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Recology target of complaints amid talks to expand waste transfer center and secure landfill agreement

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Insurance broker and homeowner Anthony Verreos, right, passes out protest papers to homeowners in the area on Friday, July 10, 2015. (Michael Ares/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s garbage monopoly is on the verge of signing a lucrative landfill agreement with The City — and has plans to expand its waste transfer facility straddling the Brisbane border.

But Recology’s efforts are collecting sharp criticism as the company faces a key vote at the Board of Supervisors later this month.

Hundreds of residents in Little Hollywood, a neighborhood at the southern end of the Visitacion Valley, are complaining about Recology’s waste transfer station at 501 Tunnel Ave., even as the Brisbane City Council considers approving its expansion.

More than 300 area residents have signed a petition started by Little Hollywood homeowner Anthony Verreos, 62, an insurance salesman who currently lives and works in Brisbane.

The petition cites issues of smell, noise and other disruptions like feces from sea gulls. “Those piercing beepers can be heard miles away depending on the winds, and they often prevent people from getting a good night’s sleep,” the petition says, referring
to the noise made by the garbage trucks.

Meanwhile, in a separate issue, Recology’s second attempt to secure a landfill agreement is once again being met with opposition. A group calling itself the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee has filed an appeal of the Planning Department’s determination that the Hay Road Landfill agreement doesn’t need to undergo an environmental impact review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

In 2012, a lucrative 10-year, $112 million garbage contract approved in 2011 by the Board of Supervisors for Recology to haul waste by rail 130 miles away to its Yuba County landfill was scrapped amid three lawsuits alleging improper bidding and inadequate environmental review.

Among those who sued was Waste Management, the company that operates the Altamont landfill where Recology currently hauls the waste. The contract with Waste Management expires in January 2016 when waste disposal is expected to total a cumulative 15 million tons.

“Contending that 624,000 additional trash truck miles per year for 15 years through Bay Area traffic could not, even arguably, have a significant effect on the environment defies logic and lacks credulity,” said Joshua N. Levine, attorney of the Dongell, Lawrence, Finney firm, in the June 30 appeal. The appeal notes that “Altamont is not only substantially closer to San Francisco than Hay Road, but it is also significantly closer to the access freeway (5.4 miles from I-580, as compared to 12.4 miles to Hay Road from I-80).”

Recology spokesman Adam Alberti said that “The City has done its due diligence” and that there was “no reason” for the appeal. He added the appeal represents “continuing interference by Waste Management hoping to retain the business of landfilling The City’s waste.”

Deborah Raphael, director of the Department of the Environment, has recommended approval of the landfill agreement in a June 1 letter to the board. The agreement is for the disposal of 5 million tons, which would take about 10 years, at a base fee of $22.73 per ton increasing annually by the consumer price index.

Waste Management has turned up the political heat on the Board of Supervisors, which could vote on the appeal and the landfill agreement early as July 28. The company launched a website dotheeir.com and is funding an ad campaign. “We’re hoping the Board of Supervisors does the right thing,” said Waste Management spokesman Larry Kamer. And if they don’t, Kamer said, “We are taking a very hard look at a legal strategy.”

The landfill contract represents the small piece of the garbage business Recology doesn’t control. Recology enjoys a monopoly of trash hauling in San Francisco based on laws dating back to 1932. In 2012, a measure was placed on the ballot to open up the industry to competition but it was defeated by 76 percent of voters. Recology spent $1.7 million to oppose that effort.

Over in Little Hollywood, Verreos isn’t concerned about the Solano County deal since no matter what happens the trucks would still be departing from the transfer station as they do now. He’s just hopes the company and The City will start listening to their concerns. “If you’re the poor people you just get crapped on all the time,” Verreos said. He added that “the expansion is the impetus for the discussion. We want to work out all the environmental abuse that’s going on right now.”

Recology spokesman Eric Potashner said the company was unaware of the neighborhood’s concerns, noting that it wasn’t until notices about the expansion were sent out that they started to hear about them. “We had not been hearing from folks in the Little Hollywood neighborhood before we set the notices out,” Potashner said. “It’s not feedback we’ve been getting over many years.”

But Potashner said that Recology has begun to “examine all these issues folks are talking about” and will hold a community meeting in September. There has also been criticism about the lack of noticing, and noticing not available in multiple languages, a glaring omission for a neighborhood with a large Asian population.

Verreos has suggested that Recology swap the land for a parcel farther south in Brisbane owned by Universal Paragon Corporation, an idea the real estate company itself proposed some two years ago, according to Potashner. “There’s something to be said about keeping the jobs in San Francisco,” he said, adding that the land swap “has not been vetted.”

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