San Francisco’s landfill contract thrown out amidst legal challenges

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerNot over yet: Opponents hope The City will drop its Yuba City agreement with Recology permanently after complaints about the fairness of the bidding process and environmental issues

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerNot over yet: Opponents hope The City will drop its Yuba City agreement with Recology permanently after complaints about the fairness of the bidding process and environmental issues

A lucrative garbage contract approved last year in a deal to transport San Francisco’s waste 130 miles away to a Yuba County landfill has been trashed amid three lawsuits alleging improper bidding and inadequate environmental review.

Facing these legal battles, The City and its garbage hauler, Recology, signed an agreement Monday to terminate the 10-year, $112 million contract, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in a 9-2 vote. The contract termination effectively ends the lawsuits.

The dispute concerns where San Francisco’s trash will be dumped after The City’s current landfill contract expires in 2015. The City currently uses an Altamont landfill owned by Waste Management, which lost out to Recology’s proposal to haul the trash via rail to Yuba County.

Waste Management subsequently sued The City, alleging that the contract bidding process had been improper.

Both The City and Recology publicly defended the process during the Board of Supervisors hearings last year.

Seen as a victory by contract opponents, The City and Recology terminated their arrangement in an agreement dated Nov. 26 and will now participate and share in the costs of an environmental review, which is expected to take one year.

“It’s a victory for all of us,” said Richard Paskowitz, a founder of Yuba Group Against Garbage, one of the groups that sued The City and had called for such a study.

A spokesman for Recology, however, said the San Francisco waste hauler remains optimistic that it will ultimately secure the landfill contract.

“Recology looks forward to moving ahead with a new landfill agreement after the project has been fully vetted and, as we expect, environmentally cleared,” spokesman Adam Alberti said.

But Paskowitz said he hopes the setback will prompt San Francisco to reconsider and see it for what it is, a “dumb idea.”

The landfill contract also ignited a debate about The City’s overall garbage industry. Recology, with deep ties to labor unions, has a virtual monopoly over San Francisco’s recycling and trash hauling business. And thanks to laws dating back to 1932, it has not had to compete for the job.  

The landfill component is the last piece of the local garbage market Recology does not control.

Political activist Tony Kelly and retired judge and former Supervisor Quentin Kopp attempted to open up the entire garbage contract to competition with a ballot measure last June. But 76 percent of voters defeated the measure, which Recology spent $1.7 million to oppose.  

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPoliticsRecologyWaste Management

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