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Palo Alto seeks fairness in trash rates

Original post made on Apr 6, 2011

Palo Alto may soon reduce its street-sweeping services, raise garbage rates and begin charging for recycling as part of its effort to stabilize its volatile refuse operation.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 10:05 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by Automate-The-Streetweepers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Google, and Stanford, have both demonstrated that artificial intelligence, and high-powered microprocessors, can be harnessed to auto-pilot cars. So, why not look to see what it would take to modify this software/hardware to drive street sweepers? We've got all of the engineering talent in the world right here within twenty-five miles of Palo Alto to do the job. Sadly .. we have folks like Greg Scharff who can only see the future in terms of more bicycles, and downsized streets where cars are not permitted to go.

Palo Alto needs its own brand of Moses .. to lead the people out of government-style bondage, and to the promised land of common sense the use of our many intellectual skills.

Posted by Sheri Furman, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm

So, we're going to punish people for doing what the City asked, reduce trash and increase recycling? Yup, that's a real motivator. Given Palo Alto's great history of recycling, how did Public Works not see this outcome when it negotiated contracts? How long do ratepayers have to keep paying for City miscalculations?

Posted by Al Henning, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I agree with Sheri Furman. Presumably, the City makes money off recycled materials. Certainly, aluminum cans are worth the CA CRV, and every can I put in the recycle bin is a donation I give to the City. Turning the system on its head, and *charging* me for the 'found money' they collect each week, is, well, wrong-headed.

I am charged each week for having the smallest-possible trash bin, whether or not I fill it, whether or not I even put it out on the street. Yet, I only put it out 2 or 3 weeks out of 4, and even then it has perhaps 10-20% of the capacity filled. If the City starts charging for recycling, and if the City also allows an opt-out relative to recycling (not a given), what incentive works against my putting all my waste stream (including recyclables) into the trash?

Posted by Charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Hmmm. Perhaps we should all start filling up the trash with the recycle material now!

Posted by RadioGuy, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm

RadioGuy is a registered user.

Sheri raises an interesting point. A few years ago, we separated our recycling. This made the identification of higher-value items easier. Now that recycling is single streamed (except for yard waste), Palo Alto has managed to increase the volume of recycled materials, but made extracting any value from our recyclables much harder, presumably helping to raise the processing cost.

Maybe going back to separating recyclables at the curb would help. That way we'd be able to unequivocally say that trash for Palo Alto is better than trash from anywhere else!

Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm

"While considering rate changes, staff is also looking at possible expense reduction in the Refuse Fund. These include reductions in street-sweeping services, scaling down of the Zero Waste program and deferral of capital projects at the landfill site, Eggleton said."

Are other expenses under consideration, too?

How long is the current refuse contract in place? When will the City be able to go out to bid? When will the legacy contracts at SMART - Sunnyvale and Kirby Canyon expire? How much will be saved, once such contracts end?

During the next bid cycle, could service be reduced to once every other week?

What are other Cities and Towns doing to keep rates in check?

How does City of Palo Alto management of waste services compare to other Cities and Towns? Are we 'top heavy' in the management ranks?

Posted by George, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Wasn't the $6 million deficit last year because Public Works and Accounting Staff forgot that they couldn't pay current operating expenses from the $6 million reserve required by law to close the landfill?

How do our garbage rates compare to our neighbors? Higher?!

When residential garbage rates are increased, much of that increase will be put into reserve and then "excess" transferred to the general fund. This is yet another hidden tax!

Posted by Howell Lovell, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 7, 2011 at 10:53 am

We are in a 16 unit condo complex and currently we have two green waste containers. We are charged $188.36 per month for the two containers. Which, of course are put out to the curb every week. We are encouraging recycling and separation of yard waste from garbage. If the City is serious about Zero Waste, it should not penalize us (We are a Commercial Customer -- even though we are 16 residential homes) for trying to encourage zero waste. Perhaps when our next refuse bill goes up, we know where we can eliminate one extra Green Compost bin???

Posted by Sally, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:08 am

As soon as I read about the 85% rate increase on garbage fees due to our shortage in garbage AND the lower garbage rates paid by nearby communities, I decided to do my part: I started putting recyclables in the garbage can.

You too can end our garbage shortfall. Do your part now.

Posted by Idea Generator, a resident of Duveneck School
on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:22 am

Why not collect trash, etc. every two weeks, and cut down on labor costs? Or maybe 3x/month if every two weeks feels too infrequent?

Posted by Mark, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

Idea Generator has a good idea, why not reduce the trash and recycling collection to 2-3 times per month. We have reduced out trash significantly once we started recycling, and the recycling bins do not fill up every week. It seems the city is doing what has been done to water conservation, we reduced our water usage which reduced city revenue and the water rates went up, so now we pay more for less water use.

Posted by Sally, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Good idea, Idea Generator.

Let the city cut back on the frequency and/or let us tell them when we don't want/need pickup for trash, recycling and yard waste and have them bill us accordingly.

Of course the city won't do anything so smart when they can just keep unilaterally raising rates. There's no incentive for them to be responsive.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm

The problem is not trash collection; the problem is the City signed a long term contract some years ago to provide ever more trash for ever increasing space in the landfill.

Because of aggressive recycling we are not using the space in the landfill we are contracted to pay for. Each year this amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars and increases each year.

The answer is not to recycle but to send all our recycled material plus trash to the landfill. In other words a previous Administration and Council totally screwed up, and we are paying for it now.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Excellent ideas!
Garbage ONLY once a week = 1 truck.
Recyclables every two weeks or every month.
Greens on demand. Extra fee.

Posted by Charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm

The business model is simply wrong! They should reward the heavy trash users with the least rate. If the city is willing to do their part by upgrading the biggest size container to the residents at no cost, I am ready to do my part :)
You don't have to raise fee or cut service everytime you can't balance the book..

Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm

How are we paying Kirby Canyon for garbage we don't deliver there because we don't meet out contractual minimum, while at the same time dumping garbage at our own landfill, to the extent it'll be full in July?

Posted by Millie Enron, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm

As a protest, we should start trashing our recyclables until the city gets the point.

I'm willing; how about you?

They did the same thing with water rates. We cut back and then they raised our rates. We stopped flushing after each use and cut back on other water use. Did it reduce the rates? No.

The city HAS to learn to listen.

Posted by Margo, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Actually I'm totally skeptical about all of the city's pleas to conserve, mailing about comparative energy use, etc.

We took a 2-week vacation in February, turned off the heat, used no appliances, took no showers, flushed no toilets, etc. for HALF a month.

One would have expected a significantly lower energy bill that month since there was no one here to use energy.

Was the bill ANY lower that month?? NO.

Posted by Allen Edwards, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm

We have two conflicting goals. 1) Zero waste and 2) Fund a fundamental city service that we all want whose present funding is now based on waste volume.

So charge us for what you put out by the curb but charge a LOT more if it is waste. How hard is that?

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Outsource our garbage and waste collection to Redwood City. They know how to do it for less.

Posted by Patricia , a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm

Anyone suggesting that we put our recyclables in the garbage again has lost sight of why we started recycling in the first place. It's not about City Hall. It's about the environment!

None of us likes to pay higher fees, but we already pay a premium for many choices to save the Earth from the deterioration happening before our eyes. We may have to pay more for gas rather than drill off our beautiful coastlines. We pay more for efficient cars to keep the air breathable. We pay more for lumber to leave some of our forests standing to recycle the carbon atoms that are overheating the atmosphere. And, yes, we may have to pay more for disposal in order to recycle a host of items that are a threat to the only Earth we have.

Posted by Sally, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Patricia, sorry. For me it's about the stupidity. I don't believe the city cares about the environment beyond spouting platitudes. They're motivating people NOT to conserve. Their jobs should be eliminated and their functions outsourced to cost-effective service providers.

If the city cared more about results than platitudes, it would worry more about traffic tie-ups and exhaust fumes polluting the environment. Go Town & Country Shopping Center. See how long it takes you to back out of parking spot there with the cars backed up solid. Count how many lights it takes you to enter and exit.

Figure out how many trees died for all those "save the environment" mailings from our utility department.

If they cared about the environment and saving the earth, let them encourage people to conserve, not charge us more for doing the right thing.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm

If we really wanted to care for the earth and be truly "green" we would stop buying stuff which eventually needed to be thrown away. We would make do, reuse almost everything many times and wear everything out completely before using it for cleaning rags and heating/cooking fuel. We would grow our own vegetables, keep our own chickens, bake our own bread, dry our clothes outside in the sun and have no desire to travel anywhere.

Since we don't do these things, we should enjoy the world around us making sensible alternatives work.

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm

If we have excess capacity of a valuable resource (pre-paid dumping rights at various locations), why are we not reselling that right to cover our costs?

We've reversed the cliche and made it "Our treasure is another man's trash." I haven't looked into the details, but something doesn't smell right. (sorry) Where is the business sense and fairness?

Tim Gray

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Our trash, recyclables, and compost are all picked up weekly under a contract with Green Waste. Too late to change the contract now.

Patricia says: "Anyone suggesting that we put our recyclables in the garbage again has lost sight of why we started recycling in the first place."

Unfortunately Patricia the trash dumping contracts with Kirby Canyon were signed long before recycling was introduced. Right now we are paying for space for a whole lot of trash to be dumped that we are not sending to Kirby Canyon and it amounts to almost $1 Million a year.

To save money we should dump our recyclables at Kirby Canyon, and not pay for it to be sorted and disposed of particularly since the recycling companies are having difficulty selling it.

Posted by Ed, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Lots of interesting ideas here. We agree that we could reduce pick-ups of recycling and yard waste - doesn't have to be every week. Also, cut down on street sweeping. (Save staff hours, save gasoline for trucks).
However, putting recycling in trash is NOT a good idea, we don't want to go backwards on that one. I agree that Town and Country is a traffic nightmare.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2011 at 11:25 pm

We are told that we need to pay the $100,000+ & $200,000+ salaries to hire the best city workers, and we pay all these rich benefit packages.

Yet it's very simple math that if one recycles a portion of the garbage, then there is less that is being sent to the landfill. Who is being held accountable for this multi-million dollar fiasco? That's the real problem - no one is ever held accountable.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2011 at 8:32 am

Tim Gray made the most sense.

Why can't the extra space be sold off or sublet. That income would go towards balancing the deficit.

Why can't City government be run like a business? In fact why can't all government be run like a business?

We can't just assume that Palo Alto residents will just pay out everytime City management makes a mistake. We need more accountability and more fiscal responsibility at the City level.

Posted by obvious is obvious, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:50 am

We don't need to increase rates, we need to reduce costs!

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2011 at 10:40 am

Maybe the problem is GreenWaste. Our company moved from Mountain View, where the rates were not bad at all for trash collection to Morgan Hill, a Green Waste customer. The rates practically doubled.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:00 am

And on top of the rate changes-the new collection crews are messy.

For the 25 years I have been in Palo Alto there has been almost zero garbage/trash dropped on the street during collection. Now it is a weekly thing on my street and the surrounding streets. A few pieces of paper in the street every few houses and all of a sudden the neighborhood looks slovenly.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:14 am

Don't these people understand the concept of fixed costs?
Quit whining!

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Why not garbage only weekly, with recyclables and garden waste less often?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2011 at 7:26 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

...and why not buy our way out of bad contracts?

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