An organic waste bin for a commercial business in the City of San Fernando.(SFVS Staff)

The San Fernando City Council voted to place liens on commercial customers, but not residents, for delinquent trash bills from waste disposal company Republic Services.

On June 20, the City Council voted 4-0 to place liens — claims against properties that are typically used as collateral to satisfy a debt — on commercial properties with unpaid trash bills prior to Jan. 1. Councilmember Cindy Montañez was absent from the meeting. In the same vote, the council decided not to put any liens on residential customers.

“It’s kind of hard for me … to say that we are working in the best interest of the residents when so many people feel really negatively towards the pricing right now,” said Councilmember Joel Fajardo. He pointed out that members of the local community who generally aren’t engaged are now questioning increased costs.

“No one feels like they’re getting any extra services and they feel like they’re being price gouged,” added Fajardo. “People who are otherwise mute, now ask, ‘when can we get a chance to vote on this — when does the contract come up?’” 

Unpaid trash bills have become an ongoing problem that comes up each year. Mayor Celeste Rodriguez said she has also heard concern from residents about the trash rates; however, the council moved forward to support trash liens on businesses.    

In a report by the City, it was said that as of June 14, there were 656 delinquent accounts totaling $225,762.28 — 524 accounts are attributable to residents and 132 to commercial/industrial customers.

The placement of liens comes during the same year when trash rates have increased. To be in compliance with Senate Bill (SB) 1383, which requires that every jurisdiction — city, county and special district — provide organic waste collection services to all residents and businesses, Republic Services increased its rates on Jan. 1. According to Republic staff who were present at the June 20 council meeting, the increase was needed to cover the purchase of new trucks, drivers and the organic waste bins necessary to comply with SB 1383.

The new rates were approved on Aug. 15, 2022, when the City Council also unanimously voted to extend the city’s contract with Republic for three more years to February 2027.

Under the new rate adjustments, residential customers are paying around $25 monthly. The costs for businesses can vary, but the rate of basic level service for an average business is around $248. Previously, residents and business owners would pay approximately $19 and $180, respectively.

In the same report, it was said out of the total amount in delinquent fees, more than $158,900 were from before Jan. 1, while the rest came after.

While Republic has said they handed out notices to its customers to inform them of the change, those actually paying the bills say otherwise.

An executive with a group that manages commercial properties in San Fernando, who requested anonymity, said he didn’t know about the increase in trash rates until after he saw the bill.

“That [trash rate] increase for what we are managing was 37 percent, and you would think that a trash company like Republic that is a publicly traded company would send notices to all the businesses or homeowners or commercial spaces or industrial spaces … well, we’ve never gotten any kind of notice,” he said.

“Republic called me because now the accounts are delinquent due to the increases, and I tell them I’m not planning on paying the increases. I’m not paying retroactively for something, even if it was approved. You should have let your customers know there’s an increase.”

He said that the 37 percent increase his group now is being charged equates to extra $1,700 every two months.

The individual said that before Republic was given a monopoly of trash pickup by the City Council in 2013, tenants could choose their trash company and services were better back then. After Republic took over, he said that the trash rate increased more than 10 percent and there have been times when the company has missed picking up their trash.

Although he previously told Republic he wouldn’t be paying the unpaid fees, he has since changed course and decided to bite down on the proverbial bullet.

“When I get the next bill, I’ll pay them and be done with it … plus that $1,700 that I’ll throw in there and I’ll be clear on the payment. I don’t have much choice.

“I honestly think Republic needs to go. I think [there needs to be] two or three trash companies that can be competitive while following all the new laws in the state of California regarding trash.”