|Cotati sued over garbage deal
CCOMC wants pact with Redwood Empire Disposal nullified and issue sent to voters
The Cotati City Council’s choice to award its garbage collection contract to Redwood Empire Disposal (RED) rather than sending it out to bid has prompted a local group to file a lawsuit seeking the reversal of the decision.
A hearing for the lawsuit filed by Cotati Citizens for Open Market Competition (CCOMC) has been scheduled for Dec. 11 in Sonoma County Superior Court. The group’s aim is to get Cotati City Clerk Tami Taylor to accept a referendum requiring the city to nullify the action and send it out to bid or put it on the ballot for a special election.
The 10-year contract that went to RED without a bidding process effectively shut out any other company, including Industrial Carting of Santa Rosa. Industrial Carting had sent several emails and made phone calls to the city asking to be included in the bidding process.
“All we were asking for was an opportunity to be part of a transparent open market competition and let the city decide,” Industrial Carting President Curtis Michelini, Sr. said. “Without going out for a competitive bid, how would the ratepayers know that they were getting the best deal? The city has shut us out every time.”
Cotati City Manager Dianne Thompson acknowledged Industrial Carting expressed interest in providing debris box services in Cotati but not trash hauling. She also said Industrial Carting did not provide all the services Cotati needs in a garbage franchise operation.
“Industrial Carting did not submit a proposal for services they could provide,” Thompson said. “Since debris box services were included in the contract with Redwood Empire Disposal, there was no opportunity for Industrial Carting to bid on a very small portion of a large full-service contract. Industrial Carting provides debris box services for the larger Sonoma County cities (Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Windsor), where there is enough construction activity to warrant multiple debris box providers. Smaller cities (including Cotati, Cloverdale, Healdsburg, and Sebastopol) contract with Redwood Empire Disposal for full services, including debris box service.”
In order for the Cotati council’s decision to be reversed, state law and the Cotati Municipal Code has to be changed. California law permits each city to determine for itself whether to require competitive bidding or engage in direct negotiation for solid waste franchises, and the Cotati Municipal Code does not require competitive bidding.
“Garbage franchise operation is a specialized field and there are only a handful of providers who can meet the operational requirements within the Bay Area,” Thompson said. “Other than the City of Sonoma, Redwood Empire Disposal is the only full service provider in Sonoma County. Since there were no other full service providers providing refuse collection, recycling, street sweeping, and debris box services in Sonoma County and Cotati's waste stream is not large enough to attract outside service providers for a competitive bid process, it was decided to negotiate with Cotati's existing service provider (Redwood Empire Disposal).”
CCOMC, after the council’s decision, quickly garnered 628 signatures for a ballot initiative asking the city to open the bidding process, and 537 signatures were verified as valid by the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters and submitted to the city on May 1. Taylor sent a letter to the Healdsburg law offices of Herbert L. Terreri, who is handling legal matters for CCOMC, rejecting the petition because, according to Thompson, “the petition did not include sufficient information as required by law for those signing to understand what they were actually signing.”
Greg Karraker, who lives right outside Cotati, and Santa Rosa’s Caroline Banuelos serve as CCOMC’s chairman and treasurer, respectively.