Trash privatization opponents begin petition drive

FRESNO, Calif.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has been banking on franchising the city's residential garbage pick up service to a private company, Mid Valley Disposal, to boost the city budget.

The city is counting on a couple million dollars a year in fees but if the petition drive succeeds and the city is required to put the question to a vote of the people, all that extra money would be gone and the city would face some expensive costs.

Opponents of the garbage privatization deal are going door to door getting signatures to put the issue to a vote of the people.

"They are all behind us. I mean I've got two and a half pages of signatures already filled out," privatization opponent Clarence Williamson said.

Williamson and Joe Garcia are both city employees in the residential solid waste division, spending their time off work on the drive.

"A lot of people are on our side they are coming out and saying this is not something they want to happen, they feel they want to be the ones to make the right decision instead of the mayor and the council," Garcia said.

But Lee Brand, one of the four city council members who voted for privatization in a vote last Thursday says if this petition drive succeeds and the city has to put off or give up on privatization and fails to get the franchise fees they are already counting on things will get very tough.

"Probably that loss of over $5 million over six months is probably enough to push the city towards a fiscal emergency, or worse," Brand said.

But the union, representing the nearly two hundred garbage workers who would be affected, says the mayor and council had plenty of warning.

"They should have thought about that before they voted yes last Thursday. They knew this was coming. We told them we were going to do this," union representative (Local 39) Marina Magdelano said.

Magdelano says their effort got a major boost when The Fresno Bee released the results of a federal audit that said the city misspent millions of dollars in federal funds and may have to pay much of it back.

"Where are we going to get $5 million, now to pay back the federal government because again they have squandered away the money of the people of this city," Magdelano said.

The petition drive has 30 days to get the signatures of more than 20 thousand registered voters. If they succeed, the city will have to call a special election to decide the question of who should pick up the garbage from more than one hundred thousand homes in the city.

The mayor and four of the city's 7 city council members maintain the city will go broke if this deal with Mid Valley Disposal isn't done right away, but the opponents, including three city council members, have long argued the public should have the right to decide this important issue.

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