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Saint Paul Trash

Trash Referendum:

I’m the city council candidate in Ward 1, that has been ‘No’ on the trash referendum on a consistent basis, and will fight for a better. People are voting ‘No’ on the trash referendum primarily in response to city conduct, in combination, of equity concerns, which the city has a hypocritical stance. 

My Stance:

My primary reason, and true for many others, to vote ‘No’ is in response to the city in ignoring/disrespecting the citizens the right of a legal referendum and continues to deceive the public by implying a property tax would be instituted if a ‘No’ vote will succeed. As demonstrated on the city’s own website under the “No” vote section, they proceed to state that a property tax-levy is the only option: (capitalization for emphasis)

“The haulers will still collect garbage, but the financial obligation MAY be shifted from individual rate-payers to all property tax payers in Saint Paul.”

 

My stance is that there should be organized trash, though the city can renegotiate a better deal. The inability to opt-out and share bins; increases rent, decrease affordable housing, and increase displacement. Let’s not wait four years to change the contract, when people are being harmed right now. Several months ago, I have written a letter to Mayor Carter emphasizing that being honest, and renegotiating is essential for the long-term longevity of organized trash and to move the city forward together.

Why has the trash debate became so heated?

The ‘Vote No’ campaign has become a populist movement, and can undermine the DFL leadership in Saint Paul. The true impact is not trash, but the city council races themselves. Many incumbent candidates have sided with the city position as there is an extensive public record supporting the city and spending taxpayers dollars in denying the referendum to be placed on the ballot. Even though the city councilmember position is a non-partisan race, the DFL nomination gives candidates significant advantages in winning their race. Furthermore, the DFL committee has officially endorsed the city organized trash plan. From the finance forms, we find that the majority of the funding of the “Vote Yes” groups come from labor unions, and individual members, including current councilmembers, and mayoral cabinet members.  The support is puzzling to me because the trash haulers are making substantial profit from the this deal and the haulers are anti-union.  The current social media tactic on most neighborhood boards, is to severely censor/filter the discussion, so new developments are squashed; and make the referendum about race, and class, which has no direct relationship.

Basics of the Referendum:

The supreme court legal opinion does not remove the option of a ‘force majeure’ clause as they did not rule on it (footnote on pg 12). The “force majeure” clause can be used when an external event makes the contract untenable, such as the inability to pay for it.

If the Yes Vote wins: Then the current contract stays, and there will continued burden on marginalized residents for four additional years till the end of the contract. Due to the tactics utilized, the fallback will continue to persist undermining future initiatives by the city, and the  political ramifications may potentially carry over to the presidential race, and most certainly the mayoral race.

If the No Vote wins: The pricing mechanism of the contract granted by the ordinance is no longer valid, and the city could renegotiate the terms, as suggested by current councilmebers, Jane Prince and Kassim Bussuri via force majeure clause, which can be activated as a result of having no mechanism to pay for the contract. The process of renegotiation cannot be determined, and dependent on the makeup of the city council can have an influence on the pressure that can be placed on the haulers. I’ll personally will advocate in making this process as public as possible.

Finally, it is worth nothing that the city cannot pay trash via the property taxes in violation of the Minnesota State Law, which states that households pay for the amount of garbage they consume. Instead, the city wants the taxpayers to pay for your bill, but if that happens then everyone will get the largest bin because someone else is paying for it. Though nonsensical, the city may still pursue this option, in such a case, there will be another lawsuit filed against the city by the citizens, and they will lose. 

Background:

Brief history: You can read the full document here (prepared by St. Paul Trash Lawsuit).

  • The city pursued an organized trash in Saint Paul to reduce the number of trucks passing through the alleys and reducing environmental impact. One of the requirements/goals of the city council was to make sure that the small, local, minority owned haulers were to be supported. A trash consortium consisted of 15 haulers formed and they would collectively bargain with the city to make a deal
  • The city will take the burden of delinquent fees of existing customers from existing services, which is captured in the administrative fee.
  • In principal, the overall costs of service should cost less due to decrease in fuel costs, decrease the number of vehicles in operation, and less uncertainty, instead the prices have increased. The haulers leveraged that prices will only decrease if offer less services.  
  • The meetings between the haulers and the city should of been available to the public under the Minnesota Open Meeting law, the city has interpreted the word “exclusively” to mean private.
  • The relationship between the haulers and the city is contentious via negotiation deadlines, and altering language in contract.
  • Citizens has express public concerns on 7/19/17 including inability to opt-out and the impact it will have on potential renters, and people with fixed income.

On October 16, 2018, Saint Paul residents lawfully filled out a referendum process to have Ordinance 18-39 on the ballot on the November 5th election, though the city council rejected the motion on the basis that the Minnesota state statute on organized collection statute usurped city-charter laws. Ward 1 councilmember, Dai Thao, voted against the referendum to be on the ballot. From Judge Castro’s legal memorandum on the lawsuit, it is clear that statute says that organized collection is optional, and explicitly states “home-charter” are applicable.  Despite the clear language of the statute, the city appealed to Judge Castro’s decision, further increasing legal fees and costing taxpayers! 

Furthermore, the city’s official stance/narrative on the lawsuit is that the primary backers of the lawsuit disagreed with organized trash service and will cost $1.8 million (guaranteed under contract) in property taxes to citizens because on the contract with the trash haulers, without mentioning the purpose of referendum. See: Mayor Carter editorial. Mayor Carter lied to residents (still continues to) that the city is forced to stay within the contract, while in fact Judge Castro enacted a “force majeure clause”, which effectively invalidated the contract! In other words, the city can create a new contract with the haulers that can satisfy the needs of citizens.   

Reasons why we should renegotiate a new contract:

  1. Total Cost: The residents and the city can get a better deal; it is the haulers that are making most of the profit. These charts below explain it well. You can read Genereaux analysis here.

2. Equity: The current plan will increase costs for renters and persons with fixed incomes via inability to opt-out and share bins.

3. Environmental: The current organized trash plan will reduce environmental costs in respect to the number of vehicles driven and damage on the road, but it doesn’t deal with reducing individual consumption. There is no incentive for people to conserve as you are not able to share/ and pay a fixed fee anyway 

My closing statement:

I encourage residents to make a decision on the referendum under the consideration of those harmed by the current plan and the lack of options available is self-induced. The “Vote Yes” will claim that they understand the limitations, and will pursue a more equitable plan after the contract expires. We are in a climate and housing crisis right now and we can renegotiate the contract right now, but choose not to. Their hypocrisy and deceptive tactics will have long-lasting effects of distrust, impact the efficacy of other initiatives, and harms the viability of organized trash in the future. This referendum is much bigger than trash, it is treating residents with dignity and respect. Vote No on the referendum.