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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, Sept. 21 - Sept 27: A big,...

The Agenda, Sept. 21 – Sept 27: A big, odd, garbage battle at City Hall …

… Pits the Sierra Club and a giant landfill operator against our local  trash monopoly. Plus: An insane transportation fee goes to the supes, as does a chapter in the ParkMerced battle … and guess what — SF is only building 11 percent of the affordable housing it needs

The giant Waste Management Inc. and the Sierra Club are on the same side in a garbage battle
The giant Waste Management Inc. and the Sierra Club are on the same side in a garbage battle

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 28, 2015 – I got a flier in the mail last week telling me that “San Francisco’s Garbage Plan STINKS!” It was tagged: “An important message from the Sierra Club.”

Well: The local chapter of the Sierra Club is mostly right on environmental issues most of the time, so I took a minute to read it, then made a couple of phone calls – and realized I was in the middle of a major San Francisco political issue involving millions of dollars and a very influential local company that has a legally mandated monopoly on garbage and recycling collection in the city.

And the whole thing comes before the Board of Supes Tuesday/29.

Here’s what’s going on:

Recology company has the contract to pick up the city’s refuse. That goes back to the early part of the last century, when a collection of what were then known as “scavengers” got together and created a company that convinced city officials to give it the singular right to collect trash in San Francisco. There is no competitive bidding for the contract, and every time someone has tried to suggest that the deal ought to go out for bid, that effort has been crushed.

Recology, a local operation with employee ownership, has deep political roots and isn’t afraid to lobby and spend money to keep its sinecure.

Right now, Recology (under its contract) diverts a significant amount of what people toss on the streets: The blue bins get recycled, the green bins become compost – and unlike the folks in Oakland, SF residents pay primarily for the black bins, which go to landfill.

But they don’t go to Recology’s landfill – they go to a dump in Altamont, in the East Bay, that’s owned by another big company, this one a national operation, Waste Management Inc.

WMI, based in Houston, charges Recology a fee per ton for dumping trash at the landfill. That contract, however, goes out for bid – and this time around, Recology convinced the city that it would be cheaper for the company to dump black-can garbage at its own landfill, in Solano County.

It’s definitely less expensive, in part since Recology would be doing business with itself – the annual cost to stick with WMI would be an additional $13 million, Recology’s Eric Potashner told me. That’s money that he said would be better spent on recycling and diversion efforts.

But the Sierra Club notes that the Solano landfill is a lot further away – so the diesel trucks that carry the garbage are going to put on more miles, which means more emissions –a total of 2,000 more tractor-trailer truck miles a day.

And, of course, there’s the self-dealing issue: If you are making money dumping your own trash in your own landfill, do you have an incentive to dump more trash?

Potashner says you can’t dump too much more: The contract is capped at 50 trucks a day, so the actual number of trucks (and the non-diverted garbage they carry) involved won’t increase. But yes, they will be driving further.

Michelle Myers, the director of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, told me that the Altamont landfill pays a per-ton open-space mitigation fee to the county – because the Sierra Club went to court and forced the issue. The Solano County site has no such fee, in part because it’s big and can fill up a lot without adding to the loss of open space.

There were, apparently, two fliers that went out in the mail, one to Sierra Club members and one to people like me, who are on some sort of progressive voter list. They’re exactly the same, except that one postage bill was paid for by the Sierra Club and one by WMI.

“They approached us about doing a mailing,” Myers said. The local club is pretty busy, she said, and didn’t have time to do its own design, so WMI put together both fliers.

The issue before the BOS: The city did a negative declaration, meaning that the new plan requires no environmental impact report. A group in Solano that doesn’t want more garbage trucks coming through appealed that decision.

So the supes aren’t voting on the deal itself, just on whether the city needs to do a full EIR. And the politics of that debate will be fascinating.

 

I don’t have all that much hair left, and I have been tearing what remains out every time I have to talk about the city’s new Transportation Sustainability Fee. This is the deal that says: Hey, it costs the city $87 a square foot to provide Muni service to new office developments – but we’re going to charge the developers $18.

The Planning Commission heard this, and suggested that maybe we should bump the amount up from about 20 percent of cost to maybe a third. And now it goes the Board of Supes Land Use Committee Monday/28.

Let me say it again: We know how much it costs to provide Muni service to new buildings. We have the legal right in California to make developers pay for that cost. And while Muni is struggling with too many riders and not enough buses, the mayor is choosing to ask developers only to pay a tiny fraction of that cost.

Oh, and by the way: The old fee that we used to charge covered not only the capital cost of new buses but the operating cost of hiring people to drive them. The new fee would pay only to buy equipment, not to run it.

This is, to try to be subtle about it, totally nuts.

The meeting starts at 1:30pm in the Board Chambers.

 

Oh, and the ParkMerced Project is back before the board. Not the whole project, which was a huge battle four years ago, when a company that has gone through several owners but it now controlled by Robert Rosania, who is also trying to build the Monster in the Mission)  but a slice: The first efforts to subdivide lots to build new condominiums.

It’s a complicated – really complicated – legal issue. A group of ParkMerced residents is appealing the subdivision, arguing that the issue wasn’t properly noticed (and that, interestingly, it’s still a bit unclear who really owns the property). If you love this kind of intrigue (and I do, I do) see if you can follow this, from the appeal notice of attorney Stuart Flashman:

There is a considerable degree of question about the actual ownership of the properties included in these subdivision approvals. My clients’ attempts to obtain a complete history of the title for the project parcels have been thwarted by the fact that the Assessor/Recorder’s office does not appear to have in its possession the microfiches for the 1930’s and early 1940’s when crucial changes in ownership, including transfer of title to Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, would have occurred. The lack of these documents means that there is a cloud over whether actual ownership of the parcels is validly held by the current purported owner/developer of the property. This cloud must be cleared up and resolved before any actual construction of the project begins. Otherwise, literally hundreds of millions of dollars may be wasted. Much more recently, on November 10, 2014, three deeds were recorded: (DOC-2014-J970573-00) transfering blocks/lots from Parkmerced Investors, LLC, a Delaware LLC to Maximus PM Mezzanine 2, LLC a Delaware LLC; (DOC-2014- J970573-00) transfering the same block/lots from Maximus PM Mezzanine 2, LLC a Delaware LLC to Maximus PM Mezzanine 1, LLC a Delaware LLC; and (DOC-2014-J970573-00), transfering the same blocks and lots from Maximus PM Mezzanine 1, LLC a Delaware LLC to Parkmerced Owners, LLC, a Delaware LLC. The authorized agent on all of these deeds and for all of the companies listed was Robert Rosania – President of all four companies. This filing of three deeds for the same property within minutes on the same day is highy unusual and the purposes of these transfers needs to be investigated and explained.

Of course, the deeper issue is whether Rosania ought to be able to demolish a lot of rent-controlled housing on the promise that he will keep the replacement units under rent control. That was a major divisive issue four years ago – and it will underlie anything the board does this week.

 

And speaking of housing: The City Planning Commission will get a report Thursday/24 stating that the city is only a third of the way toward its goal of ensuring that 33 percent of all new housing is affordable.

The department memo notes that as of this fall, the proportion of affordable to market-rate housing is at 11 percent.

That is what one might call a major policy failure on the part of this mayor. The commission meeting starts at noon, room 400 City Hall.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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48 COMMENTS

  1. Exceeding the word count of the articles you comment on is pathological and trolling by anyone’s definition (except your own, Spam).

  2. Commentary, commitment and constructive criticism are only seen as “trolling” by those want a one-sided discussion with no dissent.

  3. Well, then, good thing Tim has a dingle-berry like you clinging to his ass day and night. You troll him with the intensity of a depraved stalker.

    Spam is 48 Hill’s frustrated little bitch. No life. Just sad.

  4. So sad to see the trash that collects across Hwy. 101 from the Recology plant. Saw a lot of it floating in the the bay due to today’s extra-high tide. You can see this shit if you take the Executive Parkway exit going north. During the king tides last winter, piles of garbage that had accumulated on the shore of the wetlands were pulled into the bay.

  5. Well, in the long term there will be no rent controlled units in SF. Because every year there are a few thousand less units. And eventually the beneficiaries of them will be outnumbered by those who resent a minority getting a sweet deal. Rent control is welfare for boomers.

    In the long term, there is no debate about this.

  6. Yes, the voters cannot get behind extorted fees to fund Muni, because the voters hate Muni a lot more than they hate those who provide homes and invest for success and prosperity

  7. You have not demonstrated any clear link between a new job being created and extra services needing to be funded.

    Cities compete for new job and inward investment precisely because new jobs are good for the bottom line of a city.

    I worry far more about increases in homelessness, mental disease, crime and unemployment – that is where the real costs are. But Tim is silent on that.

  8. I fail to see why this matters. Once a property passes into the ownership of a corporation, partnership or offshore entity, there is no way to know who owns it or when it changes hands.

    As long as the property adheres to local law, it is of no consequence who owns it. The law applies equally to everyone.

  9. Habitat for Humanity isn’t going to pay out like any old developer, c’mon.

    Apartments around Brotherhood Way are going to really require added transportation, so I’m not sure it’s a great example.

    But yeah, there’s plenty of development, I just don’t think there’s a direct correlation or proven track record that Muni will use the funds wisely and people will benefit.

    We’re arguing over a line item that’s usually meant for appropriation.

  10. They have a document (Developer Agreement) that had pages of ammendments, to make it “iron-clad” but can be refuted in court by Rosania or another developer. Which means any promise per current Costa-Hakwins and Palmer vs. 6th puts the agreements in jeopardy… So promises made may never be kept long term. Rosania comes from a long line of Predatory Equity Investors in Parkmerced and East Coast Predatory sites. That’s the reality….

  11. If we are only talking new jobs like LYFT/UBER or Techie jobs as the only thing that matters, existing communities, matter, so do existing neighborhoods, green-house gasses, and quality of life concerns., So why are we not requiring these new jobs to have electric vehicles, or taxing vehicles adequately for mileage above 5,000 per year, or per size of vehicle. seems this would solve the transit taxes on new business creation, and also help address lots of SFMTA/SFCTA transit concerns financially.

  12. There was a reduction in services, on Parkmerced routes, Lake Merced Routes, and SFSU_CSU reduction in shuttle bus services, causes more grief on the westside than ever before… and this I prior to development.

  13. SFSU-CSU and Stonestown along with new developments at 800 Brotherhood Way (no EIR) and Habitat for Humanity housing on Sagamore… plenty of development taxes to spread around…. to fix the 700 million to billion dollars needed on transit in the district, along with doubling at a min. the 70-80 million from parkmerced owners, to a more reasonable amount contribution wise on transit… pay to play

  14. Sure and as long as you don’t criticize the Koran or stage a revolution you don’t even have to work for a living.
    On the other hand, if you incite a revolution in the press you will be flogged to death or beheaded.

  15. I know no one who thinks this makes sense. Building more affordable housing, yes. Destruction of an existing community for mostly new market rate housing, no. Not to mention transportation issues.

  16. The Park Merced story is an interesting one. Title documents missing from the Recorder/Assessor’s office? I wonder who else might be affected by this? Three title changes on one parcel in the same day? That sure looks strange. Will the board take up any of this stuff?

  17. You idiot, he didn’t criticize Recology AT ALL.

    I criticize WalMart because of their policies and not Costco. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite for criticizing one mega store and not all mega stores. Same same.

  18. Nobody can read this site or SFBG before it and come away with any view other than that Tim doesn’t like Recology or PG&E. He never criticizes SFWater, tellingly.

    And I am fine with that as long as he sticks to bias about the public versus private debate. But criticizing Recology for having a “monopoly” without criticizing public monopolies shows more than bias. It shows hypocrisy and a double standard.

    Tim is fine with monopolies as long as they “his” monopolies.

  19. You are a piece of work. Tim doesn’t criticize Recology at all. He was discussing the issue of the landfill location and the Sierra Club’s issues with their plan to start hauling to Solano County. And he accurately describes Recology as “an Francisco political issue involving millions of dollars and a very influential local company that has a legally mandated monopoly on garbage and recycling collection in the city.”

    He never uses the word monopoly again.

    Your contempt for Tim and all things good in the world are well documented by you here on this blog under various usernames.

    Your point is irrelevant.

  20. Well, I don’t know the blog’s perspective as you do, but it seems you’re pointing out the obvious shortcomings in a policy based on predictive studies, or any knee jerk formulas. You’re raising good points, but it also hammers home for me this problem we have of blurring agendas. There’s no real city planning occurring here. There’s no expertise when it comes to infrastructure. All of this stuff is cyclical.

  21. He often cites the alleged “success” of SFWater to demonstrate why public power would be a good thing. And Tim never criticizes SFWater in the way he does with PG&E and Recology.

    My point is that Tim only uses the monopoly criticism when the monopoly happens to be private.

  22. You make a good point in remember that it’s development that’s building the Transbay terminal. I didn’t hear anyone oppose that on the basis that we’d be better off with more trains instead.

  23. “And may be less likely to take a Muni bus, preferring to walk, bike or take a private shuttle.”

    This is true, but there’s an effect that happens to recent transplants where they have to learn how miserable Muni is first hand. Many of them arrive with the fantasy that we have Sunshine, a great nightlife scene, loads of tolerance, and great public transit.

  24. Let’s take jobs, because I think that’s a huge factor.

    Specifically, outside hiring. There’s been a flood of new hires from outside of the Bay Area in the last 6-12 months, and they’re moving here whether or not there’s housing, not because of a wealth of new housing opportunities.

    The jobs in question and people that can afford the new buildings aren’t from people connected to growth within the development sector.

    Jobs, or a lack of jobs in many fields also contributes to people cutting costs, and trying to rely on Muni. Other factors there are the increased costs of parking, and aggressive traffic ticketing policies.

    Tons of factors here, but hey, it doesn’t serve the narrative of the moment, so write it off.

  25. Tim get over something? He still complains that we built BART, the Moscone Center and redeveloped The Fillmore. He still laments that McGovern and Mondale lost the 1972 and 1984 elections 49-1, that Milk and Moscone got shot and that Reagan was ever president. Heck, he is still whining that we all ignored the Raker Act over 100 years ago.

    When did Tim ever get over anything?

  26. “It’s a complicated – really complicated – legal issue…”

    …that you have been on the wrong side of numerous times in courtroom/bureaucratic entanglements..

    Get over it. Move on, bro.

  27. Yes, a net increase in population leads to more consumption of city services. It’s just not the one-for-one ratio as Tim seems to think.

    Tim also complains that many of these new residents do not live in SF. If he is correct, then those new residents do not add to the load on city services either.

    Anyway, we are investing a lot in transit. Central Subway bisects the area where many of these jobs are, and the city hasn’t had to find much money for that. It’s state and federal money.

    We’re getting a spanking new higher-capacity bus station. BART is getting new trains and its network is being extended. SFO has two newish terminals. OAK has a new BART connector. HSR may be coming. And we’re building bike lanes up the wazoo.

    Evidently the money is there even though almost nobody thinks that Muni uses money wisely.

  28. One aspect of development fees is to fund infrastructure, like MUNI, but also including sewers, parks, schools, fire stations ,etc. While the # of MUNI trips may not directly correspond to the number of increased jobs, the need for other services seems unaccounted for.

    And anyway, jobs is not the sole factor in MUNI trips. There are the extra 30?k residents in toto – which involves after-work trips, weekend trips, and trips from ferry/BART-to-job trips. Plus the unemployment rate has dropped from 10% to 3%, so even current residents oughta be taking MUNI more.

    I wouldn’t place the blame on Tim. This is not rocket science (or maybe it is – trying to read the report had my head in the clouds), its the geeks at MTA who should know to account for various factors like these. Are developers really that overburdened?

  29. You are agreeing with me that Tim is wrong. Tim equate one new job to one new daily round-trip Muni commute.

    I gave five reasons why that is a gross exaggeration. You are not disagreeing with four of those, and partly agreeing with the fifth.

    The fee before the Supes take into account all of that, and explains why the fee is 20% and not 80%. Because 80% of new jobs do not add to the load on Muni.

    Tim loves that Muni is a monopoly and always wants to throw more money at it. Yet he criticizes Recology because it is a monopoly.

  30. Everyone pretty much agrees that the Park Merced project makes sense, and you are busy arguing about “process”.

  31. Oh lordy, it is tomtip (Sam), dominating this blog by responding to every post on this blog as if it is his own.

    tomtip (aka Sam) wrote: “And if the net population doesn’t increase then why would there be any more load on Muni?”

    But the population has increased at by more than 30,000 since 2010, so why bother with your argument?

    tomtip (aka Sam) wrote: “So EITHER new jobs do not increase the load on Muni OR there is not as much displacement as Tim claims.”

    OK, focus now because I’m about to shatter your world with what comes next: Some people newly employed by SF businesses move to San Francisco. Among those who do move to San Francisco, some buy places and actually evict residents. Others move into newly-developed buildings. And yet others move into apartments where the previous tenants were evicted, often via immoral rent increases by greedy landlords like you. There are many other examples and anyone who was actually interested in thoughtful discussion would have easily understood what Tim was talking about.

    So there you have it.

  32. One can reasonably argue the exact opposite. If the real problem is displacement, as Tim often argues, then we can create new well-paying jobs without the net population increasing.

    And if the net population doesn’t increase then why would there be any more load on Muni? In fact, well paid knowledge workers probably pay more taxes and consume less in city services then the poorer people who leave SF. And may be less likely to take a Muni bus, preferring to walk, bike or take a private shuttle.

    So EITHER new jobs do not increase the load on Muni OR there is not as much displacement as Tim claims.

  33. Other than jobs, residents and tourists, what else can contribute to our public transit being packed? I guess a reduction in service/capacity could contribute to that, but there isn’t any evidence of that.

    More Jobs and more residents are directly related to development. There are more people living in San Francisco. Some of those newly arrived people use city services.

    Nothing surprising here.

  34. The Trinity project on Market Street successfully replaced controlled units, so clearly there is a process that works. Another legal question is whether a legal argument can be made that any new build can be controlled, as state law normally disallows that.

    The doubt cuts both ways but, either way, the new homes will be a lot better than the old hones.

    Why does Tim always assume that it is possible to build 100% of the subsidized housing that he claims the city needs. What other expensive city on the planet builds cheap homes for everyone who wants them?

  35. Yes, the figures that Tim cites appear to assume that every new job in a new building creates one additional round-trip daily Muni trip. This is a huge exaggeration for all kinds of reasons:

    1) Tim doesn’t account for jobs lost
    2) Tim doesn’t account for cases where the job is filled by an existing SF resident who already takes Muni every day
    3) Tim doesn’t account for the fact that many new homes are close to where the jobs are, enabling workers to walk or bike to work
    4) Tim doesn’t account for those who leave SF but fully counts those who arrive

    In other words, the estimate assumes the impact is dependent on the GROSS number of new jobs, and not on NET effects which is much more accurate, and of course much lower

  36. Am I the only one disturbed that every time people talk about “affordable housing”, it’s not actually about affordable housing? The percentages miss the point.

    I’m also not following this idea that development is the biggest factor of why our public transit is packed.

  37. Does the city have a “promise” from Rosania to keep the replacement units under rent control or does it have a legally binding contract with him? Those are two very different things.

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