Negotiations for a new solid waste agreement between the city of Santa Barbara and MarBorg Industries call for automated curbside pickup of residential solid waste that would extend to 60% of the city, the acting environmental services manager told the city council Tuesday.
Lorraine Cruz Carpenter said the new automated pickup system would replace the current system of two workers per truck who manually wheel curbside refuse containers on both sides of the street to a trash truck, physically pick them up and dump them inside.
“It’s now too labor intensive,” she said. “That’s a lot of time that’s used, in addition to the idling of vehicles, and possible injury of workers lifting cans all day long.”
In contrast, the new automated trucks would utilize one worker wielding a mechanical arm to pick up and empty “specially designed” wheeled curbside containers, Ms. Carpenter said.
‘It lifts the can and dumps it directly into the truck,” she said. “It’s much easier and quicker.”
Ms. Carpenter said the automated system has been utilized in other California communities for decades.
About 40% of the city would not be serviced by the automated trucks because of traffic and density, she said.
In response to a question by Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez, Ms. Carpenter said no MarBorg worker would lose his or her job as a result of the switchover.
Implementation of the new system would take about six months, Ms. Carpenter said.
“There will be plenty of time for a smooth transition,” she said, adding that customers will receive numerous reminders and notices advising them of the change.
The current solid waste agreement between the city and MarBorg is slated to expire in June.
“Negotiations are going very well,” Ms. Carpenter said. “We’ve made solid progress, and opportunities exist to put in changes that are still subject to negotiations.”
The council voted 6-0 Tuesday to direct staff to continue its negotiations with MarBorg. “We’re telling them they’re on the right track,” Councilmember Eric Friedman said.
A hammered-out agreement should reach the council by February or March, Ms. Carpenter said.
She said that residents who are unwilling to participate in the new curbside program would be able to “opt in” to a system where containers would be picked up on premises, but they would have to pay a “premium” rate still being negotiated with MarBorg.
Staffers said the higher rate would compensate for any loss of efficiency due to workers having to walk up to a house to get the containers, empty them, then return them to where they were.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said she is opposed to MarBorg raising its rates. “I don’t want to see the costs go up,” she said.
Ms. Carpenter said the city wants any rate increase to be “ minimal,” but if one is negotiated in the new contract, it would be phased in over time.
Councilmember Sneddon also voiced concern about elderly hillside residents being physically unable to wheel their cans down a long driveway to the curb, asking whether a MarBorg worker could get it by walking up the driveway.
Ms. Carpenter said the newly designed containers will be sturdy and unable to roll out of control because they have to be lifted on one side to wheel them anywhere.
But she added that “exceptions can be made without impacting the resident.”
Other changes in the agreement call for expanding the pickup of bulky items from large residential units, cutting the response time to pick up abandoned waste from 72 to 48 hours, and replacing trucks over 10 years old with new trucks that run on natural gas.
In addition, MarBorg would dedicate one staffer whose sole responsibility would be to resolve city requests for service needs.
Mayor Randy Rowse asked what would happen in the event of something happening after hours or over the weekend that needed immediate attention.
“That’s a very great question,” Ms. Carpenter said. “It’s a discussion we should be having, and we’ll add that to the negotiations.”
Councilmember Friedman said that, based on the stage of negotiations thus far, the new agreement with MarBorg “would move us forward” by modernizing the contract to make it more sustainable, improve efficiency and service, and minimize costs.
“Most people I talk to are happy with the service,” he said, echoing the results of a staff survey of more than 1,200 residents that showed a majority of customers were either satisfied or very satisfied with MarBorg’s services.