Trash rates to rise again in Palo Alto

City plans to increase residential rates by 13 percent, decrease Recycling Center hours

Palo Alto residents should expect to see their trash rates spike by 13 percent this fall to help cover a gaping budget hole in the city's refuse operation.

The rate adjustment would supplement the 6 percent rate increase the City Council approved for residential customers in October. If approved by the council, it would push the residential monthly rate for a mini-can container from $15.90 to $17.90. The rate for the regular 32-gallon trash bin would rise from $32.86 to $37.16 under the new proposal from the Public Works Department.

The rate increases, which the council's Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss Tuesday night, are part of a Public Works plan to close a $3.7 million hole in the city's Refuse Fund. The fund has been struggling financially in recent years as residents increased their recycling efforts and switched from large cans to mini-cans, slashing their bills and creating revenue shortages for the city, which doesn't charge for recycling.

In October, the City Council raised residential rates by 6 percent and commercial rates by 9 percent. These rates are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, but staff has recommended extending them into next year.

In addition to raising rates, Public Works staff is proposing to construct a smaller Recycling Center with more limited hours of operations than the existing center in Byxbee Park. Other cost-cutting measures include freezing a Zero Waste Coordinator position and raising rent for the Utilities Department's use of the Los Altos Treatment Plant site.

The city is also exploring changing its street-sweeping services from weekly to biweekly or monthly, though that change isn't expected to take effect for at least another year and only after a public-outreach process.

Even if the city adopts the latest proposal, the residential refuse rates will almost certainly see further adjustments and increases in the coming years. Palo Alto is in the midst of a "cost of service" study that will likely lead to an overhaul in the rates structure, shifting the burden from commercial to residential customers. Preliminary results from the study have shown that rates for commercial customers currently exceed the cost of serving these customers. Residential customers, meanwhile, are not covering their proportional expenses, according to a report from Brad Eggleston, manager of the city's environmental control programs. This puts the city in conflict with California's Proposition 218, which prohibits refuse rates from exceeding the cost of service.

Eggleston wrote that the new recommendations are "based on the need to bring the residential rates up to a fuller cost recovery level while attempting to correct existing inequities between residential and commercial sectors."

Under the proposed rate changes, commercial customers would not see any additional rate increases.

The Finance Committee will consider the proposed rate increases at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Conference Room at City Hall.

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Posted by costs are high
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2011 at 10:49 am

Will this cover the cost of the new trash/recycle bins being put back, upright on the curbs? Yesterday several students were talking how the new collectors leave the cans in the street, many times just rolling them toward the curb where they fall over and are left laying down so that when biking to school it becomes both dangerous for the bikers as well as the drivers during this busy time. Kids were saying that bikers swerve out to avoid the cans and then cars have to swerve to avoid the bikers. It is a huge problem.

Like this comment
Posted by careful can placement
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm

In the midtown area where I live, I have not experienced sloppy return of the recycle and trash containers to the curb. I bike to work riding through the area of three different trash pickup days and have never experienced a problem with the return of containers to the curb. The only issues I have seen are when the resident leaves the container on the curb for multiple days.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 30, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Why doesn't the weekly mention the real cause of the rate hike? CPAU locked itself into a long term garbage disposal contract with a third party that has a minimum payment, even if CPAU delivers less garbage. The City encouraged recycling, which reduced our garbage production below the minimum. Now, more people use minicans and pay less, but CPAU has the same disposal expense due to this contract. Now the council seems to be trying to discourage recycling by reducing hours at the recycling center. Topics for future articles might be: whose responsible for the contract, when does it end, can we buy our way out, etc. Hiding this truth breeds distrust and suspicion.

Like this comment
Posted by Marcus
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm

The city government needs to learn to do more with less (or, in this case, do less with less, as PA residents have done a good job cutting their garbage output).

What changes/cuts have been made to streamline the city bureaucracy before taking the oft-used easy route of going to the ratepayers for more money? I don't mind paying for service. I do mind being asked to constantly pony up increases well above inflation while the city is hemorrhaging money on out of market compensation; pensions; and a bloated, overpaid fire department.

Like this comment
Posted by Annette Puskarich
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Issues with GreenWaste (e.g,. carts in the street) should be directed to GreenWaste Customer Service at 650-493-4894, from 8a-5p. Unless the route supervisors know of issues, they cannot resolve them.

Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jun 30, 2011 at 4:22 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.


Here is a cover story we ran last year on the topics you mentioned. I believe it answers most of the questions you raised in your post.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by It Figures
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Classic case of government ineptitude that results in terrible locked in contracts forcing the wrong behavior. Is it any wonder that there is so much tax payer apprehension in funding anything... I am sure glad we don't have the problem of paying more for using less water :)

Like this comment
Posted by annoyedneighbor
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jun 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm

cans should be left at the curb. when they are left on the sidewalk it is impossible for pedestrians, young children on trikes, strollers and disabled persons in wheelchairs to use the sidewalk. if cans are place at the curb it is not a safety issue for cyclists or for those that want to use the sidewalk......

Like this comment
Posted by trash
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Take out trash on the plate fast,do not show me again.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2011 at 10:54 am

This blatant ripoff by incompetent city leaders just infuriates me. I cannot believe how much I pay for 1 small trash can I do not even hardly use.

How can the people of Palo Alto take back our city and get rid of these bloodsucking leeches who grab more and more money at a time when the economy is shrinking so severely?

Like this comment
Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 2, 2011 at 7:28 am

We are getting so much printed information from Utilities telling us what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and on an on. - many in 'living color'. Constant flow of expensive brochures, letters, and most repetitive. An ad in the Weekly for this information would be cost effective - and help the Weekly which evidenlty needs $$$. It would ALSO help the environment to keep all these mounds of paper out of the recycling. But it just keeps coming. I have no more room for this deluge.And then there is the cost for this enviromental guru and his staff who the city hired last year.

Like this comment
Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2011 at 11:19 am

I wonder if "cost of service" includes the profit factor that transmits many millions from the Utility Department to the General Fund. Is the GF sacrosanct in that a fixed amount must always be transferred out of the UD, so that if actual costs rise, the only answer is to raise the rates, and not decrease the outflow to the GF? It would seem to me that there could be some combination, i.e., raise the rates a little, cut back on the flow of cash to the GF a little.
To my mind the Utility Department remains an enigma with questions never really being answered such as: Is staffing what it should be or has it just grown without thought of increasing efficiency of operations? Are fund transfers to the GF following legal requirements? (I understand that "Profits" from the water utility contribute to the GF. If that is true, isn't that a violation of state law? I have asked this question of council and staff and get no answer.) Why does the UD charge more for so called Green Energy, which is a disincentive for users to sign on, when the price charged for green energy could be the same or even less than non-green energy, with the cost difference, if any, coming out of the profits that go to the GF? As long as the GF can always count on a fixed or ever increasing amount of money from the UD, then the council has no incentive to keep the costs of government down, and we utility users, both residential and commercial just pay and pay and pay. I'd like to see a thorough unbiased investigation of the Utility Department so real answers could be given to these and other questions.

Richard C. Placone

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