Oakland Goes Head to Head with Waste Management

Sep 19, 2014

Posted in BusinessCommunityEconomic DevelopmentEducation/Schools/YouthEnvironmentGentrificationHealthOakland Talks Trash

Supporters of CWS distribute literature urging people not to sign the Waste Management petition. Photo by Gene Hazzard.

In late-breaking news, the city announced a CWS-Waste Management compromise with rates about one-third lower than WM’s ‘last-best’ offer.

 By Ken Epstein

Since it lost its $1 billion, 10-year garbage contract with the city, Waste Management corporation has been bearing down on Oakland to force the city to accept its deal – whatever the terms and whether the city wants the company or not.

After the council voted 7-1 against Waste Management in August, company representatives graciously pledged to work with the city to help ensure a smooth transition to the new company.

But that may have been before they got marching orders from corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas.

Marshaling attorneys and ramping up the opinion war, the nation’s largest trash hauler has filed lawsuits and filled the media with misleading and dishonest claims.

They alleged they offer residents cheaper rates (not true); they have said the other company, California Waste Solutions (CWS), has no experience (false); they claimed CWS would build a garbage dump in West Oakland (untrue); and they vilified city leaders, saying they made a sweetheart deal with CWS (false).

Most upsetting of all, the company has mobilized its troops, utilizing scores of highly paid signature gatherers to try to force the city to call a special election next year at the cost of about $1 million.

Many signature gatherers – which Waste Management and their representative, political consultant Larry Tramutola refuse to reign in – come from out of the region and even as far away as Nevada and Arizona.

Oakland residents have complained that signature gatherers have lied and distorted the facts in order to get them to sign. Other residents say they have been insulted, yelled at, pushed and threatened by Waste Management’s people.

Some Waste Management’s representatives have resorted to anti-immigrant racism: “Don’t you want a U.S. company to serve Oakland, not a Chinese company?” CWS owner David Duong is a longtime resident of West Oakland and is a Vietnamese-American.

If a referendum makes the ballot and if by some chance it passes, the result would invalidate the council’s two-year public negotiations over the garbage contract and force a new round of contract negotiations.

“The council is clear that we acted lawfully, and the decision we made was in the best interests of this city – this is about David versus Goliath, and Oakland is David,” said Councilmember Lynette McElhaney.

“Now or in a referendum, the people of Oakland will recognize that this (campaign) is not about protecting Oakland. It’s about protecting Texas profits,” she said, emphasizing that this a fight over local democracy.

“This is about forcing Oakland to accept less services for higher prices,” McElhaney said. “Their position is, if we can’t win the contact (through negotiations), we’ll take it.”

Waste Management lost the contract with the city after two years of negotiations that included public discussions at council meetings and a number of hearings at the City Council’s Public Works Committee.

After their experience with the company, members of the council are less interested than ever in being forced into a contract with Waste Management, McElhaney said. “We don’t want to be bound for the next 100 years to that corporation and be in a position where we couldn’t push back against rate hikes.”

Countering Waste Management’s petition gatherers, CWS has hired over 100 people to distribute fliers explaining the other side.

They are encouraging people to send a letter to the City Clark asking for their names to be taken off Waste Management’s petition if they believe they were misled into signing the petition.

CWS delivered over 500 letters this week to the City Clerk signed by people who want their names removed.

“Our people have been quite successful, many people are not signing petitions,” said Joel Corona, chief operations officer of CWS.

Several of the CWS people, including a young woman, have told the Post that they have been threatened: Waste Management’s representatives “told me something would happen to me if I kept passing out those papers (against the petition),” the young woman said.

“Some of their signature gatherers have picked up their tables and moved to another location,” Corona said. “They have started going house-to-house and to BART stations and AC Transit. They are going to places where they don’t have to respond to facts and to (opposing) literature.”

Several local residents point to Waste Management’s recent mistreatment of a rural area called Canyonlands outside of Castro Valley as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of being locked into a deal the corporation.

At first, Waste Management told the people who live in Canyonlands in June that their rates would go up over 60 percent – from $17.68 a month for a 32-gallon container to $45.99

When customers complained bitterly, Waste Management responded by announcing the company is canceling their trash pickup at the end of December, leaving residents to fend for themselves.

“We gave them the rest of the year to make other arrangements,” said Joe Camero, Waste Management spokesman, in an interview with the Oakland Tribune. “It’s a difficult area to service. I think it’s going to be expensive for any hauler.”

In late-breaking news, the city has announced that CWS and Waste Management have reached a tentative compromise settlement, which would end WM’s referendum and lawsuits.

The agreement would commit Waste Management to complying with the CWS rate schedule, which is about one-third lower than what Waste Management had demanded from city residents.

The agreement would also create a new company with a new logo that would operate trucks on the streets of Oakland. CWS would still build its new facility at the Oakland Army Base and work with East Bay Municipal Utility District to use green waste to create electrical energy and with Civicorps in West Oakland to provide jobs and training for young people.

The council is also asking Waste Management for a letter of apology to Oakland residents for the behavior of its signature gatherers.

City Councilmembers acknowledged CWS for its unselfish decision to act in the best interests of the community. “CWS has been gracious enough to share the franchise contract that they won fair and square, for the peace of the city and to keep the community from bearing the brunt of a protracted bitter battle that would cost in both dollars and good will,” said McElhaney, speaking Friday morning at a press conference.

According to CWS CEO David Duong, “It was very difficult to put our frustration and indignation over the lawsuits and referendum aside, but we believe that this solution between the city, CWS and Waste Management is best for Oakland residents and the community that we love and call home.”

While Mayor Jean Quan issued a press release Thursday claiming credit for negotiating the compromise, it is not clear at this time what role she played in resolving the ongoing dispute.

CWS CEO David Duong speaks at press conference on Friday. Behind him are (L to R) City Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, CWS Chief Operations Officer Joel Corona and CWS Chief Financial Officer Christina Duong. Photo by Ken Epstein

The tentatative agreement must still be finalized. It will be discussed and possibly voted on at a special City Council meeting scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m.

The arguments in favor of Oakland’s decision to contract with California Waste Solutions can be read at www.helloiamtrey.com/cws2/news/cws-will-build-clean-modern-facility-in-west-oakland/

Waste Management’s campaign calls itself Oakland Residents for a Clean City. Its website can be viewed at www.CleanOakland.org.