Complaints about city of San Diego garbage trucks damaging trash bins that the city then requires people to pay for have increased 25 percent a year for the last two years — and are probably valid, the San Diego grand jury said in a report released Mar. 22.
But not everyone paid the $70 replacement costs — and a $25 delivery fee, according to the report. Three city council offices — which remain unidentified — used money from a separate budget to pay for replacement bins for constituents, the report says.
The council members paid for the bins from their Community Projects, Programs and Services funds, a bucket of money allotted to individual council offices each year that accumulates if it goes unspent. The ordinance governing the funds specifically forbids that practice, the report notes.
The grand jury found that the increase in damage was at least partly caused by the city's own trucks, which are poorly maintained. "This combination of lesser-quality bins, aging collection trucks, and poorly maintained lift arms has contributed to a rapid rise in the number of damaged bins," the report states.
The city Department of Environmental Services is working on its response to the report and declined to comment until its formal response is public, according to city spokesman Paul Brencik.
Nearly 12,000 people obtained new bins in 2016, about twice the number that replaced them in 2015, according to the report. (Disclosure: I paid for a replacement bin in 2014. My bin almost immediately showed the lid damage discussed in the report.)
The bins are being damaged by an aging fleet of 97 garbage trucks, 36 of which are past their normal service life, the report says. And seven of 10 trucks out in the field experience a breakdown on collection days. Much of the damage the grand jury found on its field trips to watch garbage collection in the northern part of the city was broken lids on the bins.
"It is not hard to figure out why so many lids crack when you observe the collection process, as Grand Jurors did, and see the lids slam against the truck chassis when the bins are emptied," the report states.
The panel observed that garbage bin owners had taken steps to avoid the replacement costs that ranged from duct tape wrapping to Frankensteinish attachments of wood to hold bins together.
"One individual obtained a blue recycle bin, which is free, and simply painted it black." The panel also found that the city's ability to maintain the trucks - and lift arms — was hampered by a lack of space — now shared with the fire truck maintenance facility and that there weren't enough mechanics to keep up with repairs. The grand jury also concluded that the majority of black bins are beyond their normal service life and are damaged, and need to be replaced.