What’s Going on in Thousand Oaks?

Athens is at it Again - Athens is at it Again - False Narratives

Despite decades of validated excellent service from Waste Management and Harrison, the City of Thousand Oaks opted to put its waste services collection rights out to bid.

The City received proposals from four companies for the contract and selected three for further review and consideration: Waste Management, Harrison, and Athens.

On March 9, 2021, the City of Thousand Oaks approved an exclusive 15-year contract with Athens for waste and recycling services.  The City did so based on a bid from Athens that was materially misleading and below cost, meaning that unless Athens increases rates, it stands to lose money on the contract.

Despite decades of validated excellent service from Waste Management and Harrison, the City of Thousand Oaks opted to put its waste services collection rights out to bid.

The City received proposals from four companies for the contract and selected three for further review and consideration: Waste Management, Harrison, and Athens.

On March 9, 2021, the City of Thousand Oaks approved an exclusive 15-year contract with Athens for waste and recycling services.  The City did so based on a bid from Athens that was materially misleading and below cost, meaning that unless Athens increases rates, it stands to lose money on the contract.

Athens wasted no time in raising rates.  Even before Athens was formally awarded the contract, Athens secured a substantial 12% increase for residential rates – and they have not even begun to service the City.

City Councilmembers chose Athens because of its low rates, but Athens’ history demonstrates that its proposals are misleading

Statements by City Council members show that their vote to award the City’s exclusive waste franchise agreement to Athens focused on Athens’ proposed lower rates over the decades of consistently excellent service (approval ratings of 95% and above in City surveys) provided by Waste Management and Harrison.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Engler stated that while Athens had a “very steep hill” to climb given the exemplary performance of Waste Management and Harrison, “when the information came out and the rate was substantially lower, it behooved us to really take a close look at it.

City Councilmember Kevin McNamee noted that while Waste Management and Harrison have done “a wonderful job” and provided a “terrific service to us for many, many years,” he “look[ed] at, again, [Athens’] lower rates.

Athens’ tactic of proposing lowball rates to entice cities into awarding them contracts seems to have worked in Thousand Oaks.   But Athens’ history demonstrates that their lowball bids are nothing more than a bait and switch, with Athens securing rate increases in multiple cities after winning exclusive franchise agreements.

In contrast, Waste Management’s and Harrison’s proposals to the city were based on decades of experience and realistic financial costs for new and expensive programs required by state law.

Athens secures a rate increase on Thousand Oaks residents before the ink is even dry on the contract

Even before the ink was dry on the contract, Athens secured a 12% rate increase on its proposed residential rates.  

Making matters worse, Athens negotiated the removal of a contract provision that greatly protected City residents and businesses from unreasonable rate increases.  The removal of that contract provision gives Athens significant additional leverage to raise rates in Thousand Oaks.

Athens’ proposal to the City contained various misrepresentations

Athens also made numerous other misrepresentations in its bid to the City of Thousand Oaks:

Athens’ proposal relies on a site plan that is not permitted for the uses they propose:

Despite representing in its bid to Thousand Oaks that it would use a hauling yard in Santa Paula for its trucks that would include a Transfer Station and CNG facility, Athens currently leases only one acre in Santa Paula. That is far too small to store and maintain all the trucks necessary to service Thousand Oaks—Athens’ own plan calls for a seven acre lot, 600% bigger than its current permit.

Even if the parcel were large enough to accommodate the enormous increase in trucks and activity required to service Thousand Oaks, it is not eligible for such use as it has not undergone the required permitting and environmental review.

None of these facts prevented Athens from claiming that it would expand its Santa Paula yard to seven acres. In fact, Athens claimed that it could expand in Santa Paula “immediately,” and represented to the City that it had an option agreement to do so. Where is the supposed option agreement? Athens does not have the permits or the prior environmental review of the site needed to use the site as represented. Athens’ nearest large truck yard with CNG is in the far northeast San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Sun Valley.

Athens’ plan to use a CNG fueling station in Santa Paula is impossible given its lack of permit from Santa Paula:

Athens claimed it would meet Thousand Oaks’ sustainability requirements by using CNG fuel for its trucks.  But despite claiming it would use the Corporation Street lot in Santa Paula, Athens has no existing CNG fueling infrastructure there and no permit to build a new CNG refueling facility, despite representing to the City that it planned to do so.

Athens touted the fact that it does not own a landfill, but downplayed the fact that it profits from running the entire County of San Bernardino landfill:

Athens’ proposal lists “landfill avoidance” as a proposal “highlight,” and claims that because Athens does not own a landfill, its “number one goal in managing municipal solid waste is to be a steward of the environment and divert valuable materials away from local landfills.”

This representation is misleading.  As the manager and operator of the San Bernardino County solid waste landfill system, Athens actively seeks to bring the landfill system additional volume in order to increase system revenue. In fact, as part of its contract with San Bernardino to manage and operate the San Bernardino County landfill system, Athens is contractually obligated to deliver between 550,000 and 820,000 tons of solid waste to the landfill system each year.

Athens’ recycling metrics are inferior:

Athens has also performed worse than other waste management companies in recycling metrics in Ventura County.  According to 2018 data from CalRecycle, Santa Paula, which is serviced by Athens, had a diversion rate of only 43%.  Based on CalRecycle data, in that same year, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark, and Ventura (Unincorporated), each of which is serviced by Waste Management and/or Harrison, all achieved diversion rates of 68% or more.  

Despite these low metrics, Athens also claimed — without support — that it will be able to recycle 90% of all Thousand Oaks materials brought to its material recovery facility (MRF), ignoring the fact that a recent CalRecycle study shows that the average recovery rate of MRFs in California is 70%.

The environmental impacts of Athens’ proposed Santa Paula truck yard expansion were never identified or mitigated

Athens’ plans to engage in significant expansion and construction in Santa Paula were never vetted under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Nor were the impacts of Athens’ use of its Sun Valley yard considered.  If Athens cannot use its unpermitted Santa Paula lot, it will have to drive its trucks to and from Sun Valley, adding additional road time, noise and accompanying air pollution to its bid that were not considered.

In addition, the City did not properly identify and put on its March 9, 2021 agenda its intention to award the contract to Athens without conducting any environmental review under CEQA. This decision deprived constituents of Thousand Oaks and beyond of the opportunity to have their voices heard on the issue.

The contract was awarded to Athens over the objections of Thousand Oaks residents

There were 141 written comments submitted to the City.  An overwhelming 107 opposed the plan to switch from Waste Management and Harrison to Athens, only 28 were in favor of the plan and 6 were neutral.

Among other things, Thousand Oaks residents raised significant concerns with Athens’ history of raising prices after winning long term contracts, terrible reviews of Athens’ service in neighboring communities, and allegations of corrupt behavior by Athens in Montebello.

Despite opposition by over 75% of the residents who wrote to the City, Athens was awarded the contract.

Lawsuits are filed in light of multiple violations related to the approval of Athens’ new contract

To bring to light the problems with the Athens proposal and with the process that led to their selection as the next Thousand Oaks solid waste service provider, Waste Management has filed three separate lawsuits related to the Athens contract:

CEQA Lawsuit

Waste Management challenges Thousand Oaks’ City Council’s decision to award its exclusive waste services contract to Athens without considering the “whole of the project” under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and by improperly shoehorning the approval of the Agreement into exemptions from CEQA that do not fit.  Athens predicated its proposal to the City on its ability to expand its hauling yard and construct a compressed natural gas fueling station in the City of Santa Paula. But Athens’ proposed expansion and construction project has neither been approved by the City of Santa Paula nor studied for environmental review under CEQA, even though Athens claimed to be able to execute this project immediately after the contract with Thousand Oaks was approved.

Brown Act Lawsuit

Waste Management alleges that the City Council violated the Brown Act when it did not properly identify and agendize each item of business related to the City Council’s approval – namely, by omitting the separate recommended action that the Council find approval of the Agreement exempt from having to conduct any environmental review under CEQA and, the specific exemptions the City proposed to rely on. The City’s failure to properly notice its CEQA action deprived City constituents of the opportunity to weigh in on the inappropriateness of that decision prior to the City Council taking action to award its contract to Athens.

Lawsuit Alleging Violations of Unfair Practices Act and Unfair Competition Law (Among Other Wrongs)

Waste Management alleges that Athens violated the California Unfair Practices Act and California Unfair Competition Law because it engaged in a “bait and switch” by knowingly submitting a “below cost and materially misleading bid in order to win the City's exclusive franchise agreement”—something Athens has a long history of doing, only to “raise rates after public agency decision makers are enticed by the false promise of a better deal for their constituents and are contractually bound to a multi-year exclusive…agreement”.

Waste Management further alleges that Athens harmed it by (i) encouraging the City to issue the RFP while the City was still in the process of negotiating a contract renewal with Waste Management and Harrison and (ii) intentionally soliciting Waste Management’s employees while they were on the job, thus interfering with Waste Management’s ability to serve the residents of Thousand Oaks.