Last March, the great Goleta trash war began and ended on the same day when the City Council voted 3 to 2 to give away the city’s trash contract to MarBorg Industries, so long as the Santa Barbara-based hauler came forth with a satisfactory proposal. (Read about that here.) In choosing to enter a sole-source bid arrangement with MarBorg rather than entertain competitive bids or continue with a two-hauler scheme, the council majority effectively cut out Allied Waste, the company that began working the region’s streets decades before Goleta incorporated as a city.
Yesterday, a team of Allied workers tried to spark a flame from that war’s ashes by meeting with Councilmember Ed Easton, who along with Margaret Connell was on the losing end of the March 16 vote, opining at the time that the citizens of Goleta only would lose out if the competitive bidding process was killed before it started. The roughly 45-minute meeting — held in the Goleta City Hall conference room, where a huge map of the city loomed over a table packed with six male employees, one employee’s son, a female translator whose services weren’t required, Easton, the city PIO Valerie Kushnerov, and this reporter — was the latest sign that the company is scrambling to retain a foothold in the South Coast region while its top competitor, MarBorg, continues to shave away Allied’s market share.
Run by the politically savvy Mario Borgatello and family — who have endeared themselves to the community by helping nonprofits and almost single-handedly enabling the region to meet state-mandated recycling goals — MarBorg was able to take over half of the City of Santa Barbara from BFI (the predecessor to Allied, which is actually owned by nationwide conglomerate Republic Services) nearly a decade ago, succeeded in the March coup in Goleta, and is currently eyeing the County of Santa Barbara’s trash situation with hope for more domination.
But MarBorg’s tactics scare people like Javier Gil, his son Javier Gil Jr., Juan Villarruel, Sergio Leon, Felix Andrade, Javier Ruiz, Arutro Zaragoza, and Joaquin Hernandez, the seven men in attendance on Thursday who represent more than a century of work picking up trash in Goleta. “We are uncomfortable with what happened with our contract with the City of Goleta,” said the older Gil to start the conversation. Villarruel proved a particularly informed and effective orator. “As a community, we feel it’s very unfair,” he said, adding that they feel it would be “extremely bad” to have to start working for MarBorg, alluding to labor problems there. “We’re all together in this. The supervisors don’t even know we’re here.” Andrade, who is 64 and came to Goleta in 1964 as part of the bracero program to pick lemons, has been working for Allied since 1967. “Can you imagine to go to a new company after 43 years?” he asked.
Villarruel also explained that, this weekend, Allied is sending six trash/recycling trucks down to the city of Poncitlán in Jalisco, Mexico, and that he is personally going down to train the workers on how to use them. “We’re going to change the lives of 60,000 people,” said Villarruel, who showed off a Mexican newspaper story about the donation. That article gave credit to Allied’s newest hire, Stephen MacIntosh, the former City of Santa Barbara employee who helped MarBorg begin its takeover a decade ago but was recently enlisted by Allied to boost its community profile with the same sort of outreach that MarBorg had been doing for years. The Mexican truck donation represents those efforts.
Despite their pleas and pledges of political support into the future, there wasn’t much Ed Easton could do for the men, and he was clear about that from the get-go. “Why did three councilmembers decide to sole source the contract?” he asked a few minutes into the meeting. “I don’t know … They have long-standing relationships with Mario.” Though Easton said he’d vote in favor of competitive bidding if it ever came up again, he was adamantly opposed to personally raising the issue himself. “We don’t go backward,” he said. “I don’t do business that way. We can’t go back and keep fighting old fights over and over again or we’d never get anything done.” Those comments were met with a few moments of dead silence.
But the somewhat awkward meeting proceeded for another half-hour or so, with each of the men — including 14-year-old Javier Jr., a student at San Marcos High School — giving their personal pleas. “We didn’t know,” said Hernandez of the earlier vote, further revealing that Allied’s management was caught flat-footed by that meeting. “I still believe it’s never too late. I still believe in miracles, and I still believe in democracy,” he continued, explaining that he feared MarBorg was setting up a regional “monopoly.”
The only good news Easton had to offer was that MarBorg’s contract proposal is yet to be submitted. “He has to come across with a competitive proposal that suits us,” said Easton. “If he doesn’t, we’ll be talking to Allied.” Easton also advised the workers to try and change of the mind of the two remaining councilmembers who voted against them, Roger Aceves and Michael Bennett, or to approach new councilmember Paula Perotte, who took over the seat of the third MarBorg-only supporter Eric Onnen. Villarruel, who after the meeting said Aceves and Bennett wouldn’t speak with them, took Easton’s suggestion about Perotte to heart, explaining, “We need to go after Paula.”