The City Council favored a slightly larger increase to solid waste rates that will preserve services to Santa Monica residents at their last meeting.
Yvonne Young, Acting Resource Recovery Recycling (RRR) Manager, presented Council with an extremely comprehensive and concise report regarding the concern. According to Young, the City’s RRR Dept receives up to 180 requests per day for bulky item and illegal dumping collection making it the single most requested 311 service city-wide.
The entire operation is self-sustaining and paid for by what’s called the RRR Enterprise Fund where the revenue gained by charging for services is used to sustain operations. However, it is a separate financial and legal entity, which means it is not competing for the same resources that fund the police, fire department or other city services. A rate study is required every five years and the City was in the process of conducting an evaluation in 2019, but was forced to stop when the COVID-19 pandemic shut much of the country down.
“There was a lot of fear and uncertainty, people were staying home and businesses were shutting down,” Young said. “The city made a conscious decision to freeze the rate study and rate increases for three years in order to protect ratepayers and businesses throughout the pandemic.”
“While everything costs more these days in 2023, we’re still charging 2019 rates and your trash rates have remained exactly the same for the last few years,” Young said. “Ultimately, we had to dip into reserves to sustain our operation. At this rate RRR is projected to deplete its reserves and completely run out of money by next summer without an immediate rate increase.”
“While our staffing has reduced, the community’s demand has increased. The city is building more protected bike lanes that require sweeping; the state has introduced a new organics recycling law that requires every municipality in California to provide organics recycling to all customers. That means we need to buy and service more green bins,” Young said.
Two rate adjustment options were presented for Council to consider. The first is called the Enhanced Clean & Safe Services Option and can achieve all five goals sought after by the RRR, which includes restoring infrastructure, replacing cut staff and creating a new volunteer-driven community cleanup program.
The alternative is slightly cheaper and called the Right Sizing Basic Option. The RRR would request a total of eight positions so that they can add more organics collection routes, sweep the bike lanes and meet state mandated recycling requirements. However, unlike the first option, this would not allow for any improvement of the current bulky item and illegal dumping collection operation. It would also not allow for the creation of the volunteer-driven community cleanup program.
Under Option One, single-family customers can anticipate a rate increase ranging from $5-$9, typically around 11 percent, depending on the chosen service level. Under Option Two, single-family customers can anticipate an increase ranging from $4-$8, around 10.2 percent, over the five-year span.
“In many cases Option Two’s rates are only a couple of dollars cheaper than option one,” Young said at which point she displayed a numerical data chart showing how the preferred first option compared to other cities in Los Angeles county and for single families in particular, it remains among the highest in Los Angeles County.
“[Referring to the graph] The green and yellow bars might be slightly higher than other cities, but our residents are also getting more white glove service such as monthly recycling events and on demand household hazardous waste pickup at their doorstep,” Young said.
All seven Councilmembers voted to proceed further with developing Option One. Councilmembers Caroline Torosis said, “To me, the fee does not seem egregious and I’m supportive of Option One.”
In addition, the RRR also asked for support in creating a new solid waste rate discount program, which does not currently exist. However, Proposition 218 mandates that the City is required by law to charge each ratepayer the same for their fair share of service. Since Council agreed unanimously to explore viable funding options for this discount program, the results of this will be presented at the June 2023 rate adoption public hearing.
“I want to support Councilwoman Torosis ’inclination to provide a discounted program or if there’s any smart way that we can do it within the law, that’d be great,” Councilmember Oscar de la Torre said.
However, de la Torre offered a friendly amendment to the motion, which was the establishment of a smaller committee made up of councilmembers to work with staff to define the quarterly community cleanups that made up part of the Option One proposal.
“Being that it was an initiative that came out of council, I’d like councilmembers to be engaged to work with staff to define sort of how those quarterly cleanups are going to roll out,” de la Torre said.
Mayor Pro Tempore Lana Negrete expressed an interest to join de la Torre on that committee as did Councilmember Christine Parra.