Grand Jury: San Diego's trash cans are brittle and the city should replace them for free

Claims some residents given preferential treatment
Posted at 12:52 PM, Mar 22, 2017

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The city of San Diego's curbside refuse bins that are provided to the public are brittle, and replacement costs depend on where you live, according to a county grand jury report issued today.

The grand jurors said they noticed dilapidated bins in San Diego's residential areas and decided to investigate how they got that way and why they weren't being replaced.

They said they found that nearly 12,000 of the black trash bins had to be replaced at owner expense in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2016. That compared to almost 7,400 the year before and approaching 6,500 the year before that. That's out of around 304,000 residences that receive curbside refuse pickup.

The plastic bins deteriorate from constant exposure to sunlight and become brittle in cold weather, according to the report. Cracks occur when they're grabbed by the automated arms of refuse collection trucks or when overfilled by homeowners.

Between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, the city received almost 6,800 complaints that bins were broken by collection vehicles.

The grand jury said replacing the bins costs residents $95 -- $70 for the bin and $25 for delivery. Replacement had been free prior to 2008, when the city instituted the fee as the recession hit. Green and blue recycling bins are still replaced for free, paid for by city recycling revenues.

The grand jurors said they found examples of cracks on black bins being held together by glue, duct tape, or pieces of wood or metal that are bolted to the plastic.

Meanwhile, three members of the City Council -- whom the grand jury didn't identify -- began using their office funds to pay the fee for constituents who complained.

The use of the Community Projects, Programs and Services funds for the purpose violated council policy, which bars the money from going for a private purpose, according to the report.

The free replacement program created an inequity since it was never publicized and the six other council offices didn't make the same offer, the grand jury said. They said the council offices allocated the money to help the disabled, seniors and low-income residents, but there was never any verification of whether a recipient qualified.

"The grand jury believes the city should consider returning to the pre- 2008 city policy of providing all homeowners with free replacements for any unserviceable bins beyond their normal service life or any damaged in the collection process," the report said.

"Until then, the grand jury believes providing free replacement refuse bins for low-income citizens, seniors and the disabled is a noble and worthwhile endeavor that should continue -- but only if it is administered fairly in all City Council districts and the program's existence is publicized," the report said. "Applicants should also be screened to verify that they qualify."

The City Council needs to define what CPPS funds can and can't be used for, and provide oversight of spending of such funds, the grand jury recommended.

The report also suggested that the mayor's office advise the city Environmental Services Department to order more-durable refuse collection bins, urge the Fleet Services Department to improve repair and maintenance of automated refuse collection vehicles to limit the damage inflicted upon bins; and get Fleet Services to provide a sufficient number of experienced personnel to reduce a backlog and long delays in repairing the trucks.

City officials have until June 12 to respond to the grand jury report.