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Council postpones action on hauler ordinance

Thursday, September 4, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Following complaints from stakeholders, City Council voted on Thursday to postpone action on a measure known as the “hauler ordinance,” which would amend city code regarding the private solid waste collection program. It also postponed action on amendments to administrative rules associated with that code.

Council will reconsider the issue at its Nov. 6 meeting in order to allow time for an expanded stakeholder process. Speakers representing Texas Disposal Systems and a small, local company called East Side Compost Pedallers requested the postponement. 

There was some disagreement over several recommendations made by the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, which were apparently not included by Resource Recovery staff in the information packet on the item.

Michael Whellan, the attorney representing Texas Disposal Systems, told the Monitor that staff should not have “unilaterally removed” the recommendations from Council’s official backup documents.

“We believe that when you are working on an ordinance change,” Whellan said, “that you work on the entire package together and that you then, therefore, present it together.”

Austin Resource Recovery Department Director Bob Gedert sent a memo to Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council members Wednesday stating that the advisory commission’s recommendations “are not an adoption of status quo, but rather restrict and limit city service.” He added that “there is no consensus on the added language proposed.”

Gedert followed up on this decision in an interview with the Monitor on Thursday. “I chose not to present that to Council because that’s not ready for prime time. There’s still too much disagreement,” he said. “What I presented to Council that was ready for prime time and Council discussion was consensus language on the hauler ordinance.”

Whellan told the Monitor that the changes the advisory commission recommended “actually implement the status quo and do not make changes to how residential and nonresidential waste is being picked up today.”

In his memo, Gedert recommended that Council approve the ordinance presented Thursday, stating that staff wrote the language to ensure that owners and occupants of residential property with three or fewer dwelling units use city services, and require properties that don’t use city services use licensed waste haulers.

Gedert also wrote that approving the advisory commission’s additional language would “likely prevent the city from providing existing core services to residential properties and restrict implementation of new diversion services.”

Advisory commission chair Rick Cofer said its recommendation made an important distinction between cart-based collection services — which allow residents to fill a cart and place it on the side of the street for pickup — and dumpster services.

“There’s some disagreement between staff and the private sector as to the extent of the private sector and the extent of staff and the city to provide non-cart-based services for customers,” Cofer said. “(The advisory commission) seeks to clarify — and if not clarify, then at least leave as the status quo — the existing understanding that the City of Austin can service properties that are duplexes, triplexes or quadplexes, but not service properties beyond those that are quadplexes.”

Austin Apartment Association representative Rachel Fisher expressed concerns about the potential effects of the advisory commission’s recommendations. “In the memo yesterday, the language is being cited as basically making a substantive departure from services as provided by the city right now,” Fisher said. “Changing that does become very problematic for members of the association.”

Fisher added that, if that is the case, the association would like to be involved in any future stakeholder process. “It’s been our consistent position that maintaining city services as they’re currently provided is important, and any discussion before changing them is also important.”

Gedert and Whellan both seemed to welcome the idea of expanding the process.

“We welcome getting more people involved in looking at the status quo,” Whellan told the Monitor. “Everybody will see and will be able to confirm for themselves that there have been no significant changes to the status quo.”

Gedert, who proposed the new date for Council to reconsider the ordinance, said general citizens have not been involved in the stakeholder process. “The only stakeholders involved were waste haulers, and we really need to incorporate others that were affected by that language.”

“I feel the language is overly restrictive and may withdraw some city services to the apartment community,” Gedert added. “And half of our residents live in apartments.”


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