San Diego fans measure waste, naysayers clash over the impact on competition, low-income people

A key supporter and key opponent of a ballot measure that would eliminate free garbage collection for single-family homes in San Diego disagreed Friday over how the measure is described and how it might affect low-income families.

They also disagreed during a forum organized by the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board about the potential benefits of Measure B, banning private truckers from single-family home garbage collection, and whether a city with so many previous financial scandals should do so one can be trusted to collect millions in garbage fees.

The measure, which could result in about $25 in monthly fees for single-family homes that previously had free garbage service, comes at a time when many homes are being hit by higher gas and food costs, said Haney Hong, executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

“It’s a tough time,” he said. “It behooves our public leaders to be sensitive to the daily trials and tribulations of the average San Diego.”

Councilor Joe LaCava, who co-chaired Measure B with Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, stressed that no fees would be collected until 2024 at the earliest. He also suggested that the Council could postpone any increase if inflation hasn’t abated by then.

The measure would also generate at least $50 million a year in new revenue for San Diego that could be spent on programs to empower low-income families and neighborhoods, LaCava said.

Hong said another flaw in Measure B was that it would enlist city crews as exclusive single-family home garbage haulers, which would prevent San Diego from shifting that work to private haulers in the future without another public vote.

“I’m not saying public is better or private is better, but I’m saying competition makes everyone better,” Hong said.

By giving city crews an essential monopoly, it will remove the downward pressure on garbage fees that would come with competition, he said.

LaCava pointed out that under state law, the city cannot charge more than it costs to provide garbage services, while private truckers have the authority to charge more — whatever the market allows.

“The competition doesn’t always play out the way people think it does,” he said.

He also said it would be disruptive to replace city crews with private trucking companies, noting that San Diego recently bought dozens of new garbage trucks and hired many new drivers to comply with a new state organic waste recycling law.

“I’m confident that they will deliver the best service and price in the future, and that’s why I think competition is not the right answer for good governance,” LaCava said.

Hong said it’s hard to trust San Diego to start raising millions for the garbage service after years of billing problems at the city’s water department and several other scandals.

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These include the city’s underfunding of employee pensions 20 years ago, earning San Diego the nickname “Enron by the Sea,” and its troubled 2016 takeover of the office tower at 101 Ash St. in a deal embroiled in court battles since.

LaCava said city leaders learned from past mistakes and the officers responsible for those scandals have left.

“The people who made these decisions are no longer in decision-making processes,” he said. “We have a whole new generation of people who are extremely sensitive to what the past looks like and how much it still affects us.”

Hong and LaCava also disagreed on whether Measure B is accurately described by supporters and whether the description on the ballot is clear enough.

The language on the ballot doesn’t mention fees, but instead asks if the city should be able to reimburse the cost of trash and recycling so that all city dwellers receive a comparable service.

Critics say the single-family home fee hike, which is virtually certain if the measure passes, is being deliberately obscured by language so as not to lose support from them.

LaCava said the coverage helped people understand that Measure B will mean new fees for single-family home garbage disposal.

“The word is definitely out there,” he said. “The average voter understands exactly what that means and what’s behind it.”

Hong said supporters also exaggerate how unique it is for a city to offer a free garbage service, pointing to other major cities like New York collecting garbage from every household across the city.

According to LaCava, San Diego is unique in offering free garbage service to one group — single-family homes — but charging almost everyone else.