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Los Altos Hills Council fear: Will rubbish rates rub residents wrong way?

Sticker shock. It’s the term Los Altos Hills City Council members used over and over again Thursday night to reflect how they thought residents might react to future waste removal rates on the horizon.

While a new, potentially 15-year franchise agreement with GreenWaste Recovery is still being negotiated, the rates and terms proposed at last week’s council meeting suggest hikes for basic services and charges for services that were once free.

“It’s going to be a significant change,” said Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan. “Customers have an expectation here given the long history and the contract we have currently enjoyed.”

In 2008, the town and GreenWaste entered into an exclusive franchise agreement for the collection of garbage, recycling and compostable materials, followed in 2015 with a three-year extension set to expire June 30. Under the current agreement, residents are charged a monthly base rate for their garbage bin depending on its size and allowed unlimited recycling and yard trimmings in separate containers. Given the town’s rural nature, many residents live at the end of long, narrow private roads or shared driveways. Those who require pickup beyond 100 feet of the public right-of-way pay extra fees for on-premise collection.

But rising labor costs, the needed replacement of equipment, new legislation banning organic waste from landfills and the implementation of stricter recycling standards are placing increasing financial burden on haulers and service fees need to increase to reflect the cost of doing business, said Emily Hanson, GreenWaste director of business development and communications.

A la carte menu

The way the town’s current franchise agreement is structured means residents who don’t take advantage of the unlimited nature of recycling and yard trimming disposal are subsidizing those who do. To remedy the discrepancy, the new agreement is designed as an “a la carte menu” in which customers “pay as they throw,” according to Hanson. Residents would be limited to three bins: a 96-gallon recycling bin, a 96-gallon yard trimming bin and a mixed compostables bin (containing both trash and food waste), the size of which would determine the monthly price to collect all three. That base figure would increase by 10.25 percent the first three years and then reflect the consumer price index thereafter. Extra bins would cost extra money. On-premise collection beyond 10 feet – approximately the distance a garbage truck’s mechanical arm can reach – would cost extra.

“It really brings an awareness back home of how can we reduce waste on the front end so that we aren’t discarding those materials?” Hanson said. “It also reduces that customer-to-customer subsidization, which is highly beneficial.”

While council members agreed residents should be encouraged to rethink their consumption habits, they expressed concerns about an end to unlimited yard waste collection, the designation of private versus public roads and the potential for piecemeal charges to add up to one hefty bill.

“If I want to get the service I have right now, it’s going to be a 100 percent increase,” said Councilwoman Michelle Wu. “There’s a lot of very, very steep hidden fee increases in this contract.”

“Given that this reflects what it costs for them to do that, kind of tells you what kind of deal you’ve been getting that you can’t get in any other town,” said Mayor Roger Spreen.

In correspondence emailed to town staff, resident Allan Epstein described the elimination of on-premise pickup for yard trimmings – not available unless trimmings are mixed into the compostables bin – as possibly dangerous.

“Transporting large, heavy 96-gallon yard trimming bins up and down long or steep driveways will be a hardship, particularly for elderly or disabled,” Epstein wrote. “A homeowner may elect to eliminate drive-on or walk-on service as a cost savings, but eliminating noncurbside yard trimming bin pickup is not practical.”

The council directed town staff to review their suggestions and continue negotiating with GreenWaste. Staff will present the outcome of those negotiations as a draft franchise agreement at a future council meeting.

To review the rate proposal and supporting documents, visit tinyurl.com/LAH-GW-Negotiations and scroll down to agenda item 5A.

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