Opinion » General Opinion

Garbage monopoly is costing San Francisco

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Does it surprise readers that the Chamber of Commerce supports maintenance of a monopoly in San Francisco (“Ballot measures will hurt budget,” by Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk, Opinion, May 3)? The Chamber of Commerce’s president characterizes Proposition A — a citizen-ratepayer initiative to require competitive bidding for garbage collection, recycling and disposal — as the “most alarming measure” on the June 5 ballot in San Francisco. Steve Falk even demonstrates the audacity to claim Prop. A will “undermine San Francisco’s successful efforts to reduce waste” without any supporting evidence.

His opposition to competitive bidding for an activity worth approximately $225 million annually to the trash monopoly is consistent with chamber support in November of a San Francisco sales-tax increase,  which is the most hurtful tax to taxpayers of modest means, unlike a progressive tax on those best able to pay, such as a tax measured by income. San Francisco voters eviscerated the chamber’s sales tax increase effort in November; now, let’s do likewise by approving Prop. A on June 5.

As The San Francisco Examiner itself editorialized on July 14, open, competitive bidding “is always the best way.” Two Board of Supervisors studies last year found 71 Bay Area cities either possess competitive bidding or franchise agreements for garbage collection; San Francisco is the only one that doesn’t. Residential rates, ostensibly regulated by city bureaucrats, have increased 136 percent in 11 years. We pay more than twice as much per citizen for garbage and recycling as San Jose, with its 1.1 million population compared to our 810,000. We don’t even charge the garbage monopoly a franchise fee, unlike Oakland, for example, with 340,000 people, which obtains nearly $24 million annually from its competitively bid contract.

Prop. A modifies a 1932 ordinance, which generated the monopoly. It directs the Department of Public Works and The City’s budget analyst to promulgate bidding terms for collection, recycling, transportation and the landfill itself in order to obtain the best value for ratepayers from each part of our garbage services.

At most, there will be two firms collecting waste and recycling, just like Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal did before the monopoly. Any bidder can secure more than one contract, but not the processing and landfill contracts simultaneously, because that’s a conflict of interest that threatens our zero-waste goals.
The only Board of Supervisors involvement, like in all sizeable contracts, is customary ratification of the low bid. The chamber claims Prop. A requires us to own our own “processing and transfer facilities,” which would add “potential new capital expenses.” Such pap.

Pier 96 has been used for years by the monopoly itself for recycling. We taxpayers own Pier 96; it’s logically usable to replace monopoly-owned property that poisons Visitacion Valley residents. Don’t believe the chamber’s reference to a 78 percent “landfill-diversion rate”; this monopoly recycles the same estimated 50 percent of waste as other jurisdictions do, but the Department of the Environment, a bureaucracy costing ratepayers $14 million annually, claims the rest from such acts as removing sand from Great Highway.

Finally, the monopoly can still be our garbage collector; Prop. A grants advantages in bidding to any local firm employing local residents. If the monopoly is truly the corporation portrayed in its $2 million campaign to defeat Prop. A, it’ll easily win every bid. It already bids successfully in 16 other cities of the 22 it assays.

Mark my words: The monopoly will apply post-election for yet another previously concealed double-digit rate increase. As The San Francisco Examiner proclaimed just last year, “But without competitive bidding and solid oversight, how do we know if San Franciscans are getting their best deal?”

Vote for Prop. A, not the Chamber of Commerce.

Judge Quentin L. Kopp, a former state senator and San Francisco supervisor, is the co-author of Proposition A.