How Much Should San Diego Trash Pickup Cost? City Considers a $4.5 Million Study

The city of San Diego took a significant step this week towards charging single-family households for trash and recycling services after decades of not doing so.

On February 15, the Environment Committee of the City Council approved spending $4.5 million to hire a consultant to determine how much to charge, whether to offer new services and what kind of discounts clients should receive for generating less waste. The vote was 3-0 in favor of the payment.

The entire council must approve the proposed agreement with consultant HDR Engineering as early as next month.

However, a few council members expressed concerns regarding the consultant’s study costing more than anticipated, the intentions to manage trash billing internally, and the intention to modify trash services in response to a number of neighborhood forums.

The proposed agreement was made 15 months after the city’s voters approved Measure B. Measure B revised the People’s Ordinance of 1919, which forbade the city from charging single-family residences for trash removal.

How Much Should San Diego Trash Pickup Cost City Considers a $4.5 Million Study

The city is anticipated to get an additional $80 million in revenue per year from Measure B backers once approximately 300,000 single-family customers begin paying monthly fees for recycling and trash collection in the summer of 2026.

Now that the city is able to charge those clients, though, it needs to determine which services those clients want and make sure that charging more than what it costs to provide those services is consistent with state law.

Renee Robertson, the director of environmental services for the city and person in charge of trash collection, says that the reason the contract with the consultant is so much more expensive than the estimated $1 million that the council members were expecting is because of this intricate process.

“What’s unique about this process is that this is the first time we are evaluating services and setting rates,” Robertson stated. “This is a significant change that requires time, thoughtfulness and a continuous focus on customer experience.”

La Jolla is included in Councilman Joe LaCava’s District 1. He concurred, saying, “We’re really looking at the whole spectrum of what we could do. You really have to button it down from every direction.”

Plans to hold forums in each of the city’s nine council districts to solicit input on trash and recycling services were criticized by Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell. The consultant is proposing an outreach campaign worth $1.7 million, with that endeavor serving as its centerpiece.

“Very few people come to these meetings,” Campbell said. “It’s a waste of staff time and money.”

She recommended surveying the locals as it would be more economical.

Mayor Todd Gloria’s adviser, Randy Wilde, countered that a comprehensive procedure is required to prevent lawsuits alleging the city violates Proposition 218—legislation that prohibits government organizations from charging more for services than they actually provide.

“This is brand-new territory for the city,” Wilde said. “It’s very likely this will be litigated. There will be a lot of questions about ‘Is the city being as efficient as possible?’ before we levy these new fees.”

He argued that the $4.5 million will be used wisely.

The consultant will need to decide whether to bring new services to the city, such as weekly recycling pickups instead of biweekly ones, or schedule regular pickups of hazardous waste and bulky trash.

Creating a “pay-as-you-throw” program that would result in lower costs for individuals who produce less rubbish and higher bills for those who produce the most will likely be a more difficult task. A program like this, according to city officials, would assist San Diego in reaching its 2035 target of net-zero waste.

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In fall 2022, the city’s independent budget expert estimated that if all 285,000 households that had been receiving no-fee service were charged equally, single-family home monthly rates would likely range from $23 to $29 in total.

However, due to inflation since then, the need to establish a new city billing bureaucracy, and the fact that the IBA’s research should have taken into consideration higher service levels, bills will most likely be higher.

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However, city officials warn that there is no assurance that residents would be charged the entire cost of the service. Additionally, they have indicated that low-income and elderly persons may be eligible for subsidies and that monthly fees may be gradually increased up to full cost recovery.

After receiving several complaints over the years over billing issues in the city’s water and sewer departments, Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert suggested that San Diego outsource trash billing.

Von Wilpert declared, “It’s been a huge mess and it’s not going to get better any time soon.”

She mentioned that when the Fire-Rescue Department took over the city ambulance service last year, it decided to outsource billing.

In the event that the entire council approves the proposed agreement with the consultant, HDR Engineering will be required to host community forums in the second half of this year, develop a proposal for a rate structure in the early months of 2025, and offer the structure to the council for approval in the summer of 2025.

As soon as possible, Campbell stated, the city should cease offering single-family homes free garbage pickup.

“There are other things we can’t fund because of it, whereas other cities don’t have this burden on their budget,” she said.

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