Laguna Beach Raises Trash Bills, Residents Push for Competitive Contract

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By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach homeowners can expect their trash bills to annually increase by more than $5 for the next three years, following a new rate increase schedule approved Tuesday by the Laguna Beach City Council.

The annual hikes amount to a 7.5 percent increase in the cost of hauling Laguna Beach’s trash over the next three years. City staffers claim the rate hikes are necessary for revenues to keep up with Waste Management’s $2 million contract for residential waste disposal.

City Manager John Pietig said Laguna Beach’s hillside topography and narrow streets make it a challenging client for some trash haulers. This factored into Laguna Beach’s negotiations with Waste Management back in 2012 when the city was considering whether to issue a Request for Proposals for its solid waste services. Rather than spend $100,000 needed to solicit and review bids, the City Council approved the current 10-year contract with Waste Management in July 2013.

“The council wanted to be a leader in environmental issues, and they asked for the trucks to be alternative fuel,” Pietig said. “One of the reasons you needed a 7- to 10-year contract at least was in order to get a vendor to do that, they needed to capitalize their investment.”

Judie Mancuso, Chris Moore and Michael Morris were among the Laguna Beach residents who urged for the contract to be put out to bid, considering Waste Management has been the city’s solid waste hauler since 1993.

“One concern I have is that our world is drowning in plastic, and we need to know better from Waste Management what [they] are doing with all of our trash,” Mancuso said. “In the spirit of doing better, let’s put it out for bid.”

Moore said he collected the names and addresses of 60 parcel owners who disagree with the trash rate increase, adding that he was in Afghanistan when the existing contract was approved in 2013 and vowed to continue fighting for a competitive bid in 2023.

“We don’t know how much it actually costs to provide solid waste services to our city because we never asked anyone, and I think it’s really dishonest to charge us an increase to pay for this deal,” Moore said.

Liz Avila, senior public works analyst, said Laguna Beach currently ranks 16 out of 33 Orange County cities for the cost of its solid waste services. The approved increase is expected to knock the city down to 17th place.

Laguna Beach was also the first city in the county to adopt a food scraps collection program for its restaurants and other businesses, Avila said. This has positioned Laguna Beach ahead of its neighbors for implementing a state law that requires cities to provide organics recycling bins by January 2020 to customers who generate two or more cubic yards of solid waste per week.

Pietig said he’s sensitive to community concerns about considering bids every time a contract expires, but it’s also for residents to know that there are disruptions whenever a new vendor has to change bins and teach new drivers.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman said she believes Waste Management provides Laguna Beach with “amazing service.”

“If you can imagine training new drivers to navigate streets, it’s a challenge, and some places, they don’t even drive down the street,” she said. “They get out, they get the trash, and they take it back to the truck because the roads are so narrow.”

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