By Michael D. Evans
You’re probably sick of hearing about Measure G, the City of Fresno referendum on privatizing residential solid waste disposal service. But as with a presidential campaign, it is important that you not let the advertising and media overkill deter you from voting. The election is June 4, and most people will opt not to vote. A 25% turnout would be considered exceptional in a special election of this sort. So every vote counts.
With the election just around the corner, let’s focus on why Measure G should be defeated.
- Measure G eliminates the city’s award-winning, surplus-producing trash service.
- The proposal involves an eight-year contract, with no realistic out if things go sour.
- The deal could violate the City Charter, and lawsuits are almost certain to follow.
- The Utility Advisory Committee recommended that rates be lowered, but the city refused to act on that request.
- The recipient company is being handed a monopoly.
- The largest contributor to the Yes on G campaign is the private company to which the city has already awarded the contract.
- There are questions about the fairness of the bidding process.
- Taxpayer-owned equipment is to be given away for pennies on the dollar.
- Private companies exist to make a profit; public-sector entities do not. That profit is a privatization tax.
- Those opposing Measure G cross the political spectrum—Democrats, Republicans, Independents; taxpayers, business leaders, elected officials.
“We need leadership, transparency and fiscal responsibility to tackle Fresno’s problems…not another risky deal,” states Doug Vagim, former member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
Those favoring Measure G, led by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, make a few simplistic points in support of their position, most easily refuted.
- “Mid Valley Disposal [the recipient of the monopoly contract] will provide a better level of service at a much lower cost.” Even City Manager Mark Scott refutes this point, noting that Measure G “immediately lowers everyone’s trash rates without changing their level of service.” The bottom line is that the current public-sector trash collection service is award-winning—nationally.
- “Measure G immediately lowers everyone’s trash rates by 17.6%.” This is the sort of bait-and-switch that occurs every time you sign up for cell phone or cable service; you get a great deal for a short period of time, then the real cost of the service comes due.
- “Measure G also provides the City with $2.5 million a year to help keep police and firefighters on the job.” Never underestimate the mayor’s propensity for creating fear in our community. However, there is no guarantee any of these funds would go to police or firefighters or to any of the other mom and apple pie projects that the proponents have alleged. The funds could just as easily go to pay for the many lawsuits against the city as a result of the mayor’s problematic decision making.
Conservatives are always telling us that government should be run more like a business. That makes Measure G all the more perplexing. What does it say about a chief executive, in this case the mayor, who would destroy her company’s award-winning flagship division that is producing a huge surplus (analogous to profitability)? Second, Mid Valley is being given a monopoly, and therefore will have no competition and no incentive to improve service or reduce rates. Finally, Mid Valley will be quintupling its customer base overnight; that requires a phenomenal investment in infrastructure and management restructuring just to ensure service can continue with minimal hiccups, much less be improved.
Community Alliance Editor Mike Rhodes writes this about Measure G:
The Yes on G campaign wants you to believe that the city of Fresno is in a horrible financial crisis that can only be resolved by privatizing the sanitation department. This scare tactic will only work if voters don’t think this through before casting their ballot.
The mayor says that if G passes the city will bring in an additional $2.5 million a year through the franchise fee. With a population of more than 500,000, that is about $5 per person. We could come up with all of the money that privatizing the sanitation department would bring in by each person paying $5 more in taxes each year (less than 50 cents a month).
If the sanitation department is privatized, Mid Valley will start charging more, because they are in business to make money. The contract with the city will be renegotiated (like the contract with the downtown stadium) and residents will end up paying substantially more money than they are now. For example, living on a county island (within the city of Fresno), and using a private company, I pay $53 a month. City residents currently pay about half that much.
If Measure G passes and City of Fresno trash collection rates rise to the same level as those paid by us in county islands (within the City of Fresno), city residents will end up paying $300 more each year for their residential trash service. Compare that with the $5 per person/per year it would take to bring in the same $2.5 million. Hopefully, a majority of voters will make that calculation before they vote on June 4.
Look at the map on this page. It shows that the majority of people in this community voted for Barack Obama, a progressive candidate. They will also vote for progressive issues, like stopping the privatization of city sanitation workers jobs. The way we will win is by organizing and increasing voter turnout south of Shaw Avenue. If progressives, organized labor and working people can unite on this issue, victory will be ours.
Perhaps Charles Ashley, an environmental activist, sums it up best: “Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin doesn’t give us voters much credit for common sense.” We must show the mayor and the City Council that common sense will prevail in Fresno on June 4 when the voters defeat Measure G.
Michael D. Evans is a political activist, editor and writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.