Trashy Business 

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Trash overflows on the streets of Venice following issues with the recycLA rollout. Photo by Sam Catanzaro.

Photos: Sam Catanzaro

For many Venice business owners and neighbors, trash has become a contentious issue under recycLA, the City of Los Angeles’s new waste collection program. 

by Sam Catanzaro

For most people, waste management is as simple as taking the trash out to the street once a week. For many Venice business owners and neighbors, however, trash has become a contentious issue under recycLA, the City of Los Angeles’s new waste collection program.

Historically, the City has operated trash collection for single family residences only. recycLA puts the previously unregulated business of commercial waste hauling under city control. By the end of January, about 70,000 commercial and apartment buildings that were previously serviced by private trash collection providers will now be serviced by a City appointed company.

recycLA divides the city into 11 geographic zones, each with its own service provider. Each provider is required to invest $200 million in infrastructure for their zone while meeting certain environmental requirements. Athens Services is the company awarded the contract by the City to serve Venice.

“This means all new trucks, clean fuel burning trucks, clean, safe equipment and facilities, a minimum wage will be paid to all of these workers, they will have safe working conditions, bins will be replaced and cleaned, graffiti will be removed, and at the end of the day we are meeting our commitment to the State of California to reduce what is going into our landfills,” said Elena Stern, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Sanitation.

recycLA trash monopoly lets down the Venice neighborhood. Photo bt Sam Catanzaro.

With any large infrastructure overhaul, there are bound to be issues in the rollout, and recycLA is no exception. Sarah Booth, who runs the Samesun Venice Beach hostel on Windward and manages the restaurant Surfside Venice, said the transition over to this new system has been frustrating and difficult.

“I am not a huge fan of it,” Booth said. “The communication is non-existent. There was no person that contacted us to implement it to make it work.

Booth’s current rates have not increased under the new system, but others in Venice have not been so lucky. While rates are capped under recycLA, Athens Services is charging many business owners with surcharges and extra fees, significantly increasing their overall cost. In one example, Athens added a $563.61 fee to a customer’s bill for pushing a button to open and close a gate to collect the trash. Yo! Venice reached out to Athens for comment, but they did not respond.

For this local business, the City of Los Angeles’s new waste collection program is an uphill battle. Photo by Sam Catanzaro.

Even though these changes only apply to commercial establishments, many Venice homeowners are also feeling their effects. One resident who lives on Abbot Kinney told Yo! Venice that ever since recycLA was implemented, neighboring businesses are letting trash pile up in the alley instead of paying for additional black bins. Under recycLA, additional black bins cost money while additional blue recycling bins are free. Another resident complained that drivers make a lot of noise before 7 a.m. and often block traffic lanes to pick up trash.

In response to these issues, Venice’s councilmember Mike Bonin introduced legislation to City Council in December addressing customer service issues and excessive fees associated with recycLA’s rollout.

“Residents and small business owners in Los Angeles deserve better than this,” Bonin said. “The goals of the recycLA program – reaching zero waste in Los Angeles and protecting the workers we rely on for this essential service – are imperative, but the poor rollout and implementation of this program is simply unacceptable. The City needs to take immediate steps to fix it, or we’ll never achieve the worthy goals of the program.”

The bill instructs the Bureau of Sanitation to immediately provide City Council a report with recommendations for possible reductions to the extra service charges being levied. Additionally, the bill demands a plan for further outreach to consumers to inform them of the changes in the new system.

Despite this legislative effort, not all stakeholders are willing to wait for City Council to fix the program and are taking matters into their own hands. The Apartment Owners Association of California, Inc (AOA) has filed a lawsuit against the city, contending that recycLA has unequal effects and constitutes a tax increase. The AOA argues that this in violation of Proposition 218, which states that voter approval is needed for any new charges on business owners.

“It is just totally criminal,” said AOA President Daniel C. Faller. “They are raising the taxes and they should put it on the ballot.”

The waste hauling companies have ten-year contracts with the city, and with strong union and political backing for recycLA, Faller does not anticipate a compromise being reached outside of court.

“I don’t think we will reach a solution that makes both sides happy. We are going to be unhappy as long as there is a monopoly and not a free market here,” Faller said.

As to why the city would create such a monopoly, Faller said to “follow the money”.

“The trash companies paid the City $35 million. The City Council members and the Mayor, whenever they run for reelection I assume will get some pretty big donations from these trash companies after handing them a sweet deal like this,” Faller said.

While Faller hopes to see change within the year, some Venice business owners like Sarah Booth are not so optimistic.

“I think that this monopoly is unfortunate but I think that is an uphill battle that will never be won,” Booth said.

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