Mayor Bob Taylor dissented in the 4-1 vote, which was preceded by public testimony that now was not the right time to spend the money on the transfer station and neglect road maintenance or parks.
But according to Finance Director Pam Ehler, the money – which has already been collected and will not result in borrowing or rate increase – cannot be diverted to another use. It can be used only for the purpose it was collected for: building the station.
The current station collects daily about 160 tons of garbage, which is then loaded on large transfer trucks for the trip to the landfill. The open-air facility is located next to playing fields at Sunset Park, where blowing trash, seagulls and odor adversely impact the atmosphere of the park.
The new facility is slated for city land several thousand yards from the park on city-owned property and would be covered to better control blowing trash and the birds.
Former Planning Commissioner Jim Cushing echoed the words of a letter from San Francisco law firm Hanson Bridgett that since the scope of the project doesn’t match what was proposed when the permits were issued three years ago, permits for the project should be re-examined.
Community Development Director Casey McCann said that while the scope had changed, it had not increased, but was “significantly smaller and diminished” from what it was when the documents were approved. Instead of the original proposal of a 5.7-acre facility handling 1,000 tons per day, the new plan was for a 3-acre facility handling only 400 tons per day. “I am confident the project still meets the (environmental) standards,” McCann said.
Resident Carissa Pillow also spoke, saying that her concern about the expenditure of public dollars prompted her to visit the current facility to see the conditions there. “It’s clear that the facility is inadequate,” she said, adding that she was impressed by the work being performed by city staff in the too-small location. “It’s rare to say this about a government facility, but this would be money well spent.”
The council also addressed a comment by resident Christine Richey, who felt using a transfer station in Pittsburg would be preferable.
City Engineer Baily Grewel said when the Pittsburg option was investigated last year, it was found that it would result in $2.5 million dollars in increased costs associated with collection trucks driving to Pittsburg.
Councilman Erick Stonebarger said the current building climate would get only more expensive if the construction is delayed. Any interest the money might earn while waiting would likely be more than offset by the cost-of-living increases that would make the project cost more in the future.
Stonebarger also said it was an important quality-of-life issue to get the trash away from the park, and doing so would provide 200 additional parking places for users of the sports fields. Overflow parking now stretches down Sunset Avenue, he said, forcing many children and families to cross the busy road.
Taylor, however, said he was uncomfortable spending the money in the current economy: “I don’t want to spend $8 million not knowing what might be coming down the road.”