An Orange County Superior Court judge brought Santa Ana's garbage war to an end Thursday by ruling that the school district is entitled to hire its own trash hauler despite the city's exclusive franchise agreement with Great Western Reclamation.
The city teamed up in March with Great Western and sued family-run 5 Star Rubbish, to which the school district had granted a contract to haul waste from the district's 50 schools. Judge Thomas N. Thrasher later ordered the school district added to the suit.
Dolores Otting, owner of 5 Star Rubbish, said Thrasher's decision in its favor was a victory for small business and free enterprise.
"I'm just happy that we have a court system in Orange County that still continues to work for the small people," Otting said. "That's how I basically feel, that the people won this time--that big business can't buy everything."
The city and Great Western had argued that 5 Star and the school district violated a city ordinance granting exclusive trash collection rights within the city to Great Western, which has hauled the city's garbage for three decades. It is a subsidiary of behemoth Waste Management Inc.
They also argued that by putting its trash contract out to bid, the school district hobbled the city's ability to comply with state recycling laws set forth under the Integrated Waste Management Act.
But Thrasher's summary judgment said the school district is a separate entity that has the right and responsibility to put its own contracts to bid. He also said that all local districts share the responsibility of meeting state recycling mandates.
The ruling brings to an end a standoff between city and school officials over whether the district could arrange for its own trash-collection service. After months of haggling last year, the district ultimately decided to go with the advice of its attorneys and awarded Otting and 5-Star Rubbish the $200,000 annual contract on Jan. 11.
School officials, who say they are saving nearly $900,000 over a five-year period by contracting with 5 Star, applauded Thrasher's ruling.
"We feel really encouraged by what we got," said Bill Moncure, the district's director of purchasing.
"If it would have gone against us, it would have cost us a lot of money. It's taxpayers' money, and that's really the kids' money, bottom line. We can convert that to textbooks and things that we really need in schools."
Great Western Reclamation President Robert J. Coyle said the only reason Otting was able to underbid Great Western for the school contract was that her company does not meet city requirements for recycling.
"The real question is, who is responsible for meeting recycling requirements?" Coyle said. "If the school district has its own responsibility to meet recycling law, I think both the city and the school district and Waste Management Inc. will understand that and work toward bidding in that direction."
City Atty. Edward J. Cooper vowed to appeal Thrasher's decision.