Tossing that old thingamajig in the trash became even less acceptable in Palo Alto Monday, as the City Council voted 5-4 to keep the city on course to generating nearly no waste by 2021 -- despite a looming increase in refuse-disposal rates.
Council members John Barton, Bern Beecham, Jack Morton and Dena Mossar voted against the plan.
By 2011, it will cost about $203 per ton to "divert" waste from the landfill, according to city figures. Refuse rates could rise about 17 percent.
The council effectively approved a several hundred page "Zero Waste Operational Plan" Monday, which outlines the goals and general approach the city will take to slash the amount of stuff it sends to a landfill.
Specific policies, such as potentially mandating recycling or banning plastic bags, would need to return to the council for a vote.
Beecham cited the need for a strategic or overall plan to compare cost-effectiveness of additional landfill diversion against other approaches. He said the $200 spent to divert just one ton of landfill could be used to divert 10 to 40 tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere, for instance.
"Where is my strategic plan on how we spend the people's money, where we get the biggest bang for the buck?" Beecham asked. "I don't think this is it."
The city currently prevents, through recycling or other means, about 63 percent of its waste from reaching the landfill, Public Works Director Glenn Roberts said. Beyond a point, reusing or recycling each additional ton of waste becomes more expensive, he noted.
Councilman John Barton said the costs don't include money saved in the future by preserving the local and global environment.
"It's cost effective to pay more now to minimize those future costs," Roberts said.
For the rest of the council, the plan can't take effect soon enough.
"I don't get passionate about much, but this sis really something we need to go forward with. Staff has asked us to give them marching orders and I say go forward," Councilman Jack Morton said.
"We are not going to be passive when it comes to crap."
Morton said he would like to ban plastic bags and polystyrene food containers immediately.
But Councilwoman Dena Mossar said the potential bans and mandatory recycling require further discussion.
"I don't want to sit here tonight and (say), 'Go out there and ban and require and force and fine,'" Mossar said. "I want my council to have that conversation, whether I'm on it or not, and I want the public involved in that conversation."
The plan will really begin to kick in in 2009, when the city's waste is hauled under a new contract, Roberts said. The negotiations will give city staff the opportunity to include other services, such as food-waste collection and increased recycling, he said.
The council did not vote on a location for a potential composting facility Monday, leaving that divisive topic for another evening.
The zero-waste plan is available in the City Clerk's office at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., 7th Floor.
In other business:
* About 15 Service Employees International Union Local 521 members attended the City Council meeting to protest the firing of Brandon Porter, a former meter reader. Chapter chair Phil Plymale asked the council to reinstate Porter, conduct an investigation and call for an audit of the Human Resources Department.
"This has been one of the worst few years of labor relations in recent memory," Plymale said.
The union is alleging that Porter was fired in June after testifying in a harassment investigation, which city administrators deny. (See story in Sept. 12 Weekly, www.PaloAltoOnline.com.)
* The council unanimously approved an $859,000 contract with Anderson Pacific Engineering Construction, Inc., for pumps at the Regional Water Quality Control Plant.
The contract divided the council last week after it was challenged by labor leaders, who said the city needed to require its contractors to pay "prevailing wages," a term defined by the state.
On Thursday, Peter Anderson of Anderson Pacific e-mailed the council, stating: "We will pay prevailing wages on subject project."
Anderson's pledge satisfied the council, but it wasn't enough for Juan Garza, a senior compliance officer for the Joint Electrical Industry Fund of Santa Clara County.
"They're missing the big point," Garza said. He said the city should have stated the project was a "prevailing wage" project when it was listed for bids. He again disputed that he was solely working on behalf of second bidder D.W. Nicholson, although that firm was a member of the industry fund.
Garza has already initiated a California Department of Industrial Relations review of the project.
As a charter city, Palo Alto doesn't have to pay prevailing wages on projects that are solely "municipal." Garza contends the pump replacement is not municipal because it involves the several communities that use the treatment plant and affects the Bay, which is of statewide concern.
The issue is worth further consideration, Councilman Barton said.
The council referred an investigation into the city's use of prevailing wages to its Policy and Services Committee on a 6-3 vote, with Mossar, Beecham and Morton voting no.
"I think we have a fiduciary responsibility to not go in this direction," Mossar said.
Roberts has said he believes a prevailing wage policy would not have a significant effect on complex efforts that require skilled workers, but could affect maintenance projects.
(Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at email@example.com.)