Will residents raise a stink on garbage?

If you oppose Sacramento trash rate hike, it’s time to make some noise

A city of Sacramento truck picks up yard waste in Woodlake.

A city of Sacramento truck picks up yard waste in Woodlake.

Photo by Foon Rhee

If Sacramento taxpayers aren’t happy with the proposed garbage rate hike, time is running out to speak up.

The City Council is set to vote on the increase, which amounts to $12.33 a month—or a total of 33%—by July 1, 2022 for a family with a medium-sized garbage can. (Update: the city delayed the proposal until Oct. 22 for discussion and Nov. 5 for a final vote).

Following the official public hearing Aug. 28, the Utilities Rate Advisory Committee recommended the rate hike, which covers garbage, recycling and yard waste collection, plus street sweeping.

But the recommendation wasn’t unanimous. The vote was 5-2 after some residents complained that this is only the latest in a series of city rate hikes. As I pointed out in our Aug. 22 issue, if these increases go through, the average bill for basic city services will rise from $115 a month in 2012 to $193 in 2022.

One speaker pointed out that the piling on of rate hikes is happening even though the city in 2013 reduced how often residents receive recycling and curbside yard waste services—so residents are paying more for less.

Other speakers urged that rates should be based more on how often they require garbage pickup, not just on the size of their collection bin. Besides being fairer, they said it would encourage people to produce less trash.

Megan Fidell, one of the two “no” votes along with P. Anthony Thomas, said the 28,000 customers who have the smallest, 32-gallon garbage can—about 20% of households—are subsidizing those with 64-gallon and 96-gallon containers.

At the hearing, city officials reinforced their reasons for the rate hike: increasing labor, disposal and other operating costs; more pickups in a growing city; and new state laws, including one requiring collection of residential food waste. That means a new fee—starting at $8.74 a month—for 11,000 customers who don’t pay for city yard waste service because they get service from homeowner associations or live in condos or townhomes that don’t have yards.

But some residents aren’t convinced. Since my August editor’s note, I’ve received a few emails. One reader said he was outraged by the rate hikes and called this proposal “ridiculous and immoral” because low-income families cannot afford it. He said his bill is $138 a month, even with help from the city’s assistance program, which he called “a joke.”

He said he tried to get a reply from a City Council member to this question: Can residents opt out of city garbage collection?

The short answer: No.

City Code requires residential customers to use the city’s service. So even if you haul your garbage to the landfill, you’ll still get billed.

Despite the concerns over the rate hike, there were a lot of empty seats for the public hearing and only about a dozen residents spoke. And before the meeting, just 124 written protests were sent in from nearly 138,000 notices delivered to residents.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. For it to work, people have to get involved—by voting, by contacting elected officials, by showing up at public meetings.

If there’s no outcry, can you blame council members for going along with the staff and the advisory committee and supporting this rate hike?