Santa Ana residents will soon see their trash rates slightly increase after city council members awarded Republic Services to haul the city’s waste over the next decade — a vote which went against a city staff recommendation. 

The Aug. 17 vote by the council was 6-1, with Councilmember Jessie Lopez voting “No.”

Officials say the trash contract could vastly improve the cleanliness of the city’s streets, public spaces and alleyways thanks to new citywide cleanliness initiatives baked into the waste hauling agreement. 

Republic will charge $22.94 monthly for curbside trash pickup at single family homes, compared to the current rate of $22.57. The company will also charge $562 per month for multi-family residential trash service — apartments and condos — compared to the current equivalent rate of $448, according to city staff.

It wasn’t without competition among four trash companies clawing for the city’s largest and massively profitable contract, which was seen at the council’s Aug. 17 meeting. 

The companies, at times, either shot back at scrutiny or questioned city staff’s analysis. 

Councilman David Penaloza wondered aloud whether city staff skewed some of the data behind their recommendation — a notion the city’s Public Works Director, Nabil Saba, denied. 

“What happens is that, as we were hearing good things about the vendors, we started hearing bad things about vendors. And that’s where I think the conversation kind of degraded itself,” said Mayor Vicente Sarmiento during the meeting. “And, I’m really sad about that.”

That’s not what the conversation around the city’s waste “should have been about,” he added. 

Criticisms of the trash companies derailed the overarching goal of keeping the city clean, Sarmiento said.

“This conversation should have been about the fact that we want to change how and what the environment looks like here in Santa Ana,” Sarmiento said. “Not just picking up waste bins — but cleaning up alleys, cleaning up bus benches … all these other debris we have in medians and all over the city so we can be proud of our city.”

Republic is estimated by staff to make more than $694 million in revenue over the decade of its agreement, taking over for the city’s longtime contractor, Waste Management, which lost its bid to continue its lucrative business in the city. 

All bidding companies proposed an increase in multi-family residential trash rates, though Republic proposed the lowest increase. 

City staff proposed an entirely different bidding company for the contract, Athens Services, which proposed the lowest rates for single family home trash pickup.

It was a recommendation questioned by some council members because it didn’t come from the council ad hoc committee formed to study the waste issue and proposals. 

Athens was also the only company of the four bidding ones to not have unionized employees. 

Jim Smith, political coordinator for Teamsters Local 396, said his union had “serious concerns” about Athens’ representation of themselves as an — and Smith made air quotes — “‘employee friendly company.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Despite their assertions to the contrary, their total compensation package, including wages, health benefits, retirement benefits, paid time off, etc., is far lower than that of Waste Management, Republic, and CR&R. It is not even close,” Smith said during public comment.

Athens representatives said they would give workers the option for labor representation. 

“It is disheartening to hear folks try to disparage our business and our company and those who represent us,” said Elizabeth Ramirez, vice president of government affairs for Athens, at the meeting. “While unionization was not criteria in (the city’s request for bids), we will remain committed to honoring that request and we are willing to have that as part of our final agreement.”

Mike Silva of another bidding company, CR&R, said he and his company were “a little surprised and heartbroken by the current staff report” recommending Athens:

“As you remember, we were ranked number one six months ago by staff and the consultant,” he said. “On cost, the discussion of rates in the staff report is a little unbalanced and confusing.”

He added: “The pricing they’re talking about is single-family homes … They (staff) skewed the rates so that the vast majority of the revenue is on the apartment owners. You’ll see that as you do the analysis.”

Environmental issues — ideas of making Santa Ana a greener city — have also played a key role in the city’s new contract discussions. 

Yet, Silva said, “virtually no mention of that is in the staff report. CR&R is by far the greenest company in the business.”

Penaloza, while questioning Athens representatives, voiced concern about the location of Athens’ landfills and potentially long distances traveled by waste hauling trucks.

Councilmember Thai Viet Phan during the meeting said not having a strong environmental component in the next trash contract is “unacceptable.” 

She also voiced concern about staff’s analysis of the rates: 

“When I was looking the rates, we had three haulers very close to each other and the other (Athens) who was low regarding single family residential.”

“How that happened is because commercial rates are a lot higher, and also for multi-family residential,” where Thai said she, as well as residents who are elderly or living in mobile home parks, live. 

“I don’t think it’s fair for our seniors and businesses to subsidize single family homes who often have higher income every year.

Councilmember Phil Bacerra said the lowest cost “isn’t always the best option,” and also voiced the need for a strong labor component to the next agreement.

For the first time, under the new agreement,  apartment and condo properties can get bulky items picked up — to a limited extent, 40 times per year — free of additional charge.

In a news release following the council’s vote, the city listed off other services Republic will provide: 

  • Proactive and on-call litter cleaning and bulky item removal from the streets.
  • 250 trash containers citywide on heavily trafficked sidewalks and other public rights-of-way.
  • Sidewalk litter and debris cleaning service.
  • Sidewalk power washing.
  • Washing and sanitizing all trash bins once per year upon customer request
  • $50,000 annually to the City to start a Clean Business Initiative.
  • Providing up to 14 public trash cans for each of the City’s 64 neighborhoods, if requested by a Neighborhood Association. These will be emptied weekly with residential waste pickup.
  • Collecting illegally dumped items within 24 to 48 hours of being reported. 
  • Donating $200,000 per year to select community events and charitable institutions located in Santa Ana, and donate $10,000 annually to sponsor City events.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the council vote to select Republic Services was unanimous. It was not, and Councilmember Jessie Lopez voted “No.” We regret the error.

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