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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.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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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