Despite a recommendation from the Los Angeles County Grand Jury that Hawthorne should open its municipal trash contract to competitive bids, the City Council this week approved a five-year contract extension for the firm that has hauled the city’s garbage since 1957.
The extension, worth $25 million, came even though two years remain on H & C Disposal Co.'s trash collection contract, which covers both residential and commercial addresses. The city has never sought other contractors.
Councilman Steve Andersen, who with David M. York and Charles (Chuck) Bookhammer voted in favor of the contract Monday, said H & C Disposal had earned an extension. “It has been an excellent relationship for the city,” he said.
But Councilwoman Ginny Lambert, who joined with Mayor Betty Ainsworth in voting against the contract extension, said later that she is “very upset about it.”
“When you have a contract as large as five years and $25 million and it is treated so lightly, I don’t think we have done right by our constituents,” Lambert said.
City Manager R. Kenneth Jue said the extension was brought before the council after H & C Disposal officials told him that they need a long-term commitment because of difficulties in finding landfill sites. “They need to start planning now,” he said.
In 1984-85, the grand jury conducted a broad investigation of Hawthorne city government. No criminal indictments resulted, but the panel made several recommendations, including the call for bidding on the trash contract.
The jury noted that city officials reported a “high degree of satisfaction” with the services of H & C Disposal but added that Hawthorne residents were paying about 21% more than residents in comparable cities and that city businesses were paying 10% to 15% more.
“The city should seek competitive bids or proposals after the current contract expires,” the grand jury said.
Its advice was not binding, however, as Andersen noted in an interview this week:
“It was just a recommendation that we didn’t follow,” he said.
Added City Treasurer Howard Wohlner: “That was (only) a recommendation. We don’t care.”
Wohlner said in an interview that the most recent survey of 13 South Bay cities conducted by Hawthorne shows that the city’s residential trash pick-up rates--$9.05 a month--are average.
Representatives of apartment management companies, however, argued at Monday’s council meeting that they will be forced to pay higher fees than they do in comparable cities. Wohlner replied that the service provided by H & C Disposal is worth any additional cost and that many apartment owners lack the standing to criticize the council’s decision because they do not live in the city.
Wohlner added that Hawthorne’s agreement with H & C Disposal generates about $500,000 a year for the city through a 10% surcharge to customers and that lower trash rates would reduce city revenues unless the surcharge was adjusted.
Ainsworth and Lambert asked Monday that the vote be delayed so that a public hearing could be scheduled on the city’s trash collection contract, but their motion was defeated.