The Paradise Town Council barely approved a food waste ordinance by a 3-2 vote on Tuesday night to comply with the new state law, despite objections and concerns from all five councilors.
The ordinance comes out of Senate Bill 1383 Short-Lived Climate Pollutants passed in 2016, that requires the state to reduce organic waste (food waste, green waste, paper products, etc.) disposal by 75% by 2025.
Statewide that equates to a reduction of 20 million tons a year by 2025. In addition, the law also requires the state to increase edible food recovery by 20% by 2025.
To do that, this state requires all local entities to update their local solid waste ordinances to meet the law’s requirements.
According to the state, cities must provide organic waste collection to all residents and businesses and establish an edible food recovery program that recovers edible food from the waste stream. They must also conduct outreach and education to all affected parties, including generators, haulers, facilities, edible food will recovery organizations, and town departments.
The state will also evaluate jurisdictions’ readiness to implement the new law. It will require local entities to purchase recycled organic waste products like compost, mulch, and renewable natural gas. They will also be required to inspect and enforce the new law and maintain compliance records.
Tuesday night’s approval of the ordinance comes after Cal Recycle denied Paradise’s request for a low population waiver, despite having less than 8,000 people within the town’s limits. Susan Hartman, Community Development Director of Planning and Wastewater, told the council that there are unknown costs associated with the ordinance at this time and that passing the ordinance on Tuesday night wouldn’t add any new costs.
“With all unfunded state mandates, something that comes up, we just don’t know what it will look like in the end,” she said.
She added the staffing infrastructure that was in place before the Camp Fire between the town and the town’s trash hauler, Northern Recycling Waste Services, is all gone.
Councilor Jody Jones asked Hartman to clarify that the state is requiring the town to purchase recycled organic waste products like compost, mulch, and renewable natural gas, regardless of whether or not the town actually needs those things.
Hartman said yes, but the town could partner with an entity that needed those things in the name of the town.
“But what happens if we can’t find partners, and we don’t need the materials,” Jones asked. “What the heck do we do with them?”
That led both Jones and Councilor Greg Bolin to ask what the state would do to Paradise if the town said no?
“They say they will fine us,” Hartman said. “I couldn’t give you an amount.”
Bolin responded, “Bring it on; we’ll just send them our compost.”
Jones then said that the state might find it challenging to get the money from the jurisdictions.
“Good luck collecting the money,” she said. “I mean, you know we find people all the time, we never get the money.”
Hartman said that if the town has some multi-family units in town, it could partner with them if they need the compost to spread around their properties.
Councilor Steve “Woody” Culleton said that nobody quite knows how to implement the new law, including the state arguing everybody is pushing back against it.
“When you pull a building permit full building by this law. Your landscape design has to incorporate a certain percentage of compostable waste and all this stuff,” he said, adding that the new state law requires the town of Paradise to purchase paper products that are made up of at least 30% recyclable material.
After that, Jones asked, “what would this state do if every city and town simply said no, they weren’t going to do it?”
The town’s lawyer Scott E. Huber responded by saying the state could withhold grant funds, sales tax and or property tax funds but he doubts the state would withhold sales tax and property tax money.
He also told Jones that the problem with the everyone says no philosophy is that from his personal experience in representing school districts is that it rarely happens that way.
“Everybody pounds their fists and says, ‘What if we just say no?’” Huber said. “The number of those who actually say no is very small. They cave, so you end up sticking your neck out while the others will step on it as they walk over you.”
Huber said he wished he had better news for the council but would always give it to them straight.
“I wish others would band been together and say, ‘Yes, we’re not doing this,’” he said. “And in that situation, the state couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t enforce it.”
Both Culleton and councilor Rose Tryon, who is on the solid waste committee, told Bolin the new law would force the town’s trash hauler to buy a brand new truck just for food waste, and each customer would have to have a bin just for food waste — which would mean increased costs for the Paradise resident.
“I was looking at it like, OK, great, we’ll just put it in with our green waste, and we will be done with it,” Tryon said. “But for whatever reason, they don’t want to do that because they want to try to recycle the food.”
She said the problem is that rural areas like Paradise have no recycling for that purpose.
“There’s no place to even take it yet,” Culleton said. “The state doesn’t even have it figured out yet. We just have to, because it’s a law, update our ordinance.”
He added that the only hope he can give his fellow citizens is that it’s a law that has no way of working at this point, saying that the law requires the material will be taken to a licensed recycler, of which there are none in this state at this time.
“It’s a bitter pill, and we’re just going to have to change our ordinance,” he said.
Hartman said that the town has asked the state to extend its enforcement of the measures to 2025.
Bolin ended up voting for the ordinance very reluctantly. along with Culleton, Jones and Tryon voted no, leaving the deciding vote up to Mayor Steve Crowder, who voted yes by saying, “Yes, welcome to California.”