There are well-intentioned plans that may at first glance seem appropriate, but upon detailed inspection cease to be good ideas. Proposition A, an initiative on the June ballot, falls into this category.
On the surface, Prop. A asks that San Francisco open up its refuse, recycling and composting services to public bid. The concept of private companies competing for our business and thereby theoretically lowering the cost to residents and businesses is where the proposition’s good idea ends.
Organized private refuse service in The City stretches back to 1879, and the system here has evolved into a successful recycling and composting model that leads the nation in diverting material from landfills. There is no arguing that the structure of the system — which includes 97 permits across The City as outlined in a 1932 ballot initiative — could likely be simplified. But this proposition is a solution looking for a problem.
In fact, the proposition could end up making refuse collections worse in certain areas of The City. Due to mergers and acquisitions over the years, one company, Recology, collects all residential and business refuse, recycling and compost in San Francisco. If Prop. A passes, it could result in residences and businesses being served by two different companies. That could double the number of refuse trucks traversing San Francisco streets — hardly a green option in a city that prides itself for good environmental practices.
Another aspect of this flawed proposition is having garbage rates approved by the Board of Supervisors. As it stands now, an independent board made up of appointed officials sets the rates of residential refuse collection. Commercial rates for refuse collection are tied to residential rates — with a structure that incentivizes practices such as properly sorting refuse, recycling and compostable material. There is no need to take the current rates, which have increased at a rate on par with comparable cities, and politicize them by having an elected body take on oversight.
The most dangerous part of the proposition is one that could leave The City owing tens of millions of dollars.
Recology owns and operates a transfer station just across U.S. Highway 101 from Candlestick Point. Under the proposition, a new transfer station would have to be built by San Francisco. This publicly owned facility would then be used by the company that won the bid for operating the transfer station. One idea pitched is to build such a facility on Port of San Francisco property along the waterfront. The city controller’s statement about the proposition states that without details about the facility, the cost cannot be truly estimated, but it would “be in the tens of millions of dollars.”
It is noble for the backers of this proposition to think that putting our trash services out to bid could reduce the costs for people in this city. But there actually is no way of knowing what would occur, and residents and businesses could end up paying more for similar or reduced service. San Francisco is a leader in what we do with our waste. We shouldn’t trash a system that works.