The Los Angeles City Council cleared a path today for a dramatic overhaul in the way garbage is collected from businesses, industrial complexes and apartment buildings in the city -- potentially driving out some small trash-collection companies.
The council unanimously agreed to give private trash haulers a state-mandated five-year notice that the city plans to convert to a new system. Approval by the mayor would allow the city to begin working out the details of a proposed new system.
About 145 private trash haulers negotiate directly with commercial customers to pick up their trash. The Bureau of Sanitation wants to transition to a so-called exclusive franchise system, in which haulers would compete with each other for city contracts to pick up trash in designated areas.
Commercial trash accounts for nearly 77 percent of the city's waste, officials said.
Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar said the new system would likely force some small trash haulers out of business, but would allow the city to require companies to use cleaner trucks, impose stricter worker health and safety requirements, improve the recycling system and collect franchise fees that would generate revenue for the city's sanitation department.
Zaldivar said the new system would also exempt haulers that pick up trash from construction and demolition sites, which he said account for the majority of small operators.
Business associations urged the council not to issue the five-year notice and said they opposed a franchise system, arguing it will drive up trash commercial trash collection rates, reduce competition and put some small haulers out of business.
"An exclusive franchise system lets the city pick winners and losers by favoring a few large multi-national businesses at the expense of smaller, locally based haulers," said Central City Association Vice President of Legislative and Legal Affairs Anne Williams, who said she was speaking on behalf of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association and the Building Industry Association.
Councilman Paul Koretz called that argument a red herring, saying there will be a way to include small haulers in a franchise system. He disputed arguments that a franchise system would universally drive rates up. Instead, Koretz said, a franchise system would provide more consistent, predictable rates, rather than ones that are "all over the board."
The California Hospital Association has urged the city to exempt hospitals from a pending franchise system, because their trash includes state regulated medical waste requiring special trash hauling needs.
A handful of environmental groups and recycling advocates urged the council to support the plan. The five-year notice is an important step to bring "clean local jobs to L.A. and reduce our waste and pollution in the meantime, said Adrian Martinez, a Natural Resources Defense Council staff attorney. "It'll allow discussion to begin on how to maximize recycling."
If Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs off on issuing the five-year notice to existing commercial trash haulers, the city is likely to begin debating the details of the new system early next year.