Victoria backyard trash pickup rules the day

Victoria councillors have backed off a proposed change to garbage collection

With apologies to residents for breaking a promise, a majority on Victoria city council voted to keep backyard garbage pickup.

Coun. Marianne Alto said she felt “honour bound” to implement the garbage-collection option picked by the most residents in the city’s mail-in survey, as promised in December. She felt more swayed, however, by the need to find a balanced solution to this fractious issue.

On Thursday, council endorsed the second most popular survey option: Option B entails biweekly collection for $183 per household. Crews will collect totes in the backyard, but drop them off at the curb.

In the resident survey, 35 per cent voted in favour of this option, compared with 48 who voted for the $161 option A, entailing curbside pickup.

Two factors swayed council’s decision.

First, pressure from the workers’ union, CUPE Local 50, to preserve jobs. And second, an unforeseen complexity in interpreting the survey results. A roughly equal number of residents voted for curbside pickup (option A) and backyard pickup (vote split between service options B and C).

“The compromise being sought is actually right in front of us,” said Coun. Marianne Alto. “It’s option B … if the spirit of council is trying to accommodate a variety of different (concerns).”

It wasn’t the only compromise presented, however.

Both Coun. Shellie Gudgeon and Coun. Geoff Young presented ideas that melded aspects of option A and B. Neither won traction at the council table.

Young argued residents who want backyard pickup be offered the gold-standard service at an additional charge. The city has already promised a specialized service to anyone with a disability, he pointed out. It shouldn’t be difficult to extend this service to people who are willing to pay for it, he said.

Gudgeon looked to Saanich for a solution.

That municipality offers side-yard pickup, meaning crews collect garbage totes that are within 10 metres of the curb and visible from the curb.

It’s a compromise CUPE Local 50 supported.

“This is the best possible solution, since it has the potential to repair the relationship between the city and its staff … while seeking a compromise that will not alienate half the population,” said union representative John Burrows. “Sideyard service … literally brings the sides together, meeting halfway.”

Despite CUPE’s support for this option, seven of nine councillors endorsed Alto’s motion instead at the governance and priorities committee meeting.

Coun. Young and Coun. Coleman were opposed.

Coleman pointed out the city took “an awful lot of flack” after it surveyed its residents on the new Johnson Street Bridge design, but didn’t abide by the survey’s results.

Council needs to be “exceptionally clear” in any future public surveys that results will be used for information only, he said.