The Petaluma City Council voted 5-2 on Monday to award a contract to Petaluma Refuse & Recycling in exchange for more than $12 million in revenues over the next decade and a half.
Last year, the city amended its municipal code in order to terminate the existing garbage contract, which expires in 2016. In exchange for giving PR&R exclusive rights to haul the city’s solid waste, the company will pay Petaluma $500,000 in the first three months of the contract, followed by $750,000 each subsequent year.
Petaluma Refuse & Recycling, an affiliate of the powerful Ratto Group, which calls itself the Wal-Mart of garbage haulers, will also pay the city a $250,000 Road Impact fee.
That cost will be passed on to residents, resulting in a rate increase of 6.5 percent starting July 2013.
The idea is to generate cash for the city, including money for repairing streets, which are heavily impacted by not only cars, but garbage trucks.
Councilmembers Teresa Barrett and Michael Healy voted against the contract--for different reasons.
Barrett said she was fundamentally opposed to the deal because it amounted to “special interest legislation,” while Healy said he thought it was unfair to pass the costs of road repairs onto residents via rate hikes.
“We should be asking voters upfront to fund street repairs through a tax instead of just imposing them on ratepayers,” Healy said.
Barrett, who has opposed the plan since it was introduced last year, said changing the city’s municipal code in order to give PR&R a contract without taking other bids was undemocratic.
“I understand why the city has done what it has done…because I know the city is desperate for money,” Barrett said. “But I don’t think desperation should be an excuse to skirt around democracy. It’s wrong to accept a no bid contract…this is not the way for cities to run.”
But Mayor David Glass and other council members defended the plan as having the potential to finally fund road repairs instead of just complaining about them.
“Nothing is certain and nothing is forever, but you take whatever is the best deal you can negotiate at the time,” Glass said. “We can’t want to fix potholes, but not want to ask anyone to pay for it. You can’t have it both ways.”
Vote on the new contract was scheduled for October, but was delayed by a letter from an attorney representing two environmental groups opposed to the project.
No Wetlands Landfill Expansion and Petaluma River Council say that continued hauling of garbage to the Redwood Landfill in Novato, and the potential to start hauling compost to the location, threatens the surrounding wetlands.
The groups had called for an environmental review of the agreement, but the city’s attorneys said no review was required because there was no change to the contract.
The groups also accused the Ratto Group, which handles garbage disposal for eight out of nine Sonoma County cities, of “hundreds of violations” of the federal Clean Water Act. These include alleged discharges of pollutants such as lead, zinc, aluminum, copper, iron, oil and grease into the Petaluma River and the Laguna de Santa Rosa.
A spokesman for PR&R declined to comment when approached by Patch at Monday’s meeting and abruptly left the room. But in a letter to the city, PR&R sought to distance itself from the Ratto Group, saying it was a "completely separate and self-capitalized company."
What do you think of the new garbage contract? Is it a big deal that the city changed its municipal code to get it through? Sound off in the comments.