A Los Angeles City trash truck is seen dumping a yard waste bin. The City Council… (Los Angeles Times )
Residents of Los Angeles' single-family homes have their trash picked up weekly by the city's Bureau of Sanitation, but the vast majority of L.A.'s garbage is produced by multifamily residences and businesses, and their waste is collected and dumped by private contractors. State and city laws govern recycling, dumping and emissions and help to balance legitimate environmental and labor concerns against the efficiencies of the marketplace.
Now the City Council is set to consider two different plans to impose franchise agreements on these private haulers, and there is some merit to a plan for non-exclusive franchise agreements, which would require haulers to meet city rules and get what amounts to city licenses while still competing for customers. The city would gain some additional control, through standards and sanctions, over the amount of garbage diverted from landfills and the safety conditions at recycling centers. Contractors would continue to negotiate and compete for clients, rates and terms and be able to tailor their services to fit the needs of specialized clients, for example film companies that must deal with unused chemicals.
The Bureau of Sanitation instead wants exclusive franchises, which would be awarded by the city, with set collection rates, fees, terms and services. It's a system that more closely mirrors the service city workers deliver directly to single-family residences. Some labor advocates like it better as well, because it favors large haulers with labor contracts that expire, are negotiated and are renewed together. If labor likes it better, so then do many labor-backed members of the City Council.
But an exclusive franchise system would be a bad deal for Los Angeles. It would focus new contracting power in City Hall and would probably require a new city bureaucracy to oversee it. It would eliminate market incentives that keep prices low and service levels high.
Some supporters call an exclusive garbage franchise a natural outgrowth of the Clean Trucks Program at the Port of Los Angeles, in which drivers must drive alternative fuel vehicles and work for companies with port concession agreements. But the issues are different. Many trash haulers already run on natural gas, and the city can impose such requirements on the rest even if it adopts the non-exclusive franchise arrangement. Also, the port is an asset that the city owns and can control; it does not have a similar claim to own or control commercial garbage.
Current haulers operating in Los Angeles are already organized, so the push for an exclusive franchise system is less about workers being protected by union agreements than it is about consolidating power in a particular union that then can pull its strings at City Hall. That's not what Los Angeles needs. The council should opt for a non-exclusive franchise program.