Los Alamitos makes ‘Universal’ waste hauling change

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Residents and businesses will be seeing Universal Waste Systems trucks soon. Courtesy photo

Despite a last-minute lobbying onslaught trying to save a waste contract for its current contractor, Republic Services, the Los Alamitos Council voted this week to hire a new waste hauler to replace them for at least the next seven years.

While many local businesses spoke in favor of Republic, four council members were convinced the proposed cost savings to taxpayers was worth the change and transition.
On a motion by Council member Ron Bates, the Council voted 4 – 1 to award a contract to Universal Waste Systems, Inc., based in Los Angeles, to provide waste disposal and recovery services to the city for the next seven years.

In a special meeting last Monday that, at times, drew sharp debate, only Mayor Pro-Tem Shelley Hasselbrink voted no to hiring UWS, saying she remained unconvinced the situation justified a change.

Near the end of a long, fact filled, exhausting meeting, Hasselbrink attempted to have the Council stave off a vote and perhaps invite the two top vendors, Universal and Republic, to a final negotiation before making a final decision.

Her motion, however, died for the lack of a second and Bates’ motion to move forward with a staff recommendation to hire Universal prevailed.

The action came, however, only after a long procession of public comments from businesspeople, citizens and waste hauler executives. One after another, they showered the Council with concerns before the Council vote.

Most of the revenue attached to waste hauling contracts, especially in Los Alamitos, is from the city’s commercial sector, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the business. The city has 1,600 residential customers, which is only 12 percent of the waste business in the city.
Top representatives of the Los Alamitos Chamber of Commerce along with some of the larger businesses lined up to tell the Council how happy they have been with Republic; especially happy with the service they had received from the Republic representative, Manny Gouveia.

Gouveia, the Municipal Relationship Manager for Republic, has become a virtual fixture in the Los Al social and business scene in recent years.

“Our business needs have changed,” said Jackie Caplan Williams, representing Frieda’s, one of the city’s most prominent enterprises. “In today’s business environment, businesses must minimize costs,” she said.

“Switching waste haulers means a complete infrastructure change for local businesses,” said Williams.

“There is cost to making changes, including setting up a new vendor, how we pay them. Our operations team has to work with a new company to change bins, locks,” she said, urging the city to retain Republic.

Throughout it all, she said Manny Gouveia, of Republic, has always been available to “walk us through the process,” if necessary.

Her comments were echoed by former Seal Beach Chamber President Kori De Leon and others who professed to Gouveia’s level of service.

“Manny and Republic Services has been great,” said Mayor Mark Chirco, noting that the city is “not unhappy with Manny or Republic.” Chirco said the city had empowered staff, hired a well known waste consultant and let them do their work. The city should trust their recommendation for accepting a change to Universal Waste Systems, Inc.

Even company executives jumped into the fray, as an executive from one of the waste hauling firms not chosen called Universal’s rates “absurd.” Longtime waste executive George Biggeman, Jr., whose company was not selected, said the rates proposed by UWS were “unsustainable.”

Development Services Director Ron Noda explained the long process and the team that had, at first, designed a Request for Proposals (RFP) many months ago, were meticulous about how the proposals were solicited, and that a specialized team had examined every word in every proposal.

Noda said the city hired noted waste management consultant Mike Balliet to work with the analysis staff. Without hesitation, Noda said he was confident “we have arrived at the best choice for Los Alamitos at this time.”

Baillet defused arguments that UWS had been chosen because of an unrealistic, low rate, saying Universal “was not the lowest bidder.” He said each of the waste bidding firms had been rated by staff over a detailed matrix of infrastructure and service formulas.

Bates said UWS have been in business for decades, “its references are quite good, excellent track record, a very competitive proposal and will do a good job for the city. The

bottom line,” said Bates, is “we have to do what’s best for our city.”

City Council member Tanya Doby was concerned about the actual disruption of a transition within the business community. Hasselbrink pressed Bates, who had represented the Council throughout the waste RFP process.

Hasselbrink expressed concerns about the process, asking Bates about certain aspects she felt should, or could, have been handled differently.

“I have a couple of concerns,” she said, before making an impassioned argument to allow the top two rated firms, UWS and Republic, to negotiate directly with the city and have all questions answered.

Mayor Mark Chirco said in his view, the Council after all has an obligation to taxpayers. Staff has estimated Universal Waste will provide the same level of waste service to the city at a savings of more than $12 million.

“Twelve million dollars is a lot of money,” said Chirco, adding that at the end of the day, he felt an obligation to save such a significant sum for taxpayers.

“I have been very pleased with Republic,” the mayor frankly asserted, “but this is a process to have a committee, get the presentations and do all the hard work, reviewing the RFPs and making a recommendation.”

“I have confidence in city staff,” said Chirco. “I trust that they have evaluated, what is the source for that (UWS) low price, and all other factors,” he said, noting that the staff’s recommendation to accept Universal’s proposal should be honored.

“We won’t let you down,” said Mark Blackburn, President of Universal Waste Systems, Inc., “and we appreciate the opportunity.”

He quickly moved to answer many of the assertions made, and questions posed, during the long debate and public hearing.

“We put our costs together wanting to give the city some good news,” said Blackburn. “Our commercial rates are right in line; we did not come here to low ball.”

He said the company would guarantee its rate for two years, not seven, but that “we are looking at the whole rate. We don’t increase rates when our costs are not justified,” he said.

He said the company has five new Mack trucks ready to roll and that the company, which is based in Los Angeles, has its own organic waste separator unit that will allow local merchants, and the city to comply with all SB 1383 requirements.

“We have the ability to do it right now,” he said.

To the business community, he said “we have excellent outreach teams.” Everything from keys to locks, to advice and people, the company would quickly integrate itself into the community.

“We consider ourselves a great part of this community,” said Blackburn.

Los Alamitos makes ‘Universal’ waste hauling change