Specter Of Graft Settles Over Colton City Hall With 40-Year No-Bid Trash Franchise Renewal

By Mark Gutglueck
Reviving longstanding but once dormant suspicions of mob influence at Colton City Hall, a three-member majority of the city council on Tuesday extended the city’s trash franchise for the third time with its controversial trash hauler, locking in a contract that will be prolonged for 40 years without any competitive bid process.
The action comes 27 years after a former prosecutor brought in at the request of the city’s former police chief and city attorney came to the conclusion that the trash hauler’s corporate predecessor had obtained the franchise contract by bribing the city’s then-mayor and two of its councilmen with the collusion of the city’s then-city manager and deputy city manager. The current council majority’s refusal to subject the franchise holder to a comparison of its rates and service levels to those that would be offered by at least three and perhaps as many as five companies currently involved in the trash industry in San Bernardino County or interested in obtaining Colton’s franchise contract is an indication, some have suggested, of the prevalence of graft in the Hub City.
Despite Mayor Frank Navarro’s and Councilman Luis Gonzalez’s emphatic assertions that the city needed to explore what levels of service and rates other refuse handling companies would be willing to offer to obtain the franchise, Councilman David Toro, Councilwoman Kelly Chastain and Councilman John Echevarria elected to roll the city’s current franchise contract with CR&R over, extending that arrangement from its current 2026 expiration date until 2036. Echevarria, Chastain and Toro maintain that CR&R made what has roughly been quantified as 15 concessions with regard to conditions or features contained within the contract since the city took up a consideration of the contract, due to expire in 2026, in August. Those concessions, ranged from freezing rate increases currently and through June 2026 with the expiration of the current contract, providing residential customers with new trash barrels, upping the number of occasions per year that the department will accept large items from each household for disposal, accepting up to four disposed tires from each household per year, offering senior citizen’s a 10 percent discount on their rates, engaging with customers for feedback with regard to the quality of the service, agreeing to defray up to $45,000 per year the city’s hiring of a community services/code enforcement officer and cooperating with the city to meet all new state requirements relating to trash disposal. The company’s willingness to incorporate features into the franchise agreement that had not previously existed demonstrated there to be no need to consider an arrangement with an of CR&R’s competitors. Likewise, Chastain, Toro and Echevarria considered the company’s longstanding relationship with the city to be something that should be sustained rather than be subjected to a potential unraveling by forcing it into a stark side-by-side comparison with other service providers.
Mayor Navarro and Councilman Gonzalez were taken aback by the determination of Echevarria, Toro and Chastain to bypass a competitive bid process. Moreover, a cross section of CR&R’s Colton customers, including some residents and an even larger number of business owners see the city council’s action Tuesday night to be a confirmation of their dark suspicions that were raised when, rather prematurely, a little less than three years before the current contract with CR&R was set to expire, an item designed to have the council extend the contract with as little fanfare as possible was brought before the council last summer.
As mid-year 2023 approached, CR&R officials were purposed to nail down the Colton franchise for another ten years. For years, the company and its corporate predecessors, Taormina Industries and Republic Industries, had been profiting handsomely as a consequence of previous Colton city officials allowing the company to increase its rates in keeping with the consumer price index while neglecting to enforce provisions of the contract that would have required that the company pay fees to it, such as a hosting fee the company was to pay for having its corporate operations based within the city. That provision had been part of the contract from the time Taormina had been granted the franchise and should have been triggered when Republic, with which Taormina had merged, set up operations in the city in 2005. Despite that, the city did not get around to collecting a host fee – equal to $1 for every ton of trash that moved through CR&R’s facility – until 2017. After the city began to collect the host fee it did not, as the contract allowed it to do, raise the fee by the same CPI consumer price index factor that the CR&R was subjecting the city’s ratepayers to. With the CPI for just concluding 2022-23 standing at 8.7 percent, under the contract CR&R was entitled, as of July 1, 2023 to raise its trash rates across the board – for residential customers, commercial customers and industrial customers – by 8.7 percent. It did not do so, however, as it recognized that it was about to enter into a phase of “bargaining” with city officials over the extension of the franchise contract and it wanted to accrue good will with the city’s residents.
Somewhere in the back channels of City Hall, after a request by CR&R corporate officials was made in July, city officials prepared a proposal to have the city council look at extending the trash hauling franchise with CR&R for another decade upon the current contract expiration in 2026. CR&R officials and their representatives went to work lining up the votes needed to do so, concentrating on Toro, Echevarria and Chastain. The pitch was that the city simply roll the franchise contract over once more without considering any other alternatives to CR&R continuing to serve as the city’s refuse handler.
On August 15, 2023, as an agendized item, the council took up a discussion of at least entertaining the extension of CR&R’s contract and perhaps even coming to a consensus on the spot and doing just that. That discussion, with Chastain, Toro and Echevaria leaning in favor of continuing the status quo, solidified momentum toward merely rolling the franchise contract over for another decade, despite the calls by a concerted number of Colton residents and, most especially, those in the business community, that the city draw the line on going without an open bidding process for the city’s trash hauler at three decades. Despite Mayor Navarro’s objection that the discussion with regard to the city’s trash franchise contract was being one-sidedly loaded in favor of a rollover rather than a solicitation of bids and that the discussion was premature, the council was again slated to consider the trash franchise contract at its September 19 meeting.
There were strong indications that the issue had already been decided in CR&R’s favor, with Toro, Echevarria and Chastain lined up to support granting the company another ten years as the franchised hauler. The only question, those close to the situation said, was whether the trio would approve a straight-out ten-year extension or opt to grant a five-year continuation of CR&R’s status coupled another five-year option.
In the days and even hours before the meeting, however, there was an unanticipated outpouring of discontent on the part of CR&R customers about what was in the offing. At issued among those lobbying the mayor, council and other public officials was the disregard CR&R’s corporate managers had with regard to the quality of service provided by the company and the seeming confidence those corporate managers – high-level, mid-level and low-level – had going back decades that there was no need to redress that issue since the continuation of the franchise contract was already, permanently it appeared, sewn up. The manner in which city officials had been confronted with those expressions of dissatisfaction with CR&R’s service and that the business community was being forced to pay top dollar for it interrupted the game plan, which had been to put the matter to bed at the September 19 meeting by having the council vote to roll the contract over once more.
While Chastain and Echevarria remained on task to get the continuation of CR&R’s contract behind everyone, Councilman Toro had been rattled just enough by the complaints he had heard to take a pause. He called for the council to hold a workshop on November 1 to which CR&R was invited and to be given an opportunity to refine its proposal. With none of CR&R’s competitors requested to attend, the council was to discuss the franchise arrangement in general and go over what CR&R had to offer, most particularly certain proposed contract enhancements that included committing to helping the city achieve full compliance with SB-1383, which calls for the recycling of organic or food waste, to involve replacing all existing 64-gallon residential bins with new 96-gallon ones that would expedite organics/food waste recycling; implementing what CR&R called a “new” host fee, one which the original contract as written up in 1999 had required to be in place, which CR&R said would generate an estimated $200,000 per year in city revenues; the addition of free paper shredding for residents to be provided during the city’s twice-yearly community clean-up events which CR&R was already participating in; CR&R augmenting its service with so-called “sharps disposal,” i.e., providing safe boxes in which to discard syringe needles; begin a site improvements and expansion to the company’s Colton facility within 24-36 months; and increase by $250,000 the   impact mitigation fee the company would pay to Colton for damage to its roads and other infrastructure by the trucks and vehicles accessing CR&R’s Colton facility, along with the freeze of rates until June 2024 and purchasing and installing the license plate reader. In return for those contract enhancements the council was to consider extending the current contract for five years with an additional five-year option at the city’s discretion.
In the weeks intervening between September 19 and November 1, CR&R found itself subjected to adverse publicity as members of Colton’s business community, most particularly, documented and presented scores of examples of poor service or failure to execute on elements contained among the franchise contract requirements. Colton city officials were inundated with citations to that effect, as well as complaints that when the overall average of rates charged by CR&R including to residential, commercial and industrial customers were compared to those of its trash-hauling competitors, it was demonstrable that CR&R was the most expensive service provider of its type not just in San Bernardino County but regionally.
Prior to the November 1 workshop, CR&R officials buttonholed Toro and provided him with a selective roster of trash-hauling rates from throughout the Southern California region, in particular specially chosen cities in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties in which one category of customer or other – almost exclusively residential ones – was paying rates comparable to or higher than that paid by customers in Colton. Toro, for the most part, did not take up the subject of the rates CR&R charges its commercial and industrial customers, one which in virtually every case are substantially higher, in some cases by a factor of more than 2, than that charged by its competitors.
At the November 1 workshop, Toro presented the CR&R-provided figures as the product of his own independent research. He also presented his idiosyncratic philosophy with regard to the competitive bidding of governmental contracts. “I personally do not have confidence in the RFP process,” Toro said. “Why? Because I’ve been through an RFP process in my personal life and what happened.”
He explained further.
“Well, the business that I was in, there were four or five bidders. We were the in-house vendor and we came in third place. I don’t know how that happened. Obviously, somebody underbid it, and, come long story short, it was underbidded, underbid by $6 million. That first year – and I was fortunately to get absorbed into this company that won the contract because they needed that experience – what happened? What I was doing, the workload became four or five times more. I had to take less pay. Within a year, it was scare tactics. ‘All hands on deck! We’re going to lose the contract.’ Why? Because they couldn’t meet the expectations of what was happening. So, they had to basically burn the bridges at both ends, trying to make things work. Seven years later, now that the contract is ready for renewal, they’re finally at the place they should have been seven years ago. But within that seven years, so many people lost their jobs, customer services really tanked during the first two or three years. That’s my expectations of what’s going to happen if we go out to RFP. That’s my personal opinion on RFPs.”
“When I made the motion to have this workshop, it wasn’t to discuss going out to an RFP,” Toro said. “It was, because staff doesn’t want to negotiate this, for this council to sit back and say, ‘This is what we want to tell CR&R is what we want’ and for them to come back to us and say, ‘Yes we can.’ or ‘No, we can’t.’ At that point, then we can decide which way we want to go.”
Toro provided a selective comparison of rates charged by CR&R in Colton and rates charged by other haulers in other cities. The rate he quoted appeared to be related to domestic or residential customers rather than commercial and/or industrial ones.
He said that customers in Barstow, Adelanto, Victorville, Chino Hills, San Bernardino and Grand Terrace have lower rates than those in Colton, but that in Highland, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Montclair, Ontario, Chino and Redlands, customers, or at least residential customers, are currently paying higher trash rates than in Colton.
While Toro made allusion to complaints about the quality of service CR&R was providing its customers in Colton, he downplayed that as a serious consideration in determining whether the contract should be extended. He insisted that CR&R had made and was continuing to make strides in redressing such issues, and implied that CR&R compared favorably to Burrtec, Republic, Valley Vista, Athens and Waste Management in comparison in terms of meeting basic service requirement.
Further, Toro implied, if CR&R were required to bid against the other companies, it would be able to hold its own.
“I don’t know who said it – These guys [CR&R] are the hometown people,” Toro said. “They know the city. They know what they’re getting into. Shouldn’t they be the lowest bidder?”
Despite that assertion, Toro did not suggest that his theory should be tested.
At the November 1, meeting, both Chastain and Echevarria came across as stridently in favor of CR&R.
For Echevarria, the workshop format which allowed CR&R’s proposal to be considered without seeking out counterbids from other companies was not weighted strongly enough in favor of the city’s current franchisee. Echevarria decried that Mayor Navarro had constrained the forum to prevent CR&R from making a comprehensive presentation of its proposal for being permitted to retain the contract to provide Colton with sanitation service.
At one point, however, Echevarria seemed persuaded to accept that dealing with the extension of trash hauling franchise almost three years prior to it expiring was a bit premature and he signaled his willingness to put off the decision relating to the trash hauling franchise until much further down the road, closer to the time the franchise is nearing its expiration. He endorsed an option put onto the agenda by city staff to table the matter until later.
Councilwoman Chastain pressed for voting that evening to extend CR&R’s franchise another decade.
At that point, Toro intervened, offering a substitute motion, which under Robert’s Rules of Order takes precedence over a previously offered motion. “I would like to see what CR&R out of all those things we asked for can deliver on,” Toro said. He then put that sentiment into a motion to have CR&R “take all our information and come back at a date to be determined to [let the city council] know what they can do and can’t do. If at that point they can’t give us an offer we can’t refuse, then we continue with option 2 [i.e., Echevarria’s proposed endorsement of staff’s option to eventually take the matter out to bid].”
Thus, instead of using the workshop as a public hearing to provide the basis for a vote on extending the contract, the council, divided 3-to-2, with Toro, Chastain and Echevarria prevailing and Navarro and González dissenting, gravitated toward renewing CR&R’s hold on the franchise for another ten years, without actually doing so.
The matter hung in limbo until this week, when the council returned to the matter at its February 20 meeting. CR&R offered what was quantified as fifteen enhancements to the current franchise contract. On the table was action by the council which would extend CR&R’s franchise until the end of June 2036, such that there will have been no public bid on the contract to haul Colton’s trash for 40 years at that juncture.
Alex Braicovich with CR&R enunciated the elements of what his company was offering, including those fifteen enhancements beyond the original proposal made at the August 15, 2023 council meeting, which he said had been formulated on the basis of exchanges with the city council at the September 19, 2023 meeting and the November 1, 2023 workshop. Those enhancements entailed providing residents with 33,000 new 96 gallon trash carts at a cost of $2.8 million to his company; a residential rate freeze through June 30, 2026, which would, he said, provide $4 million in savings to city residents; extending the rate freeze to include Colton businesses; adding paper shredding events; adding an in-home residential harps program to households who can use it; installing a license plate reader at the company’s facility; accepting a host fee agreement, which would provide new fees paid to the city on a quarterly basis with no increase to Colton residents or businesses; making improvements to CR&R’s Colton operations site, which will increase property tax revenues to the county and city; providing the city a choice of $250,000 or $500,000 in one-time mitigation fees; providing the city with an annual community contribution of $10,000; doubling the number of community cleanup day from two to four per year; offering to pick up four tires per year per home; doubling the number of residential curbside bulky items pickups from four per year to eight per year, with four items per pick-up; offering a senior citizen discount rate of 10 percent; including new performance language within the contract; conducting a bi-annual customer satisfaction survey in the city; offering Colton residents a new exclusive low-cost disposal rate to allow them to take trash directly to the Colton Transfer Station, reducing the former cost of $43 for 500 pounds to a $25 minimum for up to 1,000 pounds; including graffiti mitigation language relating, apparently, to the trash bins in the franchise contract; and CR&R making a commitment to provide $45,500 to provide what he said would be full annual funding to allow Colton to hire a community services officer.
Toro enthusiastically embraced perpetuating CR&R’s franchise contract with the city.
“We provided CR&R what we wanted,” he said, in some measure addressing his council colleagues and staff, in some measure addressing the public and simultaneously addressing Braicovich and other representatives of CR&R. “I believe of all the things we requested, some of the things we already get, and I want to say that basically that you’ve given us everything that we’ve asked for.”
Toro contradicted or at least attempted to contradict González’s assertion that there was nothing to compare CR&R’s proposal to, given that the city had not solicited nor been provided with proposals from competing companies. “But we do have something to compare to, which is the contracts of all the other cities,” Toro insisted. “It is imperative to get the best deal for our residents. For me the best deal is what we asked for. We asked and they’re basically giving it to us. Tonight, they came back even with something more.”
He took issue with González’s contention that CR&R had sought, in August, September and then in November, to make offers featuring less than stellar service levels and unacceptable rates in an effort to get the council to accept a deal more favorable to the company than to the city’s residents and businesses.
“So, I’m assuming best business practice is when you give a proposal, you don’t give the stars and the moon, Toro said. “You start out basically and that’s correct on the 19th [September 19] had we made a decision that night to accept their proposal, the only thing we would have got was a plate reader and a half percent increase or savings, whatever, on the rate increase. And fortunately, and I thank this council to allow us to go to a workshop which gave me time anyways to look at the contracts the other cities have and determine what I thought would be great for the city and we had that workshop and Dr G [i.e., González] is the only one who came up with anything additional and Councilman Echevarria came up with the plate reader and Councilwoman Chastain came up with the rate freezes. Right now, those are enhanced because we came and had this workshop and talked about and discussed it and, again, RFPs personally, I’ll say it again I was involved with an RFP with a company I was with and I don’t think even to this date talking three months ago talking to people that are in that position it doesn’t seem they got the best deal anyways. I’m for going forward with the contract enhancements. Originally, I was only interested in the five plus five years but with the rate freezes for both the residential and commercial rates until 2026 for a ten-year agreement and I hear in the back of my head about how this contract has been a contract for the last thirty or forty years, this would actually somewhat of of a new contract with enhancements.” Furthermore, staying with CR&R is justified by the consideration, Toro said, that “This is a company that’s in our city. With that said, I would propose the ten-year [extension to CR&R’s contract].”
Gary Grossich, a Colton business owner weighed in.
Noting that the current contract in place was extended with no bids, Grossich said “The council should be aware that value of this contract over 10 years will exceed $125 million. Our current ordinance requires the city to go out for an RFP [request for proposals, i.e., to solicit bids] for any contract over $25,000 with some minor exceptions. Unfortunately, trash contracts are exempt under state law from that requirement. For the third time, we’re here again before the council with a new offer. Since CR&R is in competition with their own previous offers, can you imagine how much better they and others may be able to do in a competitive bidding process? There’s an old saying: ‘The devil’s in the details.’ With this proposal, there are very few details provided. Just generic statements, with little or no back-up documentation. This is where your professional staff comes in. You guys are proposing to accept a deal and then negotiate it afterwards. That does not work.”
Grossich decried the consideration that the city has consistently allowed the CR&R’s corporate predecessors Taormina and Republic and now CR&R to increase the trash hauling rates by a percentage matching the consumer price index. He noted that when CR&R came back with its proposal at the September 19 meeting, it offered to forego the rate increase for residential customers in the current 2023-24 fiscal ending in June 2024 and that represented a one-year suspension of the price hike, which would have been 8.7 percent. Grossich said the city had erred in 2015 when it did not work into the franchise contract extension at that time a limitation on the annual price hike that CR&R could charge. He said the city was making the same mistake this time around.
“If we had gone out to bid the last time, this would be a non-issue because we could have capped the CPI somewhere around 3 percent,” he said. “In fact, the CPI cap is something we should be asking for in these upcoming negotiations.”
Since the city is allowing CR&R to use the annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) in boosting its rates to customers in the city, Grossich asserted, the city should insist on CPR abiding by the same formula on an annual basis with regard to the fees it pays the city under the terms of the franchise contract.
“CR&R proposes to increase their host city fee on the transfer fee to $1 [per ton],” Grossich said. “At 50,000 tons per year, that equates to an additional $50,000. In negotiations, the city can get a minimum of $200,000 as a host city with an annual CPI increase. In fact, CPI increases on the transfer station have been part of the original contract with Taormina in 1997, but the city has failed to collect any CPI all these years. As part of negotiations, the city should be getting annual CPI increases on all revenue generated as part of the contract, as the trash haulers do, which is their right, including residential billing services.”
Grossich, a member of the Colton Planning Commission said, “Regarding the Colton Transfer Station improvements, the Colton Transfer Station was already approved by the Colton Planning Commission three years ago. As part of the contract, we should be requiring the completion of the proposed improvements within the agreed-upon timeframe.”
Grossich harked back to the negotiations that were ongoing between CR&R’s corporate predecessor, Republic, in 2014 and 2015 prior to the extension of the franchise contract from 2016 to 2026. At that time, amid reports that Republic was looking to sell its Colton operation, some Colton residents were pushing then Mayor Richard DeLaRosa and members of the city council to impose on Republic a condition that it agree to a $500,000 to $1,000,0000 transfer fee if it were to divest itself of its Colton operations and facilities. No such provision was put into the contract and shortly after securing the franchise extension, Republic sold its Colton operation to CR&R.
“Any future sale of the Colton hauling trash franchise or the Colton materials recovery facility should require a $1 million transfer fee as part of agreeing to a new operator,” Grossich told the council. “This transfer fee occurs in many leases and contracts. There should be no problem with a hauler agreeing to a transfer fee unless they intend to sell before the end of the agreement.”
Grossich added, “Any audits required by the city as part of the trash contract should be paid for by the hauler and not the city.”
Before the city council voted, Mayor Frank Navarro endeavored to convince his council colleagues that they were acting prematurely by extending the existing franchise contract while there is more than two years remaining before it expires and before at least exploring what other trash haulers have to offer in terms of service levels and rates. It would be more appropriate, he suggested to test the market by conducting an open public bid for the franchise over the 2026-to-2036 timeframe.
Seeking bids on the contract, he said, “is a good business decision.”
Moreover, he strongly implied, two-thirds to three-quarters of the “enhancements” that CR&R had offered were fluff, penny ante concessions lacking depth or real value. Moreover, he said, one of the inducements was of benefit to the company rather than the city or its residents and at least two of the enhancements were virtually meaningless in that they represented actions that were mandated by the State of California and which would have to be provided by any be trash service provider the city made an arrangement with.
Navarro questioned whether the rate discount CR&R was offering senior citizens was both sincere and legal.
The mayor suggested Braicovich was either making misrepresentations or withholding information in those parts of his presentation relating to the new bins to be distributed and the senior citizen discount.
To offer service, a company must provide its customers with trash bins to begin with, Navarro noted. That CR&R will be outfitting Colton residents “between now and 2036,” the mayor said, is simply part of the price of doing business, he said, for which the company was due no special consideration. “They’ll have 12 years to replace those containers,” he said.
The State of California has put into place a new law, pursuant to Senate Bill 1383, requiring that all cities and trash haulers have in place by 2036 a recycling program to divert organic waste or food remnants that previously and currently are going into landfills. The 96-gallon bins that CR&R is to provide all residential customers which the company is acclaims as a feature of the new franchise contract is the company’s way of achieving compliance with Senate Bill 1383. In any event, CR&R would be providing those bins anyway, Navarro said, so it is disingenuous of CR&R to imply or directly state that the new franchise contract is providing residential customers something they would not otherwise be getting as a matter of course. A further misrepresentation, according to Navarro was that the senior citizens would not have otherwise been able to obtain a rate reduction, since smaller households, such as those with one or two senior citizens, could already request smaller bins than the standard sizes provided to most standard households, which generally consist of four residents or more. In that way, senior citizens could already reduce their rates by even more than ten percent if they chose to do so, Navarro said.
“We talked about the containers,” he said. “We’ve been told every time that we’ve brought the vendor to our meetings that we have to have the 96-gallon containers. Tonight, he [Braicovich] was challenged with that and he was asked what about the elderly people that can’t handle the 96-gallon container, can they get a smaller one. Tonight he told us yes. He never said that that before.”
Not only that, Navarro said, there was potentially a legal problem with CR&R’s senior discount program. If it turns out that the company is defraying the cost of providing those discounts by charging its other customers more, that is likely a violation of Proposition 218, Navarro said.
“The 10 percent senior rate discount?” he said. “Again, Prop 218. I don’t like that. There’s some legalities there and I’ve talked to our city attorney about that and our city manager about that. I’m not comfortable with that until we clarify that.”
Navarro said CR&R’s offer to help the city achieve Senate Bill 1383 compliance was a canard.
“Full SB 1383 compliance?” he said. “Yeah, we are going to make full SB 1383 compliance, whether it’s with this vendor or a future vendor if we go out for an RFP, which I highly recommend that we do.”
CR&R was engaging in further sleight-of-hand and trying to sucker the city, its residents, city staff and the city council by claiming it was making a concession by agreeing to paying a host fee, Mayor Navarro said.
“There has been a host fee in this contract since 1996,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was never collected.”
Both Cr&R’s corporate predecessors and CR&R had rather, he said, taken advantage of the city by failing to live up to that commitment.
“Did the vendor ever come to the city and say, ‘As a good neighbor, I think we should look at this, ’cause you guys are entitled to a host fee?’” Navarro asked. “That never happened. They are talking about being good neighbors and stuff like that, doing good business with the city. It’s a joint effort between the city and the business. We work together to make things successful in the City of Colton.”
Navarro said the company was similarly touting the “Paper shredding services, the needle disposal and community clean-ups” contained in its franchise extension proposal. “I don’t know that there’s that many people who require paper shredding. I do my own shredding at home. I’ve got a shredding machine. I just put it in there and it’s done. The new in-home sharps program? How are you going to identify who needs a sharps box and who doesn’t? And how are you going to identify and how are you going to manage the distribution of those boxes and the collection of those boxes when they’re full?”
Community clean-up programs are a universal feature of city trash franchises throughout California that all trash hauling companies participate in, he said.
“Eight curbside bulky item pick-ups per year?” Navarro said in running down his enumeration of CR&R’s proposed contract components. He said the company’s past performance in that regard was grounds to discontinue Colton’s relationship with CR&R rather than to perpetuate it.
“I drive around the city a lot, and I see stuff at the curb,” Navarro said. “I make mental note of it. I’ll drop by the next three or four days. It’s still there. Our garbage trucks go by all the time. Our drivers should be proactive and say, ‘You know what? I’m going to tell management there’s stuff to be picked up at the curb. Let’s contact the resident.’ Did they call in? How many people will be using eight pick-ups work from the curb? I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of them.”
As for CR&R’s gesture of spending $1,000 to $2,000 on purchasing a license plate reader, the mayor questioned what the intent was, whom the device would benefit and how, precisely, it would be of benefit.
“The plate reader installation might be a good thing or not, but it’s mostly to the benefit of the business owner,” Navarro said. “They say, ‘We can identify people who are going to our facility with stolen stuff.’ How do you know the stuff they are bringing in is stolen? We don’t know.”
Similarly, Navarro said, “Site improvements to the Colton yard? It’s not to the city’s benefit. It’s to their benefit. Those improvements they make at the Colton yard are for the efficiency of their operation, not for the benefit of the city. What benefit is the city going to gain from those improvements at the yard?”
Mayor Navarro was critical of CR&R for playing with house money in its offers with regard to suspending the consumer price index-based escalation of the company’s service rates for what will be three years as a ploy to induce the council into extending to 40 years the time the company and its corporate predecessors will have gone without being subjected to a competitive bid. Having previously gone on record that the company should see its annual rate increases capped at 3 percent, Navarro remarked, “They’re going to freeze the residential rates until June 30 of 2026. Then, directly addressing Braicovich, he said, “You are also going to include a freeze of commercial rates until June 30 of 2026, but you have an asterisk there that says, ‘The county disposal adjustable pass-through.’”
If CR&R wants to offer such an inducement as the freezing of rates to get the city to buy into extending the franchise, the company should be prepared to stand by its commitment no matter what, Navarro suggested.
“Do we know what the county’s going to change the cost of you taking the solid waste to their dump?” he asked. “We don’t know. That right there may add another 7 or 8 percent to what the population will be paying. Can we get a different amount from another vendor? Probably could.”
For just that reason, the mayor said, it was incumbent upon the city to solicit bids from as wide of a selection of trash service providers as possible.
“We don’t know until we have something to compare it with,” Navarro said, pointedly addressing Toro, Echevarria and Chastain. “We’re sitting here saying, ‘They’re giving us everything we want.’ Of course, they’re going to say everything we want, but is it the best deal? I don’t think so, with all due respect to CR&R. Until we go out there and do an RFP and bring the competitive agencies into the picture and look at their proposals, we’re just following the lead. We’re not doing our due diligence as elected officials for the City of Colton. We are not.”
Navarro was rather dismissive of CR&R’s offer of a $10,000 yearly endowment to the community for public service or as a charity donation.
“The annual $10,000 community contribution?” he remarked. “Thank you very much. We could get $20,000 from another agency. We could get maybe $500,000 from another agency. We don’t know.”
Other aspects of what CR&R is offering in the updated version of the franchise are empty, he said, given the inexactitude of the representations.
“New performance review language on the contract? Navarro remarked. “Where’s the language? I haven’t seen that. I even asked the staff, ‘Have you seen the language that they’re proposing to change on the contract?’ Staff’s telling me, ‘No, we haven’t.’”
Navarro continued to list out the changes or additions CR&R was proposing, noting that some were long overdue, implying that CR&R and its corporate predecessors have been shortchanging the city, its residents and its business all along, which is a reason to discontinue the arrangement with CR&R and seek bids on the franchise contract anew.
“New customer service survey,” he said. “That’s a good thing. How long have you been in business with the city? Have you ever done one of these before? Why not? Why is it all of a sudden you want to do this new satisfaction survey with the residents when you’ve been here all this time and you have received many complaints, many complaints from our offices, myself and my colleagues up here about issues with the service you are providing the city? And just now you are bringing it to the forefront because now you want to push this contract through and get an extension without even considering the fact that maybe an RFP would be good?”
Navarro sought to reassure those in the community that had concerns that bringing in another trash hauler to serve as the city’s service provider would not have the effect of throwing those now working for CR&R in Colton out of work.
“In the event we do go for an RFP and let’s say in the event that CR&R is not the winning bid, the new company coming in will hire, if not everybody, most everybody who currently works for CR&R,” Navarro said. “Why? Because they know the routes.”
Navarro said, “I hope my council members up here will reconsider their position and really step up and take the obligation and responsibility and be accountable to our residents. I want everybody up here on the dais to not forget why you were placed here. You were placed here with the responsibility to respond and be accountable not to CR&R, not to any other company, but to the residents of this community.”
Despite Navarro’s appeal to his colleagues that they shift the momentum in favor of perpetuating CR&R’s exclusive hold on the franchise to an open bid process, the council majority of Chastain, Echevarria and Toro, on a motion by Chastain and seconded by Toro, voted to have City Manager Bill Smith bring back by April a final approval of the extension of CR&R’s franchise through to the end of June 2036.
Before the Tuesday night meeting, based on a long simmering scandal and intermittent memory of its particulars throughout the Colton community, the specter of long-running and constantly perpetuating public corruption at Colton City Hall hung over the question of whether Echevarria, Chastain and Toro would continue a now 28-year-long cycle the city has been unable to shake.
From the outset of the city’s creation of its trash-hauling franchise, that arrangement has been steeped in an atmosphere involving bribery, kickbacks and mob tactics.
Colton, as San Bernardino County’s second-oldest municipality, having been founded in 1875 and incorporated in 1887, was a mature and full service city with a level of sophistication equal to or greater than all of the county’s other governmental jurisdictions, with its own police department, fire department, water, electrical and sewer utilities, cemetery facilities, park and recreation divisions, public works operations, libraries and sanitation department.
Following his 1994 election as mayor, George Fulp, using as a pretext that Colton’s rank then as only the 13th largest of the county’s 24 municipalities should not entitle it to status as what was arguably the county’s most administratively active of all of the county’s cities, initiated an effort to dismantle it as a governmental organization, beginning with its sanitation department, which he proposed to privatize. After encountering some initial hesitancy and resistance, he ultimately was able to assemble sufficient votes on among the then-six members of the remainder of the city council to shutter that municipal division in favor of the concept of creating a city trash-hauling franchise.
Unbeknownst to the public generally or virtually all of the those involved in Colton governance other than a very few within Fulp’s circle, the newly elected mayor was in need of financial supplementation as a consequence of multiple dealings he had, as well as some legal issues and lawsuits he was entangled in. The prospect of converting some of the city’s divisions, which traditionally had been manned by city employees, into franchises which would create a heretofore unavailable revenue stream to private companies able to wangle having those franchises conferred upon them presented an opportunity for Fulp to sell his vote and those of any other of the officeholders he was able to influence to those willing to pay for a city decision in their favor.
While the sanitation division yet remained in place, the city initiated a bidding process using a request for proposals, inviting the region’s trash haulers to compete for the franchise. The city commissioned Arizona-based R.W. Beck Company to set up the parameters of the competition and then evaluate the proposals. That recruitment of applicants was conducted, and the submission of proposals was carried out, which attracted a wide variety of national, state and local refuse handling companies, including Waste Management, Inc. Republic Industries, Burrtec Industries, Taormina Industries, Advance Disposal, Edco and Avakian Enterprises, among others.
While the application, evaluation and selection process of a trash hauler was yet ongoing in the 1995/1996 timeframe, Fulp was in contact with Gil Lara, a lobbyist who had been hired by Taormina to boost its prospect of capturing the Colton franchise. In short order, money was being conveyed to Fulp and two members of the Colton City Council, Abe Beltran and Don Sanders, as part of a strategy to influence the outcome of the trash franchise sweepstakes.
Penultimately, R.W. Beck, after conducting a thorough vetting of the actual capabilities of the applicants, their financial wherewithal and staying power, the service levels they offered and their actual ability to deliver those services as represented, the capacity of their locally-based facilities and workforces as well as their ability to access at a sustainable cost the parallel services, facilities and augmentations critical to the delivery of the service they were proposing to provide, determined that Fontana-based Burrtec, which already had extensive operations within San Bernardino County, merited being chosen as the city’s franchised trash hauler from among the seven applicants.
Shortly after R.W. Beck delivered that recommendation, however, Mayor Fulp insisted upon the city council holding a closed-door meeting with R.W. Beck principal Richard Tagore-Erwin. During that closed door meeting, outside the view of the public, Fulp, along with then-councilmen Don Sanders and Abe Beltran, strong-armed Tagore-Erwin, pressuring him to alter R.W. Beck’s recommendation. After a two-week interim, during which Toarmina lobbyist Gil Lara went to work on Tagore-Erwin and the four other members of the city council, R.W. Beck delivered a second evaluation of the competition for the franchise contract, elevating its estimation of the proposal made by City of Industry-based Taormina Industries, previously ranked third in the competition, to a rough equivalency with the earlier-delivered rating of Burrtec’s qualifications. Based upon this second recommendation, Fulp, Sanders and Beltran convinced Councilwoman Deirdre Bennett to join them in supporting Taormina, whereupon Councilwoman Betty Cook and Councilman David Sandoval moved with the flow, such that by a 6-to-1 margin, with Councilman John Hutton dissenting, the city council on May 16, 1996 voted to confer the franchise contract upon Taormina.
A firestorm of controversy erupted, but shortly thereafter the dismantling of the city’s sanitation division was finalized, and Taormina assumed the status of the city’s franchised domestic trash hauler. Before the year was out, a successful recall effort against Fulp materialized and he was removed from office and replaced by Karl Gaytan. In the same November 1996 election, Beltran was voted out of office as the city’s Third District councilman, replaced by Kelly Chastain.
Meanwhile, the city’s then-police chief, Bernie Lunsford, and then-city attorney, Julie Biggs, referencing irregularities that had occurred in the trash franchise contract bidding competition, persuaded the council to hire former Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Mark McDonald to carry out an investigation into the matter. Ultimately, McDonald delivered his findings, which popularly became known as the McDonald Report, which scathingly identified a rigged bidding process marred by Taormina’s provision of inducements, characterized by McDonald as “tantamount to bribes” to Fulp, Beltran and Sanders, as well as conduct on the part Fulp’s hand-picked city manager, Malik Freeman, and then-assistant city manager Daryl Parrish, which resulted in the contract being steered to Taormina despite R.W. Beck’s first straightforward determination that its proposal was inferior to that put forth by Burrtec and Waste Management, Inc. McDonald stated in the report that Parrish acknowledged he recognized rigging the awarding of the contract in such a way that the franchise was given to a company that had been outperformed by two of its competitors was highly improper but that he had gone along with what had been done because he had “mouths to feed” and could not afford to lose his job.
The first direct casualty of the McDonald Report was Freeman, who was terminated by the council in an effort to stem the public outrage based upon the report’s narrative describing him as taking an active role in carrying out Fulp’s, Beltran’s and Sanders’ bidding in vectoring the contract to Taormina. Parrish, whose transgressions in the matter were acts of omission rather than commission, was suspended but not terminated.
The report, which was provided to the FBI, resulted in investigations into the political situation in Colton and reports of graft, bribery and payoffs at City Hall. Beltran, who had been prosecuted by the district attorney’s office in 1996 on political corruption charges unrelated to granting Taormina the trash franchise, which contributed to his electoral defeat by Chastain that year, was implicated in further criminal activity and acts of political corruption tracked by the FBI, as was Sanders and, eventually, Fulp’s successor as mayor, Karl Gaytan. Fulp, who departed from California shortly after his political career in Colton ended, was not prosecuted, although there were hints, never confirmed, that he had cooperated with the FBI in an effort to avoid prosecution in return for helping bring others to justice. The FBI assembled criminal cases against Beltran, Sanders, Gaytan and another Colton councilman, James Grimsby, who came into office in a recall election in 1997 and in short order began tapping into the cycle of graft that ultimately felled Beltran, Sanders and Gaytan. All were convicted and forced to leave office.
While the focus of the McDonald Report and portions of FBI investigation included the illicit inducements to Fulp, Sanders and Beltran that led to Taormina’s success in achieving the trash hauling franchise in Colton, no prosecutorial authority charged Taormina or its officials with a crime. A Colton community activist, the Reverend Steve Anderson, lobbed charges that the company had used “mob tactics,” including bribery and intimidation, in obtaining the franchise contract. Taormina filed legal action against Anderson, which ultimately served to ward off any further public outcry over the circumstances that had led to the awarding of the franchise contract to Taormina.
Because of the constant need for refuse handling and the consideration that Taormina had a lock on the franchise, early talk about rescinding the council’s vote that conferred the franchise on Taormina ended and no serious effort was ever made by the council to rebid the contract. Eventually, owners William and Vincent Taormina agreed to merge Taormina Industries Inc. with Republic Industries, Inc. in exchange for 6.5 million shares of Republic stock, which was then valued at $250 million. Republic Industries is the second largest non-hazardous solid waste management company in the United States after Waste Management, Inc.
Contained in the original contract with Taormina, based upon a commitment the company had made in the representations made to members of the city council to get at least one further vote to add to those of Fulp, Beltran and Sanders to form the critical majority needed to override the original R.W. Beck recommendation to award the contract to Burrtec, were provisions calling for the company to establish with the city limits of Colton a company yard, including sorting/separation facilities and a transfer station. Upon Taormina’s corporate successor, Republic, setting up that operation, the company was to pay the city an annual host fee as well as a mitigation fee to offset the cost of repairing the city’s roads due to the wear and tear from bearing the weight of the company’s trucks. Despite the company’s eventual establishment of its Colton yard, successive mayoral administrations, including those of Deirdre Bennett and Chastain, failed to enforce the collection of those fees.
In 2005, with the ten-year anniversary of the trash franchise approaching, Republic was able to coax then-Mayor Deirdre Bennett, one of Fulp’s protégés, and the rest of the city council, consisting at that point of Councilman Ramon Hernandez, Councilman Richard DeLaRosa, Councilwoman Chastain, Councilwoman Helen Ramos, Councilman John Mitchell, and Councilman Isaac Suchil, out of considering conducting an open bid process on the city’s refuse-handling arrangement. This was effectuated, in large measure through Taormina’s/Republic’s generosity in endowing the city leaders’ respective campaign funds with political donations.
In 2010, David Zamora, who as the city’s longtime community development director had a close-up view of the circumstance at City Hall and the graft at play during the Fulp, Gaytan, Bennett and Chastain regimes, resolved to run for mayor as a reformist candidate. Among Zamora’s intended reforms was requiring that Republic live up to the letter of both the original and succeeding franchise contracts, such that all of the fees due to the city for allowing Republic to do business in the city were paid and the company matched any annual increases to those fees matching the percentages in the rate increases Republic was imposing on its residential, commercial and industrial customers in Colton.
The Zamora administration efforts toward that goal and was closing in on that objective when, on July 14, 2011, while he was driving back to City Hall from lunch at his home, he suffered a heart attack and was killed when he crashed into a telephone pole. The focus on having the city follow through on holding Republic to account was lost and the company continued to elude paying the fees specified under the franchise contract.
By 2014, Republic Industries and its corporate predecessor had held the Colton trash-hauling franchise contract, serving essentially as the City of Colton’s privatized sanitation division, for 18 years. With the franchise due to elapse in 2016, the concept of putting the franchise out to bid surfaced in that year’s election. Frank Gonzales, Colton’s longtime mayor who had been defeated by Fulp in 1994 election, had made a comeback as a city official in 2010, when he was elected to the city council. Four years later, in 2014, he again sought election as mayor, facing Richard DeLaRosa, who had served two terms on the city council from 2002 until 2010. During his campaign, Gonzales sought to make an issue of the city’s automatic renewal of the trash franchise. He called for putting out a request for proposals to as many regional trash hauling companies as the city might reasonably expect would respond, to effectuate a competitive bid process for the refuse hauling contract. Consequently, Republic Industries threw its support behind DeLaRosa in his mayoral campaign.
Simultaneously, in August 2014, Republic Industries pledged a $40,000 donation to the city to secure an exclusive opportunity to open negotiations with the city on the extension of the franchise contract. At the behest of Public Works Director Amer Jakher, who at that point had been elevated into the position of acting city manager, the city council accepted the money, with most council members stating that the city could still go out to bid if the negotiations did not prove fruitful.
In November of that year, Gonzales lost the 2014 mayoral election to DeLaRosa.
In the immediate aftermath of his election victory, DeLaRosa began pressing the city council to bypass any sort of competitive bid process as the council began a progression toward addressing the 2016 expiration of the trash hauling franchise contract.
In rejecting the opportunity to compare bids upfront, Colton put Jakher into a weak bargaining position. Other companies were prepared to offer Colton terms that substantially bettered anything Republic put on the table. Representatives of other companies told the Sentinel they were anxious to bid on the Colton contract and that they were aware of the terms under discussion in Colton and were prepared to improve upon the service levels Colton residents and businesses were receiving at reduced rates from what Republic was charging. They also said they made this clear to Colton officials.
Among those companies was Athens Services, which in 2013 had been awarded the contract with the County of San Bernardino to operate county landfills. Athens was particularly interested in establishing service areas in San Bernardino County and was prepared to underbid and outservice Republic to the point that it would have been willing to operate at close to cost to achieve the Colton contract. Colton never entertained any overtures from companies other than Republic.
Previously, refuse from Colton had been deposited into a landfill within Colton and the city received a host “tipping fee” from San Bernardino County, which owned the landfill, for accepting trash into the landfill within its borders. But the county shuttered the Colton landfill, ending that revenue stream to the city. In 2012, as Republic was looking ahead to ensure that it kept its Colton contract, the company offered to provide Colton $140,000 per year to replace the lost tipping fees from the Colton landfill closure. In addition, it offered to forego annual consumer price index increases for the last three years of the contract. This offer was predicated on Colton allowing Republic to haul the trash to its own landfill in Brea, which provided Republic with substantial savings. At that time, the council rejected Republic’s offer and decided to continue Colton’s waste disposal agreement with San Bernardino County, resulting in the trash being taken to the county’s Mid-Valley Landfill.
From the time the Colton City Council voted against Republic’s 2012 offer until 2015, Colton ratepayers experienced three separate Consumer Price Index increases, including a 4.25 percent increase in 2014. Inexplicably, in its 2015 negotiations with Jakher, Republic kept the Consumer Price Index rate hikes totaling almost 8 percent while convincing the city to allow Republic to take the trash to its preferred landfill in Brea.
In its negotiations with Republic, Colton also lost $140,000 in yearly waste disposal fees, which Colton had been receiving from the county. This money was provided as a consequence of the county’s waste disposal agreement with 14 of the cities in the county that use county landfills. For using the county’s landfills, those cities are given a discounted rate less than the gate fee haulers bringing trash in from outside the county are required to pay. The difference between the regular gate fee and the negotiated waste disposal agreement rate is referred to as the waste disposal agreement rebate. While some cities in the county receive the entire waste disposal agreement rebate, the arrangement arrived at between Colton and Republic in 2015 provided Colton with only $4.24 of the $8.19 per ton rebate when Colton trash was reposited into a county landfill, and Republic kept the rest. Moreover, the contract extension allowed Republic to divert Colton’s trash to a landfill operated by Republic, depriving Colton of the $140,000 rebate altogether.
While Jakher was negotiating with Republic over the extension of the trash franchise, a report surfaced that Republic was in secret negotiations with an undisclosed entity to sell off its Colton operation, including its yard and its franchise. Despite that report, Colton officials pushed forward with the franchise extension negotiations.
Ultimately, pursuant to the 2015 agreement, Republic offered, and Jakher and the city council accepted, an offer which provided Colton with $210,000 for “street sweeping” and $80,000 for “tree trimming” and $30,000 per year in “host city” fees, along with a small increase in the administrative fee, estimated at between $15,000 and $20,000 yearly that Colton received for handling residential billing for Republic and now for CR&R. Republic further agreed to return five percent of its revenue – quantified at roughly $360,000 in 2015 dollars– to the city for street repairs to make up for the damage caused by its trash trucks.
In July 2015, Mayor DeLaRosa, Councilman David Toro and councilwomen Deirdre Bennett and Summer Jorrin voted to extend the trash hauling franchise agreement with Republic Industries for ten years, into 2026, with councilmen Frank Navarro, Isaac Suchil and Luis González (no blood relation to Frank Gonzales) dissenting.
Comparisons with deals closed elsewhere showed the degree to which Jakher and the city had been outnegotiated. In Fullerton, for example, customers were paying 78 percent of what customers in Colton were paying per month for trash service. In Cypress, where the city invited proposals from trash companies, five companies bid on the project and the end result was that homeowners there, in 2015, paid $12.97 monthly for collections, or 54.5 percent of the $23.79 monthly for weekly trash pick-up Colton residents were paying in 2015 for the same service.
With regard to the trash hauling rates paid by commercial and industrial customers, Colton customers were at an even more lopsided disadvantage to their counterparts in virtually all other cities in the regions in terms of what those commercial and industrial customers elsewhere were paying for trash pick-up.
In reality, the one-time $540,000 Republic offered to return to Colton in the form of street sweeping, tree trimming service, road repair and host fees was dwarfed by what other cities obtained in exchange for their trash franchises. Athens paid West Covina $2 million plus $100,000 in additional yearly community contributions for an additional 25-year extension. In Covina, Athens paid $2 million plus a $200,000 annual contribution for a 20-year deal. In Chino Hills, where residents in 2015 paid a $17.38 per month rate for trash service compared to the $23.79 residents in Colton paid, the residential rates were guaranteed to escalate to not more than $21.59 by the end of the contract in 2021. In 2010 Republic paid the city of Chino Hills $500,000 to lock in that contract for an additional five years, even though that extension wasn’t scheduled to begin until 2016.
Colton missed another opportunity with the deal it closed with Republic in 2015. It turned out that the report that time that Republic was in separate negotiations with another waste hauling and recycling company for the sale of its Colton operations was indeed true. That company was CR&R. This rendered Republic into a very vulnerable and delicate position in its negotiations with Colton, in that if it did not maintain the Colton franchise, it would have nothing to sell to CR&R. Thus, Colton could have pressed for a host of concessions from Republic, such as reductions in the rates to be paid by either or both domestic and business customers or a limitation on the per year maximum percentage increase in those rates over the life of the contract. The city could have also, had it chosen to do so, insisted upon an ownership transfer clause in the contract that would have required a one-time payment of anywhere from, for example, $100,000 to $500,000 to $1 million, if Republic were to sell off its Colton operation. Despite that opportunity, neither Jackher nor the mayor and city council insisted on any of those provisions or a similar one being put into the contract.
Even more notably, Jackher and the mayor and council failed to ask for what Frank Gonzales had suggested during his 2014 mayoral run, which was a million dollars in an upfront franchise fee and another $250,000 per year more in pass-through franchise revenues going forward.
In the summer of 2015, after the deal with Republic was finalized, Mayor DeLaRosa was confronted about the less than resolute fashion in which his administration had negotiated on behalf of the city and its ratepayers. This provoked a curious response in which DeLaRosa sought to justify the terms of the agreement to extend the franchise contract while suggesting that if those terms were in any way less than ideal, that was an outgrowth of the previous mayoral administration of Sarah Zamora, the wife of David Zamora who had been appointed as the city’s caretaker mayor after the death of her husband. It was under Sarah Zamora that the negotiations with Republic had been initiated, DeLaRosa pointed out.
“The prior council had acted to start the negotiations with the current hauler and that put us in the position where we had to negotiate with the current hauler first,” he said. Nevertheless, he insisted, “From the dais, we on the council did our best. We did our due diligence. Over the more than a year it took to negotiate this contract including right up to the very last meeting where we approved it, we told them [Republic] we wanted more. We asked for changes several times, for them to put different things on the table. I don’t know how much more you can negotiate or who else you can put in place to negotiate beside the city manager and the public works director. Those two people were in place. It is hard to say whether by being more hardnosed we would have gotten more. Everything the council asked for they gave us. There is no concrete or tangible number we can look at to compare what we could have gotten. We could have gotten a better rate. We could have gotten a worst rate. It goes both ways. I believe we kept the rates low.”
DeLaRosa said Colton had not responded to overtures from other trash hauling companies offering rates and terms that were more favorable than those provided by Republic in large measure because “The tone of these negotiations was set last year prior to me being on the council. The agreement was we would not enter into negotiations with other companies while we were considering contract proposals from Republic. We could not hold formal discussions with other companies because we had an agreement to look at the current hauler first. We could not formally look at any other numbers. The previous council accepted that in 2013 and 2014.”
Asked if he considered going three decades without a bid process wise, DeLaRosa said, “At least four of us on the council felt there was not a need to go out for a request for proposals because they met what our expectations were. What we asked for is what we got, including host fees and money coming in for other purposes. I don’t regret the decision.”
In the years since, however, DeLaRosa’s perspective may have changed, as the terms contained in the city’s trash hauling franchise contract – ones that are tangibly and demonstrably inferior to those contained in virtually all such contracts among municipalities in San Bernardino County and Southern California – are widely considered to be a black mark upon DeLaRosa and his mayoral administration.
One of the rationalizations given by the DeLaRosa administration for staying with Republic was that it was a known entity to the city, such that by simply extending the contract the city’s residents and businesses would not experience any disruptions or diminutions in service that might result if the franchise were to be handed over to a company unfamiliar with the community.
The ink was barely dry on the new franchise contract when Republic Industries sold its Colton operation and that in the adjoining City of Loma Linda – lock, stock and barrel – to CR&R, Inc.
In a very compressed time after the new franchise contract went into effect, Republic finalized its agreement with CR&R, which purchased Republic’s trash hauling operations in Colton and Loma Linda, such that CR&R by March 2017 had fully taken over refuse handling in Colton.
In short order, a wide cross section of Colton residents noted what they considered a significant reduction in the quality of their trash service. Residents, commercial business and industrial operations in the city were making repeated note and complaints to both CR&R and the city about inadequate service, including skipping pick-up of trash on normally-scheduled days, weekly disposal of bins and dumpsters running to two weeks, mischanneling both recyclable material and greenwaste into garbage trucks, failure to maintain the cleanliness of receptacles and dumpsters, including twice-yearly steam cleaning. More recently, with the advent of the state’s Senate Bill 1383, which mandates organic/food waste recycling, customers would complain of pickup delays that resulted in rotting, bacteria-laden and maggot-infested dreck and detritus accumulating in their recycling bins and the health hazard that represented. Further complaints mounted that the city’s businesses, both merchants and industrial operations, were being gouged on the rates they are paying. Substantial numbers of residents and businesses, who had previously been blissfully unaware or apathetic about the city’s trash franchise and its terms became conscious of the circumstance that had led to the city allowing the franchise contract to be perpetuated for three decades without a competitive bid process, leading many to believe it was incumbent on the council to cure the matter by putting the contract out to bid. They were soon informed that the next opportunity for doing that would be many years away as the city’s current franchise had been extended by the council the previous year.
It was the perception of a substantial number of Colton residents that DeLaRosa was primarily responsible for the state of affairs as word spread from those who knew to those who did not that he had come into office with the financial support of Republic Industries, and that he had then refused to utilize his gravitas and authority as mayor to insist on a competitive bidding process on the refuse handling franchise, resulting in Republic retaining the contract and then rapidly moving to sell its Colton assets and operation at a tremendous profit.
In 2018, amid suggestions that he had sold his constituents out in return for campaign money from Republic to enable him to defeat Frank Gonzales in 2014 and that his vote on the city council in 2005 to extend Republic’s franchise contract was equally suspect, DeLaRosa opted out of seeking reelection as mayor, stating he was departing “to make way for new visions.”
In 2018, Colton’s voters approved Measure R, reducing the number of council districts from six to four. In 2022, Chastain, who had represented District 3 previous to becoming mayor, ran for city council once again, this time in the newly drafted District 2. She was successful in that bid, taking a place on the council dais after a 12-year hiatus. She joined Mayor Navarro, who had been elected to the council representing District 3 in 2012, was reelected to that post in 2016 and was elected mayor in 2018 and reelected in 2022; Councilman Toro, who was first elected to the council representing District 1 in 2006 and reelected in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022; Councilman González, who was elected to represent District 4 in 2014 and reelected to that post in 2018 and was elected to represent the redrawn District 3 in 2022; and Councilman Echevarria, who was elected to represent what was District 5 in 2020 and was then elected to represent the newly drafted District 4 in 2022.
To a majority of the residents in blue-collar Colton, the goings-on at City Hall merit very little of their attention as they attend to the serious and time-consuming and attention-monopolizing efforts of earning a living and raising a family. They are inclined to entrust to both elected city officials and city staff the responsibility of running the city, including determining which private companies the city should confer its franchises upon. Still, like most communities, Colton has a core of residents who are civically active and involved, monitoring closely the action of their government, the decisions of their elected and appointed leaders and the comportment of those decision-makers. At least a handful of those share with others long memories and others possess an institutional memory. For some of those, the February 20 vote by Toro, Chastain and Echevarria is disquieting, one which conjures for them ghosts of past violations of the public trust.
In his interview with Mark McDonald in 1997, Taormina Chairman of the Board Dave Ault acknowledged, “The [trash-hauling] business is run by the mob and racketeers.” As the McDonald Report documented, that was the case in the 1990s in Colton. Over the next generation, that continued to be the case. Under the succeeding administrations of Mayor Karl Gaytan, Mayor Deirdre Bennett, Mayor Kelly Chastain, Mayor Sara Zamora and Mayor Richard DeLaRosa, a franchise locked into place by means of pay-offs, quid pro quos, bribes and kickbacks was perpetuated, with the contract provisions that enriched Taormina and its corporate successors assiduously adhered to while those which called for the company to reimburse the city for its costs in hosting the trash hauler’s operation or to pay the city franchise fees were ignored. During the abbreviated seven months that David Zamora was mayor at the tail end of 2010 and slightly more than the first half of 2011, an effort to reverse that pattern was begun, only to be cut short by Zamora’s untimely death at the age of 56. In the current administration of Frank Navarro, Zamora’s quixotic effort was revived, only to run into the concerted opposition of Chastain, Echevarria and Toro to thwart it.
Knowledgeable observers of the political scene in Colton are troubled by how the trio, individually and collectively, were so nonchalant in having the city skip for four decades carrying out a competitive bid on a contract which in its current ten-year application is worth well over $100 million and actually approaching somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million. Of note is that Toro, Echevarria and Chastain did not merely passively accept rolling the franchise contract over but actively pursued doing just that, consciously and deliberately disregarding the reasoning for seeking bids enunciated by both Navarro and González, and disregarding the recommendation by City Manager William Smith that the city put the franchise arrangement commencing in July 2026 out to bid.
For many of those observers, each of them – Chastain, Toro and Echevarria – has an equally good or even better reason than both of the others to recognize that best governmental practices dictate that competitive bidding on public contracts is basic principle in sound, transparent, open and honest governance.
Chastain was a member of the city council that commissioned and then accepted the McDonald Report, such that she cannot plausibly argue that she is not aware of the corrupt foundations of the franchise contract with Taormina that was inherited by Republic and passed along to CR&R. Even more pognantly, whe was a member of the city council when a decision was made to roll the franchise contract over for first time in 2005 and she was the city’s mayor who was voted out of office in 2010 at least in part because of the perception on the part of the city’s voters that she had failed them by neglecting to use her mayoral authority to have Republic adhere to the conditions of the franchise contract.
Toro is at this point the senior member of the city council, with more than 17 years as an elected official, one who cannot claim to not have an appreciation of how government works and the responsibility of officeholders to look after the best interests of those who have put them into their positions of trust. He came onto the city council in 2006, too late to have been involved in the decision to extend the franchise contract that was made by the city council earlier that year. Nevertheless, he was a member of the council throughout Chastain’s four-year tem as mayor, which ended with her being chased from office, in some measure because of the perception that she had not lived up to her responsibility to hold Republic to account for not meeting its obligations under the franchise contract. He then remained on the council during the several more years of Sara Zamora’s administration while the Republic continued to skip out on the host fees and mitigation fees it was obliged to make as the city’s refuse handling franchisee. He provided a key vote in support of the DeLaRosa Administration’s action to extend the franchise contract in 2016, and then experienced Republic’s almost immediate sale of its Colton operation to CR&R, followed by the drop in service levels and accompanying customer complaints from his constituents.
Echevarria, while less experienced as an officeholder than any of his council colleagues, nevertheless has at this point three years experience as a council member, during which time he has heard repeated complaints about both the level of service being provided by CR&R and the rates the company is charging its customers for that service, ones that are higher than virtually any of its competitors. Echevarria, a law enforcement professional who has achieved the rank of lieutenant with the San Bernardino Police Department, is by means of his employment highly attuned to the prevalence of organized criminal activity and racketeering at the local level and the degree to which it has crept into municipal operations throughout San Bernardino County, particularly in Colton, where no fewer than two of its former mayors and four of its former councilman were convicted of felonies and sent to prison since the 1990s. Even more significantly, Echevarria holds a master’s degree in public administration, a level of training in the management of government which instilled in him the basic importance of seeking competitive bids on public contracts.
While only a handful of Colton residents now have the institutional memory to remember Taormina Chairman of the Board Ault told McDonald that the trash-hauling business is run by the mob and racketeers and only a few of those are willing to speak publicly, given the reach and power that public officials have, in private around the Hub City the view is being shared that organized crime has tentacles which reach into Colton City Hall.

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