The Berkeley City Council is considering a plan to raise collection fees for trash, compost and recycling over the next five years. Credit: Zac Farber

Update, May 22 Berkeley is moving forward with a proposal to raise waste rates, and has sent notices to residents about the potential hikes.

The proposed rates are slightly different from an earlier version of the plan that was rolled out this spring, but the changes follow the same pattern: Residents with smaller bins are in line for bigger increases to their collection charges. City officials say state law requires them to structure the increases that way.

Residents have until June 27 to file written challenges against the rates. Unless Berkeley receives challenges from more than half of properties citywide, the City Council can take a final vote to approve the increases — which would take effect July 1.

A table lists the proposed rate increases for each trash container size. A text version of the table can be found on page 4 of the document that is hyperlinked in the first sentence.
City officials want to increase trash rates over the next five years. Residents with a 32-gallon container, the most popular size in the city, would pay $30 more per month by the 2028 fiscal year. Credit: City of Berkeley

Original story, March 10 Berkeley could soon raise rates for trash, recycling and compost pickup, with many homes seeing their monthly bills for the service rise by $30 per month over the next five years.

And unlike in the past, when Berkeley imposed bigger rate hikes on those with larger garbage containers, an early proposal put forward by city officials calls for customers with smaller cans to pay the steepest increases.

The potential shift is raising alarms for members of the City Council, who worry it would reduce the incentive for people to use smaller containers, better sort their recycling and compost, and ultimately send less trash to the landfill.

“In some ways, this is upside down,” Councilmember Susan Wengraf said at a special meeting last week to discuss the potential increase. “I’m not sure that that is philosophically in keeping with our Zero Waste goals.”

Public works staff say they have the same concerns, but their hands are tied by a 27-year-old state ballot initiative that limits their ability to set rates that encourage people to use smaller containers.

The City Council is expected to vote April 11 on whether to launch a process for raising rates, then take a final vote on the plan in June.

If the council approves the changes, the higher rates would go into effect starting July 1.

Officials say the rate hike is necessary to pay for several new and rising expenses, including the replacement and maintenance of collection vehicles, the cost of implementing a new state organic waste law and initial work on a planned new facility to replace Berkeley’s 40-year-old transfer station.

The city also wants to start using trash bills to raise money to repair Berkeley’s streets, with the justification that collection trucks beat up pavement more than ordinary cars. The rate hike proposal calls for directing $1 million to $2 million per year from the Zero Waste Fund to road maintenance, which public works officials say will make up for the impact of collection vehicles.

“We know some sort of rate increase is necessary,” consultant Rick Simonson told the City Council last week. One proposal now before the council would phase in the cost increase through 2028 to avoid what Simonson called “rate shock.”

Customers with smaller bins would get bigger rate hikes

Under that plan, more than 13,000 Berkeley customers who have 32-gallon waste containers — the most popular size in the city — would pay rate increases of $6 per month over each of the next five years. Their monthly costs would rise from $43.66 to $73.66 by 2028.

Fees would more than double for about 750 customers who use the city’s smallest container, which holds 20 gallons of waste: they’d pay $57.30 per month by the end of the increases, up from $27.30 now.

Meanwhile, homes with 64-gallon containers, the second most popular in the city, would only get an increase of about $13 per month over the next five years. And those with 96-gallon containers, the biggest Berkeley offers, wouldn’t see any increase.

Public Works Director Liam Garland said the lopsided rate hikes are a result of Proposition 218, an initiative backed by anti-tax groups that California voters approved in 1996, which includes a requirement that cities set fees for services such as trash pickup based on the cost of providing that service.

Rates for customers with smaller containers are currently set below the cost of service, officials said, so they’re in line to get bigger price hikes. And Garland said the city can’t set high rates for larger cans in order to provide discounts for smaller ones, because doing so would mean charging customers more than the cost of providing pickup service.

“That policy goal that we have is in conflict with those Prop 218 constraints,” Garland told the City Council last week.

The proposition didn’t stop Berkeley from setting its collection rates to incentivize smaller containers in the past — when the city increased rates in 2014, for instance, homes with the smallest can paid about $3 more per month, while customers with the biggest saw an increase of over $20.

But California cities are shifting their approach to trash rates, according to Garland, who wrote in an email that “legal challenges under Proposition 218” have made it difficult to set collection rates based on anything other than cost of the service.

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Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then,...