NORWALK – The Norwalk city council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to award a new city-wide solid waste disposal contract to Athens Services.
The motion was introduced by council member Tony Ayala, seconded by Leonard Shryock and then approved by members Ayala, Luigi Vernola, Mayor Jennifer Perez and Vice Mayor Margarita Rios. Shryock cast the lone opposing vote, despite seconding the motion.
During a special council meeting on April 2, CR&R had apparently been awarded the waste contract, “pending final negations,” according to a background report presented at Tuesday’s meeting.
On April 17, CR&R was eliminated from contention for deviating from the original Request for Proposal (RFP), city officials said. During the same meeting, the council approved opening negotiations with Athens Services based on their submitted proposal.
However, just before the scheduled special meeting on April 20, the city council was hand- delivered a letter from CR&R which included revised rates, requesting to be reinstated into the evaluation process.
After hearing comments from the public and from the two opposing trash haulers (CR&R and Athens Services) the council voted 3-1 to have both CR&R and Athens provide their “last and final best” price structures to the city, due by noon on April 23. Both trash companies submitted final bids.
At Tuesday’s special meeting, after a staff report by Norwalk project leader Adriana Figueroa, the floor was opened to comments from the public.
Norwalk longtime resident Ken White addressed the council with his concerns about the new agreement’s 15 percent franchise fee and whether it was a tax on residents.
California Proposition 218 is a California amendment to the state’s constitution regarding voter approval requirements for local government taxes.
Norwalk City Attorney Roxanne Diaz shared her opinion that the franchise fee did not conflict with Prop. 218, stating that, “[it] comes out of the haulers pocket and not the [residents].”Additionally, regarding the amount, 15%, she said, “it wasn’t out of the norm.”
Council member Tony Ayala responded with, “For the last 20 years, we’ve had 0% franchise fees.”
In fact, the current two-company city trash haulers have reported that $221,000 out of $9,214,000 annual revenues had been collected on the report listed, representing a 2.4% franchise fee rate. That revenue is directed into the city’s general fund.
Speaking to the council, Gary Clifford, executive vice president of Athens Services, claimed their proposal was overall less expensive, saying, “we are $430,000 cheaper.”
He also made mention that he had made a phone call to Adriana Figueroa and, “I was told by Adriana Figueroa, that we could absolutely not waver from the format.”
Later, Council member Shryock, asked Figueroa, “Did you tell Athens they could not deviate?” To which Figueroa replied, “I can’t recall.”
During the discussions following public input, Shryock called the current trash contract “extremely profitable to the haulers.”
After final comments from the council, Ayala motioned to accept the proposal from Athens Services. Shryock seconded the motion and the council voted 4-1 to adopt the motion, with Shryock dissenting.
Mayor Perez struck the gavel and, after seven years since it was announced that the contract would not be renewed and after a two-year process in the proposal stage, Norwalk has a new solid waste disposal provider, Athens Services.
The quoted plan will lower the current residential rate from $20.79 to $16.75 and the senior rate from $9.79 to $4.19. Commercial rates will increase $41.70 to $197.65 (3-yard bin). All three rates will be frozen for two years after the inception of the plan.
Asked for comments afterwards, Mayor Jennifer Perez reiterated, “I’d rather be at the ballpark.”
“[It was] very tiring,” added Shryock. “I’m glad it’s over. “We’ve got a lot of thing to do, like the Economic Development Plan, public safety, and the homeless situation”
Asked why he voted “no” after seconding the motion, Shryock insisted CR&R’s bid had lower residential and commercial rates” and had provided waste services for Norwalk with no rate increases the past seven years.
Shryock received $1,000 campaign contributions from CR&R and Consolidated – another waste hauler – in 2015 but said those donations did not influence his votes.
Ayala and Perez each received $2,000 from CR&R in their 2017 election campaigns.
Norwalk City Manager Jesus Gomez said he hoped to finalize the franchise agreement with Athens as early as May 8, the next regularly scheduled council meeting.
By Raul Samaniego, contributor