Pacific Beach Town Council hears proposal to repeal city’s free trash pick-up law

A City of San Diego trash can awaits pickup on a city street.
A City of San Diego trash can awaits pickup on a city street. A councilmember wants to consider repealing the People’s Ordinance that exempts most single-family homeowners from trash collection fees.
(Andrew Kleske/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The effort to amend a century-old ordinance exempting most San Diego single-family homes from trash collection fees that are paid by homeowners in municipalities across the state was the main topic at the Pacific Beach Town Council October meeting.

Known as the People’s Ordinance, the law was slammed as unfair by ninth district Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera. He said renters, condo owners and others are responsible for paying the $43 million cost for trash pickup in a city facing budget shortfalls in services such as street light and sidewalk repairs.

A proposal to introduce trash collection fees for single-family homeowners in the city received pushback at the meeting from some homeowners who said they are facing rising costs for other services such as sewer and water. But Elo-Rivera stood his ground.

“I just do not think that we’ve been honest with the public about what it takes to run and be a world-class city in the 21st century,” he told the council. “Oftentimes, our civic culture is fixated on the cost side of things when to comes to responsibility. But there’s also a revenue side of the ledger...That is the side of the ledger that we’ve shied away from in terms of honesty.”

The impetus for the drive comes from a recent report by the city’s independent budget analyst (IBA) on the fiscal and policy impacts of the People’s Ordinance. The analysis was ordered by the City Council’s Environment Committee chaired by Elo-Rivera and discussed at the Oct. 7 committee meeting.

THE IBA report “said that the People’s Ordinance is unfair,” Elo-Rivera said. “They said that [the trash collection] service is one of the only services paid for by the general fund that confers an exclusive benefit onto only a subset of city residents.”

The freshman councilmember noted that three separate reviews of the ordinance conducted in 2005, 2006 and 2009 reached nearly identical conclusions as the IBA.

With trash collection expected to cost $235 million over the next five years, Elo-Rivera mulled over how those funds could be diverted to services such as infrastructure, firefighters, lifeguards, libraries and parks, among others.

“As a reminder, these are services that are available to all residents, unlike the city’s current refuse collection,” he said.

Many in the audience were sympathetic. San Diego Arts and Culture Commissioner Tracy Dezenzo said that making renters pay for trash collection but not homeowners was unjustifiable.

“People who daily live in apartment complexes, they’re not wealthy moneymakers and they’re having to pay for their trash,” she said. “But a property owner and actual homeowner does not. That’s kind of a little crazy.”

However, not everyone was convinced. With property taxes accounting for nearly 40 percent of the city’s total general fund, PBTC member Willis Allen, owner of the Crystal Pier Cottages, said that homeowners already pay for trash collection.

Allen argued that skyrocketing home prices should be a boon to city coffers since home values are reassessed under Proposition 13 when they are sold and property taxes increase significantly.

“I’m not buying it at all,” he said. “I know we’ve got shortfalls and all of this...At some point, you can’t just keep dumping it on the back of the taxpayers. It gets totally inefficient what the city does. It’s absolutely almost criminal.”

Eliminating the preferential treatment for homeowners is not a novel concept but a common practice whose time has come for San Diego, Elo-Rivera said.

“This isn’t like some do, some don’t,” he said. “Every single city in the county of San Diego charges a fee for trash collection and every major city in the state of California charges a fee.”

A ballot measure approved by voters would be needed to amend the People’s Ordinance to allow for trash collection fees on single-family homeowners, he said. If passed, the measure would merely “untie the hands” of the city to charge a fee, but state regulations would limit any fees to the total cost of the service.

Those costs, Elo-Rivera said, would be determined by the level of service that residents desire. However, the revenue would also allow the city to meet the demands of 21st century trash collection, such as a state mandate on organic waste as well as electronic waste, hazardous waste, bulk waste and more.

Whatever the future, Elo-Rivera argued, the time had arrived to put the past behind.

“We’re operating under a law that was passed when trash went to pig farms, and horse and buggies were still on our roads,” he said.

Monique Tello, the PB representative for local Councilmember Jennifer Campbell, announced that the long-awaited Street Vending Ordinance will be docketed for the City Council’s consideration on Dec. 14. A final draft is anticipated sometime in November and Tello said she would make it available to the public once she receives it.

Rene Contreras of Blu Lite Bonfires, said he had heard that the ordinance would not address the businesses operating on the beach.

“How will the new ordinance be enforced? And will there be checks and balances put into place to ensure a fair chance for businesses to operate?” he said.

Tello said that she couldn’t reply until she had the draft ordinance in hand. PBTC president Marcella Bothwell asked her to discuss the issue with Campbell prior to its release.

“That’s a huge hole about vendors on the beach,” Bothwell said. “Can you take that back up? That that needs to be in the vendor ordinance?”

Tello also announced that four different proposed maps redrawing the city’s nine council districts to reflect equal representation based on population shifts revealed in last year’s census would be released to the Redistricting Commission. The commission will receive public input until Nov. 15 and then submit a final map for adoption by Dec. 15.

“This is moving fast, ”Tello said. “It’s really important that we hear from the community members who would be impacted by this.”

While Pacific Beach remains in the second district represented by Campbell in all four maps, PBTC treasurer Denise Friedman said the maps could change the demographics of the district.

“All (four maps) have quite profound changes to district two,” Friedman said. “Between now and Nov. 15, there will be many opportunities to provide feedback. The commission is supposed to submit the final map by Dec. 15, but I understand that they’re probably requesting an extension of that timeline to Jan. 15.”