Thursday, June 30, 2016

[Alameda County] Oakland landlords making a stink about city’s garbage rates

Bolstered by a scathing civil grand jury report, Oakland landlords plan to file a lawsuit Wednesday claiming that the city’s $1.5 billion garbage collection deal has led to skyrocketing trash and recycling rates that far exceed the actual cost of the service.
“Enough is enough,” said Wayne Rowland, president of the East Bay Rental Housing Association, whose 1,200 members manage or own more than 20,000 apartments, condos and duplexes, largely in Oakland.
Under the city’s 2014 trash contract — which several council members have said they did not read closely before voting to approve it — many apartment owners have seen their garbage and recycling rates increase by upward of 150 percent.
The rates are about to go up again in July by at least another 20 percent, Rowland said. Landlords are bearing the brunt of the increases, but not all of them — under the law, they can pass along some of the higher costs to tenants.
Two years ago, Oakland staffers and consultants recommended retaining the city’s longtime garbage hauler, Waste Management. Instead, the City Council gave the deal to newcomer California Waste Solutions. When Waste Management filed a lawsuit, the council went behind closed doors and put together a deal letting the two competitors split the operations.
To shift some of the costs from homeowners, the city structured the contract to put more of the expense on landlords, restaurants and other businesses, including nonprofits.
When those customers started complaining about skyrocketing bills, the council amended the rates to bring down the charges for restaurant recycling. Now the city faces a new threat — this one aimed at the 30 percent franchise fee Oakland gets as part of the deal, which supplies $30 million a year for city coffers.
According to attorney Andrew Zacks, whose lawsuit on behalf of the housing association lists three small landlords as plaintiffs, “Under California law, fees for property-related services like garbage collection are not to exceed what is required to provide the actual service.”
If they do, he said, they are considered a tax and must be approved by voters.
Franchise fees such as Oakland’s are common municipal money-raisers in California. However, the Alameda County civil grand jury recently blasted Oakland’s 30 percent take as “disproportionately” higher than those of surrounding cities.
Alameda’s franchise fee on garbage collection is 10 percent. Berkeley has a 20 percent fee, but only for businesses.
The grand jury added that it was troubling that Oakland’s City Council held its franchise-fee discussions behind closed doors during the garbage-contract talks.
Mayor Libby Schaaf, who was on the council when the contract was approved, defended the franchise fee, saying it helps pay for dealing with such problems as illegal dumping.
She added that the city “continues to evaluate aspects of the program that can be improved to better serve the public.”
June 28, 2016
San Francisco Chronicle
By Matier & Ross

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