Staff recommends the city council introduce an organics ordinance creating a City-wide Organics Program. As proposed, staff believes it can be implemented “with no additional rate increase to customers other than annual Consumer Price Index increases through November 30, 2019, based on City rates adopted on September 24, 2013.”
The city has long been pondering a way to change the method of collecting yard waste from exclusive collection of on-street yard waste piles to a system where such waste ends up in containers. As a sort of compromise the city council is supporting a hybrid system of organics carts to collect food scraps, yard waste and other organic materials and on-street yard waste piles.
Single-family residential customers will receive a 95-gallon organics cart that will be picked up once a week, on the same day as trash and recycling. Additional carts are available for a fee. Yard waste piles will be collected once a month with them collected weekly during the peak leaf drop season beginning the third week in October through mid-December. Streets will be swept after yard waste piles are collected.
Staff argues that these carts provide four key benefits. They will first reduce waste. “Davis has a waste reduction goal of 75 percent diversion by 2020 (1.9 pounds of waste generated per person per day). Currently, Davis is diverting 65 percent of its waste. Organic materials make up 25% of residential waste and 15% of commercial waste. Removing organics will increase the City’s diversion rate and move the City closer to its diversion goal.”
Second, they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argue, “Composting organics instead of sending them to the landfill will reduce greenhouse gases. When organics decompose in a landfill they produce methane, which is 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide.”
Third this will improve stormwater quality and safety. Staff argues, “Yard waste, particularly small items such as grass clippings and leaves, can be pollutants and create health and safety issues when they are washed down the gutters. Organics carts, just like trash and recycling carts, may only be placed out in the street for collection, then must be removed promptly. The proposed organics program limits yard waste piles to being placed the street no earlier than 5 days before a scheduled pick-up. This will result in yard waste piles placed on the street approximately 122 days out of the year in each neighborhood (approximately 156 days city-wide) as opposed to the current 365 days.”
Finally they argue it will produce cleaner streets by placing leaves, grass and other yard materials in carts that will reduce wind-blown litter.
Staff also noted that last October, Governor Brown signed AB 1826, requiring businesses to recycle their organics wastes by April 2016 and mandating local jurisdictions to implement organic waste recycling programs by January 2016.
Efforts to move from street dumping of green waste to containers have a long and controversial history in Davis. Original attempts to do a pilot project were met with resistance and eventually the program was terminated.
Bicycling advocates have long argued that green waste is hazardous to bicyclists, as waste ends up in the bike lanes at times. This led the city to double stripe the bike lanes hoping that waste would end up in the vehicle parking lane rather than the bike lane.
However, green waste in the gutters have additional concerns about storm water quality that has prompted the city to look for another solution. The hybrid approach seeks to remove much of the waste from streets while allowing community concerns about the feasibility of putting tree trimmings in a container to have an alternative to containerization.
The new program would address some of these concerns by limiting yard waste piles placed on the street to no more than 5 days prior to pick-ups in the fall. It would have restrictions on where they can be placed with prohibitions on them placed in any portion of bike lanes, and clarifying that when not double-striped, a minimum clear width for bicycles is five feet. Leaves and grass may only be placed in yard waste piles when the organics cart is already full.
There can be no yard waste piles in the downtown core area.
City staff claims to have received ample feedback. They cite again that they “used Davis Together::Engage, a community engagement tool, to inform, create community dialogue, gauge customer feelings and solicit input on the proposed program.”
Of the 341 residents who participated, 58 percent of customers indicated that the level of service in the proposed program would meet their needs, while 82 percent stated that they thought collecting and composting organics would be beneficial to the city.
As we noted last week, however, the city’s use of the “Davis Together::Engage” convinces distinguished professor Arthur Shapiro to write that perhaps it is true that most residents are all right with the yard waste bins. He writes that, based on what we know, we have “no reason to believe that.”
He argues, “To assess whether a sample was adequate and to estimate a survey’s margin of error, one needs to know the survey’s design. But this ‘survey’ isn’t really a survey in any valid statistical sense, and it has no apparent design.”
The problem starts here: “How can we tell whether the 335 respondents adequately represent community opinion? They are self-selected, which is to say likely to be highly motivated on the issue.”
He continues, “What percentage of Davis households knew that a survey was being conducted? For that matter, what percentage of Davis households have ever heard of the ‘Davis Together::Engage social media tool,’ let alone have accessed it? And how did they learn about it?”
Professor Shapiro concludes, “Anyone with any experience in survey design and implementation can immediately recognize the ‘results’ reported in your story as worthless. Surely America’s most-educated city can do better than this.”
Despite quite a few letters on this subject, city staff does not address these concerns in the staff report.
—David M. Greenwald reporting