A recycling truck drives through the University Heights neighborhood of San Diego, Oct. 13, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

UPDATE – Thurs., Nov. 17: This story, originally published Nov. 10, has been updated to reflect the most recent vote counts.

Supporters of Measure B — a San Diego ballot initiative that would give the city authority to charge for garbage pickup — took a late lead in the vote count, according to the latest update on votes tallied.

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Measure B had 200,615 votes for and 197,725 votes against it. “No” votes held the lead for most of the past week since Election Day, but an eleventh-hour push from supporters flipped the race on Wednesday. 

Why this matters

San Diegans who put their trash into city-owned bins could face a new fee for trash removal if voters agree to pass Measure B, which authorizes the city to charge residents for the service.

The county estimates there are still 15,000 outstanding ballots remaining countywide, though only ballots from city residents count toward the race. They include mail-in ballots and others dropped off at vote centers on Election Day that haven’t been counted yet. Mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Election Day are valid if received up to seven days after the election. 

Results updates could continue through Friday, Nov. 18, according to the Registrar of Voters website. Critics and supporters of the ballot measure offered different interpretations of the vote on Wednesday.

Opponent Haney Hong, President and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, told inewsource that the level of support for the change may stem from San Diego voters, who now receive trash service from the city, not fully understanding that a vote in favor of Measure B could lead to them paying for trash service later on.

Mailers in support of Measure B also were misleading, he said, because they “weren’t being upfront” about future trash fees.

“Maybe they (voters) don’t understand that Measure B also includes permission to add fees, and if they don’t see that, but all they see is an ad that says it’s free bins, that could manipulate someone’s thinking,” Hong said. 

According to one campaign mail piece in support of the measure, a vote for Measure B would “ensure the City will provide trash and recycling bins at no cost to homeowners.” The mailer does not mention charges or fees. 

Dolores Johnson signs in to vote at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center in San Diego on Nov. 8, 2022. (Zoë Meyers/inewsource)

“We gotta respect the voter and be honest with the voter and tell them what it is that folks are doing,” said Hong, who has criticized Measure B saying city residents already pay for trash services through property taxes. Haney also has criticized the ballot language itself, saying it didn’t make clear the fact that San Diegans might be charged a trash collection fee in the future, if the measure succeeds.

San Diego City Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who has been pushing for Measure B’s passage, told inewsource that confusion over ballot questions is a common problem for voters. He said “it’s disappointing” that some say the campaign for Measure B misled voters in the language because it was not his intention. 

“What we wanted to do was use language that created the flexibility that the city needs to run a grown-up, mature, 21st-century trash service in the city of San Diego,” Elo-Rivera said. “What might have been gained in clarity would have resulted in an additional rigidity that would be bad policy.”

Elo-Rivera said the public perhaps didn’t understand how these fees would directly pay for trash pickup and how freed-up money from the city’s more flexible general fund could be used for other public services for all city residents. California law ensures that money collected from a fee will be used for the service provided.

“No one’s trying to hide the ball here,” he said.

The vote on Measure B does not enact a specific fee on residents. San Diego City Council, which pushed the change arguing it long overdue, would have to decide what to charge customers and implement the fee later

Elo-Rivera said the benefits of Measure B are necessary. As it stands now, San Diego’s current trash law, the “People’s Ordinance,” mandates the city to pick up trash from some homes but not others. However, the city cannot charge for the service, which he and other Measure B advocates say provides an exclusive benefit to those who receive trash pickup.

This story was updated on Nov. 15, 2022 with the latest ballot results.

Type of Content

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Crystal Niebla joined inewsource in June 2022 as an investigative reporter focused on infrastructure and government accountability in the San Diego region. Her position is partly funded by Report for America, a national program that supports local journalists. At the Long Beach Post, Niebla served...