SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A sharply divided City Council Monday approved a controversial plan to accept bids for operating the Miramar Landfill, an idea that drew opposition from organized labor and environmentalists.
Councilman Carl DeMaio, who is running for mayor, said the city was broke and needed to achieve savings in order to fill potholes, keep libraries open and afford more police officers. He was one of five council members who backed the plan.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald, one of the three dissenters, said the plan was "a bad idea." David Alvarez and Todd Gloria also cast "no" votes.
"In this mad dash to transfer public money to private pockets, this would be a serious error in judgment," Emerald said.
Their colleague, Sherri Lightner, agreed with Emerald that the landfill was not an appropriate city function to put out to bid and was poised to vote against the plan until several of her amendments were accepted.
Under the city's "managed competition" program, approved by voters in 2006, both private companies and city employees can enter bids to operate the landfill.
Wally Hill, who runs managed competition programs for the city, said savings of 10 to 25 percent can be expected, translating to millions of dollars. He refused to offer a specific dollar amount because he didn't want to tip off prospective bidders.
According to city Environmental Services Director Chris Gonaver, the savings would be to the city's disposal fund, which is separate from the cash-starved general fund that pays for basic city functions. The disposal fund could then lower the "tipping fees" charged per visit by municipal refuse trucks and paid for out of the general fund, he said.
Gonaver said tipping fees were over $6 million last year.
Before the hearing took place, Mayor Jerry Sanders held a news conference with two council supporters, Kevin Faulconer and Lorie Zapf, to urge passage.
"Now is not the time to stall, make excuses or cave in to union interests," Sanders said.
Two major union figures appeared before the council to oppose the plan.
Michael Zucchet, who heads the Municipal Employees Association, said a study several years ago found that landfill operations were already efficient.
Lorena Gonzalez, of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, said there were too many financial uncertainties to count on any savings for the city's budget.
The city hopes to identify a winning bidder next year.
The first city function to go through the managed competition process, printing and publishing, was won by the division's employees.
The landfill on Convoy Street north of state Route 52 is on Navy property leased by the city of San Diego. Sanders previously tried to get companies to buy the landfill outright, but did not get any takers.
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