Most of us just received a notice in the mail that the city desires to raise our trash rates, usually a tiny blip at the bottom of our property taxes. Yet this dark and dusty fine print has allowed a 50-year-old rip-off to fester, costing Lagunatics millions of dollars. A quick internet search revealed the shocking fact that Laguna Beach’s solid waste monopoly has not been competitively bid since 1972. The simple effect is that without normal market constraints, Waste Management charges us three times the per-capita rate Irvine pays. They get away with it because Waste Management pays off the city with a fat kickback: Laguna Beach takes 10 percent of gross receipts, plus 25 percent of certain recycling profits. Basically, Waste Management overbills at our expense, enabling the city to get their hands on a portion of the solid waste fee revenue, which disappears into the general fund. The commingling of the fee revenues with general property taxes is problematic according to the California Constitution, prohibiting fee revenue from being spent on unrelated services. With Laguna Beach’s financial opacity, we have no way of knowing how our trash fees are being used. Waste Management makes a killing and keeps their monopoly, the city gets an off-the-books revenue source, and the taxpayer gets the shaft.
Now the city is asking for cost-of-living increases for the next two years. How can they ask for that when we are already overpaying on our base rate? City leaders have never put our trash contract to bid, so they can’t even know what the actual cost is, much less raise it an arbitrary amount. Ex-Waste Management employees have already testified to the Council that half-a-dozen other waste firms would love the chance to bid for our business, we just have to let them. Diligent financial stewardship of our public funds is a core pillar of safeguarding affordable housing in our community, especially when marginalized groups are already struggling to live here. The only way to preclude the council from raising rates is if a majority of property owners send a written protest to the City Clerk by the June 4 Council meeting. I ask all residents to protest this and future rate hikes until the council stops its no-bid cronyism.
Chris Moore, Laguna Beach