San Diegans voted last month to allow the city to charge for trash collection services that many property owners and residents have been enjoying for free.

Measure B, which passed by a narrow percentage-point margin according to certified results released Thursday, does not actually impose a specific fee on the city’s waste customers. City leaders will have to adopt a fee and decide how much to charge customers later. The city has not charged a fee for trash collection services in more than 100 years.

Why this matters

The new trash fee will be the first one San Diego trash customers have had to pay, and officials say they’ll have a chance to shape it.

But customers have a while to wait until they see any bills for trash pickup. The city must first enact a fee, which will take time while the city does a cost analysis. City leaders say it could be a couple years, if not more, before the city is charging for trash service.

San Diego is just one of three municipalities in California with a population of at least 7,000 that hasn’t charged residents a fee specifically for trash pickup. When a new fee takes effect, it will be the first time in more than 100 years the city has charged for trash pickup. 

Council President Sean Elo-Rivera, who pushed the ballot measure with Councilmember Joe LaCava, said that the passage of Measure B is a win for the city. 

“I hope that this will encourage folks to try things before they just assume that they’re impossible,” Elo-Rivera told inewsource on a media call.

“It’s not as if people had run Measure Bs for the past two decades, and they’d been landslide losses every time: No one had tried. We weren’t surprised by the result. We believed in the voter’s ability to see this for what it is.”

Here’s what you need to know:

The city wants your input

Before the city decides what it will charge for trash collection services — or exactly what services it will provide — the city will get residents’ input. 

Outreach for community input should start in February, Councilmember LaCava said.

City leaders will want to hear what kind of services residents would like to see covered by the new fee, such as more frequent pickups of bulky items, free bin replacements or increased recycling pickups. Residents also will have a chance to give input on how the city structures the fee, from how much to charge to whether customers who create more waste should pay more than others, LaCava said.

He added that methods of community outreach may include in-person and virtual forums, online surveys and possibly working with community-based organizations to reach more residents. 

Outreach efforts will likely last several months as city officials get public input to help shape the trash fee structure down the road. 

“We want to make sure that it really is a very authentic process, not a checkbox as we often hear people complain about, and do as much outreach as we can,” LaCava told inewsource.

The city also will soon start a monthslong process of finding a consultant to conduct a study to determine the true costs of providing waste collection services. The city currently has only estimates of its customer base. The city expects that study to cost about $1 million and take at least two years to complete. 

Who will be impacted?

Anyone living in an eligible home will be impacted if the city imposes trash fees — whether they are homeowners who get charged the new fee or renters whose property owners pass on the fee through rental agreements. 

Mostly single-family homes will be affected by a fee, but other types of properties, such as duplexes, could see the same effect. 

Measure B has also clarified what types of homes are eligible, allowing access to residential properties with up to four residences on a single lot.

That means some multifamily property owners might gain or lose eligibility for the trash service, though the city estimates the number of affected properties will be very low. 

Businesses and residents living on private streets or in large apartments and condos do not get their trash collected by the city, so they wouldn’t be affected by a future fee.

When will I start paying the trash fee?

It’s unclear when and by how much. What city officials do know:

“It’s not gonna be tomorrow; it’s not gonna be for a while,” Charles Modica, the city’s independent budget analyst, told inewsource.

Modica said that the city also is legally restricted from charging any more than what it costs to provide trash pickup.

“We cannot make money off of the trash fee,” he said. “We can only recoup up to the amount that it actually costs us to collect and dispose of the trash.”

So far, city budget analysts have estimated that a monthly fee of between $23-$29 for customers would cover the city’s expenses for providing the trash service. However, that estimate, based on the cost of existing services, could change as the city seeks to expand services later on.

The city could also decide to charge customers for some but not all of the full cost of providing the services, but that decision will have to wait until after the cost analysis is complete, officials said. 

What do we do in the meantime?

Right now, if you’re using city bins and getting your trash collected for free, you will continue to get it collected at no extra cost. Nothing will change until the city decides to implement a fee.

There’s no set timeline for fee discussions yet, Jordan More, a city fiscal and policy analyst, told inewsource.

“It’s gonna be one of those things that if people are very interested in it, they’re just going to have to sort of hang out, pay attention, check in periodically (and) stay in touch with key council members, including their council members.”

Separate from Measure B, the city has already budgeted funds for this fiscal year to launch an organic waste recycling service, including yard and kitchen food waste, for all eligible residences starting next year.

Type of Content

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

Crystal NieblaInfrastructure and government accountability reporter

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...