recycLA Facing Scrutiny, Fines for Poor Service

Under the city’s new recycLA program, blue recycling bins, like the one pictured have free trash collection, meant to encourage recycling. However, several local business owners report their trash pickup costs are now higher than ever under the new program.

Fines can now be imposed on Los Angeles trash haulers for poor customer service amid growing outcry from businesses and apartment owners about price increases and reduced service under a citywide recycling program, which began rolling out in July.

The city has championed recycLA as a way to help it reach a “zero waste” goal and recycle 90% of solid waste by 2025.

But since the program began, it has received thousands of complaints from customers over missed collections, poor customer service and prices that have doubled and quadrupled for some.

Beginning February 1st, recycLA trash haulers can now face fines of $100 for failing to collect a missed pick up on the same business day. Fines increase daily thereafter for delayed responses.

“These [fees] could add up to quite a lot of money,” said Elena Stern, a spokesperson for Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works, which oversees the program.

Trash collector Universal, is one of seven haulers the city chose for the program and is assigned to service Northeast Los Angeles, which includes just over 6,000 customers located in Los Feliz, Atwater Village and Echo Park.

Since July, more than 3,300 complaints were filed against the hauling company, according to city officials. Overall, there have been more than 35,000 complaints lodged citywide against the new program over missed collections and increased pricing.

“I feel that this is pure gouging,” said Tricia LaBelle, owner of Bon Vivant in Atwater Village and Boardner’s nightclub in Hollywood. “Businesses can’t sustain themselves” with these price hikes, she said.

Collector Athens Services, which does the trash pickups at 21,000 locations including at LaBelle’s Hollywood nightclub, has thus far received nearly 8,000 complaints. According to LaBelle, her monthly pricing with the company went from $850 to $1,450.

Athens previously picked up LaBelle’s trash at both of her business locations. But now, she said, her Atwater café is serviced by Universal and her pricing has doubled with that provider.

She added that both haulers have missed collections at least once a week.

A push for signatures—64,000 are needed—started in January by Valley Village activist David Hernandez to place a measure on the November ballot to repeal parts of recycLA, has drawn opposition from Los Angeles labor and environmental groups.

A spokesperson with the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club said prior to recycLA there was little control over private waste haulers in the city, allowing trash companies to overwork their employees, pay below union wages and pollute through truck exhaust and landfilling without “checks and balances.”

“People don’t like to see an increase, but we have polluted the air in Los Angeles for far too long,” said Angélica González, a local Sierra Club manager.

She added that the extra fees for service landlords and businesses are paying are well worth the cost.

A Los Angeles City Council motion authored in January by Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) called on the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to report back if recycLA providers’ contracts should be terminated for “such substantial failure.”

Another motion co-signed by councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell (CD13) and Mike Bonin (CD11) in December also asked city sanitation officials to investigate and report on customer service problems, overbilling and possible cost reduction initiatives.

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