After two recesses and four hours of discourse, Kern County officials approved the new system and rates Tuesday for the county’s trash collection in its three zones — metro Bakersfield, western Kern and eastern Kern — with select areas removed from each.
In an effort to meet state guidelines by Jan. 1, 2024, counties across California have to implement some form of collection system that complies with SB 1383, a 2020 state law with a goal of throwing 75% less organic waste into landfills by 2025. If governments don’t comply in time, penalties run $10,000 a day or $3.65 million annually, fined directly to the county’s general fund.
“The state has created a legislative program that creates unattainable goals,” said Josh Champlin, the county’s interim director of public works, “while placing the financial burden squarely on the shoulders of homeowners, renters and business owners who already pay more taxes than most places in the country.”
The universal collection system, and its new rates, were approved, but only for areas within the three zones that already have a universal collection system in place.
New rates for the aforementioned areas will be: $368.64 for metro Bakersfield, $528.96 for western Kern and $559.80 for eastern Kern, though costs will be at a reduced rate in the first year.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-0. Supervisor Leticia Perez stepped out partway through the discussions and didn't vote.
Even with those areas teased out of the system, officials say Kern is at 81% compliance with the state’s guidelines, as many of the more populated areas such as metro Bakersfield are already operating under a three cart-system and wlll not see a drastic increase in cost.
But in areas where universal collection was not in place or optional, nothing changes for now.
Changes were made by staff after a 20-minute recess following criticisms iterated by the county supervisors who felt the rates were unfair, and that original collection areas were too big to accurately represent the opinions of their respective communities, especially in eastern Kern.
Areas removed from the new map included Frazier Park, Tehachapi, Kern River Valley, Ridgecrest, Boron, Mojave and Rosamond, among others.
Going forward, officials said they will need to find areas that can make up the remaining 19% to meet state compliance. Additionally, areas that exceed the population threshold, like Lake Isabella, will have to implement some kind of system before the start of the new year. And since other areas may no longer be included, officials are worried trash rates will go up from the lakeside community of 1,400.
“This is something to get us closer but in no way does this make us fully compliant with state law,” Champlin said. “Staff will have to do additional work after this hearing to come back with options on how we can get to 100% compliance.”
Since the law does not require a universal collection area, self-hauling is an option. But officials estimate a self-haul system costs drastically more than a private service, as it would require all the dressings of the same system, but within a newly constructed county department.
“The county is not set up for the infrastructure in most of our landfills and transfer stations to accomplish state regulation for sorting,” Champlin said. “We would also be responsible for enforcing sorting of all customers who self-haul; we would have to report and do contamination checks on whether the sources were separated or not.”
Boron, for example, would cost the average home $1,104 in a self-haul model as opposed to $559.80 for a franchise hauler. And for the Kern River Valley, Champlin said it would cost $857.87 for self-hauling.
“Our cost estimates for different local areas found that the franchise hauler model is the more economic model and the best price for our constituents,” Champlin said.
Among the recommendations made, supervisors agreed that Kern needs to ramp up its community outreach to figure out local solutions that match the area’s culture.
“What I want to see is an opportunity for residents of communities to be able to participate in a Proposition 18 vote that is localized,” 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner said. “Because I think each of those communities have a very different sense of circumstances when it comes to how they’ve been dealing with their waste stream and have different facilities available to them.”
None of the three zones received a sufficient number of protest letters through Proposition 218, which allows a legal contest of an impending law with a "50% plus one" majority.
“Fifty percent of people don't even show up to vote,” said Tommy Hastings, a Frazier Park resident. “I think Prop. 218 is a scam.”
While metro Bakersfield received 15 verified votes and western Kern netted 18, eastern Kern received more than 2,000 verified protest votes. Champlin said an “overwhelming amount” came from the Kern River Valley. Many present for Tuesday's meeting came from the valley region.
“This card is the only warning that Miss Winters received in the mail about this topic,” said Ashley Fike, who spoke on behalf of several Bodfish residents, including Kristen Winters, who could not attend the 2 p.m. meeting. “Most of them are now living on fixed incomes with limited financial flexibility. Many of their bins would sit unused while they paid significantly for a service they couldn’t use and watch trash trucks tear up their road.”
If a vote is taken in a region like Lake Isabella, where compliance is required, a legal battle may arise.
“I don’t know if there’s any precedent if we were to receive a successful protest hearing,” Champlin said. “This puts us in a position where it’s a bit unknown.”