The Los Altos Hills City Council July 16 unanimously approved an amendment to the town’s 15-year franchise agreement with GreenWaste Recovery to reduce garbage collection rate increases for the coming year.
Instead of a 9% increase to rates during fiscal year 2020-2021, which began July 1, residents’ bills will reflect a 2.45% increase.
“Staff made this request in recognition that likely these are difficult economic times for everyone with the COVID-19 restrictions on the economy,” said City Manager Carl Cahill.
The original agreement approved by the city council provided for 9% increases to base collection rates each year for the first five years of the contract, which started July 1, 2019, followed by yearly increases that reflected the Consumer Price Index, estimated at 3%, thereafter for the remaining years of the contract. With last week’s decision, the second 9% increase is deferred until fiscal year 2024-2025.
Despite the temporary relief, the contract as a whole has been sharply criticized by some residents whose monthly bills skyrocketed when council members decided fees should be based on an a la carte menu; residents who use extra services such as on-site collection and additional refuse carts are now charged for those services specifically, so the cost is no longer subsidized by all residents paying the same amount. Others are upset after comparing the contract with the ones GreenWaste subsequently signed with Woodside and Portola Valley, because residents in those communities pay less with additional carts for recycling and yard trimmings included in the price.
“I think the garbage contract was one of the biggest fiascos that our town has entered into, a 15-year contract that had no competitive bids,” said Hills resident John Swan. “So I’m not sure where we go from here, but I strongly suggest that we try to get out of this contract that was incredibly, well, Carl, you screwed up big-time. End of comment.”
“Thank you, John,” Mayor Michelle Wu chirped in response.
When offered a chance to respond to Swan, Cahill said he and his staff did in fact do their due diligence by circulating a request for proposal, or RFP, but GreenWaste’s competitors expressed only mild interest. He said he is forming a subcommittee of financially savvy residents to conduct a comparative analysis of the town’s contract with those of Woodside and Portola Valley.
“If there is something patently unfair in the agreement, I think GreenWaste will work with us to fix that,” Cahill said. “But we don’t have that information yet. So stay tuned.”
Undergrounding designs sought
The city council is prepared to spend up to $300,000 toward the design for undergrounding utilities between the El Monte fire station and Altamont Road, a high-priority area due to the presence of emergency services. Council members voted unanimously July 16 to advertise for professional consultant services through RFPs for the project, a small step toward testing the feasibility of potentially burying utility lines throughout the entire town for safety and aesthetic purposes. They plan eventually to conduct a formal survey to gauge residents’ appetite for a utility tax that could fund the townwide endeavor.
If the council decides to accept an RFP bid and proceed with a design, the expense will be funded by between $400,000 and $450,000 available through the California Public Utilities Commission’s Rule 20, which requires companies like PG&E to allocate monetary credits toward the replacement of overhead wires with in-ground ones.
“We would be reimbursed in the future once the design is complete and then also keeping in mind, that if at that time we don’t have all the funds available to construct the project, we can always shelf that project,” said Nichol Bowersox, public works director. “We would still be reimbursed by PG&E and then we can proceed once we decide what funding mechanism we’d want to fund the project.”
“So we have nothing to lose at this point?” Councilwoman Kavita Tanka asked Bowersox.
Based on recent projects, PG&E estimates undergrounding costs between $1,000 and $2,000 per linear foot. There are approximately 5,000 feet of wires between the fire station and Altamont Road.