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Villaraigosa to Seek Hike in Trash Fee

The mayor wants to hire more police with the extra revenue. The city has one of the lowest fees in L.A. County.

April 12, 2006|Duke Helfand and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, caught between a tight budget and a promise to expand the city's police force, will recommend hiking trash collection fees and using the money to pay for more officers.

The mayor has kept the proposal under wraps, but is preparing to unveil it today. The city would, for the first time, charge to haul trash from residences -- tacking the charge on to existing equipment fees.

Currently, Los Angeles residents pay $11 a month for their trash containers as well as vehicle purchasing and maintenance costs. But the city subsidizes the overall cost of hauling garbage away to the tune of $200 million to $230 million a year.

A Department of Public Works study in 2004 found that of 81 cities in Los Angeles County, the amount that the city of Los Angeles charged homeowners for trash pickup -- the $11 equipment fee -- was lower than all but three.

Santa Monica now charges $26.40 a month for a standard 68-gallon trash can; Pasadena charges $18.71 for a 60-gallon container. In Rolling Hills, on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, residents pay $69.23 per month to have their garbage picked up twice a week. Residents there are not required to put their garbage out by the curb -- the waste collectors get it from a designated spot in each homeowner's yard.

Los Angeles officials would not discuss the precise amount of the hike that Villaraigosa will recommend to the City Council. The money from the fee hike would be dedicated to expanding the Los Angeles Police Department and overcoming the attrition that the department expects in the coming fiscal year.

Sanitation equipment fees now appear on residents' Department of Water and Power bills along with charges for sewer service, utility taxes, and water and electricity use.

Officials familiar with the mayor's proposal emphasized that it would apply only to the residents of single-family homes, along with those residing in multi-dwelling houses of three or four units or fewer. That exempts apartment residents, who in effect pay for their trash collection through rent.

The idea of charging Los Angeles residents for trash collection is not new.

Last spring, City Administrative Officer Bill Fujioka floated the idea of phasing in a $27-per-month garbage fee over a five-to-10-year period to help close the city's budget gap, which the mayor says is now about $270 million.

That proposal never made it beyond the talking stages, as it came in the final days of the runoff campaign between then-Mayor James K. Hahn and Villaraigosa -- neither of whom was going to stump on a fee hike. The council wasn't wild about the idea.

Villaraigosa's latest recommendation is sure to revive some of that debate.

"I've certainly heard it brought up by the mayor and his staff, but I don't know if it will be in his budget," Council President Eric Garcetti said. "It's clear that we've been subsidizing trash at the expense of a safer city for years."

Garcetti added: "I think there will be some loud voices in some corners of the city and the media, but I hope that we can have an honest discussion and people realize this is what their neighbors [in other cities] are paying. Most people understand they need to pay for what they get."

The mayor's office and the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment polled neighborhood council members earlier this year with 41% of respondents saying that they were willing to see their trash collection fees increased by $7 a month.

Although LAPD expansion is popular among the city leadership, the fact that Los Angeles residents pay no trash collection fee has long been a source of civic pride. Many residents have argued that if the city were more efficient with the money it has, it wouldn't need to impose a fee.

"I'd have to closely examine it -- in the San Fernando Valley, taxation is always a sensitive issue," Councilman Dennis Zine said. "This is the first I've heard of it. I have no problem finding more dollars for more officers, but the problem is that new officers aren't showing up at the door of the Police Academy."

Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton stands to benefit most directly from the proposal, since the money from increased fees would allow other city funds to go toward police officers.

On Tuesday, he acknowledged that even a hike in city spending for police would not solve the LAPD's recruiting troubles -- in recent months, its Police Academy classes have been no more than two-thirds filled.

"It's ironic that we finally have money to hire, but we're having trouble finding people to hire," Bratton said.

The LAPD now has 9,314 officers.

Given the higher trash fees charged regionally, Los Angeles officials said, the idea of hiking the city's sanitation rates has cropped up periodically, as far back as the 1950s.

"We've had discussions in the past," said Rita Robinson, the director of the Bureau of Sanitation. "There were many proposals, but none of them made it to council because there was never any mayor willing to step up with it."

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