Unlike the trash wars that raged through Santa Barbara nearly a decade ago, the great Goleta garbage fight was done after a comparatively mild three-hour battle, as the City Council decided on Tuesday night to give the citywide contract straight to Santa Barbara-based MarBorg Industries. In so doing, the city effectively kicked longtime hauler Allied Waste — which was previously BFI and is now owned by corporate conglomerate Republic — to the curb. The city also ordered that residents be surveyed in order to determine their garbage service desires and that staff work with the County of Santa Barbara to determine how to integrate the city’s decision — which goes into effect in 2011 — with the county’s upcoming negotiations for hauling service in the adjacent unincorporated county zones.
The discussion came about because the city’s contract with Allied, which takes out the garbage for slightly more than half of the city, ends in 2011. On the table was whether to stick with Allied, negotiate solely with MarBorg (which has the other side of the city until 2019), or open it up to proposals from each and/or more companies.The evening agenda item was expected to be somewhat heated, as MarBorg’s chief Mario Borgatello is known for grabbing as much trash as possible when given the opportunity.
Sensing that MarBorg’s strategy would be to highlight their services and ties to the community, Allied’s representatives did the same, including manager John Kendall, who mentioned, among other pulled heartstrings, that one driver was in need of a liver transplant. He argued for competition, pointing to the City of Santa Barbara, where MarBorg and Allied split the population. “It really holds your feet to the fire,” said Kendall, who also repeated a quotation in favor of competition that Borgatello himself uttered during the Santa Barbara trash wars. Argued Johnny Perkins, Republic’s director of services for the western region, “We ask again that you give us the opportunity respectfully to sit down with you for 90 days to negotiate a contract extension as there is no risk to you and you have all the leverage.”
But Allied was no match for the well-oiled political machine of Borgatello and crew. Their presentation was kicked off by Derek Carlson, MarBorg’s business manager and the husband to Borgatello’s daughter. Using data based on polls from jurisdictions around the state as well as surveys of Goleta residents, Carlson showed that 98 percent of cities Goleta’s size go with one single hauler and that MarBorg’s services were “superior” in the eyes of residents.
Then Borgatello — who managed to break into the City of Santa Barbara with his effective “look-what-I’ve-done-for-you” argument based on his company’s development of a recycling center and other facilities designed to lower the amount of trash hauled to the Tajiguas landfill — laid it on thick. Pointing to his father, who founded the company in 1936, Borgatello spoke of dedication to the job, explaining, “Centered around that work ethic was honesty and integrity, and folks, our record is unblemished in that department.”
Borgatello was followed by a string of more than one dozen public commenters, almost unanimously in favor on going with MarBorg alone. Particularly compelling was Dave Johnson, the former City of Santa Barbara Public Works director who was in the middle of the Santa Barbara trash wars and not, at the time, in favor of bringing MarBorg on. Johnson had been out bowling, but saw the trash discussion on television, and was compelled to testify, calling his former foe Borgatello “probably the most honorable man I’ve ever worked with.”
When it came time for deliberations, City Councilmember Michael Bennett jumped right in and made a motion to go with MarBorg as the single source provider. After explaining that he’s been happy with his Allied service over the years, Councilmember Roger Aceves supported MarBorg by saying, “It’s just good governance to have one company, one management, and the fact is that it’s a local company.” Mayor Eric Onnen also agreed, although he tried at first to keep Allied in the loop if negotiations with MarBorg faltered.
Margaret Connell and Ed Easton, however, tried to take a more pragmatic approach. “Our responsibility as a council is to get the best service for the people of Goleta and, as a start, we need to find out what services they want and at what cost,” said Connell, advocating for the survey to be completed before deciding on one company over the other. “I didn’t think we were here to make a choice. I thought we were here to decide a process which is fair to both parties,” agreed Easton. “The material presented isn’t material on which I could make a choice.”
However, when the final votes came in, both Connell and Easton commented that they were happy. “I look forward to seeing that MarBorg truck in my driveway,” said Easton.