The city of St. Paul is having an epic fight about the new city-run, coordinated trash collection system, which was passed as an ordinance in 2017 and launched as a new service in October 2018.
However, a group of residents, primarily in the Highland Park and Macalester-Groveland neighborhoods, wanted the new program canceled, petitioned the council asking for a vote, and ultimately filed a lawsuit. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the city had to sponsor a ballot referendum: Yes, to vote in favor of the trash ordinance, and No, to vote to get rid of the ordinance.
On October 16, the Supreme Court issued a ruling which stated that “St. Paul still has contractual obligations to garbage haulers, even if voters reject the hauling system” because the City signed a five-year contract.
Unfortunately, rejection of the new coordinated trash hauling system would have several negative results: (1) Not only would residents of St. Paul be obligated to honor the five-year contract, but we would have to return to hiring individual, private trash haulers; hence, we would be paying twice for trash collection; (2) We would certainly see increases in rents and property taxes.
While I definitely support the climate justice perspective of a Yes vote (less fuel, pollution, and wear and tear of our roads) as well as the simplicity of keeping the program that we created a year ago, I am especially in favor of voting Yes because of the history of St. Paul’s racial disparities, and of the fact that we finally have an ordinance on the books that will lead us down the road to ending these disparities.
St. Paul is now over 50% people of color. Yet, the more racially diverse we become, the less some in the city want to coordinate collective action.
Years ago, before the city was so diverse, St. Paul had collective trash pick-up. But as the city became ethnically diverse, the politicians of that day decided to leave trash collection to the “open market,” thus forcing some communities of color to pay more.
The resulting higher costs were reminiscent of the “Black Tax” which affects black and poor communities by allowing companies and corporations to charge people in those neighborhoods more for everything, from bananas to a gallon of gasoline.
There are some in the Highland Park area that were paying less for trash through sweetheart and grandfathered deals with haulers. But the growing population of residents of color never had access to these trash haulers. Then, when we combined our trash service and many people of color ended up paying a little less, some of the folks over in the west, in Highland Park, found that they paid a little more. Now—surprise, surprise—it has become a big issue to coordinate trash.
It was a mistake on the City Council’s part to sign a contract before being clear about the measures they would take to address issues like sharing bins, serving multiple units, and addressing service issues. Voting to work together on this is the only way that we don’t foolishly pay multiple times for trash collection—quite unnecessarily. It’s also a way for us to work together to address the contract’s woes.
We can put the funds saved to much greater use, like implementing Mayor Melvin Carter’s proposed budget. It includes plans for affordable housing, workers’ rights and wage enforcement, and safe places for our kids to stay actively and productively engaged after school. These are the kinds of things our city needs.
Vote Yes for the St. Paul coordinated trash collection and move on to the actual good stuff we need for our families now.