Santa Clarans will see their garbage bill double over the next few years thanks to a state mandate to reduce how much organic waste is dumped into landfills.
The discussion took place at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, where Dave Staub, Deputy Director of Public Works, recommended the Council approve two contracts that would hire a company to sort through Santa Claran’s trash to avoid the City rolling out the much-maligned split-bin food scraps program Citywide.
This time around, the program added concerns that garbage sorters aren’t paid a prevailing wage. The discussion over prevailing wage for sorters working for the contractor, Green Waste Recovery, came up repeatedly, ballooning into a 3-hour discussion.
Although the food scrap program proved less costly, Staub said an online survey of 643 people showed that only 37 percent of respondents favored the split-bin solution, even though the question informed them that the cost was lower. This survey, paired with responses from those in the pilot program — which saw only slightly more than half of respondents say they were satisfied — led to the recommendation that the City simply have the trash sorted at a processing plant.
However, such plants are scarce, with Green Waste Recovery operating the only one in the area.
John Bouchard, with Teamsters Union Local 315, said Green Waste Recovery is running an “aggressively anti-union campaign.”
Other pro-union advocates agreed.
Sam M. Saiu called the situation a “dog-and-pony show,” adding it is a “one-trick pony.”
“That trick appears to be union-busting,” he said.
Others worried about more than the lack of prevailing wage. Whether residents would even use the split-bin came up several times, with both Council Member Kathy Watanabe and Planning Commission Chair Anthony Becker raising the issue.
“My concern is that we are going to implement a program that no one will use,” Watanabe said.
Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Patricia Mahan said the lack of safety guidelines gave her pause.
The Council eventually approved the contract with Green Waste Recovery to process the mixed waste in a 5-2 vote. Council Member Raj Chahal and Mahan voted “no.” In a 4-3 vote — with Mahan, Chahal and Council Member Karen Hardy voting “no” — the Council opted not to make the split-bin program citywide.
Council Set to Eliminate Architectural Review Committee
In another close vote, the Council opted to eliminate the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) despite a recommendation to the contrary from the Planning Commission.
Although only the first reading of the ordinance, the Council voted 4-3 to have City employees do the work of the ARC. Chahal, Mahan and Hardy voted “no.”
City Attorney Brian Doyle opined that such a practice is “very, very standard” and provides a “good balance,” adding that Santa Clara using the ARC — which is made up of two planning commissioners and a Council appointee — for such decisions is “very strange.”
Reena Brillot, Planning Manager, said having a City employee review will “formalize” much of the proceedings and eliminate numerous appeals.
“It takes a lot of the politics out of architectural review that has been embedded there for a while,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor said. “We are not creating this process. Everyone around us does it.”
Becker called the disregard for the Planning Commission’s recommendation “insulting,” saying it implies that what the ARC does “doesn’t matter.” He also took issue with the notion that surrounding cities have such practices.
“If every other city jumped off a cliff, are we going to jump off a cliff too? I don’t think so,” he said.
If the decision-making power is not going to lie in the hands of elected officials, Mahan said, it should at least be in the hands of appointed officials.
Patrick Henry Specific Plan Gets Go-ahead
In a unanimous vote, the Council agreed to allow up to 12,000 residential units in the Patrick Henry Specific Plan area — bound by Mission College Boulevard, Great America Parkway, and Sunnyvale.
With nearly all the developers in the area planning to redevelop soon, Andrew Crabtree, Director of Community Development, said the City needs to prepare notice of preparation to establish density limits prior to conducting an environmental impact report (EIR).
Although the notice of preparation is preliminary, it would allow buildings up to eight stories tall and could include one massive 25+ story complex.
Still, Gillmor said she didn’t want to see the City get into another situation like it did with Freedom Circle, where developers began backing out because of the City’s minimum density requirements.
“It is key that we still look at the market and what can be built and not just get the numbers we can get for our city,” Gillmor said.
Consent Calendar Spending
The Council approved spending via the consent calendar:
- $8.77 million to Paso Robles Tank Inc. for the Serra tanks rehabilitation
- A 5-year, $1 million contract with Real Environmental for landfill gas collection system repair and maintenance services
- $27,723 budget amendment for SCI Consulting for a storm drain rate and fee study
- $8 million budget amendment to fund “unanticipated maintenance and repairs” on Don Von Raesfeld Power Plant
- $430,472 with V&A Consulting Engineers for sanitary sewer system inflow and infiltration evaluation
The Council meets again Tuesday, Dec. 17 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.