Council continues to weigh contracting with a single waste-hauler as residents speak out on issue

After eight years of considering whether to contract with a single waste-hauler or continue allowing residents to choose from among three, a divided La Cañada City Council said Tuesday still more sorting out is needed before a decision can be made.

In their regular meeting, council members heard an update from the city's solid waste subcommittee, whose members have been researching the topic at the panel's behest for nearly three years.

That group determined new state legislation regarding organic and food waste recycling, methane emissions reductions and landfill diversion could potentially complicate any new single-hauler agreement, and so recommended the council hold off on any new arrangements until 2019 or 2020.

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"There's a lot of goals around organic waste recovery, and there's going to be a need to develop the infrastructure for processing that organic waste," said city staffer Mary Goytia Strauss. "Given that, the solid subcommittee is thinking it's best, as things are being worked out, that we should consider waiting."

Meanwhile, the city's agreements with three residential waste haulers — Allied Waste Services, Athens Services and NASA Services — are set to end on June 30, but can be extended up to 48 months, Goytia Strauss said.

La Cañada is the only city out of 88 in Los Angeles County that still operates under a non-exclusive agreement with multiple haulers. Single-hauler advocates point to reduced noise, emissions and road wear to bolster their argument, while those in favor of keeping multiple haulers say customer choice inspires companies to keep prices competitive.

City officials examined the merits of changing the city's policy in 2009, after a 2008 survey showed residents preferred an open-market system, but took no action and agreed to revisit the matter in five years time.

In May 2014, the solid waste subcommittee took up the issue of exclusive service and recommended a resident survey be conducted to gauge public opinion. Council members heard the results of the telephone survey conducted by Los Angeles research firm FM3 in a March 2015 meeting.

The survey indicated about half of 400 residents queried favored multiple haulers, compared to 31% in support of a single-hauler contract, though more in the latter group categorized their opinion as "strong." Overall, 95% of residents surveyed said they were satisfied with the company they used.

An FM3 representative determined the results to be statistically inconclusive, so the council asked the city's solid waste subcommittee to continue reviewing the matter.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Davitt, Councilman Len Pieroni and Public Works and Traffic Commissioner Clyde Hemphill currently sit on that subcommittee, along with one legal and one solid waste consultant. In their progress report Tuesday, Davitt and Pieroni said the issue is complicated.

"I don't think there was a strong feeling to say don't do anything until 2019 or 2020," Davitt said of the recommendation, adding the subcommittee was reluctant to recommend the city enter a single-hauler agreement with so many legislative changes in the works.

Residents at Tuesday's meeting commented on both sides of the issue, with seven of eight resident speakers in favor of a single-hauler contract.

"We enjoy pretty much every aspect of living in La Cañada, every aspect but one, and that is trash day," said Knight Way resident Scott MacDonell, "Wednesdays, in particular, are nothing short of an constant, unmitigated din of trash collectors going up and down our street."

Alminar Avenue resident Oscar Aparicio agreed.

"This is a quality-of-life issue," he said. "To me, it's an absolute no-brainer. I really urge you guys to show some leadership."

Only one commenter, Public Safety Commissioner Wes Seastrom, spoke in favor of keeping multiple haulers as opposed to subjecting residents to the service whims of a single hauler.

"When you give people a choice it gives them power, and it requires trash haulers to be competitive in their pricing and competitive in their customer service," Seastrom said.

Council members were also split on the matter. Dave Spence said many residents he spoke with on the campaign trail earlier this year expressed a desire for change, and he hoped the city might expedite the process by asking similar cities who made the switch to one hauler what their experiences have been.

Councilwoman Terry Walker threw in her lot with Seastrom, advocating the importance of choice. She also reminded residents of how many donations and sponsorships all three haulers currently make to community groups.

"If we eliminate two-thirds of them, you can say goodbye to two-thirds of your charitable income," Walker said.

Ultimately, the council received and filed the subcommittee's report, opting to revisit the issue in about seven months, after the city has completed its budget process for Fiscal Year 2017-18. Members also requested the subcommittee return in three to four months with a matrix of all the options being examined and their pros and cons, for more public input.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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