Atherton OKs trash-collection rate hikes

Town attempts to deal with shortfall stemming from rates that haven't covered costs

Struggling to reduce a shortfall as high as $1.3 million that the town is projected to owe for garbage collection services, the Atherton City Council approved garbage rate hikes ranging from 15.5 percent to 59 percent, depending on level of service.

The council approved the rate increases at its May 18 meeting after a public hearing and a less-than-rosy report on garbage collection services by Councilman Bill Widmer. Mr. Widmer and Councilman Jerry Carlson, who served on a council subcommittee studying the garbage rate issue, recommended a rate schedule that differed from any of the three that the council had previously considered.

"No solution ... will completely address the shortfall," Mr. Widmer said. But the rates the subcommittee was proposing would be a sound middle ground that would reduce the shortfall more than rates endorsed in March, which represented a 39 percent increase for all service levels.

The subcommittee's recommendation was rejected, 3-2, with the council's first vote, with Mayor Jim Dobbie and Kathy McKeithen arguing that the rates needed to be higher to cover more of the town's costs. But after the council rejected a motion for a higher rate schedule, a third vote was taken on the Widmer/Carlson recommendation, and those rates were unanimously approved.

The new rates are expected to lower the shortfall projected if rates remain the same from $1.3 million to about $941,000.

Under the new rate schedule, effective July 15, residents using a 20-gallon garbage can will pay $20 per month, up 15.5 percent from $17.32. The cost for a 32-gallon can goes up 59 percent, from $27.69 to $44. Service for a 64-gallon barrel goes up 50 percent, from $55.38 to $83; and for a 96-gallon barrel, from $82.18 to $125, a 52 percent increase.

Residents will also be charged more for multiple green waste containers. Under the original proposal, customers would have been charged $1 for each container over the first two, which are free. Under the approved schedule, customers will be charged $6 for each green waste container over two.

The new rates are considerably lower than those endorsed by the council in December, which ranged from increases of 63 percent for using the smallest can available to 98 percent for using the 96-gallon barrel. After a public outcry and the raising of many questions by residents and council members alike, the council in March endorsed more moderate increases.

The new rates may be in for another review and change in the fall. The subcommittee recommended that the town look for other adjustments to the waste collection service and consider charging customers more for green waste service.

Mr. Widmer said each green waste barrel costs $19.35 to service, and noted that Atherton generates nearly 10.5 percent of all organic tonnage collected in the jurisdictions served by the South Bayside Waste Management Authority (SBWMA), a joint powers authority representing 12 Peninsula jurisdictions, including Atherton.

Mr. Widmer and Mr. Carlson spent many hours over the last few months working with Recology, the town's new garbage collection contractor; town staff; and SBWMA.

Another key question yet to be resolved is the outstanding debt the town owes Allied Waste, which provided waste collection service until January, when Recology took over.

Allied Waste says that Atherton must pay $334,000 in "true up" costs. But questions have been raised about the debt in light of Allied Waste's assurances to the town in March 2010 that the 16.9 percent increase passed at the time would be sufficient for the company to cover its costs and make the profit agreed to in its contract with the town.

Mr. Widmer said an audit being performed by SBWMA is expected to be concluded by September, and that the debt may not be as high as earlier believed.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

The new rates are still a huge percentage increase but I have no idea if the new rates are overall outrageous or typical. Almanac - how do these rates compare with similar towns (Los Altos, Saratoga, Hillsboro, etc.) and average costs (national, state)?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2011 at 5:11 am

What increase? By simply going to a 20 gallon container and fully utilizing the one free recycle, one additional recycle container at $3/mo and the two free compost containers I will have reduced my monthly bill to $23 - a reduction of over 70%.

The only problem with the new rates is that they will not cover the Town's contractual obligation to Recology and the difference will have to be made up from either non-existent general funds or next year's rate increase.

From: Peter Carpenter
Date: May 18, 2011 3:27:53 PM PDT
To: Peter Carpenter <>
Cc: Theresa DellaSanta <>, William Widmer <>, Elizabeth Lewis <>, Jerry Carlson <>, James Dobbie <>, kathy mckeithen <>,

Dear Council Members,
The proposed rate schedule is an economic instrument that is intended to change/encourage 'appropriate' recycling behavior. In fact, the proposed rate schedule will subsidize local landscaping services and will fail to recover the actual costs of garbage, recycling and compost services. Any intelligent resident will, based on this rate schedule, just minimize the size of their garbage can and maximize their use of the very cheap recycling and composting bins.
I confess - I am a "can migrator". I have just changed my Recology service to a 20 gallon garbage can and will therefore pay considerably less per month than I did last year. There is no way that my monthly fees will cover the cost of picking up weekly my 20 gallon garbage bin, my two 64 gallon recycling bins ( soon to become one 96 gallon bin at NO cost) and three composting bins (soon to become two at NO cost).
The shortfall produced by the proposed rate schedule vs the Town's contractual liability to Recology will be, in my estimation, significant. The Town has no alternative but to cover that shortfall either from general funds or by significant increases in future garbage rates.


Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Perhaps as the FBI pursues it's scrutiny of the workings and players of San Mateo County's political machine, it will also have some light to shed on how the garbage mafia was able to manipulate the various municipalities into this ridiculous contract.
Atherton, for example, out sources it's City Planning to a firm which serves a similar function for at a third of all Cities in the County--this contract Planner is the representative that Atherton selected to negotiate waste management on it's behalf.
Why would Recology need to care what Atherton might accept, when they only needed to sell their proposal to a Firm with influence in multiple Cities to win many cities for their contracts?

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 21, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Ed is absolutely correct - the ten year contract with Recology is a disaster and it was negotiated by the SBWMA on behalf of the the 12 participating cities. Not one member of the SBWMA Board of Directors is an elected official.

Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Peter. If you only knew how correct you are......Perhaps one day we can discuss this in private. Your toes would curl

Like this comment
Posted by Silvio Dante
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm

'how the garbage mafia'

Why, I've never heard of such a thing... Paulie, have you?


Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm

As has been mentioned above, Atherton's outside contract City Planner is who served as a SBWMA Board member and as the Town's representative who negotiated this contract on it's behalf.
I understand that this person also recently was able to purchase the firm that had employed her from her boss, the previous owner of Neil Martin Associates. Did she actually generate enough revenue for herself while re-writing Atherton's Building Code. the Zoning Ordinances, the General Plan, and Housing Ordinance to buy the company that had perviously employed her? Or did she need to take on partners?
And Which possibility is the most scary?
Also why was she not in attendance at the last week's Council Meeting on the Garbage Contract issue?
Just wondering

Like this comment
Posted by Heidi W
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

If it costs $19.35 to service each green barrel waste, then why are the first two barrels free and why would we pay only $6 per barrel for additional barrels? What am I missing here? The black barrels determine our payment rates but they have no correlation to the number of green barrels we use, right?

BTW, I will be reducing my black container size (which was half empty each week anyway) to keep my costs low but that's not going to be of much help to the city in reducing its shortfall.

The whole garbage dilemma isn't making much sense right now. Whenever that happens, I ask myself "Who's benefitting?" A sage friend once told me, "Follow the money trail," and the answers will become apparent.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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