Claremont Insider: Dumpster Diving

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dumpster Diving

Sam Pedroza's Waste Connections

Click Image to Enlarge

One of the Insider's favorite activities remains the nocturnal leap, powered by sinewy legs, as we fly into our town's trash bins while the rest of Claremont sleeps. Our nighttime dumpster dives have sometimes caused us undeserved grief from some of the community's less careful thinkers (you know who you are, Sonia Carvalho), but we just can't help ourselves.

Our latest bit of refuse rummaging was prompted by a Request for Proposal (RFP), issued by Claremont's city staff, who solicited bids from six waste hauling companies to see what they'd charge for providing the city's trash service. Here's all the information on the City's website:

Sanitation Study (Sep 16, 2010)

On August 3, the City of Claremont released a Request for Proposal (RFP) for solid waste collection, recycling, and disposal services. The purpose of the RFP is designed to provide the City with an opportunity to evaluate the cost of providing disposal and recycling services to its residents and businesses. The deadline to submit proposals was September 14, 2010 by 2:00 p.m. The companies that submitted proposals were the City's Sanitation Division, Burrtec Waste Industries, Waste Management Inc., Athens Services, and Republic Services.

Staff will review the proposals and will make recommendations to the Community Services Commission.The Community Services Commission will then forward a recommendation to the City Council. Hard copies of the RFP are still available for review by residents at City Hall as well as at the Community Services City Yard building. In addition, hard copies can be purchased for $25 at either facility. A copy of the RFP is available on the City's website for public viewing. Residents having questions regarding the RFP process may contact Pat Malloy, Interim Community Services Director, at 909-399-5432 or via e-mail at

City staffers were apparently trying to see if they could get the same service for less money. However, they failed to take into account the irrational love Claremonters have for their municipal trash service. Letters in the Claremont Courier have been uniformly in favor of having our own Community Service workers picking up our garbage and yours. It seems as if everyone in town with the exception of the Claremont Unified School District sees this as a matter of civic pride.

One council member who knows a thing or two about solid waste is Mayor Pro Tem Sam Pedroza, who in his real life works as an environmental planner for the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. Pedroza came to the attention of the Conscious Claremont blog vis-à-vis a potential conflict of interest regarding Claremont's landfill options:
So, what happens when the city has to choose a landfill & the law prohibits officials from participating in actions that may effect their employer? In 2008, Mr. Pedroza recused himself from said discussion, citing conflict of interest. But, when the same item appeared in Dec, he participated.

Photo, right:
Claremont City Council Member Sam Pedroza, explaining the downhill flow of the sort of waste he's most acquainted with.

The ol' switcheroo on Pedroza's part was undoubtedly familiar to people who supported Claremont's original affordable housing project at Base Line Rd. and Towne Ave. when he first said he was for the project, then said he was against it, all while calculating the ramifications of his choice on his 2007 election campaign.

Conscious Claremont quoted Pedroza as he described some of the private companies and agencies he works with. Among the private waste companies he named were three that received one of the aforementioned RFPs from the City: Waste Management, Athens Services, and Valley Vista Services.

We thought we'd heard of Valley Vista Services before in connection with Pedroza. It turns out that Valley Vista is a part of a City of Industry-based company called Zerep Management. In fact, if you type "" in your browser, you'll get directed to Valley Vista's website.

Zerep sounded kinda strange. What exactly is it? We nosed around and learned that Zerep is a holding company owned by the City of Industry's Perez family. (Get it? Spell Z-E-R-E-P backwards.)

And that's where our man Sam comes in. In his 2007 city council campaign, Pedroza received a $250 donation from Matthew Perez, who listed his occupation as manager of Zerep Management Corp. Here's a part of Pedroza's campaign finance Form 460 filings for the 2007 municipal election:

If you didn't know, the Perez family pretty much runs Industry, where David Perez is the mayor. The Perez family has Industry's commercial waste hauling franchise. Since that city is almost entirely commercial, the commercial waste contract is worth millions every year to the family.

The Los Angeles Times ran an article about the Perez family in October 2009. The piece, written by Rich Connell explained some of the eccentricities of the David Perez's town:
[the commercial waste account] is just one Perez investment thread that runs through town -- a place with fewer than 100 voters, tight-knit City Hall relationships and now a good chance of becoming home to an $800-million stadium complex and Los Angeles' next professional football team.

On top of the commercial refuse franchise, which generated more than $12 million for Perez's disposal operation over the last year, another Perez firm collected nearly $6.8 million from the city for maintaining street medians and parkways, removing graffiti and other services, a Times review has found.

The mayor's business-partner brother serves on the city planning commission. A nephew, who works for the family's management company, is on the board of Industry's redevelopment agency, which provided income last year to yet another family business in which the mayor and his brother are investors.

The Times article went on to say that "nearly a third of the town's registered voters appear to be related to the mayor or residing in homes owned by a family land investment partnership...."
According to the Times, besides having a Perez in the mayor's seat, one council member rents his home from a Perez land investment partnership, and another is a "landowner that the company paid more than $100,000 [in 2008]."

More recently, on September 11, the Times had an article about a $1,500 donation from David Perez to L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley's campaign for California attorney general. The LADA's office is currently looking some of the goings on in Industry, so the donation seemed to present a possible conflict. The Times piece quoted Rene Cota, an Industry businessman who had his own problems with Industry's City Hall:
For about a year, Perez, who is also the mayor of the City of Industry and whose family owns the Valley Vista trash hauling firm, has been the focus of an inquiry by Cooley's office into his private business ties to City Hall. The ongoing probe, apparently examining multimillion-dollar refuse collection and landscaping maintenance contracts, began after Cota filed a complaint.

When the city shut down his bar for alleged code violations, Cota began looking into Industry's close-knit political culture — there are fewer than 100 registered voters, and many are related to one another or working for the city.

"It disheartens me," said the former Anaheim police officer. It is "obviously unethical if he's taking contributions from persons or entities" under scrutiny by Cooley's office, he said. "It definitely shakes my confidence in the legal system."

Cooley's top anti-corruption deputy says there is no connection between campaign money and the district attorney's investigation or prosecution of public officials.

But the donation highlights a tricky choice for an elected prosecutor like Cooley. Where does he draw the line on taking money from people who could figure in an investigation?

Besides the Times coverage, Industry was also the subject of a book called "City of Industry: Genealogies of Power in Southern California" by Victor Valle. The book is written as a kind of ethnography, describing in great detail the web of relationships between Industry politicians and businessmen.

Now, getting back to our Sam, we'd like to think of him as our local tongue-tied goof, like Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show, not too bright, more ego than substance, but generally pretty harmless. Unfortunately, Sam's got just the wrong combination of ambition, weakness, and insecurity that has caused us so much trouble at every level of government.

It's probably very fortunate for Sam that Valley Vista hasn't submitted a bid for our trash service. He might start squirming and tripping over his tongue if that were to happen. Circumstances may have saved Sam from himself.

We can only hope.