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Solid waste gets overall high marks; commercial routes could change

If City Council members ultimately adopt the findings of an efficiency expert Manteca will end solid waste alley collection in residential neighborhoods.

The same report also calls for once a week commercial route stops taking place on Mondays and Fridays to be shifted to Thursdays as well as eliminating a solid waste truck driver positon that is currently vacant and to transfer a customer service representative to the financial department.

The consultant also references how the city is allowing unpermitted third party collectors to operate in Manteca at various commercial accounts such as those that collect newsprint and cardboard. The report notes the City of Manteca has the exclusive franchise to collect solid waste in the city. He specifically noted one compactor box in use at a commercial account was branded as belonging to a local hauler of solid waste — Tracy Disposal.

The report is being presented to the City Council when they meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St. It is listed as a “receive and file” report.  While that might preclude the council  from taking specific action on recommendations on Tuesday, it could spark a discussion to get a general consensus from elected leaders on whether they want staff to pursue any of the outlined efficiencies and come back to them at a later date including the elimination of residential alley service.

A staff report to the council from Public Works Director Mark Houghton notes “the study identified ‘Alley Service’ as being ‘extremely inefficient and borders on unsafe’ and recommends that the City discontinue alley service wherever possible.   This has been a concern for some time and staff is now working to identify alley services that can be converted to more efficient street service.”

The consultant noted in observations that solid waste vehicles are required to drive down alleys twice on a collection day in order to serve both sides of an alley. He noted the automated arms that grab carts come perilously close at times to striking electric power lines. He also saw routes where trucks had difficulty maneuvering around illegally discarded or illegally stored property.

In addition the report notes there are areas with alley service in Manteca where some residents opt to place carts on the street instead for collection. That creates an additional swing through the neighborhood. 

The report stares discontinuing alley service wherever possible “will reduce damages to real property and increase route efficiency.”

It does not make an estimate of how significant that would be however based on the assumption of the number of houses served eliminating alley service could — if there were 500 homes involved — allow trucks to handle an additional 250 homes. That doesn’t count any time savings from drivers having to work around ongoing alley issues.

In the 1990s when Manteca first went to semi-automated collection before eventually going to fully automated residential routes, a proposal to eliminate alley collection was met with significant pushback from alley residential customers.

The city retained the firm of MultiEnviromental in Mach of 2018 after receiving numerous complaints from a citizen regarding perceived inefficiencies in the solid waste division two months earlier.

Overall, the city’s solid waste division was given fairly solid marks with the study noting based on industrial standards that includes private as well as public solid operations that the city’s residential routes were operating at 95 percent efficiency. Commercial routes on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday were rated at between 92 to 99 percent efficient based on industrial standards while Wednesday and Thursday routes were between 77 and 88 percent efficient. The switch of accounts that have only one day collection each week that happen to fall on Monday or Friday to Thursday — the day with the least scheduled collections — is seen as a way to balance the route load.

The city’s “drop box” operation — the large bins the city drops off for construction and other such purposes — is considered by the consultant to be “very efficient”. The city’s two drop-box drivers average 18 loads a day between them.

Eliminating the solid waste operator position that’s vacant and transferring one customer representative service position to the finance department would save the Solid Waste Division $170,000 annually. The division operates as an enterprise fund where rates charged to customers for actual service delivered  and not taxes per se covers the cost of operations.

The consultant also question whether the city had too much management for its Solid Waste Division operation given it is a city of 81,450 residents.

The efficiency report comes just as the city is being forced to look at establishing a  surcharge to offset increased costs now that recyclables are being landfilled since China — the largest importer of this country’s recycled materials — stopped taking them in March when they became dissatisfied with the contamination rate that was forcing them to bury a number of loads shipped overseas instead of processing then for recycling. If recyclables are contaminated by diapers, food waste and such they have to be buried.

The surcharge for residential customers could come to at least $1 a month but an exact cost won’t be known until the city is through looking at all of its options. The commercial charge would likely have a significantly higher per month increase.

Based on 22,685 housing units a $1 surcharge on an annual basis would generate $272,220 a year. 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email