Big garbage, recycling rate hikes in store for Woodside, Portola Valley | November 6, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - November 6, 2019

Big garbage, recycling rate hikes in store for Woodside, Portola Valley

Woodside council meets Nov. 12 on new rates; Portola Valley council meets Nov. 13.

by Rick Radin

Woodside and Portola Valley have negotiated a new recycling and garbage collection agreement with San Jose-based GreenWaste Recovery that calls for a more than 30 percent average base rate increase.

The higher rates are based in part on the falling value of recycled materials due in part to China's decision last year to stop buying all but the cleanest and highest-value recycling from overseas, according to a mailer sent to Portola Valley and Woodside residents.

"The value of recyclables isn't coming close to the cost of disposing of them," said Joe Sloan of Sloan Vasquez McAfee, a solid waste, recycling and organics consulting firm that was hired by Woodside and Portola Valley to negotiate and do a cost analysis of the agreement.

Rates have also been driven upward by California state rules that prohibit mixing of garbage and items earmarked for composting that will now have to be gathered and disposed of separately, according to the mailer.

The cost analysis also cited "unanticipated, sustained growth" in the volume of materials that are being collected in the two towns.

Both towns have had an exclusive franchise agreement with GreenWaste since 2008, which expires at the end of the current fiscal year in June. The new agreement would be for 10 years.

Sloan said his firm evaluated every aspect of the collection process, including the cost of buying and maintaining the recycling trucks, fuel, labor costs, disposal costs and other expenses, and found that GreenWaste's bid covered its costs and provided a reasonable 8% to 9% profit and a franchise fee that goes to the towns.

Sloan Vasquez McAfee also analyzed the risks and rewards of doing direct negotiations with GreenWaste versus putting out a request for proposals to other providers, and determined that "it was unlikely that a competitive procurement process would result in improved rates and presented the risk of higher rates," according to the mailer.

Baseline service offering the lowest rates include collecting garbage, food waste, yard trimmings and recycling.

The cost of the service is determined by the size of the gray carts used for garbage, food waste and yard trimmings that customers choose for their service. The carts come in 20-gallon, 32-gallon, 64-gallon and 96-gallon sizes.

Baseline customers receive a blue cart for recycling, and can request up to two more at no additional charge.

Curbside customers on streets that are wide enough for large collection trucks to traverse may also request up to three green carts for clean yard trimmings.

Customers who need "concierge services" — that is, whose homes are offset from the roadway enough that workers must drive or walk onto the property to reach their carts — will now be charged a new fee, the amount of which will be determined by the distance of the property from the roadway, according to information in a mailer sent to residents.

The higher rates for the concierge services were designed to make up for the fact that it costs more to provide the services to these customers, according to Sloan.

The two towns say that the "additional fees associated with additional labor costs, such as walk-on and drive-on services, represent the cost of providing those services," according to the mailer. "This will result in a larger rate change impact for customers currently using these more costly service options."

However, about a dozen concierge service customers who attended a Tuesday (Oct. 29) community meeting in Woodside protested that the new charges are way out of line with actual costs of providing the extra services.

Katelyn Lewis, GreenWaste's director of sustainability and strategy, said, "The cost increase of the services provided over the years has outpaced the rate we have been charging."

Woodside resident Kevin Greenwood said that GreenWaste workers have to drive 200 feet down his driveway to reach his carts.

"It's not possible for us to drag those huge cans up the hill, so they have to drive on to our property to reach them," Greenwood said. "We're paying for the increased cost of basic service, plus the huge new monthly fee to come down the driveway."

Lewis verified that although Greenwood is now paying GreenWaste about $27 per month, he'll be paying $114 per month under the new agreement with almost all the increase due to the higher charges for the drive-on service.

"Just because these rates were a bargain for these customers in the past doesn't overcome the pain they are feeling with the increases," Lewis acknowledged.

The Woodside Town Council will hold a public hearing on the new agreement at its Nov. 12 meeting with Portola Valley council doing the same the following evening.

The councils may adopt the agreement following the hearings and, if approved, the new rates will be phased beginning on Jan. 1 and take full effect on July 1, 2020, according to the mailer.

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