Vote yes on Prop A for competitive bidding for garbage and against Recology monopoly


As a reporter for the old Redwood City Tribune in 1965 or so, I got a call one day from the late  Luman Drake, then an indefatigable environmental activist in Brisbane.  “Bruce,” he said, “you are good at exposing scandals on the Peninsula, but you have missed the biggest scandal of them all. Garbage, garbage in the Bay off Brisbane, garbage alongside the Bay Shore going into San Francisco.”

He then outlined for me, his voice rising in anger, how the scavengers of an early era had muscled through a longtime contract to dump San Francisco’s garbage into the bay alongside the Bay Shore freeway.  And, he said, they are still doing it. Why can’t you fight it? I asked naively.

“Fight it, fight it,” he replied. “The scavengers are the most powerful political force in San Francisco and there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it.” I checked out his story, then and through the years, and he was right.  Everyone driving in and out of San Francisco could watch with horror  for years as the scavengers kept dumping San Francisco garbage into a big chunk of the bay.  (Note the oral history from Drake and then Mayor Paul Goercke and others who fought the losing fight for years to kick out the scavengers from Brisbane.)

Five decades later, the scavengers are still a preeminent political power in San Francisco. The scavengers (now Recology) have operated since 1932 without competitive bidding, without regulation of its high residential and commercial rates, without a franchise fee, and without any real oversight. Finally, after all these years as king of the hill, Recology’s monopoly is being challenged by Proposition A, an initiative aimed at forcing Recology for the first time to undergo competitive bidding and thereby save city residents and businesses millions of dollars  in rates and service.

Let me say up front that I salute former State Senator and retired Judge Quentin Kopp and Tony Kelly, president of the Potrero Hill Boosters and the Guardian’s candidate for District l0 election (Potrero Hill/BayView/Hunters Point). They have taken this measure on when nobody else would, without much money or resources, and up against  a $l.5 million campaign by Recology and enormous, nasty political pressure.  I also salute those who publicly signed on to their brochure: Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, San Francisco Tomorrow, SF Human Services Network, David Bisho,Walter Farrell, George Wooding, Irene Creps, Alexa Vuksich, the San Francisco Examiner, SF, and the Guardian. 

I was delighted to get a Yes on A brochure at my house in West Portal and find that Kopp and Kelly et al had money enough to make a strong statement in a strong  campaign mailer.  Kopp and Kelly persuasively summarized the key points for A and against more galloping  Recology monopoly in the brochure.  Meanwhile, the  Recology forces have been  using  gobs of money, a massive mail campaign, robot calls, and deploying the kind of political muscle their predecessors used to keep dumping garbage in the bay off Brisbane for decades. Since the Yes on A camp has trouble cutting through the cannonading and the flak, let me lay out the A  arguments verbatim from its brochure.

Question in the brochure:  “Why is Recology spending millions to buy this election? Recology has contributed $l,580,292.70 against Prop A. (Form 460 SF Ethics Commission.” Answer in the brochure;  “So they can raise your garbage rates after the election! ‘San Francisco Prepares For Recology to Raise Garbage Rates’ (Contract is Proof Recology Plans to Hike Garbage Rates Following Election’”) Then they laid out l0 reasons to vote Yes on A.

1. “71 Bay Area cities have competitive bidding or franchise agreements for garbage services. Because San Francisco doesn’t, residential trash collection rates have increased 136% in the last 11 years, with another massive increase coming after the election! We pay more than twice as much for garbage and recycling as San Jose, a city with twice the land and about 400,000 more people.

2. “The garbage collection/recycling monopoly now grosses about $220 million per year from the city’s residents and businesses, without any regulation of commercial rates.

3. “How did we end up paying so much? In 2001 the monopoly requested a 52% rate increase, Department of Public Works staff recommended 20% and the then DPW director (now Mayor) Ed Lee granted a 44 %rate increase. That’s why the Examiner said: ‘no-bid contracts generally make for dirty public policy, and this includes…The City’s garbage collection monopoly…’

4. “Don’t believe the monopoly’s 78% recycling rate claim backed only by its puppet city department. A former Recology recycling manager has testified under oath that fraudulent reporting, excessive state reimbursements and even kickbacks to and from Recology employees are behind this bogus claim.  Another ‘whistleblower’ has revealed that even sand removal from the Great Highway was included in this 78%.

5. “With a far smaller population, Oakland receives $24 million each year as a franchise fee, which supports city services and prevents other tax and fee increases.  San Francisco receives zilch from the monopoly holder in franchise fees for our General Fund.

6. “Proposition A is on the ballot through citizen/ratepayer time and effort, in the face of intimidation and harassment by the monopoly’s agents and its multi-million dollar campaign against it.

7. “Proposition A is simple: it authorizes the Director of Public Works and the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Analyst to prepare competitive bidding regulations for residential and commercial collection, recycling, and disposal, by modifying an outdated 1932 ordinance.

8. “Like all other competitive-bid city contracts, the winning garbage service bid will be ratified by the Board of Supervisors without any political tinkering.  The winning bid will contain the best deal for city ratepayers.

9. “If the monopoly is truly the corporation portrayed in its expensive campaign to defeat Prop A, it would easily win every bid.  As the Examiner stated last year, ‘…contracts won by competitive bidding are always better for the public in the long run.’

10. And then the list of endorsers ‘and tens of thousands of other ratepayers.’”

Kopp and Kelly et al are providing a major public service by challenging an arrogant monopoly of an essential public service and keeping alive the concept of competitive bidding on city contracts in San Francisco.   I drink to them from a pitcher of Potrero Hill martinis. Vote early and often for Prop A.  B3


Recology has 0% to do with the 78% waste diversion in San Francisco. It all has to do with the mindset of its residents.

I don't mind paying $20/month for garbage if it goes through a competitive bidding, and a full disclosure of how the money is spent.

With Recology spending $1.5M against this campaign, you know they lover their contract with us, to the point where we'll be paying for that campaign as well. Spend the money on raising salaries, not campaign ads.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

market forces. And that includes our exemplary trash collection and recycling programs in San Francisco. If it ain't broke then don't fix it!

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

The voters were asked countless times to approve it but the mandate was never there. Bruce isn't happy but then that couple of million profit he picked up for his building, thereby elevating him to the one percent club, somehow assuages the pain.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

Bruce's argument has always been that the power supply is too important to expose to the tyranny of market forces in San Francisco. Yet somehow he doesn't feel the same standard applies to waste removal and recycling. It's the "do as I say not as I do" approach to policy. The Guardian loves the marketplace - except when it doesn't.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

All the usual libertarian trolls are spectacularly silent on this one. I guess they can't admit that Bruce is right. Either that, or they like corruption.

Which one is it trolls?

Posted by Troll666 on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

any enthusiasm to quibble.

But then when did Bruce ever want a private entity running anything? He's hardly taking on a subtle, complex, nuanced position here worthy of rigorous debate.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

I just looked at San Jose's rates, on the city website and they pay $29.95 monthly for 32-gallon garbage collection and a green cart is another $4.35/month.That's $34.30/month for comparable service. I just looked at my Recology bill and I have 32-gallon service (that already includes a green cart for $27.91 month. So how does San Jose have rates that are 1/2 that of SF?

Oakland is $27.98 a month.

Just trying to figure this one out. Seemed like the easiest fact to check the rates---yet I can't find evidence that our rates are higher than a similar-sized city.

Maybe the franchise fee is an issue, but as far as the average ratepayer, I'm not sure what the outrage should be about?

Posted by Doing the math on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 7:54 pm

How is $29.95 a month HALF of Recologies $27.91 a month? Your progressive math skills seem lacking. Moron.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

I just looked at San Jose's rates on the city website and they pay $29.95 monthly for 32-gallon garbage collection and a green cart is another $4.35/month.That's $34.30/month for comparable service. I just looked at my Recology bill and I have 32-gallon service (that already includes a green cart) for $27.91 month. So how does San Jose have rates that are 1/2 that of SF?

Oakland is $27.98 a month.

Just trying to figure this one out. Seemed like the easiest fact to check are the rates---yet I can't find evidence that our rates are higher than a similar-sized city.

Maybe the franchise fee is an issue, but as far as the average ratepayer, I'm not sure what the outrage should be about?

Posted by Doing the math on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 7:56 pm

San Jose pays a total of about $100 million for its garbage and recycling services, San Francisco pays $220 million.

San Jose has more people, and a much larger land area. San Francisco ... has a lot more accounts, apparently. And unregulated commercial rates. And another rate increase on the way after the election, according to the story in the SF Appeal recently.

Posted by Tony Kelly on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

cost burden of city services on the residents of SF?

Tony - do you also believe city services which aren't subject to competitive bidding, like those provided to the homeless, should be given to the lowest bidder as well?

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 04, 2012 @ 8:58 pm


I've read the arguments in Favor of A, and as a Recology employee - I just can't buy many of them.

1. Why would Recology ask for such a big increase in 2001? Well, the City of San Francisco decided that it wanted to be a World Class City in terms of Recycling. The plan (with the blessing of the City and County of San Francisco) was to use the increase to

A. Build a state-of-the-art recycling facility at Pier 96, which would allow residents to no longer have to sort out through cans/bottles/paper/etc. - and put them all into one bin. This "intermix" of recyclings, at the time was a major step in terms of recycling.

B. Re-fit or buy new vehicles to allow collection of both recyclables in one truck as well as waste that goes to the landfill (i.e. - less Recology trucks on the road, and the ability to collect both types of waste in one vehicle).

C. The ability to roll out and pay for an increased level of service by having Curbside Compost pick-up. San Francisco was the first major city to have curbside compost pick-up.

Having these things cost money - so while San Francisco is at the middle of the pack for garbate rates in the entire Bay Area - it is also getting a higher level of service as most other communities don't have the curbside compost pick-up (except now in San Mateo starting in 2011, which wanted that badly and fired their former hauler and chose Recology).

2. I can't speak on the commercial regulation, although I do believe there are discounts on businesses that recycle, and I haven't heard any businesses complaining about their rates - again, they receive MUCH MORE in services than San Jose.

3. The explanation provided in Section 1 covers this. Again, SF wanted to be a World Class City in terms of Recycling - and we have achieved that.

4. "Puppet City Department". Come on? I can't comment on the former employee as I don't know anything about him (besides what I have read in the papers) - HOWEVER, if his employment was terminated in 2008 - how would he have anything to do with the recycling rate in 2011? The rate was around 65% when he left the company. It doesn't make any sense...and I don't believe that the SF City Government is Recology's "puppet". They do a VERY THOROUGH audit of Recology's financial information every 5 years to determine the rates that are charged...

5. I guess San Francisco could charge a Franchise Fee. What would happen is the Rate Payers would pay this with an increased garbage bill as ANYONE bidding on the contract would have to account for that in their bid. This would be a pass-through "tax" to the ratepayers that would go to San Francisco. I had always thought of Quentin Kopp as a Libertarian type. Perhaps I was wrong.

Currently, the service level in SF is higher than that in many parts of the US - and at a comparable cost. Seems reasonable to me.

6. I believe the campaign filings have the campaign around 1.5 Million, so "multi-million" is not factual. I would be curious as the harrassment.

In all honesty, as an employee - I have not been asked to donate a penny to this campaign. I've been told of volunteer opportunities, but have in no way been forced or co-erced to participate. As a matter of fact - it was made VERY CLEAR that volunteer work was to be done on personal time and NOT on Company time.

7. Not so simple. It also requires San Francisco to build a Transfer Station. Which neighborhood will volunteer for that (Prop A requires it to be built in San Francisco). Recology's transfer station is in San Francisco (primarily, although the County line bisects the Recology Property with about 70% in SF County and 30% in San Mateo County).

How do we pay for this Transfer Station (hint: higher garbage rates)?

8. What criteria is to be used in this bid? Level of service? Compost pick-up? This is not very clear on what is to be used - but, besides that, I can agree with the comment.

9. "If the Monopoly (I think Mr. Kelly means Recology) is truly the corporation portrayed in its expensive campaign to defeat Prop A, it would easily win every bid."

WOW - this is a VERY FALSE STATEMENT, because Mr. Kelly worded Proposition A so that RECOLOGY COULDN'T WIN EVERY BID!!! The way the Proposition is worded, Recology would be MANDATED to lose part of their business, as no one company could have all 5 parts of the contract.

So, as much as Recology could want or try - and even if it DID make the lowest bid on all 5 parts of the contract - it COULD NOT have it.

Mr. Kelly - really, if you wanted to have the lowest bidder and to make it fair - you shouldn't have that Provision in Proposition A now...again, this statement is so not fair nor true.

10. That might be true. I don't know who is endorsing Proposition A.

Like I said - I can't understand the logic of this ballot initiative. I have worked at Recology for over 5 years, and find it an ethical company that practices what it preaches. The people here care about the environment, they are all owners of the company (it is an employee owned company), and truly do the best for providing top notch service to San Francisco. I am proud to be an employee of this company, and feel that we are making many innovations in the recycling world and that San Francisco gets a HUGE benefit from that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2012 @ 12:28 pm