Upset crowd leads county to revisit garbage hauling proposals

Upset crowd leads county to revisit garbage hauling proposals

After a loud and mostly angry crowd of South County residents
showed up to protest a possible change in garbage hauling services
at a community meeting in San Martin Thursday, county officials
decided to take a closer look at the proposal they recommended to
the board of supervisors.
Morgan Hill

After a loud and mostly angry crowd of South County residents showed up to protest a possible change in garbage hauling services at a community meeting in San Martin Thursday, county officials decided to take a closer look at the proposal they recommended to the board of supervisors.

About 150 people attended the meeting at the Lions Club, which was called by the Santa Clara County Department of Agriculture and Environmental Management.

Audience members began shouting questions and complaints at the department’s staff as soon as they began to give a presentation on the proposed changes. It was often difficult for staff to hear questions from the crowd, as at times several people spoke simultaneously, with raised voices.

Until Thursday’s meeting, the department’s Integrated Waste Management division was ready to recommend that the board of supervisors accept a contract for garbage pickup services from GreenWaste Recovery. The current contract with South Valley Disposal, the only other company to bid on the next contract, expires Sept. 30.

The board of supervisors was scheduled to make a decision on the contract at its March 24 meeting. However, that decision will be postponed to an undetermined date so that county staff can make a better determination of what the 4,000 South County customers who will be affected prefer, according to Greg Van Wassenhove, Director of the Dept. of Agriculture and Environmental Management.

“We will be setting up a focus group in the next week or two, and we will go back over the essential services that the residents wish in the new contract,” Van Wassenhove said Friday morning. After the staff has a better understanding of what residents want, they will ask the two bidding contractors to revise their bids based on a refined list of garbage pickup needs and services.

Van Wassenhove said staff will send the new proposals to the board for a decision sometime between April and July.

To those attending Thursday’s meeting, one of the more contentious changes proposed by the department was the use of 96-gallon plastic containers for customers to store yard waste for pickup by the hauler. Now, customers receive 12 vouchers per year to haul yard waste to landfills as part of their service.

People at the meeting explained that because they live “in the country” and many of them have much larger lots than customers in North County, they produce more yard waste than can fit into the containers.

They also complained about the monthly rate increase proposed by GreenWaste Recovery, which is higher than that proposed by South Valley Disposal. The average monthly household rate for garbage pickup under the previous recommendation would increase from the current price of $22.90 to $25.85 to empty a 32-gallon container, with the cost rising proportionally for residents who use larger containers.

That’s about a 13 percent increase, and South Valley Disposal has proposed increasing rates by about 4 percent, to $23.92 per month for the most commonly used 32-gallon container, according to the company’s general manager Phil Couchee.

County staff thought they had an accurate picture of what South County residents wanted prior to Thursday’s meeting. In the months leading up to the meeting, they distributed surveys to the affected customers asking for their preferences in various aspects of garbage and recycling pickup.

More than 1,000 surveys, or about 25 percent, came back completed. Most of the surveys indicated that people wanted the changes reflected in the GreenWaste proposal.

Besides the use of yard waste containers instead of vouchers, those changes include weekly pickup of recyclable trash, instead of every other week; the use of “single-stream” recycling which allows customers to place all their recycling in one container rather than sorting it into multiple bins as they now do; and the offer of a smaller container, at a lower price, for non-recyclable garbage than is currently offered.

However, many residents at Thursday’s meeting said they only just received their surveys, days after the posted deadline to turn them in. Staff said residents may still send in their completed surveys, and they will still be counted.

“We’re optimistic that we can work through this process with the residents and come to some consensus, and we appreciated the input that was provided” at Thursday’s meeting, Van Wassenhove.

The county is divided into seven “garbage districts,” and district two, which comprises South County, is the only district in which the current contract is set to expire after September.

County officials have said their goal with the new contract, no matter who wins it, is to encourage recycling by making it more convenient for residents. Elizabeth Constantino of the Dept. of Agriculture and Environmental Management said at Thursday’s meeting that South County recycles about 24 percent of its trash, while the county would like for to see residents recycle at least 50 percent of their trash.

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