Trashing the valley's franchise


City of Las Vegas, you’re the last one standing.

You’re the last jurisdiction in the valley that hasn’t yet given in to the relentless pressure of monopoly trash hauler Republic Services to abandon a key part of its current franchise agreement: picking up trash twice weekly at Las Vegas Valley homes. Everybody else — Henderson, North Las Vegas and, just last week, Clark County — has caved.

But Bob Coyle, Republic’s vice president of public affairs and government relations, is coming for you, too, Las Vegas. He told the Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin last week that he’s looking at giving a presentation to the city in early 2014. If he’s as successful with Las Vegas as he’s been with other valley jurisdictions, your residents may soon bid goodbye to twice-weekly pickup, too.

At one point in Republic’s history, the twice-weekly pickup was a selling point. In fact, promising in writing to empty trash cans around the valley two times every week was one of the key selling points to local governments when their elected leaders signed extra-long franchise agreements in the late 1990s with Republic’s corporate predecessor.

Under the franchise, even if you find Republic’s service lacking, or rules annoying, or schedule inconvenient, you can’t just call up another company for service, the way you would a plumber, house painter or cellular phone service provider. Instead, because local governments have granted Republic a monopoly, you’re stuck with them. And while franchises like that make sense for electricity, natural gas or water and sewer service, it’s totally unnecessary when it comes to garbage hauling. Multiple companies could easily compete with each other for the service, if they were allowed.

But that wasn’t even a factor when Republic started making noise years ago about reducing the twice-weekly trash pickup, and increasing the frequency of the every-other-week recycling pickups. Under the new agreements, customers will get two large 96-gallon trash bins, and the company will pick up trash and recycling once weekly. Local elected officials liked the recycling bit, because Las Vegas has a low recycling rate.

Still, few elected officials stopped to ask the obvious question: Why can’t we keep our twice-weekly trash pickups, and recycling once every other week, using the new bins? (The red, white and blue “milk crates” used for recycling currently are not that popular, it turns out). But why was it necessary to change the pickup schedule?

And even fewer stopped to suggest a reasonable alternative: If the company no longer wanted to operate under its existing franchise agreement and pick up trash twice weekly, then it shouldn’t benefit from the extra-long term that it got in large part because of that promise. No one suggested that Republic be given a choice: continue picking up trash twice weekly and recycling once every other week until the last hour of the last day of its current agreement, or forgo the agreement entirely so local governments could go out to bid for a new franchise. Perhaps another company or enterprising start-up would be willing to do the work that Republic wasn’t.

But no. Instead, most local officials fecklessly capitulated to Republic, tossing out twice-weekly trash pickup in exchange for the new schedule and the magic of more recycling. Save the planet, even if residents get less service as a result. Nearly alone among local officials was Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, an avid recycler who nonetheless asked good, hard questions for years, right up until she found herself in the minority, voting against the new plan last week.

So, Las Vegas, it’s up to you. You can go along with Republic, or you can tell the company that it’s supposed to be servicing our needs, and not the other way around. All eyes are on you now.

Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.