By Mark Gutglueck
The recent departure of Rosemary Hoerning as Upland city manager cost the city’s taxpayers $235,903, the amount of money that was conferred upon her as a severance package. Nevertheless, for some, there is hope that the city’s residents could, as a consequence of her departure, receive a collective windfall of several million dollars in upcoming years, based upon the savings they stand to reap in terms of reductions in their future trash hauling rates.
Prior to her departure, sources at City Hall tell the Sentinel, Hoerning was on the verge of advising the city council it should simply accept and approve the rate increases the city’s refuse hauler is seeking to impose on the city’s residents and businesses.
The City of Upland has been tied into Burrtec Waste Industries, Inc. since 2000, when it held a competitive bid process with regard to what garbage hauler would get the city franchise to provide trash disposal service. Burrtec prevailed in that bid process, and it displaced the former trash service provider, Waste Management, Inc., the following year, 2001. That franchise contract was a relatively straightforward one which ran for a specific set of years, in this case three.
In 2004, however, with the assistance of then-Mayor John Pomierski, Burrtec managed to obtain from the city a “seven-year rolling evergreen” enhancement to the franchise contract. That provision committed the city to keeping Burrtec as its garbage pick-up provider at a minimum for seven years from that date, and it also meant that unless the city gave the company notice that it was initiating the seven-year wind-down of the contract by June 30 of any given year, the contract was automatically extended by one more year on July 1. Thus, at any given time, unless Upland city officials initiated that wind-down, Burrtec had a guarantee that it would retain the city trash hauling franchise for seven more years. The justification for conferring this advantage on the company was that it allowed Burrtec a seven-year period to amortize any debt it might have accrued as a consequence of buying equipment needed to provide Upland with assorted trash-handling services.
In the early stages of Pomierski’s tenure as mayor, Hoerning was an Upland employee. Hoerning had first become a municipal employee in 1985, when she was hired into the City of Ontario’s public works division on the basis of an internship she was doing there in her final year at Cal Poly Pomona where she was obtaining her civil engineering degree. She progressed professionally in Ontario and then went to Upland, where she worked as the second-highest ranking public works division staff member, but hit the top of her head against a glass ceiling, as Rob Turner monopolized Upland’s city engineer/public works director post throughout her first tenure there. In 2008 she left Upland for Redlands, where she first served as the municipal utilities and engineering director, eventually acceding to the position of director of public works and city engineer there.
In 2011, Turner retired, at which point Hoerning returned to Upland, moving into the public works director/city engineer assignment.
During Hoerning’s more than three-year absence from Upland, Acquanetta Warren had been moved into Hoerning’s old position of assistant public works director. Warren had been a municipal employee in Upland since 1991, a member of the Fontana City Council since 2002 and Fontana mayor since 2010. She was given the assistant public works director post less as a result of her skill level and more because of her political status and association with John Pomierski, Upland’s mayor from 2000 until 2011. Pomierski was indicted on political corruption charges in 2011, pleaded guilty in 2012, and was thereafter sentenced to two years in federal prison.
Hoerning had extensive training, licensing and experience in engineering, in particular civil engineering, whereas Warren was not an engineer and had virtually no technical expertise in civil engineering or engineering of any kind. As a consequence, Hoerning upon returning to Upland in 2011 as the department director delegated to Warren those matters that fell under the department of public works’ purview that required little or no engineering know-how or understanding, those being, essentially, maintenance of the city’s trees and parks as well as overseeing the provision of the city’s trash service. This freed Hoerning to devote herself in large measure to the more intensive aspects of being public works director, such as engineering, road construction and maintenance, and the city’s water division. This left Warren in a position of authority over municipal functions, subject to little or no professional supervision.
In Fontana, as in Upland, Burrtec is the franchised trash hauler. As such, Burrtec had a two-fold interest in ingratiating itself with Warren. One of Warren’s primary political backers has been Burrtec, which over the course of her political career has supplied her with more than $20,000 in donations to her various electioneering funds, provided variously from the company, its owners and employees.
Under the California Government Code, elected government officials are at liberty to take money from a donor and participate as an elected official in a decision – a vote – relating to that donor. Under the California Government Code, appointed or hired government officials are not permitted to take money from a donor and participate in the decision-making process involving that donor. Thus, in her capacity as a member of the city council or as mayor in Fontana, Warren could vote, as she did, to perpetuate Burrtec’s franchise arrangement or approve its rate increases on Fontana residences and businesses, even though she was a recipient of substantial political contributions from Burrtec. As an appointed/hired official in Upland, however, Warren was not legally allowed to participate in the decision-making process relating to Burrtec in Upland, based upon the donations she had received from Burrtec.
Nevertheless, as Upland assistant public works director, Warren was called upon repeatedly to deal with trash-related issues. She neither declared that she had a conflict of interest, legal or otherwise, in handling matters related to Burrtec in Upland, nor did she recuse herself from doing so. Hoerning and other administrative, managerial and elected officials in Upland were either unaware of the money Warren had taken from Burrtec or did not recognize that it was a violation of the law for her to have taken that money from Burrtec and to involve herself in any matters relating to Burrtec in Upland. They made no effort to prevent her from engaging in that conflict of interest, which is prohibited under Government Code Section 84308.
In 2013, Upland City Hall was staggering under severe economic challenges as its expenses in meeting payroll demands and providing municipal services were outrunning revenue to the city. The city council appointed a blue-ribbon committee to look at the city’s options to rejuvenate itself economically. That committee came up with a host of recommendations, among which were that where possible the city should seek to rebid its various contracts to see where cost savings could be had.
Simultaneously, public discussion in Upland turned to, among other things, the consideration that the city at that point had gone 13 years without conducting an open bid on its trash franchise arrangement. Over the succeeding months, discontent within a segment of the community grew, arising out of the perception that the lack of a competitive bidding process was allowing Burrtec to impose higher rates on Upland’s customers than would be the case if the city had the option of providing the franchise to any of a host of other companies that would be willing to underbid Burrtec. That resident discomfiture was exacerbated by the revelation that came about, because of the public discussion, of the 7-year evergreen clause in the contract. By the spring of 2014, a sizable contingent of residents led by then-Councilman Glenn Bozar, were demanding that the city initiate the 7-year wind-down of the franchise with Burrtec and undertake at the earliest opportunity an open bidding process.
Warren inserted herself into the matter. Together with Burrtec Vice President Mike Arreguin, she structured an arrangement whereby the city avoided the possible termination of its relationship with Burrtec. That arrangement called for foregoing the open franchise bidding process, and suspending for five years the city’s right to initiate the wind-down, such that it would need to wait at least until 2019 to give Burrtec notice of wishing to start the seven-year process of ending the franchise contract. In exchange, Burrtec offered the city free street sweeping service, free disposal of medical sharps, i.e., syringes, and an annual $200,000 contribution toward refurbishing the city’s alleyways. The medical sharps disposal, street sweeping service and alley repair programs would remain in place, Burrtec said, until such time as Upland officials declared they were going to trigger the seven-year wind-down.
Noting that acceptance of the deal would mean Burrtec was to retain the city’s trash hauling franchise at least until June 2026 and there would be no bidding on the trash franchise in Upland for a quarter of a century, Bozar and the other competitive bid advocates refused to relent, calling for the city to signal it wanted the wind-down to begin so a competitive bid process could be initiated.
At that point, Arreguin, guided in some measure by Warren, assured the city council that in exchange for not initiating the wind-down of the franchise contract the city had with Burrtec and not moving toward a rebidding of the franchise contract, his company would give the City of Upland an absolute “guarantee” that the trash hauling rates adjusted for Upland that year, 2014, would be “locked-in” for seven years, until July 1, 2021. This guarantee, Arreguin said, was irrevocable, and it constituted, he maintained, a gamble on the part of his company that in the following seven years there would be no developments that would cause his company’s operating costs to escalate, such as rising landfill use rates, state or federal mandates or law changes pertaining to refuse hauling that would increase his company’s expenses, or changes in the recycling industry that would either increase the cost of dealing with recyclables or lower the price his company could get for selling the recyclable material it was collecting. If his company lost that bet, Arreguin said, the City of Upland and its residents and businesses would prove the winners because their trash rates would remain the same.
The city council as it was then composed, voted 4-to-1, with Mayor Ray Musser, Councilmen Brendan Brandt and Gino Filippi and Councilwoman Debbie Stone prevailing and Councilman Bozar dissenting, to forego the competitive bid process, grant the continuation of Burrtec’s franchise at least through June 2026, and accept the street sweeping, medical sharps disposal and alley maintenance offers, along with Burrtec’s assurance of having the 2014 rates locked in until 2021.
In 2016, Acquanetta Warren left Upland somewhat abruptly, in a move that was not fully explained beyond a statement that she was voluntarily retiring. When she did so, she wiped the memory banks of her city-issued computer at her workstation within the City of Upland’s public works division clean, such that all of the files relating to her function while she was a city employee in Upland were rendered unrecoverable.
Later in 2016, the California Legislature passed and then-Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1383, which pertains to the handling of food waste, also referred to as organic waste. Provisions of Senate Bill 1383 complicated the function of trash haulers. Senate Bill 1383 used the amount of organics disposed of in 2014 as a baseline to set the goal of a 75 percent annual reduction statewide by 2025.
In 2018, the Upland City Council terminated then-City Manager Jeannette Vagnozzi, elevating Hoerning from the position of public works director to the even more demanding position of interim city manager.
Also beginning in 2018, the People’s Republic Of China, which was by far the largest purchaser/recipient of recyclable materials originating in the United States, banned many scrap materials and reduced its acceptance of virtually all others unless they met a strict contamination rate of no more than 0.5 percent. Contamination rates of U.S. recyclables before sorting vary from place to place, and can range higher than 25 percent.
In 2019, Burrtec found itself financially squeezed on one side with the rising costs of preparing to meet California’s Senate Bill 1383 mandates, which meant it would have to bear increasing organic substance-handling charges including purchasing food waste tubs, and on the other side with seeing the revenue it could achieve by selling recyclable materials diminished or eliminated entirely. The company appealed to those municipal jurisdictions, including Upland, where it had trash hauling franchises to allow it to increase the rates on its domestic and business customers. In making its approach to Upland on that score, the company made no mention of its 2014 commitment to lock in its trash-hauling rates in the City of Gracious Living in exchange for the city not rebidding the trash hauling franchise contract. At that point, four of the five members of the city council in 2014 were no longer in office. Only then-Mayor Debbie Stone, who had been heavily supported by Burrtec in terms of donations to her political war chest, remained on the council. When the request by Burrtec for the increase in customer rates was made in 2019, Stone made no effort to inform her colleagues on the council at that point, none of whom had been party to the 2014 vote to extend the Burrtec franchise contract until 2021, that the company had committed to keeping the 2014 rates in place until 2021.
As public works director, Hoerning headed a division that had overarching authority pertaining to refuse handling in the city. Nevertheless, from the time she had returned to Upland in 2011, she had given the trash issue little scrutiny, having delegated that matter to Warren and others in the department while she was engrossed with other public works, capital improvement and infrastructure matters. Upon becoming city manager, she had even less time to devote to how the city was to ensure garbage generated by the city’s residents and commercial enterprises was handled. She did not involve herself in making an evaluation of Burrtec’s request in 2019 to increase its rates, did not examine the record with regard to Burrtec’s 2014 commitment and had a city consultant, R3, which had no knowledge of the 2014 commitment to lock in rates until 2021, evaluate the Burrtec request. R3, making a finding that Burrtec, like virtually every other trash hauler in the state, was being beset with the vicissitudes of the trash hauling industry, said the rate increases Burrtec was requesting were called for and justified, and recommended that the city grant them. With only Councilman Rudy Zuniga dissenting, the city council in January 2019 gave Burrtec the rate increases as requested.
Earlier this year, Burrtec gave indication it was going to once again seek to up its service rates. Hoerning signaled she was amenable to the increases.
On March 31, 2021, however, Hoerning came to what was essentially the end of the line with Upland, when at a specially called meeting the city council voted unanimously to place her on paid administrative leave. Ultimately, four weeks later, she and the city came to terms on a separation agreement, by which she was provided with a $235,903 severance stipend, plus a cash equivalency of her sick leave and vacation time accumulated to that point.
On April 26, 2021 the city council considered setting a hearing date for a further adjustment to be made to service rates charged by Burrtec to Upland’s residential and commercial customers. Without Hoerning to usher Burrtec’s proposal to have rates upped by the amount the company deems appropriate, discussion turned to an analysis of tipping rates, that is the amount charged for dumping trash at landfills, the consumer price index in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, a comparison of the service fees charged by trash hauling franchisees in surrounding cities and a need for an analysis of the proposed rates before they are approved. On a motion by Councilwoman Shannan Maust, seconded by Councilman Zuniga, the item was tabled, that is deferred, until what was then an indefinite future date.
That delay was not one welcomed by Burrtec. Rather than watching helplessly as the city council is stampeded into accepting the rate increases as proposed, city residents now have the opportunity to explore all of the disposal options open to the city and its residents rather than that one which is in Burrtec’s interest. Furthermore, certain residents intend to make the city council aware of a number of peculiarities with respect to the way Burrtec is operating. Those, when taken together with other considerations, demonstrate that Burrtec, by utilizing landfills outside of San Bernardino County which are on the order of two times the distance of the landfill most logically and immediately available to Upland, is not only artificially increasing the cost the city ultimately pays to bury its trash but is making it so that Upland’s ratepayers are missing out on a subsidization San Bernardino County offers for using local landfills.
The city’s current solid waste rate structure is based on a four-component system, consisting of a service fee, disposal fee also know as a tipping fee, a processing fee for recyclables and organics and the city’s service program fee, by which the city gets a piece of the action of the trash collection revenue. Of note is that in the initial stages of the City of Upland’s relationship with Burrtec, particularly in the first three years after the city entered into its franchise deal with the company in 2000 and the company began operating in the city in 2001, as part of the effort to secure and maintain the trash hauling franchise, Burrtec assented to the inclusion of language in the contract that gave the city and its residents an assurance that steps would be taken to secure trash disposal rates – that is the tipping fees that Burrtec would pay to dispose of trash at landfills which ultimately would be passed back to the city’s residents and businesses – that were the lowest available.
At that time, Burrtec held the contract with San Bernardino County to operate and manage all of the county’s landfills. Thus, Burrtec then had an incentive to steer trash originating in any of the cities where it also had trash hauling contracts, such as Upland, to a San Bernardino County landfill.
In April 2013, however, Burrtec lost out in a competitive bid process to Athens Services, doing business as Arakelian Enterprises, Inc., to manage the county’s landfill system. Thereafter, it was no longer in Burrtec’s financial interest to continue to dispose of trash in San Bernardino County landfills. Instead, Burrtec saw a revenue enhancement by increasing the amount of rubbish disposed at the Salton City Landfill it operates in Imperial County.
Unknown to Upland officials, in 2014, the year after Burrtec lost the contract to operate San Bernardino County’s landfills, the company, with the connivance of Warren, outmaneuvered Upland officials, including Hoerning, by altering its contract with the city.
Even as some Uplanders and then-City Councilman Bozar were considering ending the franchise contract with Burrtec or otherwise rebidding the franchise contract to see if lower service costs could be had for Upland’s residents and businesses, Burrtec convinced then-Mayor Ray Musser and Bozar’s three other council colleagues that the city would benefit by continuing the ongoing franchise arrangement and locking in the 2014 rates for seven years thereafter.
At that point, Warren slipped into the franchise contract revamped language that favored Burrtec and put Upland at a disadvantage. Hoerning, who had deferred the decision-making process on trash issues to Warren, was not paying attention, and did not seem particularly concerned about giving Warren autonomy in dealing with Burrtec, despite the copious amounts of money Burrtec was donating to Warren’s campaign account.
The original contract that Burrtec had with Upland was worded in this way: “Collector shall pay for solid waste disposal by collector at a city-reviewed facility unless otherwise mutually agreed by collector and [the] city. Collector shall transport and deliver to a processing facility or facilities all recyclables including recyclables from single-family households, and recyclable bulky waste. Collector shall select facilities which result in the least expensive processing option for the city, taking into account any applicable tipping fees, revenue sharing and transportation costs thereto, consistent with public health and safety, diversion provisions of Assembly Bill 939, and collector’s obligations hereunder.”
This was changed to: “Collector shall pay for solid waste disposal by collector unless otherwise mutually agreed by collector and [the] city. Collector shall transport and deliver to a processing facility or facilities all recyclables including recyclables from single-family households, and recyclable bulky waste. Collector shall make reasonable business efforts to select facilities which create the most economic value for the city, taking into account any applicable tipping fees, revenue sharing and transportation costs thereto, consistent with public health and safety, diversion provisions of Assembly Bill 939, and collector’s obligations hereunder.”
Warren managed to put that language change into the contract without anyone noticing.
Specifically, the language was amended to eliminate the requirement that the place where the refuse is to be processed must be approved by the city and the requirement that the facility or facilities selected had to provide the least expensive processing option for the city. Instead Burrtec’s financial interest was given a higher priority over minimizing costs for Upland residential and commercial customers such that Burrtec was given direction that it need only make a “reasonable effort… to select facilities which create the most economic value for the city.”
Until that time, Burrtec had been disposing of Upland’s trash at the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill in Rialto, which entailed a 16.6 mile drive from Upland and a $29 per ton tipping fee. Beginning in 2014, as soon as the new language was in place, Burrtec began disposing of Upland’s trash at the El Sobrante Landfill in Corona, involving a 28.7-mile trip and a tipping fee of $43 to $45 per ton or to the Badlands Landfill in Moreno Valley, which required a 31.3 mile trip and a tipping fee of $43 to $45 per ton.
It is worth noting that neither Burrtec nor city staff disclosed in the documents provided to the public or the council the significant language changes to the contract which greatly limited the city’s authority to select the disposal facilities, which impacted the rates. The transportation cost increases and the rate increases from the 2014 switch from the nearer San Bernardino County landfill to the two landfills in Riverside County were folded into the 2014 rates that were “locked in,” supposedly until 2021.
In 2015, the City of San Bernardino resolved to privatize its municipal sanitation division, and ultimately selected Burrtec to serve as its franchised trash hauler. Burrtec assumed that role in 2016.
In addition to holding the San Bernardino and Upland franchises, Burrtec serves 14 other of the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities – Adelanto, Apple Valley, Barstow, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Highland, Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Twentynine Palms, Victorville, Yucca Valley and Yucaipa – as well as dozens of its unincorporated communities, including Amboy, Angeles Oaks, Baker, Barton Flats, Bloomington, Cima, Crestline, Daggett, Del Rosa, Devore, Dumont Dunes, East Highlands, El Rancho Verde, Forest Falls, Fort Irwin, Halloran, Helendale, Hinkley, Kelso, Lake Arrowhead, Landers, Lenwood, Lucerne Valley, Ludlow, Mentone, Mountain Pass, Mt. Baldy, Newberry Springs, Nipton, Oak Glen, Running Springs, San Antonio Heights, Silver Lakes and Yermo. This makes Burrtec San Bernardino County’s largest trash hauler.
In the aftermath of Burrtec’s loss of the county contract to run San Bernardino County’s landfills, Burrtec’s corporate officers, out of resentment toward county officials and pique at the victor in the competitive bid process, Athens Services, diverted as much of the trash it collected in San Bernardino County out of San Bernardino County’s landfills as possible, taking the revenue that would have fallen to the county in tipping fees with it.
In 2016, Burrtec found itself obliged, because of a concerted effort by a group of San Bernardino County cities and communities, which did not include Upland, and the San Bernardino County government structure itself, to utilize San Bernardino County landfills. Late that year, Burrtec entered into a contractual agreement to dispose of 370,000 tons of the trash it collected in San Bernardino County to landfills in San Bernardino County. Another contractual agreement required that 180,000 of those 370,000 tons originate in the City of San Bernardino. Burrtec was thus under a mandate to dispose another 190,000 tons of trash it collected in San Bernardino County into San Bernardino County landfills.
In 2019 Burrtec was requesting that Upland – along with the other cities and communities it serviced in San Bernardino County and elsewhere – allow it to up its rates to offset its increasing costs in meeting the State of California’s mandates imposed on it by Senate Bill 1383 and to offset its declining revenue from the People’s Republic of China’s discontinuing purchase of the company’s recyclable materials. At the time that the Upland City Council went along with that request despite Burrtec’s 2014 commitment to maintain its service rates in Upland at 2014 levels until July 2021, Burrtec could have offered to dispose of the 46,851.32 tons of trash originating in Upland annually in San Bernardino County’s Mid-Valley Landfill, where the tipping fee for doing so was $31 per ton rather than the $49-to-$51 per ton it was paying to dispose of Upland’s refuse in Riverside County, thereby abiding by its commitment to keep Upland’s 2014 rates locked in. Banking on the Upland City Council’s lack of institutional memory about the 2014 commitment and/or the council’s lack of will to hold Burrtec to that commitment, Burrtec did not do so.
This year, while Hoerning was yet in the city manager’s saddle, Burrtec requested that the city grant it a 3.07 percent consumer price index increase to be applied to the service component fee and the disposal component (tipping) fee for Fiscal Year 2020-21 and a consumer price index increase of 1.62 percent to be applied to the service component fee and disposal component fee for 2021-22. Hoerning was amenable to that request and was on track to direct her successor as Upland’s public works director, Braden Yu, to recommend that the city council approve those requests. Hoerning’s departure, however, has created a situation, based on multiple considerations, which will likely entail Yu backing away from making such a recommendation.
A handful of residents have vowed to call Yu to account, including demanding his firing, if he does not make a comprehensive evaluation of the 2014 commitment by Burrtec to maintain its rates without increase until July 2021, the circumstances that led to the 2019 overriding of that commitment, the sleight of hand that was used in 2014 to remove the city’s ability to approve into which landfills the city’s trash is to be disposed and the city’s unilateral surrendering of the ability thereby to ensure that the city has passed through to it the lowest possible tipping fees. Those higher rates include the City of Upland not being provided with the trash disposal subsidization San Bernardino County provides, in the form of a per ton discount, to cities within its jurisdiction which utilize its landfills.
Those residents also want Yu to look into shortcomings in Burrtec’s recycling program which are also resulting in higher rates being paid by Upland trash service customers.
If Yu defaults to the position previously assumed by Hoerning, which was to accept without question or contesting the requests by Burrtec to increase its rates, those residents are prepared to wage a bruising battle in which they intend to put on display Yu’s greater loyalty to Burrtec than to the taxpayers paying his salary.
The Sentinel is informed that Burrtec has in recent years skimped on its recycling efforts to reduce the volume of recycling material taken out of the waste streams it processes and disposes of. Some time ago, Burrtec had acceded to a billing arrangement in Upland and elsewhere intended to encourage recycling. Under this arrangement, residential customers are provided with at least one barrel intended to contain trash bound for a landfill, which is black in color; at least one barrel intended to contain recyclable material, which is blue in color; and at least one green- or olive-colored barrel intended to contain so-called green waste, primarily grass clippings, plant prunings, leaves and the like that originate as part of the vegetative landscaping at a residence. To encourage homeowners to recycle as much as possible and divert green waste from landfills, no charge other than a basic recycling fee is made for the blue or green barrels and no charge applies for extra blue or green barrels requested by a customer. Additional black barrels trigger an added charge. With the refusal of the People’s Republic of China to accept recyclable materials, Burrtec, while now casting about for alternative places to sell the recyclables it has accumulating at its yards and facilities, is no longer able to sell the recyclables it has piling up, and both the collection of recyclables and separation of recyclables from the trash stream has now become for Burrtec a liability. As a consequence, the company consistently spurns customers who seek to obtain additional recycling bins or replacement recycling bins if they are stolen or damaged.
As a consequence, Burrtec’s customers, including many in Upland, find themselves in the position of having to jettison their recyclables into their trash containers. Though this compromises and undercuts the recycling effort that California cities are mandated to engage in, it is financially beneficial to Burrtec in two ways. First, it decreases the recyclable material that is accumulating at Burrtec’s company yards and facilities, for which it has no ready buyer, and which represents an eventual storage crisis and storage cost. It also increases the amount of refuse being disposed of in Riverside County landfills, in particular the El Sobrante Landfill and the Badlands Landfill. By ensuring that Riverside County’s landfills are receiving ever greater tonnages of trash from San Bernardino County, this frees Riverside County up to dispose of a corresponding amount of trash originating in the southeastern portion of Riverside County, where Burrtec has trash hauling franchises or contracts, into the Salton City Landfill, which Burrtec operates in Imperial County. The intensified use of the Salton City Landfill by cities and communities in Riverside County generates for Burrtec, as that facility’s operator, revenue.
In January 2020, when the Upland City Council was straitjacketed by Hoerning into going along with Burrtec’s request to up its rates, only Councilman Rudy Zuniga resisted. Then-Mayor Debbie Stone, then-councilman Ricky Felix, then-Councilman Bill Velto and Councilwoman Janice Elliott voted to give Burrtec the requested rate increases.
Since that time, Stone was voted out of office and replaced by Velto, Felix left the city council and two new members have been elected, First District Councilwoman Shannan Maust and Third District Councilman Carlos Garcia. Shortly after making the 2020 vote, Velto publicly acknowledged having given Burrtec the rate increase out of “ignorance,” and admitted he was not aware of the 2014 commitment by Burrtec to lock-in the 2014 rates until 2021.
Those close to City Hall report that earlier this year, while Upland was yet under Hoerning’s guidance, she was pushing city officials to rubberstamp Burrtec’s pending request for the 3.07 percent increase in rates for Fiscal Year 2020-21 and an increase of 1.62 percent for 2021-22. That was to follow Hoerning’s accommodation of the rate increase Burrtec was granted in January 2020.
Garcia and Maust both appear far less ready to accept Burrtec’s claims of financial hardship at face value, and both were key votes in the decision to sack Hoerning, one of whose transgressions was acceding to the best interests of Burrtec while neglecting the competing financial interests of the city’s residents. Zuniga remains, based upon certain public statements he made in April, unconvinced that Burrtec is providing first class service, and he gave indication he is willing to initiate the wind-down of the company’s seven-year duration franchise rollover at the earliest opportunity.
What is more, Burrtec’s hiding of the change in the contract language in 2014 that allowed it to up the rates it charges has now been exposed.
Similarly, that Burrtec is burying Upland’s trash at two landfills in Riverside County at a tipping fee that is $18-to-$20 per ton higher than what it could dispose of that trash in a San Bernardino County landfill, representing a $843,323.76-to-$937,026.40 greater cost annually that is passed through to members of the Upland community is no longer a secret.
Against that backdrop, a growing number of Upland residents are hopeful that the current Upland City Council, with its traditional practice of rubberstamping anything placed in front of it by city staff, may not, when it gets around once more to considering the matter, be inclined to impose on its constituents the rate increases Burrtec is requesting.
The city council is scheduled to take up Burrtec’s request to up the rates Upland residents and businesses pay for trash service on August 9.
By Mark Gutglueck