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San Marcos, Carlsbad Duke It Out as Garbage War Goes to the Streets

Times Staff Writer

The garbage has hit the fan as far as relations between the cities of San Marcos and Carlsbad go.

This is more than just some little political brouhaha; San Marcos feels it has been blind-sided by Carlsbad and is looking to get even. And in the end, bizarre as it sounds, Carlsbad residents may see their trash collection rates skyrocket from $6.50 a month to $50 a month.

At issue, in a general sense, is which roads can be used by large, three-axle trucks through the City of Carlsbad. But the more specific issue is whether garbage trucks can continue to rumble up Rancho Santa Fe Road, skirting along the eastern edge of Carlsbad’s tony La Costa area, en route to the county landfill on the southern edge of San Marcos.

The garbage haulers have been taking the route for years as a great shortcut to the landfill, carrying trash from 20,000 homes in Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Olivenhain and even south Carlsbad itself. Any given day, garbage trucks would make 75 to 100 trips up Rancho Santa Fe Road toward the landfill, the hauling companies estimate.

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San Marcos hardly balked at the haulers’ use of the road through Carlsbad; it enabled a third or so of all the trash coming to the San Marcos landfill--the only one in North County--to enter the city through a back door of sorts, avoiding major intersections and San Marcos’ residential neighborhoods.

But part of that road snakes just east of La Costa’s grape stake fences and swimming pools, and homeowners there said their view of the swank La Costa Resort Hotel and Country Club, and the sparkling Pacific beyond, has been compromised by the sights and sounds of a steady stream of big garbage trucks on their back side.

So, whether out of a sense of traffic safety or neighborhood aesthetics, they complained about those garbage trucks to their City Council.

The Carlsbad council responded by having street signs posted that forbid big trucks on the road. The message: In case the operators of big trucks had forgotten, Rancho Santa Fe Road is not and hasn’t been a truck route ever since La Costa was annexed to Carlsbad in 1972, so be advised to take El Camino Real north to Palomar Airport Road and east into the city of San Marcos--and stay clear of La Costa altogether.

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Never mind that you’ll have to add about 9 miles--and 20 minutes--to your one-way trip if you’re headed for the landfill; that’s your problem, not ours, the council said in so many words. We have our citizens’ interests to take to heart.

The area’s two major trash haulers, and the City of San Marcos, were tweaked by Carlsbad’s action. And San Marcos is looking to get even, somehow.

Not only is the closing of Rancho Santa Fe Road to truck traffic adding mileage and time to the trash haulers’ operating expenses, but it also is funneling as many as 100 additional garbage trucks every day through one of San Marcos’ busiest intersections--Encinitas Road (the extension of Palomar Airport Road into San Marcos) and Rancho Santa Fe Road, and then sending that traffic south on Rancho Santa Fe road--past the Lake San Marcos retirement community--to Questhaven Road and on to the landfill.

“We’re very disappointed that their City Council would get rid of their problem by dumping it on someone else--us,” San Marcos City Manager Rick Gittings said about the shift in truck traffic.

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Gittings said that, if Carlsbad’s concern was safety, the Rancho Santa Fe Road segment through San Marcos is even more dangerous than Carlsbad’s.

But Carlsbad Mayor Mary Casler was matter-of-fact about her council’s decision.

“It has been a longstanding ordinance . . . (that) we have now decided to enforce because of a great increase of traffic on Rancho Santa Fe Road,” she said.

Is Carlsbad dumping its problems on San Marcos?

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“They have to look at it as realistically as we do,” she said. “They wouldn’t like huge truck traffic through their residential neighborhoods any more than we do. It (the decision) may not do very much for P.R., but we have to make decisions which are beneficial to our citizens first, and then regional-wise secondly.”

San Marcos City Councilman Lee Thibadeau suggests that the issue of trash traffic is of such regional importance that it should take precedence over local concerns, just as San Marcos has bitten the bullet in playing host to the landfill.

“Their decision has impacted thousands of people and the industry itself,” he said. “One of Carlsbad’s council members wrote us a letter just a few weeks before this stunt, suggesting that North County cities band together and create a voice to be heard throughout the county on regional issues such as planning. Then they pull this without any conversation with us whatsoever. It’s going to be difficult to talk to them or to trust them on regional issues, because now it’s hard to believe they have any concern about the region.”

Just what San Marcos and the trash haulers are going to do about the traffic rerouting has yet to be decided.

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One proposal being weighed at San Marcos City Hall, at Thibadeau’s suggestion, is that every hauler entering the city by way of Palomar Airport Road--or perhaps just those trucks serving Carlsbad residents--be assessed $150 for every ton of garbage on board.

Is that legal? “We believe so,” Thibadeau said. “We’re looking at ways we can enforce it.”

He said such a fee would help pay for improvements to Rancho Santa Fe Road through San Marcos.

“We can try to isolate the Carlsbad carrier so the fee will be passed on to Carlsbad residents,” he said. “Since their council created the problem, let them pay for the road. Consider it a ‘benefit fee.’ If they want to benefit by not having trucks go up Rancho Santa Fe Road, they can pay for it.”

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Arie DeJong, owner of Coast Waste Management, which has a franchise to serve the 10,000 homes in Carlsbad along with 6,000 residential customers in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, said he shudders at the thought of such an assessment, which he would pass on to his customers.

The $150-per-ton assessment would average $35 to $45 per residence per month, DeJong estimated, increasing the current $6.50-a-month residential garbage bill in Carlsbad to $40 to $50.

“Every truck carries maybe 10 tons of trash, and carries two loads a day to the landfill, so San Marcos is looking at getting $3,000 per truck per day, and we’re operating 28 trucks. That’ll give San Marcos not only enough money to pave its streets, but to pave them with gold,” DeJong said.

“I’m hoping the two cities will get together and work this out because I’m in a no-win situation. We need a spirit of cooperation between the two cities,” DeJong said. “Right now this is a bad deal and I’m ending up being the bad guy because it’s going to be me who’s going to have to pass the cost on to my customers.”

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Jeff Ritchie, general manager of Mashburn Sanitation, which serves about 12,500 residential customers along the coastal strip south of Carlsbad, said the rerouting will cost his company at least $170,000, if not upward of $200,000, just in increased time and fuel because of the longer route to the landfill. That represents a 9% increase in operating expenses, or about 70 cents per month per customer.

The increase does not reflect any additional fees or surcharges that the City of San Marcos may put on his trucks, Ritchie said.

“I’d suggest the City of Carlsbad sit down and look at the entire impact of its actions,” he said. “I don’t think a major arterial like Rancho Santa Fe Road should be shut down. Carlsbad has an obligation to the region and is ignoring it.”

The San Marcos City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the trash assessment at its June 10 meeting.

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Carlsbad police, meanwhile, are writing traffic citations to those truckers who are caught using Rancho Santa Fe Road, primarily a two-lane road between the southern limits of the city and Questhaven Road. Lt. Mike Shipley estimated that 10 to 20 citations have been written since May 27--mostly to trash haulers, but some to other truckers, including one driving a cement truck.

“We’re working that road steadily, as other duties permit,” he said. “It’s not our top priority.”

He said there have been no accidents on the road that can be directly attributed to the presence of the trucks, but noted that some heavily laden trucks may slow to 10 m.p.h. up the grade toward San Marcos, tempting impatient motorists to pass them.


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