A controversial plan to carve the city of Los Angeles into 11 new and exclusive commercial trash hauling franchise areas was approved unanimously by two City Council committees Wednesday.
The matter now goes to the full council for a vote despite objections from some business interests and apartment owners, as well as the city's top budget guru, Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.
The plan is backed by a powerful coalition of labor and environmental groups, who say it will boost recycling, reduce truck traffic, and improve working conditions in a hazardous industry. The city's sanitation department also backs the plan.
Hillary Gordon of the Sierra Club was one of a number of environmentalists who spoke during a 41/2- hour hearing and hailed the franchise plan as "absolutely better for the environment."
Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said the exclusive system would also be better for workers. "We have health and safety laws now, but they are abused daily by the waste and recycling industry," she said.
Many trash companies and business interests spoke against exclusive franchises, saying the city could achieve the same recycling and environmental goals while maintaining a more competitive trash hauling market. Some also have asserted that exclusive franchises are a gambit by organized labor to represent more refuse workers.
The city picks up trash from single-family homes and small apartment buildings. But privatized trash hauling for large apartment buildings, factories and businesses involves about 150 companies whose trucks crisscross the city. The firms collect about $224 million a year in Los Angeles.
"Competition is what drives the solid waste industry in Los Angeles," said Ron Saldana, head of the Los Angeles County Disposal Assn. "Kill it and you will be dependent on moving forward … with a new, inefficient bureaucracy."
Speakers on both sides of the issue said the current commercial trash system needs improvement.
Santana, the city's CAO, has backed a retooled, non-exclusive plan, saying it could produce similar benefits and provide the cash-strapped city up to $30 million as soon as next year.
But at a joint session, six council members on the ad hoc waste and environmental committees disagreed, after hearing lengthy comments on the trash-hauling needs of movie studios, practices of other cities and how the city can meet a 2025 goal of recycling up to 90% of its waste.
Councilman Paul Koretz said creating better regulated, exclusive franchise territories would set a standard that the rest of the country can emulate. Council members Richard Alarcon, Jose Huizar, Paul Krekorian and Dennis Zine agreed.
Council member Tony Cardenas asked for a "minority report" suggesting the full council also consider a non-exclusive franchise system. It is "disingenuous to approve an exclusive franchise model on the false premise that it is the only way to achieve high environmental standards," he said in a statement.