Trashy decision by council

As one former city councilmember put it last week, following the Chico City Council’s vote to “deregulate” trash hauling, the decision effectively tossed out “25 years of progress.” Blindered by free-market ideology, the four-member council majority rode roughshod over the advice of city staff, the wishes of Chico’s two trash hauling companies and basic logic to make a decision that is mind boggling in its short-sightedness.

For one, the decision, which would allow an unlimited number of trash haulers to operate in Chico, threatens to undercut efforts to reduce the amount of waste going to the county landfill. Since 1989, municipalities in California have been under the gun to reduce their landfill waste streams by 50 percent. While it still has not reached that goal, Chico is very close—close enough to stave off the state’s threatened $10,000-a-day fines. This reduction has come about only because the city intervened in what was previously an unregulated business to force the creation of recycling and green-waste programs.

Second, opening up Chico to more garbage companies means adding more garbage trucks, increasing both damage to the streets and noise pollution.

Third, there is no evidence that deregulation will result in lower rates and much evidence that it will result in shoddier service. Butte County, which had one of the last deregulated trash hauling systems in the state, recently instituted regulation largely for that reason.

For the past five years, two companies have shared the trash hauling service in Chico. To avoid price fixing, any increase in rates had to be approved by the City Council. Neither of the companies was complaining, and in fact both supported the existing arrangement, which calls for reasonable rates similar to those elsewhere.

As the council was told last week, trash hauling is more a utility than a competitive business. Chico has only one electric company, one cable company and one water company, and for good reason: Their respective delivery systems are too complex and expensive to duplicate. Trash hauling, with its high fixed costs, is a similar business.

The council majority was in no mood to listen to reason last week. Told by city staffers that more trucks would hurt the streets and deregulation would hamper Chico’s push to meet state trash-reduction mandates, Councilmember Rick Keene, the point man in this ideological crusade, simply refused to believe it.

Then, amazingly enough, he answered doubters by saying that new permit holders would be held to strict safety standards and somehow be structured to continue to meet reduction and recycling requirements. In other words, the companies would be heavily regulated in every aspect except rates and number of permits. As we said, the move defies wisdom and logic.