Claremont Insider: Bait-and-Switch, Garbage-Style

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bait-and-Switch, Garbage-Style

Yesterday's Claremont Courier had an article (not available online) about the city's proposed hike in trash fees.

Back on July 22nd, the Claremont City Council received a staff report on the city's Sanitation Fund. The report stated that unless prices were raised, the fund, which receives money from trash collection fees and pays for the garbage collection operating costs, would run out of money within three years and the city would have to begin spending General Fund money to help pay for the refuse operations.

The July 22nd staff report included a set of tables projecting what the income stream would be in Fiscal Years 2008-09 and 2009-10 under the present rate structure:

Click to Enlarge

As you can see from the two tables, the deficits come from three areas of trash collection: multi-family (apartment buildings) refuse, commercial refuse, and temporary bin rentals (dumpsters of different sizes).

According to the two tables, residential refuse collection rates would continue to run surpluses. Moreover, the staff report included a table showing that Claremont residents pay the highest rates of any of the local cities surveyed for the report (see table at right, click to enlarge).

The staff report gave the City Council two options to choose from. The first, Option A, included a lower rate increase for temporary dumpsters and no increase for multi-family units. Option B included a larger rate increase for the temporary bins and added a multi-family rate increase.

The report include rate tables showing Sanitation Fund revenue projections for FY 2008-09 and 2009-10 under the two different options. In both sets of tables for Options A & B, the projections for revenue for residential garbage collection stayed the same, so presumably there were no rate increases built into the assumptions. Also, as seen in table 8 of the report (the projection for FY 2009-10 of Option B), there is a small disclaimer at the bottom that says: "*Assumes a 2.5% CPI [consumer price index] increase on all funds except residential." [Emphasis added.]

Sanitation Fund Projections Under Option B
FY 2009-10

The City Council approved Option B, of which the above table would lead residents to believe that residential fees not only were NOT increasing but also were not subject to a yearly consumer price index hike. However, buried in the staff report was one sentence on page four that stated: "Both options outlined below assume all fees will be increased by the Consumer Price Index CPI in July of each year." The issue, then, turns on what the meaning of "all" is. But, as we've shown, the tables showing the projections for the two options explicitly exclude residential fees from the rate increase discussion. So that should settle the discussion.

Further, in the council's discussion of the issue on July 22nd, Councilmember Linda Elderkin asked more than once if the rate increases included residences. The staff answer each time was "NO." So, the staff on July 22nd was clearly interpreting their report to say that there was no intention to increase residential rates, which by the staff's own data were projected to run surpluses without any CPI increase.

After the discussion, the Council approved the staff's Option B by a 4-1 vote with Councilmember Sam Pedroza voting against the measure. Pedroza indicated he preferred the staff's Option A.

On July 23rd, a city-wide mailing to all property owners mentioned the rate increases approved by the City Council. However, the letter, according to the Courier, also said: "....the proposed rate adjustments are only for service areas where the current rates do not cover the cost to provide the service." Again, this would exclude residential rates, since those rates, by the city's own data, are running surpluses and cover their own costs.

Here is the city's letter to property owners:

Click on Images to Enlarge

Now, however, the City's staff is saying that a CPI increase really was intended, and they claim it was spelled out in their July 22nd staff report and in the July 23rd letter. The Courier also reported that "the letter was drafted with the oversight of City Attorney Sonia Carvalho and any confusion was 'unintentional.'" Yeah, right. Why are we not surprised to see the invisible hand of the City Attorney behind all of this.

Yesterday's Courier article quoted resident John Serpa, who suspected some skulduggery on the city's part:
Resident John Serpa threw out his letter after reading it, feeling that it did not apply to him. But after attending an Active Claremont meeting where the rates were discussed and learning about the proposed rate increase, he complained that the language in the letter was either too vague or purposefully deceptive.

"If they wanted to hide something, they did a very good job, Mr. Serpa said. "I would expect more from the people at city hall.
As the Courier reported, under California's Proposition 218, property owners can protest the rate increases by sending a written protest to the City Clerk by prior to the October 14th City Council meeting. If more than 50% of the property owners respond, the rate increase cannot be levied.

To ensure that the city does not discard a valid property owner rate protest, residents protesting the increase should include the owner's name, the property address, parcel number, and the specific increase they are protesting: residential, multi-family, commercial or temporary bin. They should also make sure to sign and date the protest.

The city is reporting having received only six protests so far, but that is not surprising considering the way they concealed and misrepresented rate hike. John Serpa also had a letter in yesterday's Courier outlining what residents should do if they do not agree with the increase:
At a recent Active Claremont meeting, Scott Carroll, the Director of Human Services [Carroll is actually Director of Community Service - ed.] casually mentioned the CPI proposal and said that the City has only received a very small number of letters protesting the City's action. No wonder there was a limited response!

Friends and neighbors with whom I spoke to regarding this matter said that they completely disregarded the City's letter because it seemed to only apply to commercial and multi-family accounts. Not true!

If there are few written protests regarding the CPI use for yearly rate increases, it will be in place in December 2008 and there on forever.

Anyone against this proposal needs to take action before the next City Council meeting on Oct. 14, 2008 by:

1. Submitting a letter of protest to the City Clerk at City Hall.

2. Include your parcel number from your property tax bill.

3. Try to attend the City Council meeting Oct. 14, at 7 p.m.

If you're interested in filing a protest, you can send it to:
City of Claremont
City Clerk
P.O. Box 880
Claremont, CA 91711-0880