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Can L.A.'s garbage-hauling monopoly RecycLA be saved? Better start working on Plan B

Can L.A.'s garbage-hauling monopoly RecycLA be saved? Better start working on Plan B
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. Opponents say the program has caused trash bills to skyrocket. (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council members got an earful this week from apartment owners and business operators who have experienced repeated missed trash pickups and astronomical bills since the city forced them into a garbage-hauling monopoly program called RecycLA.

During a six-hour hearing at City Hall on Tuesday, some building owners described overflowing bins and piles of uncollected garbage that attracted flies, roaches and rats. Others talked about their bills, which have doubled or even tripled since the new service began, and about the challenge of getting the hauling companies to respond to complaints.

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Another speaker, who works with affordable housing providers, warned that higher garbage bills are making it harder to build more units for homeless and low-income residents.

Then council members laid into the trash haulers, saying they were shocked, just shocked, by the high bills and rampant service problems.

"It's really been something that I never would have envisioned going this badly in my wildest dreams," Councilman Paul Koretz said Tuesday.

"I was given assurances. I can't tell you how many times I had meetings in my office, requesting assurances that this would be successful," Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said. "I feel I was sold a bill of goods."

Well, that's just rubbish. The garbage monopoly system, or the "exclusive franchise" system, was pushed and adopted by the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti against the urging of the business community, apartment owners and the city's own budget analyst. City leaders were warned repeatedly that removing competition from the trash hauling business was a recipe for higher prices and worse service. And that's what they got.

Before RecycLA, businesses and multi-family residential buildings hired their trash removal services on the open market, allowing them to negotiate a deal with the garbage company of their choice. Under the exclusive franchise system, the government selects one trash hauler for each of 11 zones in the city, and then sets the rates and regulates the service. The program set new rules for trash haulers, including more recycling, cleaner trucks and higher pay for workers.

The good news is that many more commercial customers are recycling. The bad news is many of those same customers are paying a lot more money for worse service. Haulers say the city vastly underestimated the number of customers when it awarded the franchises, and that they had to scramble to hire drivers and buy trucks to meet demand. City leaders blame haulers and plan to issue fines for missed pickups. Garcetti said "all legal options are on the table" to fix the problems.

Los Angeles created a flawed monopoly system. Council members and Garcetti need to own the problem they created. Then they need to solve it. If they can't guarantee quality service and reasonable prices, they ought to start working on Plan B — which should be extricating the city and its customers from trash-hauling monopolies and instituting a non-exclusive franchise system.

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