Officials highly critical of trash-hauling companies

LOS ANGELES — Multiple Los Angeles City Council members trashed the city’s new commercial waste-hauling system last week, publicly grilling representatives of the companies that have been contracted to operate the six-month-old RecycLA program that has been rife with problems.

“I could not possibly care less how hard it is for you to make this transition. I could not possibly care less,” Councilman Paul Krekorian told some service provider representatives during a meeting of the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee Feb. 6 after they repeatedly said that the transition to the new program had been challenging.

Before the six-hour-plus meeting, Councilmen Mitch O’Farrell and Mike Bonin held a news conference at City Hall to demand improvements to the program and shared the podium with some business and property owners who have been negatively affected by RecycLA and spoke of skyrocketing trash bills amid a plummeting quality of service.

“I was so stupefied that it was such a disastrous rollout,” O’Farrell said. “I was given assurances, I can’t tell you how many times I had meetings in my office, requesting assurances that this would be successful.”

The franchise waste hauling system was unanimously approved by the City Council in late 2016 and became operational July 1, 2017, with the goal of expanding recycling opportunities to thousands of businesses and apartment buildings while also cutting down on pollution by reducing the number of trucks on the street and requiring service providers to transition to low-emission trucks.

Seven companies handle an estimated $3.5 billion in commercial waste hauling in Los Angeles under RecycLA. 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.

Problems in the RecycLA system started shortly after it became active, including some customers reporting missed service calls and bills that doubled, tripled or quadrupled. O’Farrell said he did not think that contracts needed to be canceled or legal action needed to be taken yet, but suggested it could soon be an option.

“I am very open to having everything on the table to look at this contract. We’re not there yet, but we wanted to make a statement that this must be fixed,” O’Farrell said.

A long line of RecycLA customers told committee members horror stories of terrible service or rates that suddenly increased by hundreds or thousands of dollars.

At the end of the meeting, several pages of recommendations and requests for reports were issued by the committee that would deliver it a comprehensive analysis of the program, along with a request for advice from City Attorney Mike Feuer on legal options the city can take against companies failing the meet the requirements of their contract.

According to the Bureau of Sanitation, there have been more than 28,000 calls connected to missed service pickups from July 2017 through the end of January. But since each service provider has essentially been handed a monopoly, customers do not have a choice to seek out a better or cheaper service.

During the committee meeting, some representatives of the service providers said the transition was difficult in part because they ended up with many more customers than they had been told they would have.

“This is a huge undertaking that we have undertaken, in only 180 days to transition moving kind of quickly,” said Matt Blackburn, vice president of Universal Waste.

Blackburn, as did other providers, stressed that the number of complaints have been very low overall, with his company having a 99.5 percent success rate.

Susanne Passantino, a manager with Republic Services, said “there were a lot of challenges as it rolled out and every single day our goal is to optimize our services with our customers and work through billing disputes.”

However, the statements of the service providers mostly fell on unsympathetic ears on the committee.

“You have been granted an exclusive franchise in your areas. You were given five years to do the due diligence that you needed to do to prepare,” Krekorian said. “Yes it’s hard. Yes, this is a big city,” he added. “But you know what? You’re getting the revenues from a big city as well. You grabbed the brass ring and became the winning bidders on exclusive franchises in the second biggest city in America.’”

Councilwoman Nury Martinez said “I heard a lot of excuses today and I am not interested in any more excuses. I’m here to simply say you will be held accountable for this contract. You are going to make a lot of money from this.”

Bonin and O’Farrell introduced a motion in December that instructed the Bureau of Sanitation to provide a comprehensive report on the problems with RecycLA, and the report was discussed at the committee meeting.

Two other City Council motions are also addressed in the report, including one from Councilman Paul Koretz and O’Farrell that directs the Bureau of Sanitation to report if certain RecycLA service providers have failed to fulfill their obligations, and whether to proceed with taking the necessary steps to terminate their individual contracts “for such substantial failure.”

The meeting came just days after the Feb. 1 deadline when service providers can be fined for poor service or have their contracts canceled.

While the report does not recommend canceling any contracts, it does note that service providers can now be fined for not meeting the obligations in their contracts, including $100 per missed collection and $300 per missed collection for the same customer within a 12-month period.

Many of the skyrocketing costs associated with RecycLA having come from service providers assessing extra fees for access and distance, including for having to open a gate or for a bin being located a certain distance from the street.

According to the Bureau of Sanitation report, 67 percent of customer have received no extra fees, but the rest — more than 18,000 customers — have received them for either distance or access, with 6 percent being charged for both.

Some customers were erroneously charged, the report said. For example, customers were being charged for access when their gates to solid waste bins were not only unlocked but removed.

According to the report, the Bureau of Sanitation sent a letter to six of the seven service providers on Dec. 15, requesting that charges be removed for distance on 298 properties, and the service providers have agreed to remove 214 of the charges so far.

The report also said a second letter was sent to all seven service providers last month requesting them to remove any distance and/or access charges from 723 customer accounts and that resolutions on these accounts are still pending.

 

City’s new trash program plagued by complaints

LOS ANGELES — In response to thousands of complaints about the city’s new commercial trash-hauling program, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion Jan. 10 that seeks information on service providers while threatening to cancel any that are not meeting their obligations.

The RecycLA went into effect in July 2017 and has been rife with problems, as the city has received 28,000 complaints about missed collections and 1,500 bill inspections revealing 1,000 inaccurate bills, the motion states.

“What has been happening is not the world-class commercial waste-hauling system the City Council voted for, it is not the system that LA Sanitation designed, and we must not put up with any companies who are not performing to the high standards we set. Period,” Koretz said.

The franchise waste hauling system that became operational 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 trucks on the street.

Under the RecycLA 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.

Some customers have complained about skyrocketing costs under the new program, while maintaining that the quality of service has fallen, and several City Council members have said their offices have been flooded with calls since it was implemented.

Some business and apartment complexes have reported bills that were as high as four times the previous rate while receiving the same or worse service.

“LASAN appreciates the commitment of the council members to the success of the program, and will continue to work with them to hold the service providers accountable for providing RecycLA customers with the timely and responsive services they expect and deserve,” Elena Stern, a spokeswoman for the Public Works Department, told City News Service.

Koretz’s motion would direct the Bureau of Sanitation to report in 30 days to the City Council on whether certain RecycLA service providers have failed to fulfill their obligations, and whether to “proceed with taking the necessary steps to terminate their individual contracts for such substantial
failure.”

The motion comes ahead of a Feb. 1 deadline when the city can begin to levy fines or move to cancel contracts with RecycLA service providers.

“When I voted for this, we were promised a world-class system. We are not going to stop demanding improvements in RecycLA until we get just that,” Koretz said. “If any of the service providers doing business with the city don’t understand or can’t live up to their contractual obligations, we are happy to show them the door and replace them with companies who will.”

In response to the billing issues, the city created an online portal in December that allows customers to submit billing disputes and get information about trash pickup.

“Inappropriate overcharges for trash pickup are unacceptable, so we are making sure that Angelenos can more easily submit billing disputes, and better understand how to keep costs as low as possible,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in December.

“I know this transition has been tough for some customers — so we’ll keep working hard to ensure that RecycLA works for people in this city, and meets our goal to make L.A. cleaner, greener, and healthier.”

Garcetti’s office said at the time that more than three-quarters of customers pay only the base rate, but some have reported sudden cost increases.

Koretz is not the only council member to threaten to cancel contracts with RecycLA service providers for poor service or high rates.

About six weeks after the program started and the negative reports were starting to roll in, Councilman Paul Krekorian said during an August 2017 committee meeting that he hoped 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.”

City Council approves new marijuana regulations

LOS ANGELES — The City Council approved a draft of new regulations for the cannabis industry Oct. 31 along with a string of other related measures as it looks to have its policy settled ahead of the drug becoming legal for recreational sale and use on Jan. 1.

The vote directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance addressing the procedure for businesses to get city licenses, along with rules for how the businesses can operate, including security requirements, ventilation standards, hours of operation and other guidelines.

Before the vote, Council President Herb Wesson, who has been heavily involved in creating the regulations, said there were still other issues that would need to be worked out and that the draft ordinance as it stands only solves “80 to 85 percent” of the questions. Wesson said he wanted to get the City Attorney’s Office working on the ordinance, and that it would come back to the council several times and continue to be worked on.

“What I present to you today, members, is a piece of work that we are very proud of,” Wesson said.

An amendment to the draft ordinance was introduced at the meeting by Wesson and four other council members that seeks to address what had been a major outstanding question, which is a procedure for provisional licenses for growers and manufacturers.

Some leaders of the cannabis industry had previously said the proposed rules could drive suppliers out of business because they could cause a delay in them getting licensed before marijuana becomes legal for recreational sale and use on Jan. 1. While the city has allowed retail medical marijuana shops to operate in the city for years, it has never expressly allowed cultivators or manufacturers to operate, and this could leave them without a license come Jan. 1 due to an expected delay in the city processing applications.

The amendment creates a process for cultivators and manufacturers to apply for a provisional license while their application is being processed, provided they fit 13 pieces of criteria, including that they were in business before Jan. 1, 2016, meet all land use and sensitive use requirements by the city and other guidelines.

Another amendment that was added at the meeting would create limitations on how many cannabis businesses could be located in each neighborhood similar to the regulations imposed on the alcohol industry. The limitations would include one retail business per 10,000 residents, based on the 2016 American Community Survey, along with limitations for cultivators and manufacturers.

The draft ordinance was approved on a vote of 14-1. Councilman Paul Krekorian cast the lone vote against it because he said he wanted more time to examine the amendments that were introduced at the meeting.

Last November, California voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

The legalized industry could fetch the city more than $100 million annually in new tax revenue, and in March city voters approved Measure M, which sets up regulatory measures for the city’s industry.

Once implemented, Measure M will replace Proposition D, which was approved in 2013 by city voters and limited the number of dispensaries within Los Angeles city limits to 135 — the number of dispensaries operating before Sept. 14, 2007.

The guidelines forwarded by the council give priority licensing to existing shops that received a business tax registration certificate after 2014 and that are operating in compliance with the limited immunity and tax provisions of Prop D.

On-site consumption would be allowed by state law starting in 2018, if the local city allows it. Wesson said concerns over a ban in the draft ordinance of on-site consumption would be addressed later as the city studies the issue.

Bruce Margolin, executive director of the L.A. chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the on-site ban would leave some consumers without a place to use cannabis, since many hotels and apartment buildings ban smoking and that consumption also would not be allowed in public.

“The current status with denying on-site consumption means that they have no place to go unless they own a residence or have access to a residence, which is completely unfair,” Margolin said in September.