Palo Alto adds fee to garbage bills

City Council approves a $4.62 monthly fee to close budget gap, create more parity between customer classes

Palo Alto's garbage rates are scheduled to rise in the fall for the second year in a row, but this time every residential bill will feel the same impact.

The City Council voted 8-0, with Greg Schmid absent, on Monday night to approve a $4.62 fee for residential refuse bills, effective Oct. 1. The council adopted the new fee to help close the $3.7 million deficit in the city's refuse fund and to bring the residential and commercial rates a bit closer to parity.

The council also agreed to continue the 6 percent increase it approved to residential bills and the 9 percent increase it approved for commercial bills last September. Both rate hikes were scheduled to expire Sept 30.

The new fee was imposed by the council as an interim measure while staff is considering a more dramatic overhaul to the refuse-rate structure. Palo Alto's refuse fund has been losing money in recent years as more customers switched to smaller trash cans, trimming their garbage bills and the city's revenues. The new rate structure will likely include charges for recycling and composting, services that are currently offered for free.

The flat fee is helping city officials reach their goal of creating more parity between Palo Alto's residential and commercial customers. Preliminary analysis from the Public Works Department has indicated that commercial customers are paying far more than their share for the garbage operation, effectively subsidizing residential customers.

Brad Eggleston, manager of the city's environmental control programs, wrote in a report that staff's recommendation to raise residential rates is "based on the need to bring the residential rates up to a fuller cost recovery level while attempting to correct the existing inequities between residential and commercial sectors."

According to the department's estimate, residential rates would have to be increased by 79 percent for parity to be achieved.

The Finance Committee discussed the new residential fee on July 19 and voted unanimously to support it. In addition to bringing in needed revenues, the new fee would bring the city closer to compliance with Proposition 218, a state law that prohibits refuse rates from exceeding the cost of providing the services.

"We're addressing some inequities in the cost of service study that have come to light," Councilman Greg Scharff, who chairs the Finance Committee, said Monday. "We didn't want to exacerbate these inequities."

The council swiftly approved the new fee with no opposition from any of its members or from the public. It also approved a staff plan to borrow $1.25 million from the General Fund to avoid having to increase the rates further. The refuse fund would repay the money in 2013.

Staff will return in the fall with further proposals for reducing expenditures in the refuse fund, including an analysis of a potential closure of the city's Recycling Center in the Baylands.

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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2011 at 7:55 am

This is a tax not a fee. Can I opt out? Can I decide to put out my garbage once every two weeks to save money? Can I get credit while I am away on vacation and have no garbage? Can I choose to get my garbage removed by another company or by taking it to the dump myself?

No, this is something I can do nothing about. It is a tax, not a fee.

Am I pleased about this situation? No, not at all.

Like this comment
Posted by unfair
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 26, 2011 at 8:24 am

So unfair to give a much higher percentage increase to residents who produce the least amount of garbage. This is like a 30% rate increase to people on the 15 gallon/week plan.

Like this comment
Posted by Trashy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 26, 2011 at 8:30 am

Maybe that 40 million from Stanford could help right about now, as "Palo Alto ponders what to do with the money."
Palo Alto will squeeze all it's civic minded people out with these types of mandates.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2011 at 9:15 am

Instead of solving the employee pension problem, the burden is being shifted to the residents.

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpaying Public
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

Agreed. The city needs to stand up to the insidious public union special interests and get costs under control and stop nickel and diming the taxpaying public every chance it gets.

I resent any (non-voter approved) tax increase when we pay a bloated, overstaffed fire department six figures, with matching, guaranteed pensions for retirees in their FIFTIES, to have a bunch of union bureaucrats accrue overtime while sleeping between routine medical calls. When is the last time a PA firefighter died in the line of duty. Never. Yet the council, much of which has been bought and paid for by the fire union, continues to pay them about 3-4X what a soldier gets for fighting on the front lines.

Like this comment
Posted by David Perlmutter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 26, 2011 at 10:35 am

It would be nice to know the impact of wages and pension funds on this increase? If the city is trying to encourage recycling then charging fees will dissuade people from recycling. Typical city reaction, increase fees rather than figure out ways to save money and cut expenses.

Like this comment
Posted by reine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 26, 2011 at 10:40 am

It is the same story over and over: we are told to
use less water
use less electricity
use less garbage

and each time they increase the charge after we decrease the volume.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:05 am

OK Listen everyone -

Every week you put your trash out and a man comes and takes it away. You don't have to wade through piles of trash, rats and worse. You don't have to breathe your burning trash, smell it rot or suffer nasty deceases.

That's really good and worth far more that we are asked to pay for it. Yes it's getting more expensive - as is everything around here.

Before blaming the public workers you might remember that the trash is picked up by a private company and in this same news paper there's a story about Public workers agreeing to a salary freeze.

Get something real to complain about.

Like this comment
Posted by Stooopid PA
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

This idiocy convinced me to stop recycling. Fools.

Didn't they ever hear of positive reinforcement where you reward people for the desired behavior.

Like this comment
Posted by grandparent
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:10 am

And in addition remember that the 5% tax on top,
remember how that was (??) legally passed. What do you
think about that now?

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:11 am

Frank, you seem to forget yes, we PAY for the man to come and take our trash, and for years and years everything has been more or less stable. Now, we see continual increases in prices for decreases in service. I guess you want to celebrate ... so do so, just do not criticize everyone else for actually thinking logically.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:15 am

Commercial rates are disproportionally higher? I assume these payments are deductible on commercial entities' income tax returns. Is there a way to structure our residential garbage "taxes" to be deductible so the state and fed can pick up part of the tab? Don't worry, the AMT will keep high income earners from benefitting.

Like this comment
Posted by mr practicality
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:04 pm

if i have to pay for recycling, i just won't recycle. i don't produce that much garbage anyway ( i live alone) and my recyclables will fit in with my garbage.

i agree that an every other week pick up should be an option. why pay for something you are not using. they could decrease the number of sanitary engineers by half if enough families went to every other week.
there would be half as many stops and they can be done in half the time.

can i decide to not have garbage pick up at all? i'll share the garbage can and recycle bin w my neighbor and we can split the cost.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I also think that trying to compare residential costs with business costs is not a sensible comparison.

Depending on the business, a business is likely to generate a lot more trash than a residence. As an example, a restaurant feeds hundreds of people a day whereas a residence feeds a family 3 times a day on average. Preparing a meal for hundreds will cause more trash than for a family. A fastfood restaurant will generate even more than a traditional sit down restaurant.

A retail business, a small business that employs 25 people, a large office,a school, a library, etc. will all generate more trash than a residence.

A family can much more easily reduce its trash or increase its recycling than a business.

Trying to make the rates for these comparable is like trying to reduce water usage for a gym or a beauty salon, or reduce energy in a computer store. It doesn't work!

Like this comment
Posted by Blondie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm

There is diminishing incentive to recycle and to produce less trash. I would like to be on an every other week cycle, too.
THis is crazymaking.

Like this comment
Posted by Too Much
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm

When I bought my house, the realtor displayed City of Palo Alto utility bills for that address as a selling point. Boy are those days gone forever! I'm close to retirement age and am really worrying about how I'm going to afford such high rates. It's impossible for me to economize more than I already do. And, according to those reports I've been getting, I'm in the category "excellent". But no matter how careful I am, the unit cost of each of the services just keeps skyrocketing.

Like this comment
Posted by Capbreton
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 26, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Palo Alto's garbage rates are insane. Just moved to SF and my bill for more pickup and service -- includes 10x/year pick up any large items curbside -- from a private company is $84 per QUARTER.

Like this comment
Posted by Trashed
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Los Altos residents also pay $84/quarter for 1 large recycle bin, 1 large leaf & compost bin, 1 small trash can. Mission Trail provides great service. They even pick up used batteries and paint curbside for free!

Like this comment
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm

There should be an opt-out, or this is a tax. And if it is a tax, there should be a vote.

Maybe it's time to drop it all off at City Hall!

Like this comment
Posted by Dresdener
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 26, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Why should residential and commercial rates have "parity?" For a business, it's a deductible expense. For us fixed (actually shrinking) income residents, it's another blow to the knuckles as we try to hang on to living in this ever more expensive burg.

Like this comment
Posted by Moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm

"Taxpaying Public" --

You sound miffed that no PA firefighters have been killed in the line of duty in recent memory.
Perhaps you think they are overpaid, but this is the sickest argument you could have come up with when debating garbage rates.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 7:29 am

Hey Moi ... it sounds like you are the one that came up with that argument, since I have not read it anywhere else, so maybe your argument has the sickness problem, not the Palo Alto taxpaying public who has every right to complain about their incompetent city managers and leaders and their decisions.

Like this comment
Posted by For-The-Record
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2011 at 8:18 am

> You sound miffed that no PA firefighters have been killed
> in the line of duty

Just for the record .. about 100 firefighters die in the "line of duty" in the US on a yearly basis. About 2/3rds of these deaths are from traffic accidents, going to/from the fire site, or from strokes (attributed to a sedentary life style). The other 1/3rd of the deaths are due to actually fighting fires.

Federal casualty data for workplace deaths shows firefighting not remotely close to the top of the list. Jobs like crewing on a fishing boat, or being a lumberjack, are far more dangerous.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 9:01 am

Moi, the argument I see being made is that the city is wasting $$$ overpaying its workers, particularly its firefighters, and yet continues to find ways to levy additional taxes on the public, such as this garbage tax that they're not admitting is a tax.

Your issue with citing a zero death rate is incorrect, as the danger of the job is what the firefighters union uses to justify their outrageous salary and benefit expectations, and without the statistics to back that danger (see For-The_Record's factual data above), it is clear they shouldn't be making as much as police and way more than soldiers.

I agree with most of the posters here. Clean up our govt waste and pension messes first before taxing the public anymore.

Like this comment
Posted by Sara
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2011 at 10:39 am

It is really shocking that some people would threaten to stop recycling because of a rate increase! Who do you think you're recycling for, anyway? For planet Earth, which is suffering from all of our consumerism and selfishness.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How about we just eliminate the monopoly? Allow anyone to offer collection service to anyone. Make it legal for you and your neighbor to share a collection. Allow the collector to pay you for your recycling.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

> Allow anyone to offer collection service to anyone.

Just don't leave town or someone might use your backyard as a garbage dump.

We see that even with regulation people usually do not do the right thing, without regulation it would be even worse, not to mention the load on the police and courts as problems arise. Maybe this was, I hope that this was a joke, because I wonder how people can suggest things like this seriously.

The problem is we have incompetent or corrupt people making the regulations ... please put your mind to work on solving that problem and see what you come up with.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

We need a competitive market to fix this problem.

Where my sister lives, 3 companies compete for trash collection and they each have their own can system and days for collection. Depending on the size of the household, etc. it is possible for neighbors to opt for different services that suit their particular needs most economically.

I don't really like the idea of 3 separate collections on 3 different days with different colored cans, but it does show that competition can make a difference rather than one monopoly.

Like this comment
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm

My company used to be in another city. Now we're in a city that uses Greenwaste. The amount is ridiculously more for less service.

We're experiencing the same thing in Palo Alto. PASCO used to come up my driveway and take the cans. As soon as we got Greenwaste, no more of that; we have to put them out. So, from my point of view I'm getting less for a whole lot more money.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm

One of the reasons America is failing is because the motivation for allout greed is incredible, we need to save the planet, so immediately our whole economy turns to ripping people off for trying to do the right thing. This is like a national death wish.

Get rid of the people who hold our system over us and everyone will figure out what to on their own, what is right, what is wrong, and who are useless burdens on everyone else.

Somehow the supposedly free-market is not improving anything, all it serves as is a watering hole for greedy psychopaths who figure out 10 ways to make a profit for something that used to be just taxed once. But try to criticize the "free-market" or suggest measurable better alternatives and you are communist or terrorist.

Much or most of the free-market is a way to channel money to people we want to in a deniable and hidden way. If it doesn't improve things, whatever it's called it needs to be questioned and improved. Our trash system, along with everything else that is costing more the less we use needs to be changed - that's all we should need to know to kick someone's behind out of a job they are not suited for.

Like this comment
Posted by DDee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm

I tend to agree with Walter (I know, Walt, don't faint!:-)… And with Frank
With Frank because as we are seeing all across the country, demonizing union workers because of the contracts that your - our - elected officials negotiated with them is a race to the bottom.
Our memories are exceedingly short - During the tech bubble, no one around here felt they needed to unionize their jobs because they were the situational princes and princesses of American workers, raking in so much dough that the novel notion of paying high 6 figures to city, county and state elected officials and shortly thereafter to other groups of public employees was shrugged at. Thus was killed the notion of public service as a noble dedication in which earned a steady mid-to lower middle class income in exchange for excellent benefits and retirement, and the satisfaction of serving others. We replaced this with the illusion of hiring “the best and the brightest” (another misplaced notion that has and continues to serve us poorly if the product of their endeavors over the past 20 years is any indication) and guaranteeing them “market” wages in order to “retain” them.
That was when we should have been watching our fiscal picture with a bit more realism, knowing that bubbles pop eventually. We didn't, and now we are stuck with huge job losses, lower wages and loss of benefits and retirement security on the part of all of us who were asleep at the wheel - because we were part of the upper crust at that time and didn't need a union ourselves, remember. We are also tussling with honoring the contracts we struck at our state and local levels – not just for Wall Street and CEOs, whose contracts are somehow sacrosanct.
But, getting back to my agreement with Walter, another fopah of that era was the notion that privatizing public services and utilities would lead to greater competition, thus lower prices for the consumer. There was even the notion – a sticky one in that people retain it despite the evidence to the contrary – that privately run business is more efficient and less wasteful. (That’s hasn’t proven to be the case. What we ended up with are huge monopolies, higher prices and absolute lack of serious accountability on anyone’s part when things go wrong.)
And…. If you think it is expensive now, just wait to see how much it will be when the reality of “shipping” our waste elsewhere kicks in past the first stage. Wait until gas prices, salaries and all related costs begin to go up if and when the local economy improves. Then the costs of shipping our waste “abroad” (a slight exaggeration in distance but not in concept) will really hit us and we will wish we had been a TRULY green conscious community willing to search for and accommodate green solutions in our own backyards rather than grabbing on to the arrogance of shipping it elsewhere, which increases our carbon footprint tremendously and undermines the entire purpose of all those years of green practice at our local dump.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm

DDee your argument contradicts itself. You cite the potential development of monopolies in the private sector, as happens occasionally a la Microsoft until the market (Apple, Google) or govt. (EU, DOJ) intervenes, as an example of why the private sector is unable to outperform the public sector, yet ignore the fact that by definition the public sector is already a monopoly. What competitive choice do we have when the city decides to spike our garbage rates?

The notion that the private sector is more wasteful and inefficient than the public sector is preposterous. How many private sector enties tolerate the rampant overcompensation, overstaffing, overtime abuse, pension spiking, and other abuses that infect our government, which has little incentive to run an efficient ship because it can just refill the trough by hitting up the taxpayers for more revenue.

We've put up with far too much waste in the public sector for far too long and it's time to act before passing the bill on to our children. The last thing I want my children wasting their money on is a pension promised to an underworked union bureaucrat before they were born.

Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Jul 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Tax or Fee, residents are required to be notified in writing of the proposed increase and the right to speak against it....Did any of you get one.

Like this comment
Posted by DDee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm


1- Competitive choice is given us by the ballot box with much more frequency that it is when trying to affect the decisions at the top of any corporate ladder. If we don't like the choices made, we vote in new leadership.

2- As for " How many private sector enties tolerate the rampant overcompensation, overstaffing, overtime abuse, pension spiking, and other abuses"... you must not be paying attention. Enron, Wall Street, Banks, Auto.... you name it nationally. Locally, all those companies you just mentioned thatfunction VERY well for those on top, but ask the thousands laid off in order for those relatively few to not only keep but increase their personal profits if the companies are being run on the most efficient and servicial mode as far as their customers, their workers and our country and its well-being. And if you go to examples abroad - let's see. Food safety, medicine safety, etc etc.

3- I agree that the entire - ENTIRE - pay structure of civil servants has gone crazy in our country. I would start by standardizing retirement plans so that all govmt jobs contribute into defined benefit plan or plans that are govment bond secured at the same rate according to a step plan that factors salary and seniority; all 401k type stock gamble plans be solely employee contribution-based; all civil servants participate in the Social Security safety net; all govmt employees receive their health care from either Medicare (for the PPO plan) or from VA hospitals (for the HMO plan)so that all the money spent toward their health care is maximized in its efficiency (3% instead of 27% overhead).

As for salary, I would limit top pay to a percentage of the state or federal minimum wage, say 2500% for the top positions and step down from there for other positions. That would mean that if the head of the UC system can't make it on around $416,000 doing ONE very full-time job for us, then we find someone among our 300 million citizens who can. This includes a ban on double dipping in top positions such as is all the rage in the UC system currently.

So yes, I would much much rather pay a good decent salary to a civil servant and not begrudge that person a good but not exhorbitant retirement, than see our country get driven into the dirt by corporate culture ansd its associated and pervasive and contagious greed.

Like this comment
Posted by sue
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:09 am

What exactly are you people paying for garbage pickup? When I lived in Irvine a few years ago, we paid $33 per quarter for garbage/greenwaste/recycling pickup once a week. In Menlo Park, we pay $65 per quarter for the same service. Of course, everything is more expensive up here... electricity, insurance, gas, real estate....

Like this comment
Posted by Edwin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 29, 2011 at 5:45 am

Years ago it was OMG we need a massive increase rates/fees to fix the storm drains. City hall responded by hiring a bus load of consultants - but not much was done - A few years later it was OMG - and the cycle continues today.

Years back we needed to have a drastic increase in utility rates to cover putting all utilities underground - It turns out only “select” neighborhoods got their utilities put underground, and the rest was left to just enjoy their higher rates.

Now it is garbage. We pay way higher rates than surrounding communities - But that’s not enough, we need to pay more now, because we dispose less - How could all these consultants have gotten it so wrong?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2011 at 2:27 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How about giving us the option of carrying our waste to a central location for a significantly lower fee?

Like this comment
Posted by CA-Barbie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm

So - somewhere buried in our utility bills is a fee for "Dump Maintenance." I don't see that going away. And I get why people are enraged about the inflated salaries for firefighters and police officers and other unionized vermin - I see them every day bopping around Safeway with their truck parked a block away, and relaxing around the tables at the coffee shops, so I'm absolutely on board with the idea of breaking the unions. At 60, I've marched before, and I'm willing to march again - through the streets and into the City Council chambers if necessary. If I knew where and when...?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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