Vote on organics program delayed

Costa Mesa Sanitary District directors unanimously agreed Thursday to delay a vote on an organics recycling program, saying that more time is needed to inform the public.

The board will pick the topic up again Feb. 25. Before then the district plans to host additional community workshops — two were held within the past several weeks — to inform ratepayers about the proposed six-year contract with CR&R; Environmental Services. The contract is estimated to cost $504,679 annually.

Director Arlene Schafer said more workshops are needed to make sure ratepayers understand the proposal.

"We're not trying to shove anything down anyone's neck," Schafer said.

The contract with CR&R; is a good deal for the district, she added, and it helps that Costa Mesa is leading the way on organics recycling.

If implemented, the program would require that residents sort their organic waste, which includes food scraps and gardening clippings, into a separate bin.

Ratepayers currently have the option of placing all of their refuse — organics, gardening waste, recyclables and other trash — in a single bin, a rare luxury in Orange County and the state, officials say.

District board Chairman James Ferryman said the old one-bin method has been "good to us for 20 years ... [but] we can't stay with that. We can't stay stagnant because the government is not allowing us to."

District officials have said the program is needed to help reduce landfill waste — an environmentally friendly goal mandated by the state. The organic material will be converted into renewable natural gas at a facility in Perris.

According to the program's environmental review, it will have a negligible effect on the district's coverage area.

But critics at the district's board meeting were skeptical.

Some residents have argued that the need for separate trucks to collect the organics bins would lead to wear and tear on city streets; others were concerned that the bins could produce bad odors or attract flies, maggots, coyotes and raccoons.

Resident Phil Morello said additional bins would exacerbate street congestion problems in already crowded rental areas.

Flo Martin, who lives in Costa Mesa, said in Scotts Valley, an area near Santa Cruz where she owns property, residents have three bins for different types of refuse.

She said she likes the program and contends that animals and flies have not been problematic.

CR&R; Senior Vice President Dean Ruffridge said organics do not produce particularly bad odors and animals are not known to go after the bins.

"We have not experienced that … if that is a problem, maybe some locking lids can resolve that," Ruffridge said.

Costa Mesa resident Ron Amburgey urged the district to avoid getting "locked in" on a CR&R; contract that "lasts forever."

The organics program should go out for bid every five years or so, he said, to get "competition in the mix a little bit."

How the program would affect rates hasn't been determined, though district officials have said a roughly $4 million reserve fund could be used to get the program going for the first few years.

"You deserve to have this program funded with those reserves because basically it was your money," district Director Bob Ooten said.

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