The appointment of a new subcommittee to further study issues related to rate increases and pandemic relief sent the newly installed Cypress city council into a tailspin Monday.
The contentious issues surrounding proposals to provide pandemic relief to Valley Vista Services (VVS), some of which involve the utilization of city owned property, prompted a 3-2 split vote, rejecting Mayor Jon Peat’s recommendation and questioning why the city was so intent to “pacify” the waste hauler.
While the meeting was generally upbeat, the meeting atmospherics changed dramatically when it came time to discuss the waste hauler’s proposals to the city.
Peat, who was a member of the ad-hoc subcommittee appointed to study a proposal presented by VVS in October, said he and fellow ad-hoc committee member Paulo Morales had “analyzed” the offer (see related story).
Valley Vista had proposed in October to utilize the city yard for a so-called direct transfer tip station, along with a compressed natural gas facility (CNG) in exchange for extensions of their franchise agreement.
Peat said they eventually recommended not approving the direct transfer facility but did recommend that VVS resubmit a new proposal that would include only a compressed natural gas (CNG) facility at the city’s public yard and with a contract extension or rate increase to pay for it.
Since winning the trash hauling contract in 2014, VVS has helped the city address recycling and other issues that long needed attention, said Peat.
During the pandemic, however, Peat said, while residential trash collections have increased, commercial collection is way down as most businesses are operating at a minimum or not at all. Also, he said the market for recyclables has collapsed, and both factors were “affecting revenue” for VVS.
Therefore, he presented his case for allowing VVS to construct a compressed natural gas facility at the city’s public works yard, saying having the fuel availability would “make Valley Vista’s operations more efficient.”
He said the city would eventually operate the CNG terminal, but VVS would need a revenue enhancement to construct the $2 million facility.
Trying to understand specifically why VVS needed revenue enhancements, Council member Frances Marquez asked Peat to explain the financial details to justify them.
“We didn’t discuss costs,” said Peat.
Mayor Pro-tem Stacy Berry told Peat that she thought it was obvious that he (Peat) and Morales thought the direct tip transfer was a good idea, so “why didn’t you recommend it.”
Peat acknowledged “strong opposition” from the community made it clear the community did not favor the direct transfer tip idea.
Nevertheless, Peat said the city needed to appoint a new subcommittee to reengage with VVS to explore what was expected to be a new proposal from VVS to build a CNG facility, including rate increases or extensions to cover Valley Vista’s pandemic losses and, for sure, a rate increase for the VVS organic waste management plan.
Peat explained that the city has also asked VVS to create a plan to assist the city in complying with a state mandate regarding the collection and disposal of organic waste. In doing so, Peat said, in this case, because the city “requested” it, the company’s franchise agreement allows the city manager and the company to work out a proper increase.
Only if they fail to agree would city council approval be required for the organics rate increase.
Even so, council approval would be required for the CNG authorization and any revenue enhancement mechanisms to construct it, the mayor said.
Peat said the new council needed to appoint an ad-hoc committee to bring an information package back to the Council to outline all of the issues related to a new VVS proposal.
For the subcommittee membership, Peat suggested himself and new member Anne Hertz.
“Bring together legacy and new people,” he said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Stacy Berry objected. “With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, I do have concerns with council member Hertz serving on the ad hoc committee.”
Hertz, one of the council’s two new members, is the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Anaheim-Cypress, an organization for which Peat serves as a member of the Board.
Berry said it was well known in the community that the Boys and Girls Club has enjoyed “a financial support relationship” with George Briggeman, a Valley Vista executive. In view of this association, Berry said she was simply trying to avoid any conflicts (of interest), “perceived or real.”
Berry then suggested Peat and Marquez would be better suited to serve on the ad-hoc subcommittee.
Hertz, however, protested the suggestion that her association with Briggeman would impair her judgement and disqualify her from serving on the subcommittee.
“I feel like I need to speak to this because I feel like it’s a negative statement to my ability to make clear decisions on behalf of the city,” said Hertz.
“He (Briggeman) and I have known each other for 15 years,” acknowledged Hertz, “he’s donated to (BGCGAC) events and given us free trash services for 15 years.” Nevertheless, said Hertz, “I feel like I would do a good job on the committee.”
Peat then suggested Marquez already had too many appointments to serve on the subcommittee.
“I have some concerns that the council member Marquez already has seven committees that she is on,” said Peat, suggesting Marquez already has “enough on her plate.”
Marquez said, “If it’s important, I can make time for it.”
Berry then moved for the subcommittee to include Peat and Marquez, seconded by Marquez, but Peat made a substitute motion for the subcommittee to be made up of himself and Hertz.
Peat’s substitution motion for he and Hertz failed 2-2, however, when Berry and Marquez voted against the motion and Morales abstained from voting on it. Berry’s original motion for the Peat/Marquez subcommittee passed 3-2, with the same split except Morales, who abstained from voting on the substitute motion, voted yes in favor of Berry’s original motion.
Subcommittee aside, many residents during the oral communications portion of the meeting, did thank Peat and Morales for not recommending the direct transfer tip project.
“Thank you for not considering the direct tip transfer” project, said local resident Blaze Bhence, reflecting the opinion of many attending the online meeting.
As thankful as they were for the rejection of the direct transfer tip project, however, many who spoke during oral communications also expressed equally strong opposition to any CNG facility, some expressed an open mind, and some were befuddled as to why the city was trying so hard to come up with ways to financially assist Valley Vista at all?
“Please consider the environmental impact that the off gassing will have on the surrounding neighborhoods, children and elderly in the immediate area,” Bhence told the Council.
Resident Steve Moss wanted to take the VVS a step further, asking the city to have the new subcommittee seriously rebidding the waste hauling contract altogether.
“I highly oppose this construction proposal from Valley Vista Trash Services and believe it is unacceptable, unethical, and unfair to all of the residents in our neighborhood,” said Annie Lim.
Her husband, Justin, an engineer who designs natural gas systems, said compressed natural gas is stored with 7,000 times the normal pressure of natural gas and he felt it was unwise to threaten the schools and homes with a CNG facility in the public works yard. “This is unacceptable,” he said.
Tim Yurien, who lives next to the city yard with his dad, a World War II veteran, said Briggeman told him “he needed $2.50 per month (per customer) to make me whole.” In a follow-up interview, Yurien said Briggeman told him that Valley Vista had indeed received federal relief funds during the pandemic but declined to say how much.
Further, Yurien said any CNG site should be located near a truck route, not in a residential neighborhood. He questioned why the city wants to fund the CNG project for VVS when more well-known organizations could be willing to “pay for the construction” if they are guaranteed certain annual sales.
A host of other residents, including Jimmy Fuller, agreed in written comments that the city, instead of any rate increases or contract extensions for VVS, the city should simply rebid the contract.
Local activist George Pardon also suggested there are many safety issues with the CNG proposal. “Regarding the CNG station, while I think there are serious safety issues related to a CNG station, especially given the location of the City Yard, and if the City determines one is needed, the City should build it and fund it, not Valley Vista,” said Pardon.
Finally, Brittany Cook thanked Peat and Morales for not moving forward with the direct transfer tip, saying she was very happy the city took the petitions opposing the project into consideration. Cook said she’d keep an open mind and would wait to see what the subcommittee came up with before declaring a position on the CNG project.
Cook asked, however, why was the city was discussing the issue at all?
“My main question is, you know Valley Vista has expressed that they are having some financial difficulties due to COVID, but why is the city council’s first response to pacify VVS and not the residents? I’m sure residents are having financial issues as well,” she said. kdddddddddddd