. Brown received substantial campaign donations from Recology in previous bids for mayor. Kopp is the coauthor of a ballot initiative asking San Francisco voters if the company’s monopoly on city garbage contracts should be put out to bid.

“A criminal grand jury is vital in order to put people under oath and interrogate them,” Kopp said. “They would put Willie Brown under oath, put Pak under oath, put [Recology President Mike Sangiacomo] under oath, put [Recology spokesperson Sam Singer] under oath … That’s the course of action that should be pursued by this.”

Although Kopp told the Guardian that he hadn’t yet received a response from Gascón, DA candidates Sharmin Bock, Bill Fazio, and David Onek nevertheless seized the opportunity to publicly and jointly call for Gascón to recuse himself from any investigation into Progress for All. Gascón has a conflict of interest, they argued, since he reportedly sought Pak’s advice when deciding whether to accept Newsom’s offer to switch from his previous post as police chief to his current job as top prosecutor.

The Ethics Commission determined unanimously Aug. 8 that the activities of Progress for All, the committee that was formed to encourage Lee to run, had not run afoul of election laws despite director John St. Croix’s opinion that it had filed improperly as a general purpose committee when it ought to have been a candidate committee, which would have placed caps on contribution limits.

“The Ethics Commission has spoken, and they’ve supported our position,” Progress for All consultant Enrique Pearce of Left Coast Communications told the Guardian.

St. Croix did not return Guardian calls seeking comment, but an Ethics Commission press release included a caveat: “Should facts surface that coordination occurred between Mayor Lee and [Progress for All], such allegations will be investigated under the Commission’s enforcement regulations.”

At a Lee support rally organized by his official campaign team on Aug. 11, volunteers who arrived with “Run, Ed, Run” materials produced by Progress for All were told they could not display those signs and T-shirts; the same people were on a first-name basis with one of Lee’s campaign team members.

Pressed on the question of whether there was any coordination between agents of Progress for All and Lee, Pearce said the Ethics Commission discussion had focused on whether Lee had been a candidate. “Whether or not he’s a candidate has nothing to do with whether or not he has dinner with Rose [Pak],” Pearce noted. He insisted that there had not been coordination, and that the efforts to encourage Lee to run and to support Lee as a candidate were totally separate.

Sup. John Avalos, who is running for mayor on a progressive platform, recalled at an Aug. 8 candidate forum how things unfolded when Lee’s name first came up as an appointee for interim mayor.

Avalos reminded people that he had called for postponing the vote back in December because he hadn’t even had a chance to sit down and meet with Lee, who was in Hong Kong at the time. With behind-the-scenes deals orchestrating his appointment, Avalos said, “We saw City Hall turning into one big back room.”

Lee appointment of Nuru darkens the ethical cloud over Room 200


City Attorney Dennis Herrera deserves credit for being the one mayoral candidate willing to bring a full-throated denunciation of the sleazy and corrupt politics now flowing from Mayor Ed Lee, who yesterday appointed discredited political fixer Mohammed Nuru to head the Department of Public Works, compounding a series of ethically questionable actions by Lee and his supporters.

While it was inexplicably buried by editors at the bottom of Section C, the Chronicle’s City Insider today had a pair of good stories on Lee’s mounting political problems. The first was about how the U.S. Attorney’s Office has reportedly launched a probe of Progress for All and its “Run, Ed, Run” campaign, for which Lee ally Rose Pak illegally sought support from executives at Recology, the garbage company that had just been awarded a huge city contract, largely because then-City Administrator Lee had given the company far higher ratings than the other two supposedly impartial bid judges.

The second story was about Herrera slamming Lee’s choice of Nuru. On his campaign website, Herrera reminded voters about the scandals that have surrounded Nuru – like Lee, someone who has always taken his cues from former Mayor Willie Brown – who illegally diverted city funds and workers into campaigning for Brown in 1999 and Gavin Newsom in 2003. Brown now writes for the Chronicle and is even allowed to comment on the mayor’s race.

The scandal – first broken by the Chronicle in 2004, furthered by reporting in the Guardian, and then investigated by Herrera’s office – involved Nuru steering city funds to his nonprofit San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners and then requiring its employees to illegally do campaign work during work hours. Nuru then went to work for Lee at the DPW while continuing to illegally use SLUG’s funds and employees for political purposes.

Herrera said the appointment smacks of “cronyism, politics, and poor judgment.” Previously, Herrera had the best line about Lee as he jumped into race, telling a mayoral forum: “To my mind, Ed Lee’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s a dishonest man – it’s that he’s not his own man,” Herrera said. “The fact is, if Ed Lee is elected mayor, powerful people will continue to insist on things.”

Topping that list of the powerful people who have clearly been pulling Lee’s strings throughout his career are Pak and Brown, both of whom are consultants who regularly get paid by corporations that do big business with the city and need support from the Mayor’s Office. And their actions are often blatant and shameless, just like Nuru’s history, and even exposure of the misdeeds doesn’t correct the problem.

For example, as I reported last week, Brown’s administration helped Pak buy a Rincon Hill condo for half-price through a city affordable housing program in 2002, even though her disclosure forms showed she had $73,414 in her checking account, some of which probably included the $12,000 consulting fee she reported on her tax return from Emerald Fund – the politically connected developer of the project, employees of which are barred from buying such below-market rate units – and $10,000 from Chiang CM Construction, which helped fund Progress for All.

Most of this information was prominently reported in 2003 by the Examiner, but nothing was ever done. Pak got to keep her taxpayer-subsidized condo. Same thing with Nuru, who remained at DPW even after the City Attorney’s Office and Controller’s Office concluded his actions were corrupt. And Lee was appointed interim mayor even after being tied to several corrupt Brown scams, including overriding city workers to give contracts to fraudulent companies at Brown’s behest.

And now, Lee has placed Nuru in charge of a city department with a $129 million city budget and 1,200 employees, despite Nuru’s proven history of directing his subordinates to illegally campaign for his mayoral benefactors. You couldn’t even make this stuff up, and even Examiner columnist Melissa Griffin flatly calls the move “stupid.”

But I think it’s more than just stupid. And the appointment of Nuru is more than just a setback from DPW that good government activists had been fearing for a long-dysfunctional department that had gotten much better in recent years. It looks like flat-out corruption of the sort that ought to knock Lee out of the frontrunner position and hopefully land him in front of a grand jury at some point.

Shady financial dealings mar the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign


Not only do the groups behind the campaign urging Mayor Ed Lee to run for mayor get lucrative city contracts, sometimes with Lee’s help, but at least one of the companies has also made direct payouts to Chinatown power broker Rose Pak, who arranged to place Lee in the Mayor’s Office and has been coordinating the campaign to keep him there.

This latest revelation, from documents uncovered by the Guardian, comes as other local media outlets have been exposing the financial self-interest that Pak, former Mayor Willie Brown, and their allies have in urging Lee to break his word and run for a full mayoral term, including a devastating front page article in today’s Chronicle.

Reporter John Cote writes that Progress for All, the group behind the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign, “has been bankrolled almost entirely by a small group of politically connected individuals, some of whom have received millions of dollars in city contracts in recent years.” Among them is Robert Chiang, owner of Chiang CM Construction, which has received millions of dollars in city contracts despite lawsuits and rulings by regulators alleging that the company violated a variety of wage laws.

Chiang CM has also paid Pak personally at least $10,000, according to her tax return form that she filed with the city back in 2002 when she bought a Rincon Hill condominium for half-price through a city affordable housing program. The tax form listed that payment under “miscellaneous income,” along with $12,000 from Emerald Fund, the politically connected developer of the project, “an apparent violation of regulations governing the distribution of the discount housing,” according to an Examiner article at the time (“Affordable-housing flap,” 2/24/03). But the Brown Administration, which approved Pak’s purchase of the condo, refused to take any action against Pak, a close ally of both Brown and Lee.

We reached Pak on her cell phone to discuss her financial ties to Chiang CM and what they paid her for, and after we explained our findings three times, she said, “I don’t remember,” and hung up the phone. When we called the company for comment, we were told “nobody is available to speak on that right now.”

More recently, the Examiner has reported on the millions of dollars in city contracts that Lee has helped steer to other key Progress for All leaders, including the Chinatown Community Development Center, whose executive director, Gordon Chin, also leads Progress for All. In addition to its city contracts, documents obtained by the Guardian also show that on Dec. 10, 2010, CCDC entered into a contract with Central Subway Partners – which is building the Central Subway project long pushed by Pak and Lee, but criticized as an overly expensive boondoggle by many transit activists – to be paid up to $810,000 for unspecified services that “will be issued on an Annual Task Order basis.” Chin hasn’t yet returned a Guardian call for comment.

The Chronicle also broke the story about Pak urging Recology – which just last month was awarded a lucrative city contract (with Lee’s support) giving it a monopoly over all aspects of waste management in the city – to improperly have its employees work for the “Run, Ed, Run” campaign. And the Bay Citizen has also exposed the financial self-interest of Progress for All backers, which Judge Quentin Kopp and local Democratic Party chair Aaron Peskin have separately called for prosecutors and regulators to investigate.

“Unlike all other candidates who must abide by the strict $500 contribution limit and source restriction (no corporate, union or City contractor money), Progress for All has been able to raise unlimited amounts from any source, making it easy to amass large sums of money for its efforts,” Peskin wrote in a July 28 letter to Ethics Commission director John St. Croix, requesting an investigation. The Ethics Commission is scheduled to discuss Progress for All at its Aug. 8 meeting.

Despite her considerable power and influence – including arranging regular trips to China for public officials, including Lee and Board President David Chiu – Pak’s 1999 tax return indicated she had an adjusted gross income of just $31,084. On her application, Pak reported a $60,000 income in 2002 as a “self employed consultant,” yet a whopping $73,414 in her checking account.

Although Maggie LaRue, the inclusionary program manager, wrote Pak a letter on June 17, 2002 challenging the “inadequate documentation” of her income in the application, the Mayor’s Office ultimately approved her purchase of a swanky two-bedroom apartment at 400 Beale Street for just $300,000, although it was valued at $580,000.

Although Pak seems to have fairly steady income from the vague consulting work that she does, a request for information from the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector indicates that she doesn’t have a business license and hasn’t paid any local taxes, even though city laws require a license from any “entity engaging or about to engage in business for seven or more days a year in San Francisco.”

Lee’s office has consistently denied knowledge of or connections to the Progress for All campaign, although the Chronicle has reported that Lee does plan to get into the mayor’s race, probably next week. The deadline to file for a run is Aug. 12.

Ethics Commission to discuss Progress for All

San Francisco Chronicle reporter John Cote’s scoop highlighting how Recology executives were working behind the scenes under pressure from Chinatown power broker Rose Pak to encourage Mayor Ed Lee to seek a full term is just the latest development for a committee that’s raised eyebrows already, and it may be just the beginning.

Five mayoral candidates — board President David Chiu, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, state Sen. Leland Yee, former Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, and businesswoman Joanna Rees — have teamed up to encourage the San Francisco Ethics Commission to investigate whether Progress for All has run afoul of local election laws, rallying behind an effort spearheaded by Democratic County Central Committee Chair Aaron Peskin in a July 28 letter to commissioners.

At the heart of the issue is whether Lee or any of his representatives have been coordinating with agents of Progress for All. If they are, Progress for All would have to be considered Lee’s own, candidate-controlled committee, Peskin asserts in the letter.

“Given the close relationship between Ms. Pak, the Mayor, and Progress for All, it is very possible that the committee has ‘consulted’ or ‘coordinated’ with the Mayor, and therefore its expenditures should be deemed to be made ‘at his behest,'” Peskin’s letter to the Ethics Commission argues. A City Hall insider told the Guardian that Pak — a primary driver behind the Run, Ed, Run campaign — is regularly observed going to and from the mayor’s office.

“If Progress for All or any of these other committees has been acting on Mayor Lee’s behalf, those committees may have violated the $500 contribution limit and prohibitions against accepting corporate, union or city contractor money, restrictions that apply to all candidate committees,” the letter states.

Financial disclosure filings for committees fundraising for the Nov. 8 election are due Monday.

Aside from the question of whether there is coordination between Lee, who has not yet announced that he will run for mayor, and Progress for All, concerns have been raised about city contractors aiding in the efforts of the campaign. Under the city’s Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance, contractors doing business with the city are not allowed to make political contributions.

(Given the revelations that Recology executives’ signature gathering efforts were done in violation of company policy, it’s no wonder Recology executives become bashful when approached by reporters who ask tough questions.)

Meanwhile, Recology might not be the only city contractor that Pak has encouraged to support Run, Ed, Run. A column that former Mayor Willie Brown published recently in the San Francisco Chronicle suggests that this isn’t the first conversation of this kind.

“One thing you can say about Chinatown powerhouse Rose Pak, she is not shy,” Brown’s column begins. “Holding court at the party for the opening of the new airport terminal, Rose was seated at the table with interim Mayor Ed Lee and his wife, Anita, and a host of other local officials. ‘I want every one of you to call his office and tell him he should run for mayor,’ Rose told the table. ‘And do it right away so that there’s no misunderstanding.’ Then she turned to the architect David Gensler. ‘Didn’t you do this terminal?’ she asked. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Didn’t you remodel this terminal before?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Then your firm should raise a million dollars for his election campaign.'”

While Brown may not be a visible player in the Run, Ed, Run campaign, he’s certainly been at the table with a key driver behind it and Lee himself — and he’s using his platform in the Chronicle to get the word out about Lee’s potential mayoral campaign.

“The specific revelations of unethical and possibly illegal activity are very troubling and need to be fully investigated by the Ethics Commission as soon as possible,” Chiu told the Guardian.

Political consultant Jim Stearns, whose firm is managing Sen. Yee’s mayoral campaign, joined the chorus in calling for an investigation. “If you think about the fact that these guys still, according to press reports, are eating together once a week, and there’s not supposed to be any coordination … You have this committee that is essentially operating in complete disregard of the campaign law,” he said. “It’s sort of like there’s a crime being committed, and where’s the police?”

The San Francisco Ethics Commission will hold a policy discussion about how to treat Progress for All at its Aug. 8 meeting, Ethics director John St. Croix told the Guardian.

“We’ve told the committee that we believe they’re a primarily form committee, which is an independent expenditure committee on behalf of a candidate for office or a ballot measure,” St. Croix explained. “They’re claiming that there’s no candidate, so they can’t be that committee, even though they’re acting pretty much exactly like one would.”

As things stand, Progress for All has filed as a general purpose committee, he added. “A general purpose committee is what you would think of as a [political action committee]. They usually represent an organization or elected group of individuals, they tend to exist for a long period of time, and they contribute to multiple campaigns, whereas a primarily formed committee is created to support or oppose a single candidate or a single ballot measure in a single election,” he explained. Another key distinction: “Independent expenditure committees don’t have contribution limits the way that candidate committees do. Candidate committees have a $500-per-contributor contribution limit.”

Peskin, meanwhile, hinted that there may be more to come. “There’s a lot of it,” he said, “and I think there are many people who have stories to tell.”

Taking out the trash


A controversial city waste disposal contract appeared primed for final approval by the Board of Supervisors on July 26 (after Guardian press time) — despite being challenged by a lawsuit and initiative campaign — after two progressive supervisors rescinded their initial vote in a July 20 committee hearing and supported awarding the contract to Recology.

City staff had recommended awarding the 10-year, $112-million landfill disposal and facilitation agreement to Recology (formerly NorCal Waste Systems, Inc.), which has grown from a locally based company to the 10th largest waste management firm in the US, with $652 million in annual revenue, according to Waste Age magazine.

If the full board follows the unanimous recommendation of its Budget & Finance Committee, the vote will authorize Recology to transport and dispose up to 5 million tons of the city’s solid waste at the company’s Ostrom Road landfill in Wheatland, Yuba County. The contract will take effect when San Francisco’s disposal agreement at Waste Management Inc.’s Altamont landfill in Livermore expires — estimated to occur in 2015.

The deal will cement Recology’s control, at least for a 10-year period, over all aspects of the city’s solid waste stream, at a cost of about $225 million per year, even as the company faces significant challenges, many related to the city’s 1932 refuse collection and disposal ordinance.

That law, approved during the Great Depression to prevent conflict between competing garbage haulers, has resulted in Recology’s exercising complete control over trash collection and transportation in San Francisco, without having to bid on those contracts or pay the city franchise fees.

During the negotiations over the city’s next landfill contract — the only aspect of San Francisco’s waste stream put out to bid — this 79-year-old law was invoked to explain why Recology has the sole authority to transport trash and compostables to Wheatland, which is 130 miles from San Francisco.

The move also comes as Yuba County is contemplating significantly increasing dumping fees at the landfill — from $4.40 per ton to $20 or $30 per ton — a hike that could erase the $100 million that the Department of the Environment (DoE) claims the Recology deal would save over a competing bid by Waste Management Inc. WM is the largest waste firm in the U.S., according to Waste Age, with about $12.5 billion in annual revenues.

On July 18, WM filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court to prevent the city from approving the agreements with Recology on the grounds that they violate the city’s competitive bid laws.

“The Department of the Environment inappropriately and unlawfully expanded the scope of its 2009 ‘request for proposal for landfill disposal capacity’ and, therefore, violated the city’s competitive procurement laws,” WM alleges in the suit.

WM has long held that DoE inappropriately issued a tentative contract award for both the transportation and disposal of solid waste to Recology without soliciting any other transportation bids. But DoE, which gleans $7 million annually (to operate recycling, green building, and environmental justice programs and long-term planning for waste disposal) from rates that Recology’s customers pay, ruled last year that WM’s objections are “without merit.”

Now WM is asking the court to require DoE to scrap its award to Recology and issue a new request for proposals to comply with competitive bidding requirements.

“There is ample time for the department to issue a new RFP,” WM stated July 18, noting that there is plenty of room at its Altamont landfill to accommodate the city’s waste after the contract expires.

That same week, a coalition led by retired Judge Quentin Kopp, community activist Tony Kelly, and Waste Solutions CEO David Gavrich announced that it had submitted enough signatures to qualify an initiative on the June 2012 ballot requiring competitive bidding and franchise fees from any company that seeks to win any aspect of the city’s solid waste business.

Kelly says his group was unable to collect enough signatures in time for the November election because Recology hired the city’s two biggest signature-gathering firms to circulate what he calls a “phony petition” in support of Recology’s performance in San Francisco. And signature gatherers say they were harassed by Recology boosters while trying to petition citywide.

“But I believe the question of whether candidates support competitive bidding will continue to be a defining issue this fall,” Kelly said.

The board’s decision on the landfill agreements has already been delayed several months, following a February 2011 Budget and Legislative Analyst report recommending that the board consider submitting a proposition to the voters to repeal the 1932 refuse ordinance so that future collection and transportation services be put to bid. The report also recommended that future residential and commercial refuse collection rates be subject to board approval.

But with two progressive supervisors running in citywide elections this fall, and with Recology exerting massive pressure on elected officials, the Kelly coalition could not find four supervisors to place such a charter amendment on the November ballot, forcing them to launch their own initiative.

And at the July 20 meeting of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who is running for sheriff, and Sup. Jane Kim rescinded their initial decision to send the agreements to the full Board without recommendation. Instead, after the committee had moved on to other business, they joined Chair Carmen Chu, one of the most conservative supervisors, in forwarding the Recology agreements to the full board with unanimous support.

Mirkarimi interrupted the committee’s next discussion to rescind the landfill vote. “I think there was some misunderstanding a little bit in wrapping up the landfill agreements with Recology, ” Mirkarimi said. He said that he asked for the vote to be rescinded, “so we can accurately reflect some of the sentiments being articulated here. I think we just learned some things on the fly.”

In many respects, the switch by Kim and Mirkarimi made sense: prior to their initial vote, they made positive statements about the proposed agreements, but also stated an interest in exploring the appropriateness of the city’s 1932 law.

“Overall, I think this was a good contract,” Kim said. But she noted that, thanks to the 1932 ordinance, the city doesn’t get franchise fees. And she claimed that it only gets half of what other Bay Area cities get from their waste contractors. “So, I’m really interested in continuing that conversation, but I think it’s a separate conversation,” she said.

Mirkarimi said it was his concerns that led the committee to “put a pause” on the Recology agreements until it could “undertake more homework.” He also noted that his office “held a number of meetings” and he tried to “leverage this opportunity to reanimate activity at the Port.”

“I was hoping that we might be able to arrive at something much more deliverable,” Mirkarimi said, presumably referring to the fact that these efforts resulted in DoE unveiling an amendment to include two “possible changes” to operations and facilities at the Port of San Francisco in the agreements.

These changes involve utilizing other modes of transportation, including barges, as alternatives to the rail-haul plan proposed in the agreement. They also call for developing new facilities at the Port for handling waste, recyclables, organics, and other refuse. The cost of such alternatives would be passed onto the rate payers.

“I think that, cost-effectively, we may be able to insert the Port into this equation, but it’s not ready for prime-time yet,” Mirkarimi said. He concluded by saying that Recology has been innovative in reducing the city’s waste stream.

“This should be a front-burner conversation,” Mirkarimi said, noting that former Mayor Gavin Newsom focused on making San Francisco “the greenest city” in the United States. He added that San Francisco claims to have a 77 percent diversion rate, the highest in the U.S., and said, “That comes at a cost, it doesn’t come for free.”

After the meeting, DoE deputy director David Assmann said that the City Attorney’s Office is reviewing WM’s filing. “But it’s too soon to comment,” Assmann said.

He also claimed that, thanks to the 1932 ordinance, “there was no practical way” for another company to transport San Francisco’s waste to its designated landfill, “other than building a second transfer station outside the city.”

But Kelly continued to express concerns that the agreements are not competitive, and that the city lacks a contract and ensuing franchise fees. “They are running this as if it’s still the 1950s,” he said.

Kelly claimed that Recology Vice President John Legnitto, who is the 2011 chair of the SF Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, recently told him that Recology has been in negotiations with City Hall around a $4 million franchise fee, but that the money would now be spent opposing Kelly’s competitive bidding initiative.

Will Kopp’s competitive bidding initiative derail Recology’s train to Yuba?


Sponsors of an initiative to require competitive bidding on all aspects of the city’s multi-million-dollar garbage services say they plan to deliver their initiative petitions to the Department of Elections this afternoon. The petitions contain 12,000 signatures, far more than the 7,000-8,000 required, effectively signalling that, even after the city weeds out non-valid signatures, the initiative will qualify for the June 2012 election.

The move threatens to give the Board a political migraine, since the Board is set to vote July 26 on a Department of Environment resolution to expand Recology (formerly Norcal Waste System, Inc)’s monopoly on San Francisco’s garbage and recycling services.

In fact, the DoE resolution contains two separate agreements: a $112 million long-term landfill disposal agreement that was competitively bid, and a facilitation agreement that governs how waste is transported to the landfill and that was not competitively bid. As such, the city’s facilitation agreement is already the subject of a lawsuit that Waste Management Inc. filed in San Francisco Superior Court last week.

Sponsors of the competitive bidding ordinance, which include retired judge Quentin Kopp, community activist Tony Kelly and Waste Solutions CEO David Gavrich,believe the Board should delay voting on the landfill disposal and facilititation agreements until next summer, after voters have had a chance to weigh in on the bigger question of whether folks want competitive bidding on all the city’s garbage-related services, which are worth a quarter of a billion, each year. “

“It would be disrespectful to voters to accept a resolution while an initiative is pending,” Kopp stated.

“It would make sense if they severe the landfill disposal and facilitation agreements into two files,” Kelly added, referring to how the two separate agreements are currently lumped into one item on the Board’s July 26 agenda, under the section titled “recommendations of the Budget and Finance sub-committee.”

How the deal got filed in the B&F sub-committee’s recommended section is another story unto itself: Last Wednesday, after Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Jane Kim, who sit on the Board’s Budget and Finance sub-committee, voted to send the deal to the Board with no recommendation, (a vote that suggested that they had some concerns with the deal) and after members of the public who came to testify about the item had left,  Mirkarimi asked to rescind the landfill vote.

“I think there was some misunderstanding a little bit in wrapping up the landfill agreements with Recology, “ Mirkarimi said, as he asked for the vote to be rescinded, “so we can accurately reflect some of the sentiments being articulated here.”
“I think we just learned some things on the fly,” Mirkarimi stated, as he and Kim joined committee chair Sup. Carmen Chu, one of the Board’s more conservative members, in sending the deal to the full Board “with recommendation.”

The Guardian learned of the vote switcheroo, after the DoE, which is apparently anxious to see the Recology agreements move forward, contacted us to say that our blog post about the Budget and Finance sub-committee, incorrectly stated that Mirkarimi and Kim had not given the deal their unmitigated thumbs-up. (The Guardian has since amended its blog post to accurately reflect what happened at the meeting, after this reporter and most members of the public, except the Chamber of Commerce’s Jim Lazarus, who supports the Recology agreements, had left the Board’s Chambers.)

Asked about the last-minute move to amend the vote Kelly said, “It was Ross at his Rossest.”

And in many ways, Mirkarimi’s move to rescind made sense: neither he nor Kim had registered any problems with the landfill disposal and facilitation agreements during the committee hearing, though a number of seemingly valid concerns were raised, including the observation by Yuba County supervisor Roger Abe that Yuba County is considering raising its host fees at Recology’’s Ostrom Road landfill in Wheatland from $4.40 a ton to $20- $30 a ton. If Yuba County does raise itsw fees, the move could wipe out the estimated $100 million in savings that DoE claims Recology’s proposal represents for San Francisco ratepayers. According to Abe, Yuba’s fees have not been raised for 14 years, and his county, which is one of the poorest in California, could use the additional income, especially if it is going to see its local landfill fill up faster than anticipated, thanks to San Francisco sending up to 5 million tons of trash over a 10-year period.

To be fair, Mirkarimi did warn that it would be unwise to dismiss Yuba County’s concerns , but he countered that any county can raise its fees. And DoE suggested that it was unlikely that Yuba County can raise its fees excessively, because those same fees would have to be paid by the other municipalities that use the Ostrom ROad dump, most of which are small towns that can’t afford to pay as much as relatively prosperous Bay Area cities like San Francicso.

Instead, Mirkarimi and Kim reserved most of their concerns for the bigger question of whether San Francisco ratepayers are best served by the city’s continuing lack of competitive bidding and franchise fee requirements on San Francisco’s remaining $225-million-a-year garbage collection related services–concerns that seem to bring us back full circle to Kopp and Kelly’s competitive bidding ordinance, which they had hoped to qualifty for

Asked how many supervisors he thought will stand up tomorrow and dig into the details of the DoE agreements and how they contradict with the requirements of the Kopp-Kelly-Gavrich competing bidding initiative, Kelly said, “Two.”

If so, that’s not likely to derail Recology’s train to Yuba, especially given that Mayor Ed Lee, who holds veto power over any item that less than eight supervisors support or oppose, told the Guardian in February that he believes Recology had earned its privilege.

But so far the City Attorney’s Office is remaining mum about the potential impact of WM’s lawsuit on Recology’s train to Yuba County, a silence that will give the Board the political cover they apparently so desperately need, if they vote tomorrow to haul San Francisco’s trash to Yuba County by rail, an arrangement that won’t start until after the city’s current contract at Waste Management’s Altamont landfill expires, something that is not anticipated to happen until 2015, based on the city’s current diversion rates.


Recology president Mike Sangiacomo disses the Guardian as landfill agreements head to full Board


Dressed in neon- yellow vests, a crowd of Recology employees filed into the Board’s Chambers to witness the Board’s Budget and Finance subcommittee, which Sup. Carmen Chu chairs, vote to forward the Department of Environment’s proposal to award the city’s landfill disposal and facilitation agreements to Recology (formerly NorCal Waste, Inc), to the full Board.

The B&F vote wasn’t exactly a surprise. In the past six months, Recology’s top brass have been exerting pressure on the committee members to approve the agreements, which got delayed after folks started raising questions about the lack of a franchise fee and competitive bidding on all other aspects of San Francisco’s multimillion dollar municipal solid waste stream. And lobbyist Alex Clemens reported $17, 134.25 in promised payments from Recology between January and June 2011 for services that included contact with B&F subcommittee vice-chair Ross Mirkarimi in mid-June.

If the full Board goes ahead and gives the green light July 26, that approval would authorize Recology, which Waste Age’s June 2011 issue named as the 10th largest waste management company in the U.S.,  to start transporting and disposing up to 5 million tons of municipal solid waste in its Ostrom Road Landfill in Wheatland, Yuba County, once the city’s agreement at Waste Management’s Altamont landfill in Livermore expires, which is expected to happen some time in 2014 or 2015.

The initial refusal of Mirkarimi and fellow B&F subcommittee member Sup. Jane Kim to agree to Chu’s suggestion that they forward the proposed agreements “with recommendation” appeared to be indications that both supervisors harbored some concerns about the deal. UPDATE: But According to DoE communications director Mark Westlund, before yesterday’s meeting was over, Mirkarimi called to rescind the vote on the landfill item asking for it to go to the full Board with recommendation. Jane Kim concurred, and so now it goes to the Board with unanimous committee support. 

“Overall, I think this was a good contract,” Kim said during the July 20 hearing.

Kim added that she thinks “We need to continue the dialogue,” about the city’s 1932 refuse collection and disposal ordinance, which resulted in Recology gaining a monopoly over every aspect of the city’s $225 million-a-year waste stream, except the $11-million-a-year landfill disposal agreement.

Kim noted that under the arrangement that grew out of the 1932 ordiance the city doesn’t get a  franchise fee. And she claimed that San Francisco is getting half of what other Bay Area cities, which all have franchise fees, get from their waste contractors. “So, I’m really interested in continuing that conversation, but I think it’s a separate conversation,” Kim said.

Mirkarimi, who is running for sheriff this fall, noted that he has been “the most outspoken member” of the committee on the Recology item, and that his concerns were what led the committee to “put a pause” on the deal, until the committee could “undertake more homework.”

Thanks to that pause, the city’s LAFCO committee was able to commission a report on what other jurisdictions do around transporting and disposing of their solid waste in landfills, and Mirkarimi noted that his office “held a number of meetings” and he tried to leverage this opportunity to “reanimate activity at the Port.”

“I was hoping we might be able to arrive at something much more deliverable,” Mirkarimi said, presumably referring to the fact that these efforts only resulted in DoE unveiling a last-minute amendment to include two “possible changes” to operations and facilities at the Port of San Francisco in the agreements.

These possible changes, which DoE director Melanie Nutter presented during the July 20 hearing, involve a) utilizing modes of transportation, including barges, other than, or in addition to, the rail haul plan proposed in the agreement, b) developing new facilities at the Port for the handling of waste, recyclables, organics and other refuse, meeting no later than the fifth anniversary of the agreement to discuss the feasibility of such changes, and c) incorporating into the rates, or otherwise financing, the cost of implementing such transportation alternatives and the cost of such facilities.

“I think that cost-effectively we may be able to insert the Port into this equation, but it’s not ready for prime-time yet,” Mirkarimi observed.

Mirkarimi concluded by noting the many innovative things Recology has done in terms of making the city’s waste disposal system more environmentally friendly. “This should be a front-burner conversation,” Mirkarimi said noting that Mayor Gavin Newsom made it a focus of his administration to make San Francisco the greenest city. Referring to the fact that San Francisco claims to have a 77 percent diversion rate—the highest in the U.S—Mirkarimi said, “That comes at a cost, it doesn’t come for free.”

Mirkarimi’s comments came in the wake of Nutter’s claims that Recology’s bid for the landfill disposal agreement will save ratepayers $130 million, over the 10-year course of the agreement, compared to the bid that Waste Management submitted. “This is the best deal for San Francisco,” Nutter said.

Nutter’s estimates were repeated by Jim Lazarus, who spoke on behalf of the SF Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth. “This is the right contract for the people of San Francisco,” Lazarus said.

But Nutter’s $130 million estimate was thrown into question by Yuba County Sup. Roger Abe, who had driven the 130 miles from Wheatland to alert San Francisco  that Recology’s bid is based on the assumption that Yuba County will only charge San Francisco a $4.40 per ton host fee.

As Abe pointed out, Yuba’s rates have not changed in 14 years, and his county is considering increasing them later this year by up to $20 or $30 a ton.
Such an increase, multiplied by the 5-million tons of garbage in the agreement, could dramatically increase the cost to San Francisco ratepayers over the course of 10 years, Abe observed..

[If Yuba County approves an increase, and diesel fuel prices also increase, it could eliminate much of the cost differential between Recology’s and WM’s bid: a recent Budget and Legislative Analyst report shows that Recology would charge $58.94 a ton, ($28.53 for tipping and other fees + $30.14 transportation cost per ton), while WM would charge $66.79 for tipping and other fees + $18.33 transportation costs per ton.). But if diesel rises above $2:30 a gallon, SF ratepayers could also get hit with a fuel surcharge.]

Also speaking at the hearing was former D10 supervisorial candidate Tony Kelly, who along with retired Judge Quentin Kopp, David Gavrich’s SF Bay Railroad, and other concerned citizens, recently gathered 12,000 signatures to qualify a petition to require all aspects of San Francisco’s $225-million-a-year waste services to be put out to bid, and to require the winning bidder to pay San Francisco an annual franchise fee.

Kelly et al were originally aiming to qualify their petition for the 2011 ballot, but they blame what Kelly described during public comment as, “a very expensive advertising campaign,” by Recology, plus harassment of petition gatherers and signers, as why they ultimately had to delay qualifying their initiative until the June 2012 election cycle.

Kelly urged the committee to probe the details of a $10 million Special Reserve fund, which Recology could access, under the terms of its facilitation agreement, to cover all its expenses that have not yet been reimbursed through rate hikes. “You’d think the Budget and Finance sub-committee would want to explore those things,” Kelly said.

David Gavrich, who is also President & CEO of Waste Solutions Group, which has hauled 6 million tons of waste in the last 20 years, said approving the landfill disposal agreement, without knowing what rates Yuba County are about to set, was tantamount to “opening up San Francisco’s check book to Yuba County.”

“Recology has never moved a single ton by rail,” Gavrich also asserted.

But while none of the supervisors asked for any clarification of details in the proposed agreements, including the last-minute amendment, during the hearing, Chu was quick to comment about Gavrich’s “blank check” comment, noting that any county can increase its rates. “Alameda County already charges a lot more, so there are no guarantees either way,” Chu said.

She also claimed that the agreements had been subjected to a “very extensive, competitive and open process, especially around tipping fees.” What Chu didn’t mention is that earlier this week, WM filed a writ of mandate with San Francisco Superior Court to prevent the final award of a new long-term solid waste transportation agreement and landfill disposal contract to Recology ordinances, on the grounds that the deal violates the City’s competitive procurement laws.

Instead, Chu urged moving on the deal as soon as possible, by invoking the specter of a disaster hitting San Francisco before a landfill agreement is reached.
“Imagine if we had to go to the open market,” Chu said, apparently ignoring the fact that WM has stated that it would take SF’s waste in an emergency.

After the vote, Kelly expressed concern that the agreements are not competitive, but cost-plus, which means all costs get passed along to ratepayers. And that the city continues to lack a contract and ensuing franchise fees. “They are running this as if it’s still the 1950s,” Kelly said.

Kelly claimed that Recology Vice President John Legnitto, who is the 2011 Chair of the SF Chamber of Commerce’s Board, told him that Recology had been in negotiations with City Hall around a $4 million franchise fee, but that the money would now be spent opposing Kelly et al’s competitive bidding initiative.
But when the Guardian approached Legnitto after the hearing, he refused to comment, telling me my questions should go to Recology’s Robert Reed.
And Recology President Mike Sangiacomo, who was speaking to Chronicle reporter Rachel Gordon rudely told me, “Not today thank you,” when I approached him seeking comment on the Board committee’s vote.

“What did you do to him?” Gordon asked, as she followed Sangiacomo into a corner of City Hall. Er, nothing. Except what any self-respecting reporter would do. Like ask questions, read documents, and challenge the spin.

But that something clearly has ruffled the feathers of Recology’s top brass.
 “It’s like Godzilla, it’s like Monster Island, they can’t help themselves,” Beyond Chron’s Eric Smith commented to me during the hearing. “I’m disgusted by how money, labor and all these different entities can influence what happens. They don’t care about the little people. They care about the bottom line.”

Smith, who ran for D10 supervisor in 2010, spoke to the huge pressure that has been exerted on those supervisors who have publicly raised questions about Recology’s monopoly over all other aspects of the city’s $225 million-per-year waste stream. “Big corporations like Recology throw big money around and intimidate the electeds,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, DoE deputy director David Assmann confirmed that the City Attorney’s Office is looking at WM’s writ of mandate. But Assmann added that it is too early to respond to questions about the implications of that legal action on the Recology agreements.

Assmann also responded to a number of questions I’d already raised on the Guardian’s blog about the juicy details buried in the Recology agreements, beginning with a special reserve fund that was established in 1988, as part of Recology’s facilitation agreement that governed the transportation of waste to WM’s Altamont landfill, which is where San Francisco has been depositing its trash since 1987, and that will be rolled over to form the basis of a new special reserve fund.

Assmann said the fund currently contains almost $29 million, but only needs a baseline of $15 million. The extra funds will be the subject of a hearing this fall, he said, to determine how to use the balance, including exploring the possibility of using the funds, which were collected through a 1.3 percent surcharge on ratepayers, to lower the garbage rates.

Assmann also noted that while there is no limit on how much Yuba County can theoretically increase its host fees, “there has to be a nexus with associated costs,” and that Yuba County supervisors would have to bring any such proposed increase, which would also apply to all their other landfill users, to their voters.

Assmann further noted that the idea behind developing new facilities relates to the city’s 2020 goal of zero waste is “to get to zero waste we need new methods of handling waste,” Assmann told me explaining that San Francisco wants to be able to take residual material and process it so it could be recycled and wouldn’t end up in the landfill.

Assmann said a consultant is comparing the feasibility of building those facilities on land next to Recology’s Tunnel Road facility in Brisbane, or on land the Port owns in San Francisco, and the report should be completed later this year. He also noted that the transportation amendment would allow the City to switch or improve its transportation mode, during the life of the agreement, should cleaner technologies be developed, “including trains that run on less polluting fuel.”

Assmann clarified that San Francisco ratepayers won’t be footing the cost of building a new rail spur in Yuba County. “We’re not paying capital costs. The rail spur is not a cost that Recology can charge because it’s out of county. And if San Francisco only produces 2 million tons during the life of the agreement, we are under no obligation beyond that.”

And he noted that a potential $10 million contingency payment would only go into play if the City gave Recology the green light, and the company incurred costs related to rail haul, and the City then reneged on its deal, at which point Recology could then use its incurred costs to justify why it needs up to $10 million to included in the garbage rates.

All interesting details as we approach the Board’s July 26 vote—with a lawsuit hanging over the City’s head. So stay tuned…

Digging into the juicy details of Recology’s proposed landfill disposal and facilitation agreements


Last weekend, I tried to review online the details of the landfill disposal and facilitation agreements with Recology that the Board’s Budget & Finance committee votes on Wednesday, July 20, (assuming Waste Management’s petition for a writ of mandate doesn’t throw a monkey wrench into the committee’s scheduled vote on those agreements. And when I finally got to view the agreements in person, they raised a number of questions.

(WM has asked the Superior Court to issue a temporary, preliminary and permanent injunction, immediately enjoining the City and Recology from conducting any further action in connection with those agreements, including finally awarding them to Recology, and requiring the City to set aside and vacate the agreements, based on the grounds that they were not procured in accordance with the City’s competitive procurement laws. But as of press time, the City Attorney’s office had not issued any statement leading me to conclude that the hearing will proceed as planned.)

As it happens, my online research was thwarted by the fact that not all of the details in the proposed agreement with Recology are available electronically. So, on Monday I headed to City Hall. And I spent most of the day in the Clerk of the Board’s office, where I reviewed a) the contract language, b) the history of how the Recology was tentatively awarded the 10-year landfill disposal contract by the Department of the Environment, c) how Waste Management has been complaining ever since about what it perceives to be the unfair process whereby Recology was also awarded the city’s facilitation agreement, which governs how San Francisco’s waste would be hauled to the landfill, and d) why the Budget and Legislative Analyst recommended that the Board consider submitting a proposition to the voters to repeal the city’s 1932 refuse ordinance so future refuse collection and transportation services would be awarded under the city’s normal competitive bidding process, and require that refuse collection rates for residential and commercial services be henceforth subject to Board approval.

Heading into tomorrow’s hearing at 10 a.m, the Board has still not submitted any such ordinance (So, here are some of the questions that came up as a result of my research that I would like to learn more about before the committee takes its vote.

1. Why pay $10 million to build a rail spur in Yuba County if San Francisco’s goal is to have zero waste by 2020?

The landfill disposal agreement grants the city the right to deposit at Recology’s Ostrom Road landfill in Wheatland, Yuba County, all solid waste collected in San Francisco until Dec. 31, 2025, or until 5 million tons has been deposited. But according to the landfill disposal agreement’s Appendix B, which cites the city’s landfill disposal targets, San Francisco is projected to produce 2.4 million tons of trash between now and 2019, with zero waste projected for 2020. That got me wondering why get San Francisco ratepayers paying $10 million for the construction of a rail spur in Yuba County that would only get a few years heavy use, if these estimates are indeed accurate?

2. Just how green is my city?

According to the landfill agreement, the commencement date, when all or substantially all of the city’s solid waste is first accepted, may not be later than January 1, 2019. But according to the agreement’s Appendix B, San Francisco has an annual disposal target of 36, 614 tons in 2019, and zero waste in 2020. So are those figures just pie in the sky? And if so, is San Francisco’s claim to be the “greenest city in the U.S.” a tad overblown? Or is an independent agency like Cal ReCycle auditing these claims?

3. Oops. Are we about to authorize a $10-million annual slush fund?

Last year, the city held a hearing to consider plans to reallocate 1.3 percent of its ratepayers’ overall refuse rates that previously went to a special reserve fund that then contained $28 million, and that was initially created as a result of the city’s 1987 facilitation agreement to cover extraordinary costs associated with WM’s Altamont landfill and hazardous waste control and disposal.

There are still several years to go at Altamont (see number 1), but last fall, the Rate Board, which consisted of then City Administrator (and now mayor) Ed Lee, Deputy City Controller Monique Zmuda and SFPUC director Ed Harrington, voted 3-0 to authorize the Director of Public Works to reallocate the 1.3 percent billing surcharge to an impound account to offset DPW’s recycling and waste management costs for the period of July 1, 2010 to September 30, 2011.

“The change will not affect the monthly rate charged for residential collection service and the reallocation will be reviewed as part of the public process to review and update refuse rates, expected to take place in 2011 or 2012,” DPW’s website stated. “The city is proposing these changes to help meet San Francisco’s goal of diverting 75 percent of its waste from landfills by 2010 and to achieve zero waste by 2020.” (See number 2 in my list.)

The city also noted the need for a public hearing to discuss the special reserve fund and its uses, before September 30, 2011 (which is 10 weeks away). But to date, there appears not to have been any such hearing. Meanwhile, the city’s proposed amended facilitation agreement with Recology mentions establishing another special reserve fund, for no less than $10 million, this time funded from a one percent surcharge on all waste delivered to Recology’s transfer station, landfill and back-up landfill.

And the agreement stipulates that Recology may draw upon the reserve fund “from time to time” to reimburse costs that have or will be incurred by Recology, but have not yet been fully reimbursed, (“e.g. because a corresponding adjustment in rates has not yet taken effect, or has taken effect but has not yet been fully reimbursed.”) Such costs include all fees and penalties, including the $10 million cost of constructing a new rail spur and facility in Yuba County that Recology could become liable for if the city breaches the landfill disposal contract, or there is a delay in the contract’s commencement date.

So, does this mean that Recology will potentially have access to an additional $10 million a year for a decade, in addition to its guaranteed $200 million-a-year from the rest of the city’s collection, consolidation, transfer and composting non-biddable agreements? And does that inflate the worth of Recology’s landfill disposal and facilitation agreements by an additional $100 million?

4. Why isn’t the business related to San Francisco’s mandatory composting ordinance put out to bid, since our organics appear to be processed in Vacaville?

In the city’s master file on the disposal and facilitation agreements, I came across the following figures related to the carbon footprint of the city’s proposed rail tranportation plan: in 2008, an estimated 471, 551 tons of San Francisco material were trucked to Waste Management’s Altamont landfill. And 140,213 tons were hauled to the Hay Road landfill in Vacaville of which 105,704 tons were composted, and the remaining 34,509 tons were used as alternative daily cover.

Moving forward, the proposed plan is to rail transport the city’s annual tonnage to Recology’s Ostrom Road landfill for disposal, organics processing and alternative daily cover, and transport some of the organics for digestion by the East Bay Municipal Utility District. What’s less clear is the value of the city’s mandatory composting ordinance from a business perspective, how it came to fall under Recology’s monopoly, given that it’s being processed outside city limits, and whether the organics hauling was factored into DoE’s “green” equation, when evaluating landfill disposal proposals, and Recology’s facilitation agreement?

5. Has WM actually acquired a temporary writ and if so, what does this mean for any vote that the Board subcommittee takes on the proposed agreements? Neither the City Attorney’s Office nor WM’s attorneys got back to me with an answer to this question, as of press time, but it would be good to clear this question up before the voting begins tomorrow.

I have more questions which I hope Sups. Carmen Chu, Jane Kim and Ross Mirkarimi, who sit on the Board’s Budget & Finance sub-Committee, will drill into tomorrow, but either way, stay tuned as we approach what promises to be an educational vote tomorrow, one way or another….

Waste Management sues SF over garbage contract


The already intense fight between Recology (formerly NorCal Waste) and Waste Management over SF’s next landfill contract just got more intense: today Waste Management of Alameda County announced that it is filing a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court to prevent the final award of a new long-term solid waste transportation agreement and landfill disposal contract to Recology on the grounds that awarding the contract would violate SF’s “competitive bidding ordinances.”

Now, Recology boosters will likely seek to frame this legal challenge as sour grapes over the city’s $11 million-a-year landfill contract. But WMAC’s suit represents a fundamental challenge to how SF’s $225-million-a-year solid waste stream is controlled: the suit requests a judicial declaration regarding the scope of the city’s 1932 Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance as it pertains to the transportation of residual wastes to a designated landfill outside city limits.

“The Department of the Environment [DoE] inappropriately and unlawfully expanded the scope of its 2009 ‘Request for Proposal for Landfill Disposal Capacity’ and, therefore, violated the City’s competitive procurement laws,” WMAC alleges.

WMAC has long held that DoE inappropriately issued a tentative contract award for both the transportation and disposal of solid waste to Recology on September 10, 2009, without soliciting any other transportation bids and in violation of longstanding City ordinances. Thanks to the 1932 ordinance, Recology has ended up with a monopoly over collecting and transporting waste through the streets of San Francisco. But that ordinance clearly does not apply to waste transported outside city limits, so folks have been asking if it would be greener to barge the city’s waste to nearby landfills. And they have been questioning whether ratepayers would benefit from lower rates if all of San Francisco’s garbage services, and not just the landfill contract, were put out to competitive bid.

Meanwhile, DoE, which sees $7 million of its own annual operating expenses for recycling, green building, and environmental justice programs and long-term planning for waste disposal incorporated into the garbage rates that Recology’s residential and business customers pay, ruled last year that WMAC’s objections were “without merit.”

So, now WMAC is taking its concerns to the Superior Court, asking that the court require DoE to scrap its tentative contract award to Recology for both waste disposal and waste transportation, and issue a new request for proposal to comply with existing competitive bidding requirements.

“WMAC is resolute in its commitment to providing the City and County of San Francisco with superior disposal services and responding to a Request for Proposal that is fairly administered,” WMAC’s Area President Barry Skolnick stated in a July 18 letter to the SF Board of Supervisors.

The move comes two days before the Board’s Budget and Finance subcommittee was scheduled to vote on approving a 10-year landfill disposal and facilitation agreement with Recology.

 The Board scheduled the vote last week, after it became clear that an initiative to require competitive bidding and franchise fees from waste management companies that seek to collect garbage in San Francisco, would not qualify in time for the November ballot. (Proponents of that initiative say they have enough signatures to qualify it for the June 2012 ballot. And they believe the question of whether candidates support competitive bidding on the city’s lucrative municipal solid waste collection, recycling, and disposal business continue to be a defining issue during the 2011 election.)

The landfill disposal and facilitation vote had already been delayed several months this year, following a Budget and Legislative analyst report that threw a curveball at the DoE’s plan by recommending that the Board consider submitting a proposition to the voters to a) repeal the city’s existing 1932 refuse ordinance such that future collection and transportation services be put to bid, and b) that future residential and commercial refuse collection rates be subject to Board approval. But so far, no supervisors have placed such a charter amendment on the November election.

The landfill disposal contract that the Budget and Finance sub-committee was to consider July 20 authorizes 5 million tons of solid waste disposal, or ten years, at Recology’s Ostrom Road landfill in Yuba County. It is worth in excess of $120 million, if the maximum of 5 million tons is reached, with all associated fees and costs to be passed onto, and  paid for by, refuse rate payers, not city funds. It allows for the Hays Road landfill in Vacaville to be used as a “back-up landfill.” And would allow Recology to pass on up to $10 million in rail hauler penalties, should the Ostrom Road landfill rail spur not be completed on time.

The facilitation agreement that the Board was also set to consider July 20, which governs how San Francisco’s waste is transported to its designated landfill, includes an additional rail transportation fee of $563 per rail container in future residential rate application increases that the Director of the Department of Public Works approves. (Unless there is an appeal, in which case it goes to the Rate Board, which is composed of the City Administrator (the post Ed Lee held before he was named mayor, and to which he wants to return,) the SF Public Utilities Commission director, and the Controller. And. in the event the cit

CCSF paid Recology $6.2 million to dispose of solid waste from city-owned facilities in FY 2010-11, and those costs are expected to increase by three percent to $6.4 million, according to the language of the ordinance that the Board’s budget and finance committee was set to consider this week.

As of press time, the Guardian was unable to reach anyone at City Hall to see if the city is seeking injunctive relief from WMAC’s filing, which provides a summary of San Francisco’s existing ordinances, a chronology of the events leading up to the DoE’s tentative award of the transportation and disposal contract to Recology and the subsequent bid protest filed by WMAC. {We’ll be sure to provide an update as the city’s response to the suit becomes available.)

“WMAC has exhausted all available and/or required administrative remedies,” WMAC states, noting that its filing also documents conflicting positions by DoE regarding the scope of the city’s Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance that San Francisco voters approved almost 80 years ago.

According to WMAC, DoE’s May 8 2008 Request for Qualifications stated that “the 1932 Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance …. does not address consolidating materials, processing for material recovery or transporting them to other facilities.”

According to WMAC, DoE re-stated this position in its Feb. 9, 2009 Request for Proposals.

“Yet in response to WMAC’s bid protest on (date) the Department stated there was no need to competitively bid transportation services outside the City limits since Recology was the only entity permitted under the 1932 ordinance to transport wastes from the in-city transfer station to an out-of-city landfill. “

As a result, WMAC is requesting the Court to rule on the scope of the 1932 Ordinance.

WMAC also notes that the Board of Supervisors designated the Altamont Landfill as the disposal site for all refuse collected within the City from November 1, 1998 through October 31, 2053, or until the City deposits 15 million tons. And that the 15 million ton has yet to be reached.

“There is ample time for the Department to issue a new RFP,” WMAC claims.

Repulsed by Recology’s tactics, Kopp strikes name from Adachi initiative


Who knew that a bunch of garbage could get a taxpayer watchdog like former supe/state senator/judge Quentin Kopp threatening not to endorse Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s pension reform initiative? But that’s what happened according to Kopp, who adds that he was “personally insulted’ by a signature gatherer outside the West Portal post office last week, after he struck his name from a petition he had signed in support of Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s pension reform measure.

Adachi, who has reportedly been paying up to $5 per signature, also came under fire this week from opponents of his measure, who are threatening legal action after an undercover video showed four signature gatherers for Adachi’s measure soliciting signatures while making misleading statements about the proposal.

But this misbehavior had not been made public when Kopp encountered a signature gatherer last Friday, who asked if he would sign the Adachi petition. “I wrote my name and has just started to print it, when he said, how do you feel about Recology?” recalled Kopp, who is backing a ballot initiative that would require competitive bidding and hundreds of millions of dollars in franchise fees from firms who seek to win San Francisco’s garbage collection and recycling contract.

As such, Kopp’s initiative threatens to up-end the terms of an 80-year old charter amendment that resulted in Recology (formerly Norcal Waste Systems) gaining a contractless monopoly on San Francisco’s $226 million-a-year garbage and recycling stream. 

When Kopp asked the signature gatherer, who identified himself as Tim McArdle, why he was asking about Recology, McArdle said he had another petition on hand, which referred to the allegedly satisfactory service that Recology is providing.

At which point, Kopp began to strike his name from Adachi’s $5-a pop petition. McArdle allegedly interrupted, saying, “No, that’s not the same petition as Recology’s.” And when Kopp kept scratching out his name, McArdle allegedly began swearing at him, even allegedly employing the time-honored F-word. “A woman walked by and was shocked,” Kopp said.(So far the Guardian has been unable to locate McArdle, but when we do, we’ll be sure to update this post.)

When McArdle grabbed back his clipboard, Kopp said he was able to see that on its backside was what Kopp describes as ‘Recology’s phony petition.”

So, why is Kopp so repulsed by Recology? According to Kopp. Recology recently signed up the city’s top signature-gathering firms to work on their petition thereby preventing Kopp and his associates from hiring these firms to collect signatures for his competitive bidding initiative. “And they are doing so from our rates, the money we pay, its legalized misappropriation of our money,” Kopp claimed

So far, it seems as if Recology’s strategy is paying off, at least in the short term. This week, sponsors of the competitive bidding initiative announced that they will turn in their signatures by December 11 to qualify their measure for the June 2012 ballot—and not their original target of November 2011.

Their decision followed less than three weeks of signature-gathering, a tight squeeze that occured, in part, because the City Attorney’s Office  took the full 15 days allowed by law to review the language of the Kopp initiative, which was first submitted June 3.

Even so, and despite an extensive Recology-financed media campaign that included push polls and network and cable TV ads against competitive bidding,  proponents and volunteers with Kopp’s campaign managed to gather the 7,168 signatures they needed to qualify his initiative by the city’s July 11 deadline for submitting petitions for the November election. But some signatures could prove invalid, hence the decision to delay the competitive bidding initiative until June.

And the Guardian learned today that the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee has scheduled a July 20 hearing on whether to award Recology the city’s $11 million-a-year landfill disposal contract, with the full Board set to vote on the issue on July 26 and August 2. In other words, the Board is rushing to make a decision on the landfill, which would further consolidate Recology’s monopoly on the city’s waste stream, before the Board’s summer recess.

The Guardian has also learned that the Budget and Finance Committee will hear a resolution July 20 concerning Recology’s existing agreement with the city over garbage. Rumors are swirling that this hearing will allow Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who sits on the committee, is running for sheriff and has allegedly been meeting with Mayor Ed Lee and Recology president and CEO Mike Sangiacomo behind closed doors, to insert a clause to allow for the payment of a $4 million franchise fee. But insiders assure the Guardian that Mirkarimi has no such plans, although Mirkarimi himself could not be reached.

Either way, as Kopp points out, the alleged proposed $4 million fee would only amount to 2 percent of Recology’s annual revenue from San Francisco ratepayers. ‘That’s almost an insult,” Kopp said, noting that Oakland, whose population is 340,000, (42 percent of San Francisco’s daytime population) gets a franchise fee of $30 million.

Now, in a recent report to the Board’s LAFCO committee, Recology claimed it provides $18 million annually in “free services” to the city. But the report did not include an independent analysis of Recology’s estimates, and therefore these claims raised the hackles of Kopp, Kelly and other competitive bidding proponents.

Kopp predicts a $4 million franchise fee would allow city leaders who oppose his measure to claim that one of the two objectives of his proposed initiative have been addressed.

In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, Mayor Ed Lee said he felt that Recology “has justified its privilege to be the permit holder in San Francisco because of the things that it has been willing to do with us.”

Kopp said Lee repeated this position in June, and that Board President David Chiu recently said that he is opposed to monopolies in concept, but felt that any effort to allow competitive bidding on garbage services would tear the city apart.

“Chiu spoke in such draconian terms I thought I was in Iraq or Afghanistan,” Kopp said.

But these latest developments have strengthened Kopp and Kelly’s resolve to push ahead with their effort to give local residents a chance to decide whether competitive bidding would be better for San Francisco rate payers. As they point out, such a vote doesn’t mean Recology would be ousted from the city because they stand an excellent chance of winning any competitive bid. But it could mean that Recology is ousted from its current cost-plus arrangement with the city that allows them to make an estimated 10-20 percent profit.

And whatever happens, the upcoming battle threatens to shed light on Recology’s business model, which is based on vertical expansion into other counties and states, and the knowledge that, unlike the competitive bids it submits everywhere else in California, it has a guaranteed annual revenue of $225 million in San Francisco. In its 1996 filings with the Securities Exchange Commission, NorCal Waste and its 45 subsidiaries (now known as Recology) reported that San Francisco accounts for 50 percent of its annual revenue. And while those public filings are 15 years old, it’s clear Recology continues to rely on San Francisco for a large and guaranteed chunk of its income.

Or as one insider put it, “When you have a cost-plus contract, you can start buying things—like the Pier 96 development, and the recycling facility. And you can move profits to a different part of the company. You’re not competitively bidding the composting. And you can shift your profits out of San Francisco. And with a cost-plus contract, you put everything in the rates. For instance, the city says it wants composting. Ok, here’s the cost, here’s the bill. But you take the profit from the composting and invest it in San Jose, or San Bernardino, and use it to advance your other objectives, like buying two large landfills in Nevada and financing political campaigns.”

Meanwhile, Kopp says he plans to take Adachi to task for hiring the same signature gathering firm that is trying to undermine his petition.

“And I’m not planning to sign his petition now, and I might not endorse it,” Kopp said.


Guardian poll: Should the garbage contract be put out to bid?


Since 1932, the company now known as Recology has, in some form or another, controlled the contract to pick up San Francisco’s garbage. Now some people are saying it ought to be put out to bid. The local company, which has an employee stock ownership plan, says it’s doing a heck of a job — and that a bid might open the door for a bad out-of-state conglomerate. On the other hand, 80 years is a long time for a contract — and a bidding process might help San Francisco get some more money out of what is by all accounts a very lucrative deal. Let us know what you think after the jump.

Free polls from

How Recology will attack the garbage initiative


We got an interesting call June 5 from a polling company. These folks typically ask if any member of the household works for the news media, and we have to figure out whether to lie and hear the questions or tell the truth and save 20 minutes. This time, the caller didn’t bother. So we agreed to answer “a few questions about the upcoming mayor’s race.”

Except the questions weren’t about the mayor’s race at all. They were about the proposal to mandate competitive bidding in the city’s garbage contract. And the poll, which was clearly testing different pro and con arguments, gave a good sense of how Recology, which holds the current monopoly, will try to frame the issues.

For starters, the pollster kept saying — without any evidence — that the proposal was the work of Waste Management Inc., a giant national garbage company. Among the arguments he presented: “This initiative is pushed by WMI, which puts profits ahead of customer service.” The pollster also charged that WMI had broken environmental laws and had a bad labor record.

Among the other arguments: “San Francisco should stick with a home-grown company that has done a good job.”

“The recycling system works.”

“A multinational Houston-based conglomerate wants to take over San Francisco’s recycling program.”

“Workers would lose their jobs.”

“Garbage rates would go up, and recycling would go down.”

“Politicians would have control over your garbage rates.”

That’s a nice snapshot of the campaign we’re going to see in the fall — and it’s utter bullshit.

The initiative is the work of retired Judge Quentin Kopp, Potrero Hill activist Tony Kelly and a few others. And it’s all about bringing competitive bidding to the city’s garbage contract. Waste Management Inc. has zero involvement.

“They haven’t give us a dime,” Kelly told me. “Nobody from Waste Management was involved in any way in our meetings or discussions. This isn’t about Waste Management Inc.; this has to do with the city and competitive bidding.”

In fact, the original idea came from the board’s budget analyst, Harvey Rose.

David Tucker, Waste Management’s community and public relations director, was happy to go on the record and “let the world know that WM has not contributed any funding to this effort.”

“While it would be nice to be able to compete in San Francisco, the truth is that our focus is on the city’s landfill disposal and facilitation agreements,” Tucker said, referring to the battle that WM has been waging for several years now to have a fair chance at being selected as the company that disposes San Francisco’s trash in a landfill outside city limits. (Right now, WM disposes the city’s trash at its Altamont Landfill near Livermore, and Recology hauls the city’s trash across the Bay Bridge to Livermore. But the city’s Department of Environment has tentatively awarded the landfill disposal AND the facilitation (which refers to transporting the trash) to Recology, essentially giving them a monopoly over the city’s entire waste stream, starting in 2016.)

Kelly told us he has nothing against Recology: “If Recology wins the competitive bid for the next century, it’s fine with me.”

Fine with us, too — and the odds are that’s exactly what will happen. The initiative states clearly that the bids have to include zero waste goals and worker protections — and the city already gives preference to locally owned companies. (You can read the text here (pdf)).

But in the process, Recology will have to accept better controls on rates — and will no doubt have to pay a franchise fee. So the city will get a better deal.

Recology knows that if the question on the ballot is framed as whether the garbage contract should be up for competitive bidding, about 90 percent of the voters will say yes. So the only way to block this initiative is to muddy the waters and make it about another company that has no role in the campaign.

Recology’s got a sweet deal, a no-bid $220 million deal that dates back to the 1930s. The company wants to protect it — and apparently is prepared to use whatever misinformation is necessary to do that.

On the Cheap Listings


On the Cheap listings are compiled by Jackie Andrews. Submit items for the listings at For further information on how to submit items for the listings, see Picks.


Nerd alert! Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF; 8pm, $8. Dust off your pocket protectors and Casio watches and get ready to nerd it up for the first anniversary of Nerd Nite — which just so happens to be the coolest lecture series around — with DJs, booze, and brainy babes. For this installment, Michael Epstein argues the new-found hipness of museum audio tours, Indre Viscontas gets meta with his discussion of how memory obscures truth, and Luigi Anzivino talks about the science of magic. Speaking of magic, where are all the Juggalos when you need them?

“May Fairs” opening reception Project One, 251 Rhode Island, SF; 8pm, free. Beauty, confidence, and empowerment are a few of the themes present in the new works on display by Charmaine Olivia, Angela Simone, Megan Wolfe, and Chelsea Brown. Often dreamy and sometimes surreal, these ladies make magic happen with a variety of media. Plus, Project One has been known to throw a good party or two, with DJs and a full service bar.


Badbadbad is goodgoodgood Fivepoints Arthouse, 72 Tehama, SF; 7-10pm, free. Badbadbad creator Jesús Ángel García presents his transmedia novel about sex, God, rock ‘n’ roll and the social web, while combining traditional print with a soundtrack of original songs and film clips for a unique literary-audio-visual experience. Special Guests include Tony Dushane, Lauren Becker, Odessa Chen, Burlesque goddesses, and others.

Homegrown Potluck and skillshare Hayes Valley Farm, 250 Laguna, SF; 6-8pm, free. Shepherdess Cornelia is in town for Make Magazine’s annual D.I.Y.-fest known as the Maker Faire (Sat/21 & Sun/22, San Mateo County Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo) and will be joining Homegrown for a potluck and skillshare. Meet fellow food enthusiasts, trade tips, learn new skills, share a potluck meal, and together make self watering planters, seed bombs, and more.


El Tecolote benefit art auction Minna Street Gallery, 111 Minna, SF;, 5-9pm, free. What started out as a La Raza studies course at San Francisco State as a means to usher young Latin Americans into the field of journalism is now in its 40th year, and is also the longest running Spanish-English bilingual newspaper in California. Attend this art auction and benefit to ensure that this pillar of advocacy journalism remains a voice for the Mission District and Latino communities throughout California for at least another 40 years. Artists include Yolanda Lopez, Calixto Robles, Kate Connell, and dozens more.

Documentary double dose Recology, 900 Seventh St., SF;, 6-10pm, free. Check out these two great documentaries about food – In Search of Good Food chronicles Antonio Roman-Acala’s quest for sustainable food systems in California (does he find any?) and The Greenhorns is a film tour of the non-profit of the same name that seeks to recruit, promote, and support young farmers around the country. A double feature about food is sure to make your mouth water, so Bi-Rite Market is thoughtfully providing popcorn and other munchies to satiate all of the revolutionary foodies and urban homesteaders in attendance.


American fashion history de Young Museum, Koret Auditorium, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, SF; 10am, $5/$10. Kaye Spilker, resident fashion historian at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, will share her wealth of knowledge about the evolving careers of American fashion designers from the 1930s to the 1960s, the same time period that the Balenciaga fashion house – on display right now at the de Young, by the way – was actively producing couture looks in France. France gets all the glory when it comes to fashion, but a distinctive American style emerged out of both the seductive power and glamour of Hollywood and the active lives of the everyday woman who often worked outside of the home. Learn about the designers that paved the way for this new American style.


DooF-a-Palooza Jack London Square, 70 Washington, Oakl.; 10am-5pm, free. To clarify, “doof” is “food” spelled backwards and the infamous DooF-balls from this Berkeley non-profit are determined to get you and your family to explore food from every possible perspective — backwards, forwards, sideways, upside-down and inside-out — at this play-with-your-food festival. Kind of like an Exploratorium with food, this all day event features everything from meatball catapulting, to stop-motion vegetable movie-making, and pizza dough tossing, as well as pony rides, a Ferris wheel, and so much more!

Garbage shuffle


The Department of Public Health has scheduled a May 13 hearing to review allegations that Recology subsidiary Sunset Scavenger overbilled for trash collection at a condominium building for years, resulting in $84,544 in excess charges, erroneously charged the building commercial rates, and is refusing to make a full refund. Recology counters that the building’s managers oversubscribed, and the company gave a three-month refund as a show of good faith, but considers additional refunds punitive.

The hearing should interest the 21 percent of San Francisco residents who own units in condominium buildings. According to the Assessor-Recorder’s Office, 42,478 of the city’s 200,409 recorded parcels are now condominiums, with 3,192 registered as live/work, 38,300 as market rate, 980 as below-market rate, and 958 as commercial condo parcels as of fall 2010.

This struggle between ratepayers and Recology, which controls almost all aspects of the city’s $275 million-a-year waste stream, seems emblematic of the problems that can arise when a monopoly is only partially regulated by local officials (the city does not have oversight of commercial collection rates) and then only in a labyrinthine process.

DPH’s May 13 hearing comes three weeks after the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee voted to wait until July before deciding whether to award the city’s next landfill disposal contract to Recology. And it hits 18 months after the Department of the Environment, which derives half its budget from Recology’s rates, first tentatively awarded the city’s landfill contract to the San Francisco based garbage giant.

Since then critics have questioned how Recology got its monopoly, whether the arrangement benefits rate payers, and whether it makes environmental sense to haul the city’s trash all the way to Yuba County, as Recology is proposing.

In February, the budget and legislative analyst recommended that the city replace existing trash collection and disposal laws with legislation that would require competitive bidding on all aspects of the city’s waste collection, consolidation, and recycling system.

The analyst also recommended requiring that refuse collection rates for residential and commercial services be subject to board approval, noting that competitive bidding could result in reduced refuse collection rates (see “Garbage curveball,” 02/8/11).

“The latest report says that the current system has been in existence since 1932 and let’s put it out to competitive bid,” said budget and legislative analyst Harvey Rose.

A 2002 report by Rose noted that the city has no regulatory authority over commercial refuse rates. “Instead, commercial rates are subject to agreements between the permitted and licensed refuse collectors and individual commercial producers of refuse, commercial tenants and building owners,)” the report stated.

Rose’s report also found that commercial building owners often pay commercial refuse fees to Recology, so tenants don’t know how much they are paying. “Normally, if tenants occupy such buildings for commercial purposes, the commercial refuse fees are passed on to the tenants as part of the overall rent and operating costs. As a result, it is likely that many commercial tenants do not know how much they are actually paying for commercial refuse collection,” the report found.

It also noted that when the analysts attempted to complain about commercial refuse collection and commercial refuse rates (“for audit procedure purposes”) and to inquire how to lodge a complaints with the city, there was “nobody to call.”

Fast-forward nine years, and Golan Yona, who sits on the board of the Alamo Square Board Homeowners Association, which represents 200 residents in a 63-unit building on Fulton Street, claims the city gave him the run-around when he complained that, over a four-year period, Recology subsidiary Sunset Scavenger billed his building to pick up two, two-yard compactor containers three times a week but only picked up one. “Each time one of the bins is being put out for collection, the second bin is connected to the trash chute,” and thus not in service for pickup, Yona said.

But Recology claims that HSM Management, the company the homeowners association hired to manage its building, “oversubscribed” for waste collection. Recology also notes that the commercial rate the association paid resulted in the building being charged a lower monthly cost, but that Sunset recognized this as an “internal error” and therefore is not pursuing collection of the undercharged amounts.

Recology spokesperson Adam Alberti characterized the disagreement as “a pretty simple billing dispute,” even as he claimed that HSM sometimes put two bins curbside.

“Recology has been providing a level of service that was not fully utilized,” Alberti said. “They had two bins and were only setting out one, though there were numerous times throughout the year when they set out two bins.”

Alberti said the responsibility lies with the condo group, which opted for that level of bin service. “At some point they called to discuss ways to reduce their bill, at which point Recology suggested they reduce their service to one bin. At that point, the homeowners association sought compensation,” he said.

“No, this is based on actual consumption,” Yona told the Guardian, claiming that Sunset has no problem charging extra if buildings put out extra bins.

Alberti claims it’s “far more common” for buildings to oversubscribe. “They plan for peak times,” he said. “As a good faith gesture, the company sought to come to terms with the customer — but they weren’t able to do so.”

DPH’s Scott Nakamura confirmed that rate hearings are rare in his department. “This is the first time in 30 years that I have heard of a dispute like this going to the DPH — and I’ve been working here more years than I’d like to admit,” he said.

Based on his experience and Rose’s 2002 report, Yona suspects that the reason for this lack of hearings lies with a lack of process — not a lack of complaints.

Yona held up a flow chart that depicts 17 contacts he had with City Hall in a five-week period as he tried to find out how collection rates are set, how homeowners can determine what their building should be paying, and how they can register complaints.

These included calls to the City Attorney’s Office, Department of Public Works, Department of Public Health, and the DPH’s offices of Environmental Health and Solid Waste.

As a result of his persistence, Yona discovered that the city’s refuse collection and disposal ordinance, adopted Nov. 8, 1932, stipulates that DPH’s director can revoke the license of any refuse collector “for failure in the part of the refuse collector to properly collect refuse, or for overcharging for the collection of same, or for insolence toward persons whose refuse he is collecting.”

In a complaint submitted to DPH director Barbara Garcia on behalf of Alamo Square Board HOA, Yona wrote: “We would like to note that our attempts to talk to the right authority in City Hall have met so far with difficulty. The seriousness of the matter requires intervention of the highest authority in City Hall.” 

Earth Day in City Hall … on Wells Fargo’s dime

Who was lucky enough to get treated to Mayor Ed Lee’s Earth Day Breakfast in City Hall, with the city’s top politicos and a smattering of high-profile San Franciscans? After noticing that the Board of Supervisors had approved a grant of $12,000 from Wells Fargo a few weeks ago to sponsor the event, the Guardian contacted the Mayor’s Office to ask for the guest list. The response came from the city’s Department of the Environment, which accepted the donation and organized the affair.

The 472-person invite list (we don’t know how many actually attended) included prominent figures such as Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, billionaire investor Warren Hellman, and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. All 11 members of the Board of Supervisors were invited, too, as were mayoral hopefuls City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, and state Sen. Leland Yee.
Invitations were extended to some truly green organizations, too, such as Green for All, Save the Bay, Rainforest Action Network, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Sierra Club, the Apollo Alliance, Greenaction, and others.

And many seats were reserved for the corporate sector. A total of nine representatives of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. were on the list. There were seven from Cisco, several from consulting and design firm CH2MHill, and a couple representatives from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — the firm that’s doing the Parkmerced overhaul and which was tapped to envision waterfront venues for the America’s Cup. 

Seven representatives — including the CEO — were invited from Recology, which is in the midst of a debate over its high-stakes, $275 million no-bid garbage contract with the city.

According to Mark Westlund of the Department of the Environment, only half of the Wells Fargo grant went toward the mayor’s Earth Day Breakfast, “the remainder to a series of community events held in the Department’s EcoCenter lobby.” The other sponsors included Blue Shield of California ($2,000); CH2MHill; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; United Airlines; Environmental Science Associates ($4,000); Levi Strauss & Co.; Cisco ($6,000) and Starbucks — which provided BPA-free travel mugs (double green points!).

It’s nice that San Francisco taxpayers didn’t have to shell out the $18,000 for all these people to celebrate Earth Day together. But at an event such as this, with so many millions of dollars in city contracts and major development projects flying around (not to mention the half a dozen or so people in need of campaign contributions), you can bet they weren’t all talking to one another about saving the planet.

Deadlock over Ma’s trash bill


A State Assembly committee deadlocked Monday over Assemblymember Fiona Ma’s AB 1178, which opponents say would make it easier for Recology to send San Francisco trash by train to Yuba County.

The bill seeks to ban local governments from restricting or limiting importation of garbage from outside the area, apart from enacting special fees.
“I don’t believe this is a special-interest bill,” Ma reportedly said before the vote. “I have 11 different counties in front of me that export waste to other areas.”

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who voted against the bill, indicated that he was open to changing his vote, even as he said he didn’t like the idea of not allowing local governments to ban garbage from elsewhere.
“I’m a ‘no’ vote who’s open to becoming a ‘yes’ vote if the language is better,” Huffman said.

Yuba County Supervisor Roger Abe said Ma’s bill fails to protect current processes surrounding the use and oversight of landfills.
“AB 1178 makes me unsure whether planning notions will stand up in future with court actions,” Abe said.

Richard Paskowitz, who leads YUGAG (Yuba Group Against Gargage) went further. “It defines environmental injustice,” Paskowitz said, as he argued that Ma’s bill would makes it easier for wealthier areas to send trash to poorer areas.

PG&E, AT&T, Recology and Malia Cohen


I got a flyer the other day announcing a District 10 merchants meeting featuring Sup. Malia Cohen — no big deal, district supervisors do this stuff all the time, and they should. The invite (PDF) reads:

The Office of Supervisor Malia Cohen, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and local business and merchant associations are pleased to present the District 10 Neighborhood Business Summit. The event will bring merchants together with their Supervisor and other city officials to discuss local business concerns.

Okay, fine. But down at the bottom are the logos of the sponsors: AT&T, Recology and PG&E.

AT&T is trying to get city permission to build hundreds of cable boxes on city sidewalks and is contesting a ban on the delivery of phones books. Recology is in the middle of a huge, high-stakes fight over its $275 million no-bid garbage contract. PG&E is fighting the city over community choice aggregation.

In other words, all three companies have major deals, involving millions of dollars, coming up at the Board of Supervisors. Cohen will be voting in the next few weeks — that is, pretty much right now — on the garbage and cable boxes and phone books. Isn’t it a little unseemly to have these three corporations sponsoring her event?

I called to ask her and she agreed the timing was “unfortunate.” But since it’s a Chamber of Commerce event, she said, it’s not clear what she could do about it.

Um, supervisor: You’re the boss here. Meeting doesn’t happen without you. The Chamber folks should have told you that three companies that need your vote would be sponsoring the event, and if they didn’t, you ought to have a word with them. Either way, those sponsors have to go.


Stopping the garbage monopoly


A few years back, when Aaron Peskin was president of the Board of Supervisors, he decided that the contract to perform budget and policy analysis ought to go out to bid. Supporters of longtime budget analyst Harvey Rose were aghast — Rose, by all accounts, does a great job watching the city’s dollars and helping the supervisors evaluate proposals. He has more than 30 years of institutional knowledge and memory; the very thought of replacing him seemed insane.

But Rose works as a private contractor, and for decades, he had the equivalent of a no-bid contract — the same sort of deal he and his staff have warned against. So the supervisors took bids — and, to nobody’s surprise, Rose won the contract. That was the right outcome. Except that faced with a competitive bid, he lowered his prices, and the city saved about $500,000.

That’s an important lesson, one the supervisors ought to keep in mind on April 20 when they consider the latest version of a proposal to award the contract for taking the city’s trash to a landfill. Two competing outfits, Recology and Waste Management, are fighting for the lucrative deal. It’s a complex environmental and policy issue: Recology is proposing to haul the trash all the way to Yuba County, and Waste Management would truck it to the existing Altamont landfill. But there’s a critical policy issue hanging in the background.

Since 1932, the company now known as Recology (formerly Sunset Scavenger then Norcal Solid Waste Systems) has had an exclusive, no-bid contract to collect garbage within the San Francisco city limits. The contract to haul the stuff over the bridge and out of town gets put out to bid, but only Recology can pick up residential and commercial garbage. The rates are set by the director of public works. And Recology pays the city nothing — zero — in franchise fees. (The only money the city gets from the garbage company is some $7.5 million a year that goes to the Department of Environment.) Oakland, with about half the number of customers, gets $29 million a year for its general fund from its garbage contractors; by that standard, San Francisco could pull in at least another $14 million a year, maybe more. And it’s not as if Recology is hurting — the company’s San Francisco revenue last year was $275 million.

Both the budget analyst and a private report commissioned by the city’s Local Agency Formation Commission have recommended that San Francisco put its garbage contract out to bid. In fact, the LAFCO report, done by R3 Consulting, notes that San Francisco is the only one of 95 cities surveyed in the Bay Area that had no competitive bidding process for local garbage hauling — and is the only city that has neither a bidding process nor a formal franchise agreement. According to the consultant, “it does not appear that Recology is contractually obligated to 1) negotiate with San Francisco or 2) continue providing service.”

This is utterly unacceptable. Sup. David Campos is absolutely right to be proposing a ballot measure that would mandate competitive bidding. And if he can’t find three more supervisors to sign on (and wouldn’t that be a sad statement), citizen activists are prepared to gather signatures.

We recognize that Recology is a local, worker-owned company with fully unionized employees and good benefits. That should — and will — be a factor in any bidding process. But no $275 million deal should be awarded to anyone in perpetuity, without the city having any leverage to negotiate.

The bid to haul waste to the landfill is directly related: If the board awards Recology that contract too, then the company will have such a monopoly that competitive bidding would be difficult. The committee should continue that item until the board figures out how to handle Recology’s overall contract. Rushing it through now would be a bad mistake.