Now that voters in the Tree City have given their go-ahead, Sacramento officials must demonstrate they can effectively manage a big change in collection of garden refuse.
There are signs that the solid waste department is on the right track. It is significantly reducing the cost to residents who need additional yard waste and recycling containers, and it is promising a robust public education effort.
This evening, the City Council should endorse the plan to put the changes in place next July 1:
All customers will get a yard waste container, which will be picked up year-round. Everyone will also get loose-in-the-street collection of leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste with "the Claw" in November, December and January.
During the other nine months, customers can make one appointment a year for free pickup of as much as 5 cubic yards (a pickup load) of yard waste and bulky items. Customers also get one coupon a year to dump up to 5 cubic yards free of charge at the Sacramento Recycling and Transfer Station.
Curbside pickup of recyclables will go from once a week to once every other week. It will cost $1.76 a month for a second recycling container (down from $5.13 now).
The 12,000 homeowners who now pay extra for year-round Claw service will see their bills decrease by $3.36 a month. That happens to be nearly the same as the additional $3.34 a month to get a second yard waste can (down from $5.70).
Bills won't change for the 103,000 customers who already use green waste containers. Citywide, overall rates will not increase before at least July 2015.
City Hall was freed to make these changes when Measure T narrowly passed on Nov. 6. It repealed Measure A, which was approved with 75 percent of the vote in 1977 and which banned the city from requiring residents to use containers for yard waste.
During the run-up to Election Day, there was quite a bit of criticism that a one-size-fits-all system doesn't work for Sacramento, which includes newer subdivisions in Natomas where trees are sparse, as well as established neighborhoods such as Land Park with lots of trees.
It's not part of the city's plan now, but Steve Harriman, the city's integrated waste general manager, says he is open to possibly creating special assessment districts areas that vote to tax themselves more for a higher level of service.
What the city doesn't want, however, is the current costly and confusing system in which some houses on the same street get different services than others.
While this overhaul makes sense, one reason for confusion was the city's own fault, by not making clear during the rollout of yard waste bins that residents had to opt out of using them.
For the new plan to work, City Hall can't afford similar mistakes. Harriman got a sense of what he's up against during the campaign: Even some city employees, he says, were under the mistaken impression that the plan was to get rid of the Claw entirely.
Obviously, there is a lot of public education to do; the city plans to spend $200,000 to $300,000. Starting in April, the campaign will include mailers, radio ads, social networking and community events.
"Change is hard," Harriman told The Bee's editorial board on Monday.
How wrenching that adjustment will be depends largely on how well Harriman and his team direct it.