In L.A., a rash of com­plaints on trash

Higher rates and missed pick­ups are among res­i­dents’ gripes about the city’s new waste re­moval sys­tem

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By David Zah­niser

Eight months ago, the Los An­ge­les City Coun­cil voted to over­haul the way trash is picked up at tens of thou­sands of busi­nesses and large res­i­den­tial build­ings, giv­ing the work ex­clu­sively to a select group of com­pa­nies.

Back­ers of the pro­gram, cham­pi­oned by Mayor Eric Garcetti, said the new sys­tem would in­crease re­cy­cling, roll out cleaner-fuel trash trucks and im­prove work­place safety for san­i­ta­tion work­ers.

But the new pro­gram, known as Re­cy­cLA, is not be­ing uni­ver­sally wel­comed by the busi­nesses and res­i­dents who will rely on it for their trash pickup. In re­cent weeks, cus­tomers have be­gun com­plain­ing about soar­ing prices, un­col­lected trash and calls to their new waste haul­ing com­pa­nies go­ing un­re­turned.

One of those frus­trated cus­tomers is Janet Garstang, who lives in a 14unit con­do­minium build­ing in West Los An­ge­les. Garstang, pres­i­dent of the home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion, said she has been told to ex­pect an 80% in­crease in her build­ing’s monthly bill — $428, up from $238 — un­less she finds a way to cut back on ser­vice.

“Where are we sup­posed to get that money from? We have a bud­get down to the penny for our ex­penses for this year,” she said.

The com­plaints don’t stop at price. Garstang said her build­ing’s re­cy­clables have gone un­col­lected for five weeks. The new trash hauler, she said, has also so far shown a poor record of re­turn­ing calls and show­ing up for ap­point­ments. “There’s only been one

time when they showed up when they were sup­posed to,” she said.

L.A. san­i­ta­tion of­fi­cials say they ex­pected some glitches in the short term as Re­cy­cLA is rolled out. The tran­si­tion, which be­gan in April and won’t be com­plete un­til Fe­bru­ary, is mov­ing 80,000 busi­nesses and larger res­i­den­tial build­ings — those with five or more units — into a new and com­pli­cated sys­tem aimed at cut­ting the amount of garbage sent to land­fills.

So far, city of­fi­cials say they are field­ing around 90 calls a day about missed garbage col­lec­tion. But they in­sist the is­sue is be­ing ad­dressed promptly. Haulers are learn­ing new routes, meet­ing with cus­tomers and ob­tain­ing key codes for au­to­mated garages, said Dan Mey­ers, one of the san­i­ta­tion of­fi­cials over­see­ing the changes.

“I would ac­tu­ally char­ac­ter­ize the tran­si­tion as go­ing well. And I char­ac­ter­ize it as go­ing well be­cause of the fact that we have al­ready moved a large num­ber of cus­tomers through the sys­tem,” said Mey­ers, who man­ages his agency’s solid re­sources com­mer­cial fran­chise di­vi­sion.

Still, Mey­ers ac­knowl­edged that West Los An­ge­les has been a hot spot for ser­vice prob­lems. Coun­cil­man Paul Koretz, who rep­re­sents part of the West­side, es­ti­mated that his of­fice has re­ceived 200 com­plaint calls about the new sys­tem so far — many of them about un­col­lected trash.

Athens Ser­vices, the trash hauler cho­sen by the city to serve the West­side, tem­po­rar­ily sta­tioned a cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Koretz’s dis­trict of­fice to han­dle calls.

Koretz said he re­mains a

‘It’s a six- to nine-month tran­si­tion. Not ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be smooth ev­ery day.’ — Greg Lough­nane, pres­i­dent of Athens Ser­vices

sup­porter of the new sys­tem. But he ques­tioned whether Athens had enough staff and trucks on hand to han­dle the in­crease in cus­tomers. And he sig­naled that the com­pany will need to re­solve its out­stand­ing cus­tomer is­sues within three months — or risk los­ing its con­tract.

“They need to clean this up fast,” he said.

Asked about Koretz’s com­ments, Athens Pres­i­dent Greg Lough­nane said many of the West­side’s cus­tomer ser­vice is­sues have al­ready been re­solved.

The num­ber of prob­lems that have come up, Lough­nane said, is sta­tis­ti­cally small com­pared with the thou­sands of cus­tomers who have switched haulers with­out in­ci­dent.

“It’s a six- to nine-month tran­si­tion,” he said. “Not ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be smooth ev­ery day. But once we’re through that, I think peo­ple will be very sat­is­fied with the ser­vice.”

The City Coun­cil ap­proved the trash fran­chise sys­tem in De­cem­ber, award­ing lu­cra­tive con­tracts to seven trash haulers. The 10year agree­ments pro­vided each com­pany the exclusive right to op­er­ate in one or more sec­tions of the city.

San­i­ta­tion of­fi­cials say the sys­tem is needed, in part, to help the city com­ply with new state reg­u­la­tions, which will re­quire re­cy­cling in com­mer­cial build­ings and di­ver­sion of food waste from land­fills. But some reg­u­la­tions were im­posed by the city’s elected of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing a re­quire­ment that the city keep an ad­di­tional 1 mil­lion tons of garbage out of land­fills by 2025.

The tran­si­tion has been a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing, with city of­fi­cials push­ing for each of the sys­tem’s 80,000 cus­tomers to have an in-per­son as­sess­ment of their trash pickup needs.

Those as­sess­ments, city of­fi­cials say, can be used to of­fer cus­tomers strate­gies for re­duc­ing their monthly bills.

Cus­tomers who succeed in re­cy­cling more trash will have less ma­te­rial fill­ing their reg­u­lar refuse bins. And if those reg­u­lar bins are emp­tied less fre­quently, the cost of the haul­ing ser­vice will drop, said Mey­ers, the san­i­ta­tion bureau of­fi­cial.

Still, some cus­tomers have chafed at the no­tion that they can no longer ne­go­ti­ate with the com­pany of their choice. Oth­ers say they al­ready had a con­sul­ta­tion with their new hauler — and are ex­pect­ing higher rates any­way.

Todd Schwartz, owner of a Dickey’s Bar­be­cue Pit fran­chise, agreed to add a re­cy­cling bin af­ter meet­ing with a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Waste Man­age­ment Inc., the new trash hauler as­signed to Northridge. But Schwartz fears his busi­ness will con­tinue to gen­er­ate enough reg­u­lar trash to re­quire twice-weekly pickup.

Un­less the res­tau­rant suc­ceeds in cut­ting back on the num­ber of trash days, its monthly bill will climb to $406, up from $260, Schwartz said.

“I’m not too hope­ful,” he said. “I don’t be­lieve we’re go­ing to be able to sus­tain only a sin­gle pickup a week.”

Garstang, the West Los An­ge­les res­i­dent, said she too had a con­sul­ta­tion. But that cus­tomer rep­re­sen­ta­tive strug­gled to fig­ure out how to fit a larger bin in her build­ing’s en­closed trash area.

“He’s tak­ing pic­tures and mea­sur­ing and says, ‘Wow, you do have a prob­lem,’ ” she said. “What am I sup­posed to do? I can’t in­vent a room that doesn’t ex­ist.”

With the pro­gram only a few months old, some city law­mak­ers have be­gun propos­ing changes to the pric­ing sys­tem. On Fri­day, coun­cil­men Mitchell Eng­lan­der and Bob Blu­men­field in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion call­ing for the city to let busi­nesses cut costs by shar­ing trash bins with one or more of their neigh­bors.

An Eng­lan­der spokesman said the changes were pro­posed af­ter busi­nesses com­plained of rates that had dou­bled or even tripled.

“The cur­rent pric­ing scheme does not have enough flex­i­bil­ity to re­flect the full range of needs for area busi­nesses,” the coun­cil­man said in a state­ment.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

A WORKER with Athens Ser­vices moves a waste bin at a 14-unit condo com­plex in West L.A. The head of the home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion has been told to ex­pect an 80% in­crease in the build­ing’s monthly trash bill.

Mel Mel­con Los An­ge­les Times

JANET GARSTANG, who heads the home­own­ers as­so­ci­a­tion of a condo build­ing in West L.A., said her build­ing’s re­cy­clables have gone un­col­lected for five weeks.

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