Golden Hills trash service will be topic
After a second-round of presentations from the public and attorney's representing the Golden Hills Community Services and Benz Sanitation, commissioners from the Kern County Local Agency Formation made a decision.
But it wasn't quite what either side was anticipating.
The commission had been expected to hand down a determination on whether it would -- or would not -- rescind its March 27, 2013, decision, amending Golden Hills' list of active powers to include solid waste services.
Instead, based on late evidence submitted by both sides and a letter from the Kern County Board of Supervisors asking for the agency's reconsideration, on Sept. 25 the commission acted to set a hearing date to allow the public an opportunity to provide input in regards to the ongoing issues surrounding the Golden Hills Community Services district's decision to manage its own curbside trash collection.
At that time, the commission may affirm or alter its prior decision. However, in the interim, it does not halt the process for Golden Hills to proceed with its current request for proposal to bring in a trash hauler of its choosing.
The motion was a small triumph for those opposed to the district's taking over trash, many of whom have asked why it did not solicit the public's input from the onset.
Paul Benz Jr., whose company would lose its sole right to pick up trash in Golden Hills if the district was to move ahead with its RFP, said he was still trying to digest what happened following the decision.
"It's a victory in a sense that LAFCO has finally taken the position that they need to look at this [issue] more closely," he said. "As opposed to the misinformation they were presented earlier."
Benz, along with other members of the public, claim that Golden Hills' staff members misrepresented itself when defining its active and latent powers in a letter to LAFCO in July, 2006.
Since then, Benz has asked LAFCO to reverse it decision and requested at its Sept. 25, meeting that commissioners rescind their prior decision, requiring the that Golden Hills follow certain procedures to exercise a latent power.
Meanwhile, Golden Hills attorney Scott Kuney argued that the statute of limitations to challenge the LAFCO vote had expired. And in response to the commissioner's decision to hold a public meeting, said he felt confident that the district would retain its power granted by the county board of supervisors in 1966, which he said it had never given up, to provide various forms of solid waste management.
"We appreciate the decision that the commission wants to make sure they got the it right," he said. "We think they got it right and we think after they have the full hearing and in consideration of all the evidence, they will know they have it right."
One by one LAFCO commissioners voted in favor of a public hearing on the matter, with the exception of commissioner Fred West.
Commissioner and county supervisor Zack Scrivner, whose district includes Tehachapi, said that he felt that it was important that the public feels that have been a part of the process when the commission makes its final determination.
"It is apparent by the testimony given here today and what I have heard through emails to my office, calls and discussion with folks from the Tehachapi area, that many people feel they have not been given an opportunity to weigh in on this," he said. "I think that it is incumbent upon us to do this in the interest of transparency and open government, and fairness to all sides considered."
Earlier in the week, it was standing room only as residents of Golden Hills mixed with employees from Benz participated the in district's solid waste public workshop, led by Walnut Creek-based HF&H Consultants, the firm responsible for drafting the district's franchise agreement and request for proposal.
The goal of the workshop was to identify the needs and services that residents would like the new trash hauler to provide, but many in attendance turned it into to an opportunity to challenge the district's timing of the workshop, saying that it came too late, and that the board should have sought out its constituents input long before entering into the RFP process.
Those in opposition also asked why the district ignored a 2010 advisory vote, in which residents were asked if they wanted the district to negotiate a new trash collection deal. Voters provided an overwhelming "no," with 235 in support and 558 against.
So what's transformed since the advisory ballot?
"The economic climate of the area has changed, the facilities that we have and the opportunity to maintain them is changing," said Golden Hills board member Ed Kennedy. "We've increased our responsibility in the last three years, and thought this [revenue from governing trash collection] is a way to help us offset some of the cost."
Kennedy also said that the current RFP process was different than the advisory ballot, which would have required a Prop 218 voting process, and offered the explanation that the poll was only to see where people were at in the community.
"The direction we were going at the time would have eventually entailed them [voters] voting on an increase in cost for those specific services," he said. "We just wanted to get a rough idea of whether there was support for it, and after looking at the response we decided the time was wrong to step into that."
But the district has, and even though it is finding some support for its decision, has come under extreme fire from opponents who have gone as far as initiating an intent to recall the entire Golden Hills board.
Despite that effort, Kennedy said the district will move forward in its quest.
"We are looking for an opportunity to improve as a community, conserve expense and raise revenue that will help our community at large," he said.
According to HF&F vice president Rob Hilton, the district has shelled out just shy of $40,000 so far during its RFP process, which is expected to go as high as $100,00 when it is complete. However, the CSD said the new contractor will be responsible for absorbing that cost.
During last Thursday's LAFCO meeting, Kennedy urged commissioners to have a no-vote on the issue.
"When we desired to introduce competitive trash collection services for the benefit of our residents, we felt we would have an opportunity to provide additional services to our community," he said, "to lower rates for solid waste in our community and offset some of the expenses we have that are not funded by our water rates."
"If we allow offers of secret deals, threats of lawsuits, bias and inflammatory news, the intimidation and disruption of public meetings, and if we cave to the intent to recall of all of our board members, we lose," Kennedy said. "We don't get the reward of providing something to our community."