After months of tests and debate, the city of Torrance has wholeheartedly embraced the use of automated trucks to pick up residents' trash.
Almost 50% of the city's 30,000 homes will be served by automated trucks by early 1992 under plans approved Tuesday by the City Council. And officials hope to expand the program to 80% of city homes in the next few years.
Torrance will be the first South Bay city with an automated curbside trash-collection system. Trucks equipped with mechanized claws and operated by a single worker will pick up and empty specially designed garbage cans. Manual pickup requires two workers per truck.
Automated collection has won accolades from refuse workers who say it frees them from lifting heavy cans and prevents on-the-job injuries. City officials say it will be cost-efficient as well, saving more than $200,000 a year by reducing labor costs and increasing efficiency.
The city will spend about $1.2 million to implement the automation program.
No jobs will be lost. City officials plan to use staff and equipment freed by automation to expand its recycling program, which is now limited to 4,000 homes. They hope to offer curbside recycling citywide by July, 1992. A majority of residents surveyed by city officials last month backed the automated trucks, with most saying they should be used citywide.
"It's terrific. In fact, all of our neighbors think it's terrific," said Mayor Katy Geissert, whose south Torrance home was included in a pilot program.
Automation provides aesthetic benefits as well as economic ones, Geissert said. She pointed to Monte d'Oro, a street in her neighborhood that has automated service on one side and traditional service on the other.
"There's quite a visual difference," Geissert said. "The side (with automation) looks much neater than the other side of the street, which has an assortment of bags and cans by the curb" on trash pickup days.
Plans to automate Torrance's garbage collection have been in the works for years. Last year, the city spent nearly $620,000 to buy five new trucks equipped with mechanized arms.
But last December, the City Council balked at endorsing an automated system, complaining that the 54-home area used for the pilot project was too small to produce reliable data.
The council requested a larger pilot project, encompassing the homes of five of the seven council members.
That project began in June in neighborhoods containing about 5,500 homes. After a late August survey found a 90% approval rating, city officials decided to speed up council approval of the program.
Discussions of automated pickup drew dozens of residents to City Hall last year, with many questioning whether the program's large black containers could be moved easily and wondering how much they would cost. But the tone of the Tuesday meeting was decidedly low-key. Only three people addressed the council, none in opposition.
One container will be provided free to residents. City staff members recommended that a charge for a second container be added to the city's $12-a-month refuse pickup fee.
In the end, the council delayed action on fees.