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LA's Controversial New Recycling Program Needs Major Overhaul, Critics Say

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Two Los Angeles City Council members plan to call the city's new commercial wastehauling system to task Tuesday ahead of a committee meeting that will examine the failures of the controversial RecycLA program.

Council members Mitch O'Farrell and Mike Bonin plan to hold a news conference at City Hall to demand improvements to the program and share the podium with some business and property owners who have been negatively affected by RecycLA.

The franchise waste hauling system was unanimously approved by the City Council in late 2016 and became operational July 1, 2017, with the goal of expanding recycling opportunities to thousands of businesses and apartment buildings while also cutting down on pollution by reducing the number of trucks on the street.

Back in August, several business and property owners told CBS2 they saw their rates skyrocket. They also lost their ability to shop around for more competitive prices.

"It's a monopoly. Now all of sudden they can charge whatever they want," business owner Mo Krant told CBS2.

Seven companies handle an estimated $3.5 billion in commercial waste hauling in Los Angeles under RecycLA. Each company is assigned as the sole trash hauler for commercial sites and multi-family complexes in one or more of the city's 11 zones.

Problems in the RecycLA system started not long after it became active, including some customers reporting missed service calls and skyrocketing bills, and several City Council members have become increasingly critical of the program.

"Since the initial rollout of RecycLA last month, my office has been inundated with calls and correspondence from small businesses, landlords, and homeowners associations expressing a common series of complaints and confusion: a lack of advance notification, missed pick-ups and significant or miscalculated rate increases," Bonin wrote in a letter last year to Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who is chair of the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee.

According to the Bureau of Sanitation, there have been over 28,000 calls connected to missed service pickups from July 2017 through the end of January. Some council members have also reported some constituents receiving bills two, three or four times higher than before the program began. But since each service provider has essentially been handed a monopoly, customers do not have a choice to seek out a better or cheaper service.

"What has been happening is not the world-class commercial wastehauling system the City Council voted for, it is not the system that LA Sanitation designed, and we must not put up with any companies who are not performing to the high standards we set. Period," Councilman Paul Koretz said last month.

Bonin and O'Farrell introduced a motion in December that instructs the Bureau of Sanitation to provide a comprehensive report on the problems with RecycLA, and the report is set to be discussed at the Energy, Climate Change, and Environmental Justice Committee.

Two other City Council motions are also addressed in the report, including one from Koretz and O'Farrell that directs the Bureau of Sanitation to report if certain RecycLA service providers have failed to fulfill their obligations, and whether to proceed with taking the necessary steps to terminate their individual contracts "for such substantial failure."

The meeting comes just days after the Feb. 1 deadline when service providers can be fined for poor service or have their contracts cancelled.

While the report does not recommend cancelling any contracts, it does note that service providers can now be fined for not meeting the obligations in their contracts, including $100 per missed collection and $300 per missed collection for the same customer within a 12-month period.

Many of the skyrocketing costs associated with RecycLA having come from service providers assessing extra fees for access and distance, including for having to open a gate or for a bin being located a certain distance from the street.

According to the Bureau of Sanitation report, 67 percent of customer have received no extra fees, but the rest -- more than 18,000 customers -- have received them for either distance or access, with 6 percent being charged for both.

Some customers were erroneously charged, the report said. For example, customers were being charged for access when their gates to solid waste bins were not only unlocked but removed.

According to the report, the Bureau of Sanitation sent a letter to six of the seven service providers on Dec. 15, requesting that charges be removed for distance on 298 properties, and the service providers have agreed to remove 214 of the charges so far.

The report also said a second letter was sent to all seven service providers last month requesting them to remove any distance and/or access charges from 723 customer accounts and that resolutions on these accounts are still pending.

(©2018 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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