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New trash-hauling system receives negative feedback

LOS ANGELES — With complaints rolling in about higher rates and poorer service related to the new franchise waste hauling system, a Los Angeles City Council committee Aug. 15 looked at ways to improve service while acknowledging the chorus of negative feedback.

The Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee did approve a motion that aims to reduce prices for some customers. But after its members questioned leaders of the Bureau of Sanitation, it seemed clear that higher prices will be a reality to some degree as long as the franchise system remains.

“We are moving more and more toward a landfill-free city, a landfill-free society. That brings with it significant changes, and important changes in behavior. Sometimes they do come with additional costs,” Bureau of Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar told the committee.

The franchise waste hauling system that went into effect July 1 is meant to expand recycling opportunities to thousands of businesses and apartment buildings while also cutting down on pollution by reducing the number of trash trucks on the street.

Before the change, recycling was only automatically available to single-family homes in the city.

Under the recycLA system — which was previously called the Zero Waste LA system — seven companies handle an estimated $3.5 billion in commercial waste hauling in Los Angeles. Each company is assigned as the sole trash hauler for commercial sites and multi-family complexes in one or more of the city’s 11 zones.

Since the new system began, many businesses and landlords have complained about higher prices and reduced service, but because their trash collector now essentially operates a monopoly, they have no other option.

When the council approved the franchise system last December, some council members predicted it would reduce waste by 65 percent in the city and that the new standards would also make rates farer, as the city found they varied widely and even sometimes were different for businesses on the same block due to the multitude of hauling companies working in the same area.

“Today, we will change that and bring fair, predictable rates to customers without punishing people for doing the right thing and wanting to recycle,” Councilman Jose Huizar said then.

Only six weeks into the new system, council members on the committee spoke of a multitude of negative phone calls and feedback related to higher prices and poorer service. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said he had received four calls alone in the hours before the meeting.

Councilman Mitchell Englander also said his office was getting flooded with calls.

“We’re all getting the same phone calls each and every day,” Englander said. “Our office is overloaded. In fact, I don’t remember a time where we’ve gotten so many irate phone calls over one particular issue that’s directly impacting so many different people.”

Englander said the landlord of the building where his field office is located said his bill went from $3,400 a month to over $12,500 per month before being able to negotiate it down.

One motion the committee approved would allow business customers to share bins with neighboring businesses in order to maximize the use of each bin and reduce costs.

Dan Meyers, the franchise division manager for the Bureau of Sanitation, said the department was also looking to develop an online tool which would allow customers to see how adjustments to service could improve their bill by reducing the size of their bin or frequency of their service.

Zaldivar said some of the high bills were the result of businesses not being aware of the franchise change and that they could reduce their charges by “right sizing” their service by reducing or altering their plan.

Councilman Paul Krekorian said he hoped that companies granted a monopoly were not “doubling down by increasing rates, by manipulating the bin handling in a way that will oversell their service to their customers. In fact, quite to the contrary, I expect those providers who have been given this monopoly to go the other way to bend over backwards and ensure that each and every customer’s needs are met.”

He added, “I, for one, will be looking at changes in this policy if I don’t see that result.”

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