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Should San Diegans eliminate free trash picks for single-family homes?

San Diego’s City Council recently voted in a split decision to place a proposal appealing the People’s Ordinance before voters on the November ballot.

The action could unlock a 103-year-old city policy guaranteeing free trash pickup for most people living in single-family homes. Businesses and most condos and apartments already pay private haulers to pick up their trash.

The ballot proposal has stirred up questions of fairness. Is it fair to provide a benefit to just a subset of the population? Alternatively, is it fair to charge people for a service they have long perceived as lumped into their property taxes?

The proposal comes with economic implications for single-family homeowners and the city, particularly given that the city’s trash collection costs are anticipated to grow over the next few years.

Q. Should San Diegans eliminate free trash pickup for single-family homes?

David Ely, San Diego State University

AND IT IS: For basic services like trash collection, all city residents should be treated equally. Residents living in condos and apartments are paying for trash collection, if not directly, then indirectly through homeowner association fees and rental payments. It seems unfair that the city covers trash collection expenses for people living in single-family homes. Free trash collection for all residents is not something the city can provide without significant cuts elsewhere.

Ray Major, SANDAG

Not participating this week.

Caroline Freund, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy

AND IT IS: User taxes (like for trash or water) are preferable to discourage excess consumption. But if the goal is equity, there are bigger fish to fry. Neighbors with similarly valued homes, receiving identical services, pay vastly different property taxes. Extremely low taxes on longtime (often wealthier) homeowners means young families are subsidizing local services for everyone else, and that discourages mobility. New homeowners should be excluded from any new property-related fees or taxes until this inequity is addressed.

Haney Hong, San Diego County Taxpayers Assoc.

NO: But I take issue with the question first: Trash pickup isn’t free. Everyone, renters too, pay into property taxes that cover the city’s general expenses. Ask a Bostonian or a New Yorker how they pay for trash, and they’ll tell you, “With my property taxes!” Your household and mine should get some trash collected without additional fee, and then the city should charge those who don’t recycle and put more into the landfill than you and me.

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

NO: Trash pickup was never free and always paid by a portion of imposed property taxes. Owners of apartments and condos also pay property taxes, but additionally pay for trash services (passing the costs on to occupants) and therefore are doubly taxed. With no commensurate reduction of property taxes, the act would simply impose additional taxes through indefinite fees. Trash collection services should either extend to all residential housing or the city should equitably reduce a proportion of property taxes.

Lynn Reaser, economist

AND IT IS: As much as homeowners like the free service, equity would say they should pay. Trash collection is one of the few cases where general fund revenues are used for only one set of the city’s taxpayers. The city lacks up-to-date information on the serial numbers on cans in many areas, which will drive the cost higher.

Phil BlairManpower

AND IT IS: It is antiquated and unfair to all paying customers for single-family homes to get free trash pickup. The People’s Ordinance is a 103-year-old law. While we are at it, the city should look at other antiquated laws that are not fair to all involved. Imagine how our world has changed in the last 103 years. It’s now time for this ordinance to change too.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

AND IT IS: It seems fair that all San Diegans are treated equally and fairly on the cost of services. I can only hope that our city policy makers use the extra funds wisely and that my trash gets picked up on time.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

AND IT IS: One problem with the current policy is that of equity. Only homeowners get the benefit of this policy. Businesses, including apartments, have to pay for trash pickup and probably pass the cost on to customers and renters. The other problem is that the policy encourages overconsumption by homeowners. With free trash pickup, there is no incentive to reduce waste. That causes environmental problems due to increased waste going into landfills.

Bob Rauch, R. A. Rauch & Associates

NO: This is just another tax on homeowners. The city needs to stop copying other cities in California and start cutting costs where there is bureaucracy and waste, and reduce regulations to let the business community and residents thrive. This is another perceived loss of service and a city money grab. There certainly is no concurrent plan to offset property taxes with this new fee. This provides another reason for people to leave San Diego.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

AND IT IS: It’s not a fair system if people who live in apartments have to pay a collection fee and people who own their homes do not. Most US cities now charge fees for trash collection and the system seems to work. I also approve of the way that the decision is going to be made, which is to let the residents of San Diego decide this issue with a democratic vote.

Austin NeudeckerWeave Growth

NO: There are several considerations and tradeoffs in privatization. Money: The city will shift this cost onto individual houses. Public safety: Sanitation is a public health imperative, not a luxury. I worry that individuals or companies will be incentivized to cut corners. Risk: Complaints often still go to the city. Ultimate liability remains with the city. Competition: The number of approved operators will impact quality and price, or put us back on a single provider.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

Not participating this week.

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

AND IT IS: Why should single-family city dwellers have free pickup while the apartment renters, condo owners and others need to pay for services? The city budget probably needs the help, but all savings should be directed at cleaning up other problems like old water and sewer lines. Private sector competition would likely bring down costs, and I hear the industry is “picking up!”

Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

NO: Single-family homeowners already pay for trash services with their property taxes. If this law gets repealed and trash pickup fees commence, then property taxes should be reduced accordingly to avoid double taxation. Additionally, the city should look to outsourcing trash services to help reduce cost, encourage price competition and to make the services more efficient. Voters shouldn’t want to support the city’s ability to impose unlimited additional fees with no further voter input (like our water and sewer fees).

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