At its May 23 meeting, the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to issue a five-year notification to city-permitted private waste haulers with the goal of exploring options to improve the private commercial waste hauling system by shifting to an exclusive franchise system.


Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce recused herself from the agenda item due to past affiliations with the labor groups involved, which bars her from participating in votes associated with the groups.


“Over the past year, community members from all across our city have stepped up and brought this issue to our attention, demanding that we give it a closer look,” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said during the meeting. “As a major California city, it’s our responsibility to do our due diligence to make sure that we are setting a standard for the region and driving a dialogue on good jobs, a clean environment and a sustainable community.”


Richardson brought the agenda item forward with the support of councilmembers Dee Andrews, Lena Gonzalez and Roberto Uranga. Don’t Waste Long Beach, which is a coalition of environmental, community and workers’ rights organizations and is an affiliate of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, also played a major role in advocating for an exclusive franchise system.


Among Richardson’s major concerns are commercial waste haulers impacts on quality of life, safety and the environment. Abundant, overlapping and poorly coordinated truck routes account for much of his concerns, including air and noise pollution produced consistently. Additionally, Richardson argues that the constant presence of trash trucks makes dense areas, such as those lined with apartment complexes, unsafe for families who might have children playing along sidewalks, near streets and in alleys.


Richardson also cites the fact that Long Beach is without a zero waste plan and that commercial haulers’ recycling rate was a dismal 20%, according to reports submitted in 2013. When compared to the city’s trash program, which boasts a 74% diversion rate, Richardson said an exclusive franchise system would help increase diversion on the commercial side. Robert Nothoff, director of Don’t Waste Long Beach, agrees with this sentiment.


“We’re happy that our city leaders are working to establish region-wide standards in the commercial and multi-family sector,” Nothoff said in a statement following the decision. “In order to be the green city we aspire to be, we need to transform our system here in Long Beach by increasing access to recycling for all city residents and businesses, and establishing efficient truck routing, which will reduce air and noise pollution.”


A number of trash haulers and property owners have voiced concerns over the plan, stating increased prices will be inevitable due to the lack of competition an exclusive franchise system offers. Opposition claims that increased waste hauling rates would be passed off to residents and small business owners, increasing rents and operation costs.


To determine the best course of action to reshape the commercial waste hauling system, Richardson asked city staff to evaluate other cities’ plans, such as the soon-to-be-implemented exclusive franchise system in Los Angeles, evaluate successes and challenges and bring recommendations back to the council.


Additionally, councilmembers agreed that all stakeholders should be part of the process, including businesses, residents, food providers, business associations, commercial waste haulers and other experts. Fifth District Councilmember Stacy Mungo requested that any future system retain some sense of competition to ensure businesses and property owners the best service and price.


A study will also be conducted, which will require council approval if the contract exceeds $100,000. Regardless of the timeframe and findings of the study and staff recommendations, no new plan can be implemented in the city until the five-year notice period expires.


“Some of the systems that were created early on do have some flaws,” Mayor Robert Garcia said during the meeting. “I think we can improve on what other cities have done and ensure that we come up with what I think could be the model system in the country. I’m really hopeful that we can all work together and come up with a really great system.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.