Sacramento voters have the chance to replace a costly and confusing yard waste collection system with one that is more efficient and better for the environment.
They can start this transformation by approving Measure T on the Nov. 6 ballot.
While the consequences will be far-reaching, the decision before voters is straightforward: Whether to repeal Measure A, which bans the city from requiring residents to use containers for yard waste.
That prohibition has led to a system that is inefficient and unfair. About 103,000 households put their leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste in bins. Nearly 12,000, however, put their green waste in the street, to be scooped up by "the Claw." While they pay $3 a month more for the privilege, that doesn't cover the entire cost, so they're being subsidized by everyone else.
If Measure T passes, the city pledges that overall residential garbage rates will stay the same through at least June 2015. It proposes a new yard waste system for all households, starting in July 2013:
Weekly collection of yard waste containers year-round, compared to every other week in the rest of Sacramento County.
Claw service during November, December and January, when more than a third of annual yard waste is collected. The pickup would be weekly, except during the heaviest leaf drop, when it would be about every two weeks.
One pickup by appointment each year, from February through October, of as much as five cubic yards (about one pickup load) of yard waste, furniture and other bulky items.
One coupon per year to dump five cubic yards of material for free at the Sacramento Recycling and Transfer Station.
The plan is not perfect. One trade-off is that recycling pickups would decrease from once a week to once every two weeks. Officials need to closely watch how much that reduces the trash kept out of the landfill.
The city is also going to have to do a much better job communicating with residents. And officials must figure out how to make more allowances for elderly homeowners and those with lots of trees, such as additional containers for a nominal charge.
Opposition is centered in those neighborhoods, which also happen to be full of regular voters. While they want to keep the status quo, they have to consider that if this measure goes down, their bills will go up. The charge for year-round Claw service is projected to increase by $30 or $40 a month next year.
Supporters, who include environmentalists and some neighborhood leaders, face some hurdles.
Many don't trust a solid waste department that has had more than its share of problems. There is new leadership, however, and Director Steve Harriman gets high marks.
Then there's electoral history. Measure A passed with 75 percent of the vote in 1977. A previous attempt to repeal it Measure F in 1988 failed 65 percent to 35 percent. That proposal was opposed by waste reduction advocates concerned that the city wasn't recycling enough yard debris.
Now, all the yard waste that is collected is turned into biofuel or compost, and environmental groups support this ballot measure.
This time, the city has a more thoughtful yard waste plan that keeps costs down and that is equitable. Voting yes on Measure T will let it proceed.
The Bee's past stands
"There's no reason the city needs the Claw to run a weekly circuit. Mandating green waste bins could go a long way toward saving the city money while reducing its environmental footprint."
Nov. 24, 2009