If there were ever any doubts about who has held sway over the city’s trash industry, they were buried along with Cosmo (Dick) Taormina.
On that spring day in 1984, top city officials crowded Anaheim’s First Christian Church to pay their respects to the gregarious man some called the “garbologist.”
After the church service, a convoy of polished trash trucks--some from competing firms--met the long, slow funeral procession at the cemetery gates. Then, lining the driveway to let the hearse pass and in a final salute, the drivers raised their front forklifts and leaned on their horns before their boss and friend was laid to rest.
It was a fitting tribute to a man who converted simple garbage into a personal fortune. Having locked Anaheim and four surrounding cities into long-term disposal contracts, with Anaheim’s dating back to 1948, Taormina left the family’s lucrative business--Taormina Industries Inc.--in the hands of sons William and Vincent.
The brothers consolidated family control over Anaheim’s trash and continued their father’s legacy of political giving.
Since 1984, son William C. Taormina, the company’s chairman of the board, has contributed more money--about $73,000--to current Anaheim City Council members than any other individual giver, according to a computer-assisted study of local campaign contributions done by The Times Orange County Edition.
William Taormina’s gifts to Anaheim’s political leaders in those eight years has surpassed that of entertainment giant Disneyland’s executives and Angels owner Gene Autry and is twice the campaign giving of the city’s second-largest donor, local attorney Floyd L. Farano.
The family’s campaign generosity has spanned years of council-approved rate increases and renewals on its 44-year-old commercial trash franchise. Most recently, the gifts have come while the sons of Cosmo Taormina gained exclusive control of all of Anaheim’s garbage business in 1988 by buying Jaycox Disposal Co., which had held the city residential trash franchise since the early 1950s.
The combined residential and commercial contract, which was last renewed in 1991, is worth more than $20 million in revenue to the company. It is the city’s most lucrative franchise. Neither the combined contract nor the separate commercial and residential ones have ever been put to bid.
Former Mayor William Thom describes the Taorminas’ long-term business relationship with the city as “a story in itself” and one that has become virtually cemented by a history of community service and political adroitness.
“They are integrated in Anaheim life,” Thom said in a recent interview. “When they have business with the city, it’s like talking to a member of the family and not like some lobbyist coming to bend your ear.”
The brothers acknowledge longstanding relationships with elected officials--including Supervisor Don R. Roth, who got his political start on the Anaheim City Council, and another former Anaheim mayor, U.S. Sen. John Seymour--but are adamant that political contributions, however large, have played no role in maintaining the company’s lucrative city contracts.
“Our family has lived (in Anaheim) our entire lives,” William Taormina said in a recent interview. “This is our home. We have involved ourselves in the community and have known people now holding elected office even before they were in a position of elected service.”
In an attempt to avoid any perception of influence, the 41-year-old head of the family firm has formulated a policy in which employees and executives are “clearly not allowed to even talk to elected officials about our business.” Both he and his brother Vincent said all contact with the city has been handled through municipal staffers charged with overseeing the contract.
“It is serious,” Taormina said. “There is no influence.” As part of of that policy, the family’s participation in and donations to local politicians is almost exclusively handled by the chairman. He regards any political dealings separate from the business and a completely personal matter.
“There is a whole spectrum of people who we have known for a long time who now happen to be in positions of power,” William Taormina said. “I don’t have relationships with people because they are elected officials. These are not relationships put together quickly.”
Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter, whose $14,850 in campaign contributions from Taormina total more than any other sitting council member, said the family has “never once broached the subject of the contract with me.”
“Usually with a major contributor you get a phone call asking for something,” the mayor said. “I can’t think of anything they have ever asked for. They are good people.”
Former Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood, who earned a reputation as something of a municipal government watchdog during her 16 years at City Hall, said the firm’s long-running contract has presented no problems for the city, nor has there been undue pressure exerted by company officials.
“It was like, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Kaywood said of the relationship. “They always came up with the best deal. They were always forward-looking.”
She is also particularly lavish in her praise for the company and its top executives.
“There is nothing false about them,” Kaywood said. “They are all so involved in the community. If we had 10 families like that in Anaheim, we wouldn’t need anybody else.”
To be sure, the Taorminas--father and sons--have given liberally to the city’s charities and community groups, as well as its politicians.
Supervisor Roth, a former Anaheim mayor and council member, says the family’s generosity to the community in energy and dollars is unmatched.
“He (Cosmo) was such a pillar,” Roth said in a recent interview. “I know that he must be looking down at his children and smiling. They are carbon copies of Cosmo.”
Like their father, the sons have thrown themselves into support of charitable groups and community events, chairing volunteer committees and fund-raising groups throughout the county.
“Boy, I’m hard-pressed to think of any activity looking for financial support that they are not involved in,” said Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Director Allan Hughes.
At the heart of the Taorminas’ 44-year business relationship with the city is the fact that service contracts, including garbage pickup, are exempt from the bidding regulations in the City Charter.
City Maintenance Director John Roche, who oversees the contract, said few competing firms have challenged the Taormina franchise, and it has never been put to bid.
David W. Ross, general manager of Dewey’s Rubbish Service (a division of trash giant Waste Management Inc.), said the company once looked at Anaheim as a possible place to expand its six-city Orange County operations.
“Our company continues to look for new, big opportunities through new contracts with cities,” Ross said. “I think they (Taorminas) run a well-maintained, well-organized business.”
Since 1988, the contract for residential and business garbage hauling has survived annual reviews by the city even though the most dramatic increases in rates have occurred since then. For example, the year after the Jaycox buyout, residential rates increased nearly 20%, while commercial fees jumped by almost 16%.
Municipal officials said the increases simply reflected corresponding hikes by the county in landfill dumping fees and the start-up costs of recycling programs. Records show that the county has raised fees from $6.12 per ton in 1988 to $22.75 per ton last year, a 272% increase.
Roche said the increased rates and longstanding agreement should not be interpreted as a laxness in oversight or a laissez-faire attitude by the city.
Through the years, Roche said, the city has approved rate increase requests according to annual comparisons with five of the county’s larger cities; Costa Mesa, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana. According to those studies, Anaheim’s rates have remained competitive.
In the 1991 comparisons of residential rates, Anaheim’s monthly charge of $10.99 ranked behind Costa Mesa’s $11.68 and Garden Grove’s $11.22.
“We make sure the rates are within reason,” Roche said. “These guys just can’t price themselves out of the market.”
Nevertheless, former mayor Thom said the city might benefit from a more competitive process.
“The rates seem competitive,” Thom said, “but you don’t know unless you bid it out. In my own mind, if you put it out for bid, you’d see a price war. Who would benefit by that? The trash disposer.”
In recent years, at the same time that trash rates have had their most dramatic increases, the city has entered into a quasi-partnership with the Taorminas. The arrangement has drawn praise and criticism.
In 1988, the city obtained $11.5 million in low-interest loans to create a recycling program to be run by the Taormina company that picks up trash in Anaheim, Anaheim Disposal Inc. The city bought 24 trucks and 100,000 trash barrels for use by the firm, but under terms of the agreement, the city will maintain ownership of the equipment.
Roche said the program enhances the city’s control of its future disposal contracts. By maintaining ownership of the costly equipment, he said, the city would more easily be able to find another hauler if something jeopardized the Taormina agreement.
However, Ross of Dewey’s called the arrangement a “financial windfall for (Anaheim Disposal). It’s not a new or novel idea. I think companies are finding it necessary (to form government partnerships) because of the large investments involved.”
In addition to the shared recycling program, the city and the Taorminas are also discussing plans under which the city would gradually finance other new equipment and assume ownership of those resources, while the Taorminas would manage the operation and staff the pickup routes.
That arrangement, if approved, is still several years away, but city officials and the Taorminas agree that such an operation would virtually cement the company’s role as a close extension of municipal government.
So close is the family business to the city that Vincent Taormina, the 36-year-old chief executive officer, likes to refer to the firm as a “quasi-governmental agency.”
“This is a very public-spirited company,” Roche said. “The two brothers, in my opinion, are of very good integrity, and that is one reason they have served so long. I don’t know of any other contract of its kind.”
Perhaps as unique as the company’s longstanding agreement is the story of how Cosmo Taormina, a former Monterey commercial fisherman and Santa Catalina Island restaurateur, literally stumbled into Anaheim and was awarded the business back in 1948. To this day at City Hall, Cosmo’s story is nearly legend.
At the time, Vincent Taormina said, his father was working for a paper disposal company run by his father-in-law and was on his way to Santa Ana from North County when he became lost. The elder Taormina reportedly pulled his pickup truck to a stop at Anaheim City Hall, where he went inside and found city leaders discussing whom to hire to haul garbage in the city.
According to the family’s account, Cosmo Taormina landed the job at that meeting and became garbage man to all the city’s households and businesses.
“That’s how my father always told it,” Vincent Taormina said, laughing.
During those early years, Vincent said, his mother drove the family truck while Cosmo trailed behind, hoisting the 55-gallon barrels of waste into the back. The two would take their loads to the outskirts of the city, where the food waste was separated and much of the remainder burned.
It was at that time, Vincent Taormina said, that his father began sending the food waste to local hog farmer Warren Jaycox. Taormina said Jaycox fed the waste to his hogs, so when Cosmo looked to unload the residential trash service, he turned to Jaycox.
The farmer took control of the household business in the early 1950s, Taormina said, and it was operated as Jaycox Disposal Co. until the buyout in 1988.
The Taorminas decline to reveal how much they paid to acquire the company, but Roche said the estimated value of the household pickup business with the city is about $10 million, about equal to the contract for commercial pickup.
With that kind of money coming from Anaheim and with established contracts in Brea, Garden Grove, Placentia and Yorba Linda, Mayor Hunter said, the family could easily have pulled up stakes and “moved to Newport Beach or someplace like that.”
But the family has stayed and continues to play a large role in the city’s civic life. “This is where their roots are,” Hunter said of the city where one street bears the name Taormina Drive.
And, with an estimated 80% of its business interests centered in Anaheim, the family, through its members’ service on myriad boards and commissions, has returned some of its profits to the city, say the mayor and other city officials.
Hunter said William Taormina has used a considerable portion of his fortune to clean up what had become a transient stretch of Anaheim Boulevard, near his own neighborhood, known for its gritty taverns and nightclubs. Taormina said he and other business owners bought a number of parcels in the area and bulldozed the bars.
“There were a lot of tough bars in that area, back between 1984-86,” Hunter said. “There was real killing going on there. I don’t think there was a weekend that went by without a stabbing or a shooting.”
“He is top shelf,” the mayor said. “If there ever was a ‘Mr. Anaheim,’ Bill Taormina is it.”
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Sunday: The recycling era and higher garbage rates
Monday: The waste industry as political patron
Today: The trash industry--a tale of two cities
Figures for this Dollar Politics series were developed as part of a two-year Times Orange County Edition investigation using a computer to analyze contributions to candidates for elective offices in Orange County.
Anaheim is the first city to be analyzed. Previously, 15 years of contributions to candidates for the Orange County Board of Supervisors were examined. When Times reporters began accumulating the paper campaign records for various cities last year, 1984 was selected as a starting point because many cities keep campaign documents on file for only seven years, then destroy them.
The Times computer contains 9,165 entries for Anaheim: one for every campaign contribution and expenditure on behalf of every candidate for Anaheim City Council and ballot measures since January, 1984.
Contributions have come from a variety of individuals, corporations and groups, including Michael Eisner, chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Co., the Anaheim Police Officers Assn., the California Angels baseball franchise and the Yum Yum Oil Co. in Riverside.
The database is regularly updated and includes the most recent filing by candidates in January.
For this story, the computer research was done by staff writer Mark Landsbaum, while staff writer Kevin Johnson reported and wrote the Anaheim story.
Top Contributors to Anaheim Candidates
Since 1984, no individual has contributed more money to Anaheim City Council candidates than William C. Taormina, whose company holds the city’s contracts for residential and commercial garbage hauling, as well as trash recycling. Taormina’s 73 personal contributions to City Council candidates average $999.
Rank Donor Amount 1. William Taormina, $72,951 garbage firm executive 2. Floyd Farano, attorney $37,344 3. Carmen Morinello, attorney $17,721 4. Stanley Castleton, developer $16,500 5. Gene Autry, celebrity and $15,000 owner California Angels 6. William E. Cooper, $12,970 real estate investor 7. B.U. Patel, developer $11,550 8. James Dennehy, developer $10,123 9. Blash Momeny, developer $10,075 10. Tushar Patel, developer $9,600
Note: Not included in Taormina’s total is another $9,925 in campaign contributions to City Council candidates from his wife Cindy, his brother Vincent, and Taormina Industries, the family-owned garbage businesses. These totals also do not reflect contributions made jointly with spouses or those made by spouses, businesses or groups, such as labor unions.
Source: Anaheim City Council campaign contribution reports What Current City Council Members Received
The campaigns of the five current members of the City Council have received $50,300 from William Taormina, his wife Cindy, brother Vincent and their family-owned trash business, Taormina Industries Inc.
Recipients Amount Contributions Tom Daly $7,200 8 since 1988 William D. Ehrle $11,250 12 since 1986 Fred R. Hunter $14,850 15 since 1986 Irv Pickler $13,500 12 since 1987 Bob Simpson $3,500 4 since 1990 Prior council members $23,701 23 since 1984 Unsuccessful candidates for council $8,875 13 since 1986
Source: Anaheim City Council campaign contribution reports Trash Rate Increases
Trash rates increased modestly when Anaheim’s residential garbage franchise was operated by Jaycox Disposal Co. But in 1988, the firm was purchased by Taormina Industries and the residential contract with the city was renegotiated. Since then, trash bills have increased dramatically. City officials say the increase reflects the cost of state-mandated recycling programs and higher fees for using the county landfills. A look at Anaheim’s residential trash rate for once-a-week service, including recycling:
Effective Monthly Percent Date Fee Increase Feb. 1, 1984 $4.70 ---- June 1, 1985 $5.15 9.6% June 1, 1986 $5.39 4.7% May 20, 1987 $5.64 4.6% April 1, 1988 $6.11 8.3% April 1, 1989 $7.32 19.8% July 1, 1989 $8.28 13.1% April 1, 1990 $9.50 14.7% June 19, 1991 $10.99 15.7%
Note: The annual cost for a homeowner is $131.88. Overall, residential trash rates have increased 139% since 1984.
Source: City of Anaheim Trash Bill Breakdown
Where the monthly $10.99 monthly fee goes:
Paid to Anaheim Disposal Inc.*
Trash collection: $3.80
Recycling and processing: $2.31
Bulky item pick-ups: $0.07
Paid to Consolidated Volume Transporters Inc.*
Disposal at county landfills: $4.02
Paid to the city of Anaheim
Administrative fees: $0.34
City surcharge: $0.45
Total monthly bill: $10.99
* A Taormina Industries company
Source: City of Anaheim and Anaheim Disposal Inc., a subsidiary of Taormina Industries Researched by Mark Landsbaum / Los Angeles Times