Since it lost its $1 billion, 10-year garbage contract with the city, Waste Management corporation has been bearing down on Oakland to force the city to accept its deal – whatever the terms and whether the city wants the company or not.
After the council voted 7-1 against Waste Management in August, company representatives graciously pledged to work with the city to help ensure a smooth transition to the new company. But that may have been before they got marching orders from corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas.
Marshaling attorneys and ramping up the opinion war, the nation’s largest trash hauler has filed a lawsuit and filled the media with misleading and dishonest claims.
They alleged they offer residents cheaper rates (not true); they have said the other company, California Waste Solutions (CWS), has no experience (false); they claimed CWS would build a garbage dump in West Oakland (untrue); and they vilified city leaders, saying they had a sweetheart deal with CWS (false).
Most upsetting of all, the company has mobilized its troops, utilizing scores of highly paid signature gatherers to try to force the city to call a special election next year at the cost of about $1 million.
Many signature gatherers – which Waste Management and their representative, political consultant Larry Tramutola refuse to reign in, come from out of the region and even as far away as Nevada and Arizona.
Oakland residents have complained that signature gatherers have lied and distorted the facts in order to get them to sign. Other residents say they have been insulted, yelled at, pushed and threatened by Waste Management’s people.
Some Waste Management’s representatives have resorted to anti-immigrant racism: “Don’t you want a U.S. company to serve Oakland, not a Chinese company?” CWS owner David Duong is a longtime resident of West Oakland.
If a referendum makes the ballot and if by some chance it passes, the result would invalidate the council’s two-year public negotiations over the garbage contract and force a new round of contract negotiations.
“The council is clear that we acted lawfully, and the decision we made was in the best interests of this city – this is about David versus Goliath, and Oakland is David,” said Councilmember Lynette McElhaney.
“Now or in a referendum, the people of Oakland will recognize that this (campaign) is not about protecting Oakland. It’s about protecting Texas profits,” she said.
“ This is about forcing Oakland to accept less services for higher prices,” McElhaney said. “Their position is, if we can’t win the contact (through negotiations), we’ll take it.”
Waste Management lost the contract with the city after two years of negotiations that included public discussions at council meetings and a number of hearings at the City Council’s Public Works Committee.
After their experience with the company, members of the council are less interested than ever in being forced into a contract with Waste Management, McElhaney said. “We don’t want to be bound for the next 100 years to that corporation and be in a position where we couldn’t push back against rate hikes.”
Countering Waste Management’s petition gatherers, CWS has hired over 100 people to distribute fliers explaining the other side.
They are encouraging people to send a letter to the City Clark asking for their names to be taken off Waste Management’s petition if they believe they were misled into signing the petition.
CWS delivered 400 letters Wednesday to the City Clerk signed by people who want their names removed.
“Our people have been quite successful, many people are not signing petitions,” said Joel Corona, chief operating officer of CWS.
Several of the CWS people, including a young woman, have told the Post that they have been threatened: Waste Management’s representatives “told me something would happen to me if I kept passing out those papers (against the petition),” the young woman said.
“Some of their signature gatherers have picked up their tables and moved to another location,” Corona said. “They have started going house-to-house and to BART stations and AC Transit. They are going to places where they don’t have to respond to facts and to (opposing) literature.”
Several local residents point to Waste Management’s recent mistreatment of a rural area called Canyonlands outside of Castro Valley as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of being locked into a deal with the corporation.
At first, Waste Management told the people who live in Canyonlands in June that their rates would go up over 60 percent – from $17.68 a month for a 32-gallon container to $45.99
When customers complained bitterly, Waste Management responded by announcing the company is canceling their trash pickup at the end of December, leaving residents to fend for themselves.
“We gave them the rest of the year to make other arrangements,” said Joe Camero, Waste Management spokesman. “It’s a difficult area to service. I think it’s going to be expensive for any hauler.”
The arguments in favor of Oakland’s decision to contract with California Waste Solutions can be read at www.helloiamtrey.com/cws2/news/cws-will-build-clean-modern-facility-in-west-oakland/
Waste Management’s campaign calls itself Oakland Residents for a Clean City. It’s website can be viewed at www.CleanOakland.org.