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Foes of L.A.'s new recycling program are pushing for a repeal at the ballot box

Foes of L.A.'s new recycling program are pushing for a repeal at the ballot box
Valley Village resident David Hernandez, center, speaks on the steps of City Hall about a proposed ballot initiative to repeal the city's RecycLA program, which covers roughly 70,000 customers. Opponents say the program has caused trash bills to skyrocket. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Opponents of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's problem-plagued recycling initiative launched a campaign Thursday to dismantle the program, saying they want voters to replace it with a simpler trash system.

Valley Village resident David Hernandez said business owners, landlords and others have begun collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would give commercial refuse customers more than one company to choose from for their trash pickup.

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The proposal would repeal core elements of the RecycLA program, including requirements that trash companies supply their customers with recycling containers and pay their workers higher wages.

"I'm not going into this … thinking that it's going to be easy. It's going to be seven days a week for the next four months," said Hernandez, one of the proponents of the repeal and a frequent candidate for public office — most recently, lieutenant governor.

RecycLA was championed by Garcetti and approved by the City Council, which awarded contracts to seven trash companies in 2016. Under the system, each hauler received the exclusive right to operate in designated sections of the city.

 
  (Los Angeles Times)

Since the program was launched last summer, many customers have seen their trash bills double or triple. Sanitation officials logged more than 28,000 complaints about missed collections within the program's first six months. Meanwhile, refuse company executives have been at odds with sanitation officials over how trash bills are calculated — and whether certain customer fees are permitted.

Supporters of RecycLA, for their part, say the city is still phasing in the program, moving tens of thousands of customers to new refuse companies. They note that on Feb. 1, the city's Bureau of Sanitation will have the power to hand financial penalties to haulers who fail to properly respond to missed pickup complaints.

Despite the uproar, the push to qualify for the ballot will still have a steep climb. Backers say they must collect more than 64,000 valid signatures — 15% of the total votes cast in last year's mayoral contest — to qualify the proposal for the November ballot.

Environmental groups, labor organizers and others spent years pushing for the creation of RecycLA, saying it will allow the city to meet state recycling targets, improve the conditions of trash workers and put cleaner-burning trash trucks on local streets.

Angelica Gonzalez, conservation program manager for the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club, acknowledged that some customers' bills have gone up significantly since the program started. But she portrayed those higher prices as the cost of replacing older trash trucks, and ultimately, cleaning the region's air.

"There's a price, with the damage we have done to the environment," she said. "And as humans, we are paying that price."

Backers of the city's RecycLA commercial trash hauling system demonstrate at a news conference held by landlords and others who want the program repealed.
Backers of the city's RecycLA commercial trash hauling system demonstrate at a news conference held by landlords and others who want the program repealed. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Gonzalez was one of several demonstrators who showed up at Thursday's news conference to protest the push to repeal RecycLA. Demonstrators carried signs with such messages as "Why are you taking away access to recycling?" and "Why are you taking away my right to breathe clean air?"

The push to adopt RecycLA was spearheaded in large part by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a nonprofit group that advocates for policies favored by labor unions and environmental groups.

Robert Nothoff, director of the group's waste and recycling campaigns, said the ballot proposal would strip away worker protections in a dangerous industry. Asked about higher trash bills, he said: "What's the cost of actually taking away the ability to breathe clean air? That's what this [ballot proposal] would do."

Nevertheless, the idea of repealing RecycLA drew support on Thursday from one of the city's more prominent restaurant owners — Norm Langer, owner of Langer's Delicatessen in the city's Westlake area.

Waste Management Republic Services Athens Services UWS Ware Disposal NASA Services CalMet Services 9,522 9,097 6,107 2,604 847 156 151 Waste Management Republic Services Athens Services UWS Ware Disposal NASA Services CalMet Services 9,522 9,097 6,107 2,604 847 156 151 RecycLA's missed trash collection complaints Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 @latimesgraphics Source: Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation - Figures from July to December

Langer said he has had a unionized workforce for decades and favors efforts to increase recycling. But he argued that the city's new system has left businesses with diminished trash service and no way to change companies.

Over the past month, the restaurant has had at least five missed refuse pickups, Langer said. The monthly bill, he added, has jumped to $2,200 from roughly $1,200.

"I can't live with this situation — uncollected trash, higher bills, me having to put on extra labor," he said. "It adds additional costs to me to operate my business, and that's a problem."

Twitter: @DavidZahniser

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