State organic waste mandate raises concerns

By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The city amended its solid waste agreement with Waste Management last week to establish an organic waste recycling program in compliance with CalRecycle regulations. The program includes a 7.55-percent increase in fees for all commercial and multifamily properties, regardless of whether they produce organic waste, and is a step toward mandated organics recycling city wide by 2022.

Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1826 in 2014. The bill required jurisdictions across the state to establish recycling programs for organics – meaning food, wood and landscaping waste as well as food-soiled paper waste – beginning in 2016. The city received a temporary exemption due to its remote location, but “ultimately we were able to make a breakthrough with the county in transporting organics to Bakersfield,” said HF&H consultant Rob Hilton.

Hilton said that the county will transport local organics waste to a compost facility in Bakersfield where it will be primarily sold to local valley farmers.

Members of the public raised the concern that the program was another “unfunded mandate” impressed upon the city by the state.

“Are we going to get any money from the state in our efforts for doing this?” asked Ron Porter during public comment. “It’s an unfunded mandate – [the state has] to pay. If they’re not funding it, they cannot hold you accountable or fine you for it. We need to stop this.”

Hilton said that the legislation “certainly feels” like an unfunded mandate, but the state regularly “works around the constitutional requirements” by arguing that by funding the program through taxpayer money, there’s no cost to the city.

“I don’t like this either,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden. “But understand we have no control over it. We were told this is the way it’s going to be.”

Porter criticized the council for not “getting off their duffs” and fighting the mandate. He pressed councilmembers to consult with the League of California Cities to see if any other jurisdictions are putting up resistance to the legislation.

Councilmember Wallace Martin — the sole opposing vote to the amendment — requested that the council postpone the decision for one meeting to give him a chance to discuss the topic with the league, but was cautioned by City Manager Ron Strand that the city could be subject to $10,000-a-day fines for not being in compliance by July this year.

“I think we have a responsibility to protect our public,” said Breeden. “I don’t want to bear the burden of a $10,000-a-day fine because we want to fight a Don Quixote-type fight.”

“I urge the council to rethink this because the $10,000-a-day fine is absolutely false,” said Mike Neel during public comment. “I would like to hear that stop being repeated. It’s gauged by the size of the city and certain factors. It’s never $10,000 a day.”

He asked to hear a more accurate figure from Hilton, who didn’t have an exact number, but shook his head in agreement that it wouldn’t be that much.

“This is another one of those deals where all of the sudden we have a tight schedule and boom, boom, boom – we all ‘go to jail’ if we don’t act tonight,” said Martin. “[Give it] one more meeting and get a chance to get a little more input. If it’s tonight, I vote ‘no.’ If we could get a little more information I might actually vote ‘yes,’ but tonight – no.”

Martin also criticized the plan for increasing the rate for all businesses and multifamily properties when only an estimated 107 users generate more than four cubic yards of organic waste.

“The reason it’s affordable is because everybody is paying for it,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower. He expressed concern that the county already neglected one of its recycling programs at the local landfill — an overflowing container for recyclable cardboard that is never emptied.

“I assume there’s legal obligation for the county to make sure this happens?” he asked.

Hilton said that would definitely need to be looked into.

“We’re all going to be in the organic waste disposal business by 2022 — the whole community,” said Strand. “We have to work our way into this program, there’s no way out of it.”

Story First Published: 2018-03-02