The biggest, ripest contract over which City Hall has discretion is who gets to haul the trash. The City of Santa Barbara’s long-term contract with local trash hauler MarBorg is worth about $30 million a year. But with the contract set to expire, its renewal is worth $450 million over a 15-year span. Despite such mouth-watering sums, the City Council has opted not to put that contract out for competitive bids — despite recommendations to the contrary by City Hall’s sustainability czar Alelia Parenteau. Instead, the council voted to enter into sole-source negotiations with MarBorg, which first got the exclusive contract to haul the city’s trash in 2009.
Parenteau acknowledged MarBorg — both locally owned and politically connected — has provided exceptional service in both trash hauling and recycling. She said she had hoped a competitive bidding process would force the company — which now holds a near-total trash monopoly throughout much of Santa Barbara County — “to sharpen its pencils and look at lessons learned over the past 10 years.”
State law has changed drastically in recent years regarding waste disposal and recycling, she noted, in ways both profound and merely decorative. For example, new state law requires that all trash bins be gray or black, meaning MarBorg’s iconic brown bins will no longer pass legal muster. More to the point, Parenteau is hoping MarBorg will agree to transition from older natural-gas trash trucks to new electric vehicles.
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She also wants the new contract to expand the number of times MarBorg provides free large-scale pickup from two a year to much more. “There’s a lot of illegal dumping taking place,” she said. “We’re not sure how many people are taking care of the existing pickups, but we want to make everything as easy and as convenient as possible for people to do the right things.”
Likewise, she said, she’s hoping to have MarBorg pick up household hazardous wastes the same way the company — which initially won its City Hall franchise by its aggressive support for recycling
efforts — collects recyclables.
Parenteau stressed what a cooperative community partner MarBorg has been but added there’s still much City Hall does not know, such as how much it costs MarBorg to provide its services to city residents as opposed to how much it gets paid.
The council opted not to pursue competitive bidding in part because MarBorg has such a lock on the regional market that it’s unlikely any company could hope to break even while meeting the sizable equipment and infrastructure needs required to operate a full-service trash and recycling operating in the 21st century. Instead, the council approved a provision that will allow Parenteau to initiative competitive bidding after eight months should direct negotiations remain fruitless in that time.