Huddled with clients, attorneys from both sides waited in an anticipation for commissioners to emerge from closed session with a decision from the body charged with resolving local governmental jurisdictional issues last Wednesday.
Instead, they were told they would have to wait.
After being criticized by Benz Sanitation for its action to amend the Golden Hills Community Service District's list of active powers to include collection and disposal of garbage, the Kern County Local Agency Formation Commission took no action to overturn its previous decision at its monthly meeting in Bakersfield on Aug. 21.
At least not yet.
Commissioners decided to table the matter in order to further review the issue, placing the item on its Sept. 25 agenda.
Arguments opened as commissioners listened to Brent Rush, a consultant for Benz, who said the Golden Hills clearly misrepresented itself when defining its active and latent powers in a letter to LAFCO dated July 10, 2006.
In that letter General Manager Bill Fisher, stated the the district provided water, roads, recreation and security services, but noted that it desired to provide solid waste collection in the future -- a statement Benz attorney Stu Thompson said clearly indicates that Golden Hills did not provide trash collection services at that time -- and per Government Code 610002 that states any service not provided by a CSD prior to Dec. 31, 2005, becomes a latent power.
Six years later, however, the Golden Hills district stated in a separate letter to LAFCO dated Aug. 20, 2012, that a staff member made a clerical error in its prior letter, and that the district had always provided trash services.
Thompson said that mistake was on the CSD, and means it would have needed to follow certain procedures to exercise that latent power.
In June the Golden Hills CSD board took action to let Benz know that it intends to take over managing trash collection for the district and subsequently contracted with a Walnut Creek firm to prepare a Request for Proposal for bids from companies interested in the job.
Golden Hills maintains that it has this power -- Benz questions that, which is why it has asked LAFCO to reconsider its previous decision.
The district's counsel, Scott Kuney, argued, telling commissioners that the district admitted that its initial response to LAFCO was in error, and because it had been actively engaged in providing certain aspects of sold waste management, prior to Jan 1, 2006 -- in particularly the collection of green waste, e-waste, recycling and certain enforcement programs -- that it did not need to adhere to the special procedures, which Benz is referring.
Kuney also made clear to the commission that the request for reconsideration was not timely and had to be done within 30 days of LAFCO's March 27, action.
"Benz is not a local public agency, they are a private for profit company and have no public status whatsoever," Kuney said. "They are not entitled to block this public agency [Golden Hills] from administering the powers that the legislature authorized, the board of supervisors confirmed in 1966 and that district has in fact been exercising prior to Jan. 1, 2006."
LAFCO general counsel, Tom Schroeder chimed in, telling commissioners that he was opposed to the commission reversing its decision.
"First of all we believed Golden Hills," he said. "We made Golden Hills provide proof of their powers and and it looked very clear to me that they were well within the terms of refuse and solid waste collection and disposal."
Commissioner David Couch made a motion the panel meet in closed session to discuss the issue.
"We are confident that LAFCO's decision made on March 13, 2013, is exactly correct, said Kuney who was not surprised by the commission's decision to research the issue further. "The commission listened to some extensive comments and wanted a fair opportunity to review, and that's an understandable position."
Paul Benz, Jr. and Thompson made no comment.
Earlier in the day, the district held a mandatory pre-proposal for contractors interested in providing district-wide non-mandatory curbside waste collection.
Five prospective bidders filed into the Golden Hills Community Service District board room to hear a presentation from vice president Rob Hilton and Lauren Barbieri, associate analyst, both of Walnut Creek-based HF&H Consultants, the firm responsible for drafting the district's franchise agreement and request for proposal.
American Refuse, Universal Waste Systems. Mountainside Disposal, Waste Management and current hauler Benz Sanitation were all present.
The county weighs in
Currently the County of Kern administers trash collection in Golden Hills through Benz Sanitation.
So, if the district is allowed to run its own waste management program, how will that effect the county?
Doug Landon, Director of the Kern Co. Waste Management Department said not much, since the 20 cents per account fee collected by the county just covers its administration costs.
"It's important for LAFCO to get it right," Landon said. "The fact that they want to study the issue is right."