Details of the Press Conference and the Committee on Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Hearing Held on February 6, 2018

The recycLA program received extensive review and discussion on Tuesday, February 6th.  The day started early with an early morning press conference held at 9:30 A.M. by Councilmembers O’Farrell and Bonin.  Our champion Councilman Bonin, along with Councilman Koretz, had previously initiated a motion to review ways to terminate the existing contracts with the 7 waste haulers that had been awarded contracts under the recycRLA program due to their horrendous service performance levels.  At the press conference, Bonin expressed his outrage with the rollout of the RecycLA program and made assures that the service issues and extreme cost increases would be investigated and remedied.

Councilman O’Farrell then addressed how the recycLA rollout was the worst that he had seen since the implementation of the Department of Water & Power rate increases a few years ago, and that he had no idea that the prices for recycLA would be so high at the time the program was originally approved.

Councilman Bonin then invited the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to speak during the press conference.  Our Executive Director, Daniel (“Dan”) M. Yukelson took the microphone and spoke about the flood of calls that we had received from our members in regard to cost increases and all of the service problems being experience by its members since the rollout of the program 6 months ago.  Mr. Yukelson also pointed out the injustice of this program for those owners under rent control in Los Angeles, which limits rent increases to 3% per year while the new waste hauling program gave haulers a 3.05% increase effective as of the beginning of this year.

Later that day at 1:00 P.M., the Committee on Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice for the City of Los Angeles held a hearing solely focused on reviewing the recycLA program.  Attendance was immense as the hearing room was packed to capacity and 2 overflow rooms were also full (approximately 240 people in all).  More than 50 speakers signed up to speak to the Committee and voice their concerns about the recycLA program.

At first, there were several speakers from environmental groups, food banks and a couple of tenants urging the Committee to continue with the recycLA program based on the claimed benefits of reduced air pollution (as the trucks were required to be converted to natural gas), reclaimed food for the homeless and recycling of plastics.  A few of the speakers recognized the service problems experienced during the rollout of the program and urged that they be addressed.  The remaining speakers were from a variety of rental housing providers (including several AAGLA members), condominium owners, home owner associations, various groups or associations representing commercial and multifamily housing, and of course, AAGLA all testifying to the multitude of service problems (missed pickups, lack of consistency of pickups, no bins, interference with street sweeping, incorrect billing, loss of parking spaces, etc.), excessive fees (access and distance fees) and the outrageous price increases being charged by the waste haulers (increases from 100% to 600% and even in the 1,000’s percentages in a few cases).  Emotions ran high as speaker after speaker plead for help and relief from the City.  The Committee then went into closed session (e.g., public excluded) to discuss possible legal remedies the City had available for the haulers poor performance and excessive charges. After about 1-hour, the Committee came back into regular session (with the public).

Once back in session, the Committee then heard from the haulers all of whom reported on the difficulties they had faced while expanding their service, routes and equipment into their new, much larger territories.  They claimed that they experienced significant increases in capital and operational costs necessitated due to buying all new natural gas trucks, hiring more drivers and support staff, and paying the City their share of a $35 million per year franchise fee.  In addition, the haulers claimed to have thousands more customers than had been originally estimated by the City at the time the haulers responded to the City’s request for proposal. They also claimed that they had to take on new recycling responsibilities that required more than originally anticipated new staff, advisors and, in some cases, new facilities and/or subcontractors.  The City’s Bureau of Sanitation then reported that the number of complaint calls (a/k/a, “inquiries”) had been significantly dropping since December 2017.

The excuses offered by the haulers raised the ire of all of Councilmembers on the Committee. Councilman Krekorian led the Committee’s passionate response and stated flatly that he did not want to hear any excuses from the haulers as they were the “winners” of these valuable contracts and that many other trash companies had gone out of business because of this program. Committee Chairperson, Councilwoman Martinez, echoed Mr. Krekorian’s sentiment and stated, “no more excuses”.

Councilman Koretz then stated that he believed that the haulers were price gouging by charging such huge increases in hauling fees.  Mr. Koretz stated that he had anticipated an increase of only 25% to 35% to cover the costs of the natural gas trucks, recycling efforts and staffing.  However, he had no idea that 100% to 600% (or more in some cases) increases would be the result.  This was a comment echoed by other Councilmembers on the Committee whereby while they knew the pricing formula when they originally approved the program, they did not necessarily realize that these enormous price increases would have resulted.

The Committee adopted several action items for the haulers, including many new reports regarding performance and pricing.  Of note is a new multifamily working group to discuss the location of bins among other issues (requested by Councilwoman Martinez), and a discussion group to review the issue of fees charged to affordable housing providers, on rent controlled units and non-profits (requested by Councilman Cedillo).

The legion of voices that spoke at the Committee hearing about the extensive service issues and excessive pricing under the recycLA program were heard loud and clear and had a major impact on every Councilmember at the hearing.  However, we will need to remain vigilant to ensure that changes are made in both services and fees.  AAGLA will remain your zealous advocate on this important issue and we will continue to bring you updates as they occur.