Aug 4 2012

StopWaste Slammed by Grand Jury

Charged With Exceeding its Mandate, Excessive Fees, and Duplicating other Agencies’ Programs –

In a 2011-12 investigative report, an Alameda County Civil Grand Jury charges that, for the sole purpose of “self-perpetuation,” StopWaste.Org has copied dozens of programs and objectives of other state and county agencies.  The complicated “Bay Friendly Landscaping ordinance” promoted by StopWaste.Org recently in Piedmont would appear to be an example, overlapping with regulations promulgated by CA-WELO, Cal Green, and EBMUD.

Several Alameda County cities adopted some version or passed a resolution in favor of the goals, while others, including Piedmont, have declined to adopt the confusing ordinance.  

This is the second time in two years StopWaste.Org has been investigated by an Alameda County Grand Jury.  Both the new 2011-12 Grand Jury and a 2010-11 Grand Jury identified numerous shortcomings in the joint powers agency.   Both concluded that, rather than disbanding or restructuring – as recommended last year – StopWaste.Org continues to expand into areas not within its province.  Compared with San Mateo County’s recycling program staff of eight, StopWaste.Org has 39 full time equivalent staff positions.

Both the Piedmont Post (August 1) and the Oakland Tribune have reported on the more recent 2011-12 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report looking at StopWaste.OrgStopWaste.Org has posted a letter on its website from its Executive Director, providing supplemental information on its use of grants and budget growth.

The 2011-12 Grand Jury finds that, as StopWaste.Org comes close to reaching its waste management goals, it “seems to keep redefining its purpose and expanding its scope and “instead of paring back and reducing fees, it has created new programs.  In fact it would seem that it is determined to stay in business.”  The Grand Jury charges these new programs duplicate programs run by other agencies and are unrelated to the StopWaste original mandate to manage solid waste recycling.  The Grand Jury suggests governing board members cannot justify continuing to spend public dollars on these unrelated activities outside the agency’s original purpose.

The initial 2010 Grand Jury identifies the same problems, plus criticizes the fact that “StopWaste granted pay increases at a time when most other public agencies are cutting back and even furloughing staff” and questions its frequent use of consultants.  The large StopWaste staff is 5 times larger than the staff utilized by a similar agency charged with the same mandate, according to the Grand Jury.

Annual revenue of $19.5 million has allowed the expansion of the organization.  This revenue is derived from tonnage fees and surcharges levied by StopWaste.Org which have nearly doubled in the past several years, according to the 2010 Grand Jury.  Soaring fees and surcharges have contributed not only to increased garbage disposal rates, but significant illegal dumping in many neighborhoods. 

Rather than addressing the deficiencies identified, both Grand Juries indicate that StopWaste.Org denies any problems exist and intends to continue to expand.

Councilmember Garrett Keating is Piedmont’s representative and Vice Mayor Margaret Fujioka is the alternate representative to the board.

2011-12 Grand Jury notes response to previous findings: 

“StopWaste disagreed with many of the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations regarding continued growth of a program . . . .    Instead, StopWaste appears to be further expanding the scope of its operations . . . .  A future grand jury should consider further investigation.” (2011-12 report at p. 122-123.)

“It appears that StopWaste has no intention of downsizing, even though ACWMA is steadily approaching its mandated goal of a 75% diversion from landfill.” (2010-11 report at p. 135.)

“In fact it would seem that it is determined to stay in business, as noted in this [StopWaste] statement  . . .   ‘Although there are some who would like the Agency to shrink as our tonnage-based revenue declines, and others who want to steadily raise fees on landfill materials, the majority opinion was that the organization needs to diversify its revenue sources and continue to deliver innovative services related to the entire materials management cycle, not just discard management.’ (2010 report at p. 135.)

Quotes from the 2011-12 Grand Jury investigation

“StopWaste.Org is an example of a self-perpetuating JPA whose board is not holding it accountable to its voter-approved mandate.  After reviewing the investigation by the 2010-2011 Grand Jury, StopWaste.Org’s response, and information posted on the website, the current Grand Jury is concerned that this JPA seems to keep redefining its purpose and expanding its scope as its original purpose is fulfilled.

This JPA was created for the management of the Alameda County Solid Waste Management Plan and, subsequently, to engage in hazardous waste planning and ensure compliance with AB939’s waste diversion mandates. However, as StopWaste.Org comes closer and closer to meeting its intended waste management goals, instead of paring back and reducing fees, it has created new programs to promote green buildings and energy efficiency. Citing information that debris from construction and demolition projects comprises over 20% of materials disposed in Alameda County landfills, StopWaste.Org has started programs to provide training, resources, model green building ordinances, design assistance, and related topics in conjunction with many other organizations already designing and promoting green buildings.

According to StopWaste.Org’s website, it launched the Energy Efficiency and Green Retrofit Program in 2010 to encourage energy efficiency and green improvements for existing buildings. . .  Furthermore, StopWaste.Org’s 2011-2012 budget includes $1.8 million for “Energy Upgrade CA,” a program for home energy upgrades such as new attic insulation, solar panels, etc. The Grand Jury wonders how the board members responsible for ensuring that StopWaste.Org fulfills its intended purpose can justify continuing to spend public dollars (collected through waste disposal surcharges) for such diverse activities, which have so little direct relationship to solid waste management.” 

Recommendation:  Having streamlined its committee structure to reduce the number and expense of board meetings, StopWaste anticipates completing its strategic work plan governance review in June 2012.  StopWaste disagreed with many of the Grand Jury’s findings and recommendations regarding continued growth of a program which is nearing completion of the goals for which it was created.  Instead, StopWaste appears to be further expanding the scope of its operations, as noted in this year’s report on Special Districts and JPAs. A future grand jury should consider further investigation.

(At p. 115-116. Emphasis added.)

Quotes from 2010-11 Grand Jury Investigation

“Solid Waste disposal fees in the past several years have increased as much as 50-60% and nearly doubled in some parts of the county.’ (p. 127)

“The joint powers authority known as StopWaste.Org was created to engage in solid waste and hazardous waste management planing and implement AB939, which mandates a reduction in solid waste going to landfills.  AB939 set a goal of 75% solid waste diversion from landfills and has nearly reached that goal throughout the county.”  (Editors’ Note:  the City of Piedmont has attained the 75% goal.)

“The StopWaste budget supports 39 FTE positions at an annual cost of $4 million; in comparison San Mateo County Recycle Works performed all of their state recycling mandates with a staff of eight employees.”

‘The StopWaste runs 40 different programs.”

“StopWaste maintains and compensates two separate governing boards with overlapping functions.”

‘The Executive Director receives $213,840 in base salary, not including benefits.”

‘The large majority of its $19.5 million in revenues are from tonnage related fees and surcharges levied by StopWaste to meet the requirements of AB 939 and Measure D.”

“A portion of StopWaste.Org revenues – $5 million – is distributed to the 17 local jurisdictions of the JPA for use in their recycling programs and solid waste diversion projects, as required by Measure D.”

(At p. 227 et seq. of 2010-11 report)




5 Responses to “StopWaste Slammed by Grand Jury”

  1. Yet another case of boards gone wild!

  2. Stop Waste’s self-serving actions remind me of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. That district was set up to control industry back when the BA was a center of manufacturing. When most of the manufacturing went to China, the District had to find other things to keep their staff employed so they began going after smaller and smaller emitting activities from dry cleaners to auto repair shops to backyard BBQs and even lawn mowers. They still were about to wither and go away until they thought of going after fireplaces. Now they have a new lease on life with expanded staff and the Smoke Police.

    Then in 2010 the District has also extended themselves into the real estate development game with new more difficult permitting requirements to build projects adjacent to freeways. They have contrived regulations that make infill development much more difficult and expensive and given their staff another new lease on life. The consequence of this latest action makes sprawl easier and environmentally superior infill more difficult. If the Civil Grand Jury wants to find another fertile area for investigation of waste and abuse, I suggest that the BAAQMD be the next target. I have been a city planner in the Bay Area for over 30 years and I have had a close hand experience with the BAAQMD

  3. Michael’s comments should not be taken lightly, the BBQ Police is a menacing thought indeed. While going green is admirable and necessary, those profiting handsomely from the movement such as have an all too obvious agenda of self-preservation and expansion. This is quite evident in their response to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury needs no response to StopWaste as the Jury’s agenda is clear: root out waste of taxpayer dollars and corruption.

    Considering the string of dishonesty and wasted tax dollars in Piedmont – the Undergrounding Disaster, no outside examination of the Undergrounding Disaster, the Crest Rd. “gift of public funds,” the ill-advised anti-Slapp defense of the Kurtin/H-SV litigation, the failed Measure A sewer tax where the City tried to pry $11M from taxpayer’s for a non-existent EPA mandate, and taxpayer dollars lost on the Blair Park Proposal (“The Gift”) – it would seem Piedmont is ripe for a Grand Jury examination.

  4. I recommend readers review the three links appended to this story to get a clear understanding of the Grand Jury reports and the actions has undertaken in response. Pages 136-137 of the 2010-11 Report and 114-115 and 146 of the 2011-12 Report provide concise concerns and recommendations of the Grand Jury.

    The original complaint to the Grand Jury charged redundancy between the StopWaste Governing Board and the Recycle Board, not StopWaste and state or other agency programs. Neither report identifies any StopWaste program that has copied or is duplicative of other county and state programs. In particular, nowhere in either report is the Bay Friendly Ordinance even mentioned, let alone cited as duplicating other programs, as portrayed in the PCA article.

    The 2010 Grand Jury Report reached none of the conclusions about “soaring” tonnage fees and surcharges attributed to it in the PCA article.

    The 2011-12 Grand Jury Government Committee conducted a review of joint powers authorities (JPA) in Alameda County and found shortcomings in several of these agencies. For, the Grand Jury essentially revisited its findings from 2010-11 and is mainly concerned that the agency has expanded into areas beyond its scope (green building and energy efficiency). I would say the Board disagrees with that conclusion and citizens are welcome to lobby their elected officials to direct their Board representatives to support changes in StopWaste policies.

    Regarding the role of JPAs in general, two quick observations. Taken from the 2010 Report: “An excellent model of an agency that fulfilled its purpose and dissolved was the Bay Area Sewer Services Agency. This agency was formed several decades ago to create a plan for the collection and treatment of sewage in the nine Bay Area Counties. Once this plan for waste disposal was complete, the board disbanded because it had accomplished its intended purpose.” Given the current status of the East Bay sewer system, maybe that JPA should not have disbanded. Regarding green building, a recent study by UC economists found that California homes officially labeled “green” sell for 9% more than comparable, non-labeled homes. Given Piedmont’s older housing stock, StopWaste guidance on implementing green building policies is an asset to our planning department and home owners.

    Editors Note: This article was corrected to clarify that the Landscape Ordinance was mentioned as a possible example of the StopWaste expansion of its programs, not as a finding of the Grand Jury.

  5. 8/9/12 Chronicle page A9 has an article on the Chevron Refinery fire that sent large plumes of black smoke into the air and many residents complaining of noxious smells and breathing issues. The BAAQMD suggests the air quality “was no worse during the fire than on an average summer evening.” There is some criticism of inadequate monitoring by the BAAQMD.

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