Santa Ana officials are finally revisiting their massive municipal contract for trash collection services — an up to $700 million moneymaker that will impact residents’ rates over a decade and has four companies vying to become the city’s new waste hauler.

The competition was on full display at a special City Council meeting last week, where council members were presented with a marathon of qualification videos from each bidding company that, at times, got theatrical with the background music and editing.

Much of the promotional montage featured company executives and street-level workers in green vests singing praises of their employers and working conditions, in multiple languages.

One video even included a testimonial by Congressman Lou Correa to talk up one bidding company, CR&R Environmental Services, as full of “people who roll up their sleeves and make it happen.” At another point, a medical foundation dedicated to cystic fibrosis threw support for the company.

Council members spent the remainder of the June 22 meeting questioning each of the four companies — CR&R, Athens Services, Waste Management, and Republic Services — at the public podium. A formal vote to select one of them is expected on July 20.

Yet one resident who showed up to last week’s meeting, on behalf of no one that night, emphasized to council members what the trash contract is really about: 

“I do want to remind you guys that while there are four companies behind me trying to get a contract, it’s the people’s money,” said community activist Courtney Calderon during public comment.

The big issue for Santa Ana’s residents, many of whom are working class and less affluent than in other Orange County cities, is the question of how this next contract could affect their trash rates.

Athens Services proposes to charge households the least amount of money, lower than what residents are currently charged, at $17.55 per month for curbside services for the first year of service. 

After that is Republic, which proposes a $22.94 monthly charge. 

Waste Management proposes $22.95 per month. CR&R wants to charge households the most, at $23.71. 

The current curbside trash services rate for residents is $22.57 per month.

For apartment or multi-family residential area trash rates, during the first year of services, Republic proposes charging $562 per month; CR&R proposes $575.62; Athens proposes $597, and Waste Management proposes $630. 

No matter who city officials select, however, trash rates will go up annually anyway over the following five years, increasing 2.5% each year per the contract and special rate adjustments for “Clean City Initiatives.”

That initiative, officials said, is meant to ensure tidier streets and comprehensive cleaning of the city’s right-of-ways, specifically targeting busy thoroughfares, as well as industrial and business districts.

Santa Ana officials would handle the billing for curbside service. Whichever company officials contract with would handle billing for the rest. 

Then there’s the question of how much money each company stands to make. Athens in just the first year could make more than $57 million, while the others could all make more than $59 million.

Over ten years, each company could make between $676 to $702 million in total from the city, its residents and its businesses, according to a presentation by city staff.

The companies’ presentations touched on themes of the environment — a response to an apparent move by Santa Ana officials to use their waste services contract to tackle more city issues like environmental justice, which the city’s now grappling with in its general plan, and sustainability.

“We have invested millions of dollars in technologies that keep us leading in sustainability. And when the technology is available to use electricity to power a collection vehicle, we will be the first to use it,” said Athens Services Vice President Elizabeth Ramirez.

CR&R CEO Mike Silva during the meeting’s public comment portion committed to making Santa Ana “the greenest municipality in the county and an environmental leader.”

The companies have also promised a variety of community benefits in exchange for the contract, such as multilingual community outreach and community scholarships and sponsorships, among other things.

City Council members are set to hold a hearing and vote on selecting one of the waste hauling companies on July 20, with an eventual vote on a finalized contract in August of next year. 

City staff gave Athens the best overall rating of all the waste haulers at a score of 4.1 — a 4 being “above expectations,” according to the city’s criteria based on reference checks. 

Republic ranks the poorest with City Hall at 2.9 — falling within the “below expectations” range determined but almost reaching a 3 “satisfactory” range.

Any citywide waste hauling contract will naturally involve residential trash service, namely the curbside collection of refuse, recycling and organics outside homes, as well as bin and cart collection service for apartments, businesses and industrial areas. 

There’s also waste from government operations, as well, like construction and demolition debris collection, collecting waste from city events, parkway cleanups after garage sales, weekly alley clean ups, and a battery recycling program in city facilities. 

Officials also plan on holding the waste hauler, whichever one they choose to contract with, to community services needs. 

That would include providing roll-off boxes for neighborhood cleanups every year, annual household hazardous waste drop-off events, annual compost giveaways.

Waste hauling services under the new contract would begin in July of 2022, and would last for ten years from there with an option to extend the contract for up to five years at the time it’s up, and then an additional three-year extension option after that. 

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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