Recology officials could breathe a sigh of relief Tuesday when the City Council supported the garbage contractor's proposals for a new contract instead of going to bid for the first time in over 80 years.
"You look like you are walking on air," it was said of a Recology official's expression at the end of Tuesday's study session.
Council member Ronit Bryant said she remained "uncomfortable" about not putting the contract out to bid, but she and other previously hesitant members did not object when asked if they supported continued negotiations with Recology for a contract that must begin in April 2013.
Residential rates could go up by 1 to 3 percent, while commercial rates could increase over 20 percent for new recycling and food waste collection services. With a vote on a final contact expected in September, City Council members are set to weigh the cost benefits of various proposals to up the city's recycling rate.
Recology promised a bill over two years that would reflect a two-year freeze on employee wages, while proposing increased recycling services at a cost comparable to other cities, said Lori Topley, Mountain View's solid waste program manager in a report.
Two potential bidders on the city's garbage contract spoke, including Michael Gross of Green Waste Recovery, which promises use of the country's first dry anaerobic digester. It composts organic waste and uses the gas produced to make electricity. "These are not little fantasies, this is happening in San Jose right now," said Gross, who promised meeting the city's waste diversion goal "from day one."
"My grandfather had the contract in Mountain View back in 1939," said Louie Pelligrini, president of Mission Trail Waste Services. "We have the contract in Los Altos after Recology had a 68-year run in that city."
He said his company matched existing costs in Los Altos, increased the diversion rate by nearly 15 percent, brought in new compressed natural gas trucks and weekly food scraps collection. "A competitive process might bring those numbers in for consideration," he said.
Several community members spoke in support of Recology, including Monique Kane, director of Community Health Awareness Council, a non-profit counseling services agency in Mountain View.
"They have helped us in incredible ways garbage-wise, monetarily and with volunteer time," Kane said, adding that Recology helps other non-profits in the city as well.
The city's landfill diversion rate is already pretty good, city officials said, with 70 percent of the city's trash diverted from landfills for recycling over the last year. An additional 7,000 tons of waste could be diverted based on the recommendations of city staff members, half of what is needed for the city's goal of 80 percent.
Under a set of new recommended services and costs, Topley estimates that residential users would see only a 1 to 3 percent increase in their garbage bills in 2013-14 in a new Recology contract, reflecting a 1 percent hike on both residential and commercial customers to cover the cost of new, lower emission garbage trucks powered by compressed natural gas, replacing diesel trucks.
Garbage rates for commercial businesses could go up by over 20 percent for a new collection of organic waste (a 6 to 9 percent hike to divert 1,760 tons) and new enhanced recycling services (a 9 to 11 percent hike to divert 3,300 tons.) Several businesses, including Google, are already participating in a pilot program for composting food waste.
"I'd love to see the city be able to implement organics pickup as soon as it can," said John Dustman, assistant manager of Red Rock Coffee. "We'd love to divert more of our organic waste through such a program."
City staff members don't recommend a 5 to 8 percent increase for a new weekly collection of residential yard trimmings and food scraps, which could divert 900 to 1,400 tons from the landfill yearly, though a free pilot program for residential food scrap collection that is recommended to evaluate the option. Similarly, city leaders don't recommend doubling the number of home recycling pickups, which would increase garbage bills by 4 to 7 percent but only divert an estimated 530 tons from landfills.
Despite complaints about the county's hazardous waste disposal programs, which sometimes involves making appointments to drop off toxic waste in San Jose, a new service allowing toxics to be picked up at a resident's front door is not recommended. Topley said the city could end up paying for the service on top of the county's service and in her report, she writes, "staff believes further entrenching household hazardous waste collection and disposal on the government tax roll undermines the zero-waste principle of extended producer responsibility."
Planning Commissioner Chris Clark asked the council to see about new recycling bins for residents that combine paper and plastic materials, which might make it easier to recycle, he said. Another resident said she looked forward to improvements to Recology's recycling center on Terra Bella Avenue which council member Ronit Bryant agreed was "a mess" in need of a reconfiguration, more parking and new evening hours to allow access for people who work during the day.
It closes at 3 p.m, though it's open Saturdays. When it's closed "people throw everything into the bins, including garbage," the woman said. "There's mattresses, there's furniture, it's potentially a fire hazard."