Trash study disappoints Newport council

Newport Beach officials slammed a report Tuesday by an Irvine-based consulting firm that explored the city's options for putting out a request for proposals from private trash-hauling companies.

Mayor Keith Curry said the HF&H;, LLC report in a study session before this week's council meeting was "very disappointing," because it failed to address the central reason the city is considering outsourcing its beloved residential trash service in the first place: the potential for savings.

The city hired HF&H; in December at a cost of for $15,000.

"It was almost totally bereft of actionable information for the city council to consider, and I don't think it goes at all any place in alleviating the concerns of the community about this issue," he said. "This is a financially driven issue."

Mayor Pro Tem Rush Hill agreed.

"I recognize this is to help design the RFP, but to me, there's so much information missing that it's very difficult to do this," he said. "The level of service is the key element. And it is a quality-of-life issue. Our citizens have stated that time, and time and time again."

In the presentation, HF&H; Senior Vice President Laith Ezzet laid out three possible sets of general guidelines for a request for proposals, with the help of city Municipal Operations Director Mark Harmon.

One would require that companies hoping to win the city's business would have to create proposals that recreate as closely as possible the city's existing service.

The second option would allow companies to propose any services that they think would work to lower total costs and meet or increase Newport's diversion from landfills.

The third would have requested proposals for trash pick-up that require residents to separate their general rubbish, recycling and green waste into three separate bins. Right now, Newport residents serviced by the city department enjoy unlimited pick-up of just one trash stream, set on the curb in unstandardized bins.

Asked if they could provide financial data on how much each option might cost or save the city, Harmon said he couldn't without directing haulers to estimate prices for particular services.

"We don't know what that financial data will be until we have those proposals," he told the council.

The report also included a breakdown of how much solid waste is collected from commercial sources versus from homes, and information on ways to maximize revenues from a transfer station in the city.

At the study session, as in past council meetings, several residents spoke in favor of keeping the existing trash service — even if it means they pay a little more.

A few, however, expressed concern that without making Newport families separate out their own recycling, kids could grow up with a skewed sense of where their trash is headed and its impacts on the environment.

Councilwoman Nancy Gardner said that regardless of who's providing the service, Newport residents may have gotten spoiled by the status quo.

Rather than remaining satisfied with the current service, she said, the city should actively pursue ways of reducing waste.

"I don't think this is strictly financial," she said. "We need to look at quality of life today, quality of life tomorrow. It's about the future. We shouldn't just close our minds. I think we need to look at what we're doing."

"I think we do too much, frankly," she added.

Ultimately, the council directed staff and HF&H; to bring forward a request for proposals for council review before officially issuing it. That step is unusual, but Curry said because the issue is something of a hot button, it is merited.

Twitter: @jillcowan

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