Committee’s 3-2 vote disregards concerns of 90 community members at hearing
By Susan Duerksen / CPI / July 13, 2011
Despite overwhelming public opposition to the risky and costly privatization of Miramar Landfill, the San Diego City Council’s Rules committee today voted 3-2 to send the controversial plan on to the full council.
A council vote is expected July 25 or 26 on the Mayor’s program to outsource operations at the city’s only public landfill, a process Councilmember Marti Emerald called “folly… throwing money away.”
The City Attorney’s office today said the City is legally required to pay for a full environmental review if a private operator is selected – contradicting previous denials by the Mayor’s staff – and has concluded that the City would remain financially liable for any damage or violations of state and federal standards.
The committee room overflowed with more than 90 community members who urged an end to the expensive process of seeking bids from private contractors to operate the complex and environmentally sensitive landfill. Many pointed out that the landfill provides excellent, efficient service and makes money for the city now, and that contractor mismanagement could cause disasters ranging from Mission Bay pollution to huge fines paid by taxpayers.
“This is an irresponsible waste of taxpayer money, trying to tinker with a department that’s an example of how government should work,” Emerald said.
Councilmember Sherri Lightner, who voted with Emerald to stop the problem-plagued “managed competition” of the landfill, repeated her request for written approval from the Navy, which owns the land. The Mayor’s staff said the Navy won’t weigh in until after a contractor is selected, at considerable City expense.
CPI Executive Director Clare Crawford said the extensive oversight needed for the landfill and its 80 subcontractors hasn’t been included in the cost estimates. Miramar has unique environmental sensitivity that demands even more thorough oversight than most landfills, she said, while San Diego has a dismal track record of overseeing private contractors.
Among the organizations opposing the outsourcing process were local chapters of Sierra Club, League of Women Voters and the Audubon Society, as well as the Environmental Health Coalition, Emerald Hills Town Council, Friends of the Rose Canyon, Fox Canyon Neighborhood Association, Justice Overcoming Boundaries, two retired military contract managers and numerous individual residents.
Workers from the landfill explained some of the complexities of managing San Diego’s one million tons of waste per year, including the many types of hazardous materials they detect and divert to safe handling.
The Center on Policy Initiatives has cautioned for the past year that privatizing the landfill is likely to increase long-term costs for taxpayers. A recent CPI op-ed explains the need for strong oversight of private contractors, especially for a service as complex and hazardous as the Miramar Landfill.