July 8, 2014

The Town COWncil held a meeting on Tuesday, June 10th, with Mayor Burow and COWncilmember Romines absent. With Mayor Burow absent, it was Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Shanahan’s first shot at the big chair. The meeting got a late start due to a prior special closed session where the Town was discussing an easement with PG&E.

During COW-munications at the beginning of the meeting, a woman asked the COWncil to re-extend a permit to her – apparently it had lapsed four months ago due to life circumstances. Town Manager Kevin Bryant of course said staff wasn’t in favor of doing that, and that the COWncil couldn’t vote on it that night anyway. Rather than just dying there, however, Shanahan asked if there were any objections to looking at the issue, leaving the other COWncil members on the hook. With COWncil members Tanner and Mason noting that there wasn’t any information presented on the circumstances, the Town Manager actually agreed to talk with the applicant and get a letter from her to the Town COWncil! Interesting times lately in the convoluted development process of Woodside.

The COWncil then took up the matter of Greenwaste Recovery, Inc. – the Town’s garbage, recycling, and compost collector – and it’s request to increase its fees to Town residents. Kevin urged the COWncil to pass a fairly standard 2.58% increase request based on the Consumer Price Index that is provided for in the contract. Greenwaste was also asking for another 6.42% increase on top of that, for a whopping 9% increase this year – and this increase would be the floor from which future CPI increases would be based.

Kevin (and later a representative for Greenwaste as well) explained that there is a clause in the contract that allows Greenwaste to ask the Town COWncil for a special increase if “regulatory changes, or other changes which cannot be foreseen” occur. He noted that it would be up to COWncil to determine if such a rate was warranted. The representative from Greenwaste made a presentation, stating that Greenwaste had lost money in Woodside for the past three years (!). While she said that they chose not to reduce labor costs during that time, but did put in place other efficiencies and tried to fix it internally. However, she said, it was only after they didn’t succeed in closing the gap that they were approaching the COWncil. She noted that the successful increase in composting in Town had led to people using smaller cans – which decreased fees to Greenwaste. She stated that the company did not foresee that, leading COWncilmember Mason to suggest that she was saying that “whoops we miscalculated, pay us more.”

To our COWncil’s credit, they pushed back fairly hard, demanding to know more information – about rate structures in neighboring Towns, how much off-curb service costs the company, the profit margin the company expects, and other facts. They got some response, but the company itself claimed not to know how much it costs them to fully provide the off curb – sometimes by hundreds of feet – service that they provide. The representative did state that they thought it was probably true that curbside service breaks even at this point.

After a fairly intense grilling by Woodside standards and a suggestion by the Mayor Pro-Tem that the Town consider ending the contract early, the COWncil moved to approve an additional 3% increase for a total 5.58% increase to everyone’s bill come July.

The COWncil noted that Greenwaste’s service was considered exemplary by Town residents, several of who spoke at the meeting, and the COWncil wanted to provide some relief to allow them to not lose money in the Town. However, they left the door open for Greenwaste to come back and ask for more money, if they did more research and figured out how much off-curb garbage service really costs. They hinted they would look favorably at an increase that would allow Greenwaste to charge the full cost of that service rather than a general increase on everyone.

So, off-curb garbage customers, prepare to see your rates skyrocket soon. Additionally, the COWncil talked about opening up the contract in terms of increasing its duration and getting Greenwaste to offer a manure pickup service, as they do in Portola Valley. The representative from Greenwaste said they were definitely interested, and interested in moving away from the “archaic” current model, and to a model that charges for everything they pick up, including garbage, recycling, and compost. The good news in all of this is that after for years trying, COWs seem to have to changed behavior and are composting more!

The COWncil then moved to discussing the next year’s budget, and it looks like the renovation of the library might finally be happening – though probably not until December at the earliest. Kevin also shared the bad news that a fourth bridge in Town may need to be fixed, with an unknown though likely large cost. The COWncil discussed the need to start budgeting for these large capital improvement projects that will be required in the Town over the next years and decades, with the possibility of a bond not ruled out if required.

The meeting adjourned at 10:35 pm.

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