Oakland “Dumps” Waste Management

Aug 15, 2014

Posted in CommunityEconomic DevelopmentEducation/Schools/YouthEnvironmentHealthLaborOakland Job ProgramsOakland Talks TrashResponsive Government

By Ken A. Epstein

Waste Management (WM) lost out on a billon-dollar, 10-year contact to handle trash removal and recycling for Oakland when the City of Council went for a more compelling proposal by a homegrown West Oakland Company that practices local hiring and is willing to offer the services that the council has asked for.

The vote went 8-0 for California Waste Solutions (CWS) at the council’s July 30 meeting. Rejected, Waste Management, the nation’s largest trash hauler this week made a last ditch attempt to sway the council.

CWS already handles recycling in half of the city and has a facility in West Oakland. The company has promised the community it will move its operations to a new plant that it will build at the Army Base.

Councilmembers reported that they were under a lot pressure this week to reverse their vote, but they stuck to their decision.

“We’ve been getting pressured, but what’s important to me is doing what is best for Oakland residents,” says Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan.

WM took its complaints to some of the local media, which seemed to be outraged on behalf of the company. The company has hired lobbyists, including former City Council President Ignacio de la Fuente, and has threatened to file a lawsuit.

Though negotiations were over and the votes were cast, the company this week came out with a new, sweeter offer. Waste Management was trying to influence the council ahead of its second vote Wednesday night whether to reaffirm the decision in favor of CWS at the previous meeting..

Councilmember Lynette McElhaney led the opposition on the council to the Waste Management bid even though city staff had presented what she called highly biased and “slanted” staff reports in favor WM, which has picked up trash in Oakland as long as anyone can remember.

CWS offers a better deal for city residents, starting with a considerable savings on rates, especially to commercial customers, according to McElhaney. CWS also has provisions for local hiring and plans to create a customer call-in center in Oakland, which WM closed down and moved out-of-state several years ago at the cost of local jobs.

In addition, CWS has listened to the council’s priorities, working with Civicorps, a nonprofit based in West Oakland that creates jobs for young people, and partnering with East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) to convert organic waste to energy to reduce electricity rates.

Like any newcomer that replaces an incumbent, CWS still has to overcome a lot of skepticism about its capacities. At this point, the company is set to purchase equipment and expand operations, getting up to speed for a smooth transition when its trucks roll at the end of June 2015.

The company says it has backup provisions, plans A, B, C and D in place to ensure that all transitions will be seamless.

Ultimately, the council voted Wednesday night 7-1 for CWS, opposed only by Noel Gallo, who favored Waste Management. “I vote for the best rate and the best service for the long haul,” he said.

Praising the decision, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said the council had to stand fast when staff pushed for a Waste Management deal that would have meant trash pickup rate increases of 45 percent or more. Because the council pushed for a better deal, the rate increases will be less than half of that original amount, she said.

In addition, Kaplan said staff stacked the game in favor of Waste Management by shaving six months off its contract. With six months less, a competitor like CWS would have under a year, rather than a year and half to prepare for taking over waste pickup in Oakland.

Councilmembers and people attending the council meeting applauded former Mayor Elihu Harris, who with his then aide Councilmember Larry Reid worked 22 years ago to help CWS get a start in West Oakland.

“I appreciate that you (the council) have faith in a local company,” said Harris, speaking at the end of meeting. “That is what Oakland is all about. (About) 70 percent of their employees are Oakland residents – that’s what Oakland is all about.”