Establishes the city controller as the administrator and monitor of rates, expenses and revenues for waste collection services in San Francisco and establishes a ratepayer advocate to serve as a resource to residents throughout the rate-setting process.
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition F would institutionalize a system for accountability and oversight over the waste management rate-setting process in the city. It would establish the city controller as the refuse rate administrator, a role previously held by the director of the Department of Public Works. The controller, in this new role, would monitor the rates charged for garbage collection and would make rate adjustment recommendations to the San Francisco Refuse Rate Board. The measure would expand the authority of the Refuse Rate Board from only setting residential rates to also setting commercial rates. It would create an ongoing and transparent process to manage the rate-setting process.
Currently, the city controller serves on the Refuse Rate Board. In acting as the refuse rate administrator, the city controller would no longer sit on the board and would be replaced by a ratepayer advocate. The ratepayer advocate would, for the first time, ensure a ratepayer representative had decision-making authority in the rate-setting process.
Prop. F also authorizes the Board of Supervisors, on recommendation of the refuse rate administrator (city controller), the Refuse Rate Board and the mayor, to update the Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance in the future with a supermajority of eight votes rather than requiring any updates to go back to voters.
The 1932 Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance still guides how the city manages and sets rates for garbage collection. Under this ordinance, the city approved collection permits to two separate companies, both of which are now owned by Recology. This has made Recology the sole garbage collection company for the city.
Currently, residential rates for garbage collection are set periodically, about every five years, by the Refuse Rate Board. This board is currently made up of the city controller, the city administrator and the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The Department of Public Works oversees the rate-setting process. Commercial rates are established through a negotiation between the refuse collector and its customers.
The rate-setting process provides an opportunity for Recology to request increases to its rates. In 2020, it came to light that there had been significant calculation errors during the 2017 rate increase process, which led to ratepayers throughout the city being overcharged for refuse collection and disposal. After a federal investigation, in March 2021, the city attorney announced a more than $100 million settlement with Recology to provide ratepayer refunds based on rate-setting errors.
In 2021, in response to corruption charges implicating the Department of Public Works, the Controller’s Office conducted a public integrity review of the refuse rate-setting process in coordination with the City Attorney’s Office.1 Prop. F delivers on many of the recommendations made in this assessment, including switching the responsibility of rate administrator to an office further removed from the refuse collector, establishing a ratepayer advocate and clearly identifying roles in the rate-setting process.
Prop. F would not revisit the city’s contracting arrangement with Recology or require a competitive bidding process for refuse collection services in the city. However, because this measure enables the Board of Supervisors to make amendments to the original ordinance, the city could change the contracting process in the future.
This measure is the product of a working group co-chaired by the Mayor’s Office and Supervisor Aaron Peskin. This measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. As an ordinance, it requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
By ensuring a more objective and transparent rate-setting process, this measure may lead to lower garbage rates, which would particularly benefit low-income households and small businesses. Establishing a ratepayer advocate would enable more equitable access to influence over the rate-setting process and would enable ratepayers to have their voices and needs elevated directly to the Refuse Rate Board.
- Rates would be monitored continuously, rather than approximately every five years, providing consistent oversight.
- Transitioning the role of rate administrator to the Office of the Controller, the city office charged with fiscal oversight, is a tangible shift that could help to reduce future corruption in the rate-setting process.
- Adding a dedicated advocate position would be a valuable resource for ratepayers, who currently do not have an avenue for involvement in the rate-setting process.
- The measure authorizes the Board of Supervisors to make amendments to the ordinance through an eight-vote supermajority, which would eliminate the need to go back to voters if future amendments are necessary.
- SPUR could not identify any downsides to this measure.
This amendment gives the responsibility of rate setting for refuse collection and disposal to the Office of the Controller, which is well positioned to ensure objective and transparent rate setting. This change is much needed in the wake of a federal investigation that found ratepayers were overcharged by more than $100 million in 2017. Establishing ongoing oversight of the rate-setting process and adding a ratepayer advocate will better serve the needs of the city and of ratepayers.
1 San Francisco Controller’s Office, Public Integrity Review: Preliminary Assessment: Refuse Rate-Setting Process Lacks Transparency and Timely Safeguards, April 14, 2021, https://sfcontroller.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Auditing/Public%20Integrity%20Deliverable%205%20-%20Final%2004.14.21.pdf.