Recycling bins line the side of a building on 18th St. near Folsom.

The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 Tuesday to reconsider a city contract with Recology, two weeks after an executive from the waste management company was federally charged for money laundering and bribery following an alleged plot with ex-Public Works boss Mohammed Nuru to raise San Franciscans’ garbage rates.

“There’s been some discussion around this contract by several supervisors and in light of the new information,” Board President Norman Yee said Tuesday night. “They would like to entertain a motion to send this contract back to allow for more discussion.”

The contract, which was negotiated in February — before the federal charges alleging Nuru and Recology executive Paul Giusti colluded to raise collection rates — was set to pay Recology no more than $62.5 million between Dec. 1, 2020, and Nov. 30, 2026. On Tuesday, however, the contract was relegated to the Budget and Finance Committee with only Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer dissenting. 

A little less than two weeks ago, the Department of Justice charged Giusti for purportedly bribing then-Public Works Director Nuru by funneling more than $1 million to various nonprofit accounts that Nuru controlled. In the wake of Nuru’s January arrest, both the feds and the city controller examined funds placed in Nuru-controlled nonprofit accounts, which originated with Recology. Nuru used the funds largely to throw lavish parties that burnished his standing. 

“Do you believe that the rate was in any way compromised by what we have come to learn in the last few days?”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin

As Mission Local reported more than a month before the charge, during 2015 and 2020 two groups, Recology and San Francisco Clean City Coalition, fronted the majority of money found in a Parks Alliance fund that Nuru drew from — with the vast majority of the Clean City Coalition’s money, in fact, coming from Recology. During that time, the cost San Francisco ratepayers coughed up for Recology’s services jumped more than 20 percent — healthy price hikes that Nuru and Public Works lobbied for, and were later approved by a city board he had heavy influence over. 

Recology has had a monopoly on hauling refuse within San Francisco since 1932.

On Tuesday, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin briefly questioned Public Works Deputy Director of Financial Management and Administration Julia Dawson and the Office of Contract Administration’s Acting Director and Purchaser Sailaja Kurella regarding how the contract with Recology “got so far” in the first place.

Read all about Mohammed Nuru’s corruption chronicles

Dawson confirmed her team had sent an order of city rates to Nuru in 2017, who then appealed it to the rate fairness board. 

Peskin asked her point-blank — since Dawson was involved with the rate process in 2017 — if she “believe[s] the rate has been compromised by what we have learned in the last few days?”

“No,” Dawson responded. 

Kurella added that the contract was presented to the Budget and Finance Committee “without any information or knowledge of any other investigations that may have been occurring by any organization or government agency with Recology,” and that the office has not communicated with Public Works. At the time, the contract was formed because the office decided it “save[d] the city money” and incentivized the Department of Environment’s zero-waste goals, she said. 

Supervisor Fewer emphasized that when the city budget was approved with a “positive recommendation,” it had “not heard the news about Recology.” 

The only disagreement stemmed from which committee should review the contract. Fewer, though “happy” to send the contract back, argued that issue adhered more to the Government Audit and Oversight Committee instead of the Budget and Finance Committee, which she oversees. 

Ultimately, though, Peskin decided against passing on the contract to the Government Audit and Oversight Committee. Further investigation and discussion will ensue. 

“No justice, no peace,” Peskin said.

Annika Hom

Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused...

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19 Comments

  1. Wow, some actual journalism in San Francisco! It’s been a while. Seriously, good work. Keep the pressure on these local satraps.

    1. Yep. The ML the Westside Observer and the Marina Times. Approachable journalism and good citizens. And what is wrong with the Supervisors that passed the hike in the first place?

  2. If there’s not a Proposition to Amend the 1932 Charter recalling/canceling Recology’s monopoly submitted by the Board of Supervisors for the next election…… well everyone can figure out how deep the corruption goes into San Francisco government.

    P.S. would the reporter or Mission Local have an idea how San Francisco vs similarly sized cities in the country (i.e. Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Austin)

    Thanks
    Sam

    1. You mean corruption? Search the Cleveland Plain Dealer for Cayahoga County arrests. 70 of em. Whoo hooo.

  3. strange goings -on can be observed also at the street operation level of Recology.
    not only did they change the pick-up schedule/frequency dozen of times in the last 5 years. now they seem to be around all day and night, at least in my neighborhood, lower nob hill.
    on leavenworth st they collect every night (mon-sat) 3 times !!! at 4am, then again 5:30am and another time around 8am and then another few times during the day they drive around the hood. WTF???
    does Recology get paid per pick-up? if so, then this would make sense.
    another thing: trash collection times are subject to zoning. in mixed residential area commercial activities (such as trash collection) are not allowed before 7am except for emergency purposes to ensure quiet hours at night. those trucks though make quite a racket, usually for 15 min or longer per block and disturb the sleep of plenty residents.
    complaints to the city and Recology lead to nowhere. a blatant disregard to zoning laws is being just ignored.

    1. I am a 35 year driver at Recology. I just wanted to explain the different trucks and times they are on your street. One truck can’t pick up 3 different commodities. Hence the 2 separate trucks. Also. Starting earlier than 7am promotes driver safety. It’s a very hazardous job. Thank you.

  4. The supervisors know how corrupt SF is, they are in the thick of it. They just reversed course because someone got caught and not by local law enforcement (LOL), but by the F.B.I.

  5. I eagerly await my refund check for all those years of overpaying for Recology’s services due to illegal contracts…

  6. Keep digging deaper. Nuru worked a deal to take away garbage collection work from city workers at Dpw. I’m sure there were kick backs for this! He’s been stealing public works money and giving to his “special” programs for years in return for his financial gains. That’s why the budget for street cleaning has ballooned over the years with nothing to show for it!

  7. P.S. would the reporter or Mission Local have an idea how San Francisco vs similarly sized cities in the country (i.e. Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Austin)

    Apologies the question was meant to ask the cost of trash pickup in similarly sized cities.

    Thanks

  8. This is not fair that we the people of SF can’t not continue paying such high price to Recology and worse if we are fattening corruption.
    Recology and Nuru should probably discussed to not only augmented the price , but also they reduced the inside thw cotainers making big outside and small inside; therefore forcin poor families to pay the biggest container or ordering more containers. This is also a fraud.

  9. Since 2013, the average annual rate increase for Recology customers has been 5.4%. This included a 18% increase in 2017 alone followed by a 7% increase in 2018. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not getting raises like these myself. San Francisco CPI since 2013 has averaged 3.1%.

  10. My problem with this monopoly is absolutely NO accountability. ZERO customer service, you cannot talk to anyone. The hold wait is, who knows? I gave up after 20 minutes. Clicked for a callback, never got one. Even the 311 guy I asked for a contact number gave me 2 which went nowhere. “Lots of people tell me this” he says. OK Supervisors: WHERE ARE YOU?

  11. Companies guilty of corruption should be barred from City contracts for a period. Include execs.

    1. Regardless of what happened and who knew what, at least we can be grateful that the supervisors stopped the contract from going through this time. Now let’s see them get to work on fixing the problem and forcing rate reductions and changes in operations at Recology or whoever replaces them.

  12. Don’t blame the collection workers. Hard working honest family men/woman. It’s at the executive level. The operating companies are well run and honest–not the executive suite–as usual.. Y’all try collecting trash climbing them long steep steps totin that big steel can in SF–you’d quit in an hour.

    Been around for over 100 years. Started as rag pickers and became the garbage company.

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