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Oakland restaurants see compost fees jump

There is no relief in sight for Oakland restaurateurs whose compost bills suddenly ballooned by hundreds of dollars a month after the city’s new contract with its garbage collector, Waste Management, took effect July 1.

After receiving angry complaints from restaurant owners who said the added cost would drive them out of business, the City Council held an emergency meeting Monday to adjust the rates, but in the end decided not to take action.

New plan denounced

Restaurant owners who attended the meeting said the new plan — which would limit rates for compost collection, but allow Waste Management to raise prices next year to recoup its loss — was even worse than the current contract.

“It makes a bad deal an even worse deal,” said Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel shop.

After sitting through a hearing that lasted nearly three hours, Lillian said she was glad the council didn’t take a vote on the new plan.

If anything, the special meeting on Monday raised new questions about the $1 billion garbage contract that city officials brokered with Waste Management in September, a deal that was struck after questions were raised about whether their previously selected contractor, California Waste Solutions, could build the infrastructure to handle the city’s trash.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who voted to approve that deal last year, now says she was given misleading information from the city staff who helped put it together.

“The new rates have all these extra costs,” Kaplan said after the meeting Monday, pointing to fees that Waste Management charges for “ancillary” services like pulling a garbage bin from a building to a curb, which its employees used to do for free.

Kaplan said city administrators didn’t disclose those extra costs when they presented the contract to the council in September.

‘Like extortion’

“This seems like extortion,” Councilman Dan Kalb said of the added costs. “Those push-pull rates for some are the biggest part of their bill.”

Kaplan said the city’s current garbage predicament resulted from a hasty legislative decision in August, when the council tried to end its long-standing relationship with Waste Management and take a chance on a small local competitor.

“We were heavily pressured to adopt a large packet with no lead time,” Kaplan said. “We owe an apology to the restaurants that were disproportionately affected.”

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