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Want to fix trash woes in Bexar County? Crack down on landlords

May 11, 2019

No neighborhood in Bexar County should be covered in garbage. We wrote those words nearly two years ago before Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation that gives Bexar County the authority to mandate trash service in unincorporated areas.

This came after Bexar County contracted with the city of San Antonio to provide trash service to about 600 homes in the Camelot II neighborhood on the far Northeast Side. The neighborhood is in unincorporated Bexar County, but right across the city’s line. It feels like the city, but it’s the county.

Our hope was that the successful pilot program would be replicated in other urban county neighborhoods and the passage of legislation from state Sen. José Menéndez would provide the county much-needed authority to take action in neighborhoods overcome with uncollected garbage. We’re not talking about stray litter. We’re talking about mounds and mounds of garbage filling alleys and streets. We’re talking about a public health crisis. We’re talking about children playing in garbage. That should never happen, but it does.

Two years later, many urban neighborhoods in unincorporated Bexar County are plagued with trash woes, and it’s clear Menéndez’s legislation was inadequate. It was a mistake to have stripped language from that legislation that would have required landlords to provide trash service. This language has to be restored. If it’s too late this session, then it has to be a priority next session.

Mandating trash service in an urban county such as Bexar is surprisingly complicated, and we appreciate Menéndez’s efforts to tackle this with thought and heart. There are vast areas of unincorporated county that are truly rural, and there are also dense urban neighborhoods. Some residents have trash service and don’t want to make a change. Some residents don’t have trash service. In rural areas, residents can burn their trash. But in urban areas, lack of service gets messy fast.

Menéndez tried to please everyone with his 2017 law, but to the point of ineffectiveness. Consider: While the city and county successfully partnered to provide mandatory trash service in Camelot II, there is no such partnership for The Glen, the next neighborhood over with identical trash issues. Why? Because the legislation allows for residents to maintain their trash service, but that’s not how the city operates. The city will only provide service to an entire neighborhood. It will not serve a patchwork of homes. In effect, although Menéndez’s law allows the county to contract with the city for mandatory trash service, it makes such a contract impossible.

Beyond The Glen, where we have seen garbage bags hanging from trees, we have also heard from residents in the nearby Candlewood Park Neighborhood about dumping and having to pick up trash. They, too, want mandatory trash service.

Better legislation would mandate that all landlords in unincorporated Bexar County provide trash service — with substantial fees or liens if they don’t. These landlords could pass on the cost of service into their leases. Better legislation would allow the county to declare a public health crisis in certain subdivisions with trash issues, and then put those entire subdivisions out to bid for service from one hauler. Yes, some residents would lose their existing trash service, but a public health crisis should take precedent, and it would avoid having a patchwork of haulers in one neighborhood. A bidding process may even save residents money.

Better legislation would ensure private haulers can bill through CPS Energy, a must to ensure people pay their bills. Better legislation would be specific to densities, recognizing that truly rural areas don’t have this issue.

Menéndez has said his 2017 law is adequate and the county has chosen not to act. County officials have told us the legislation is flawed. Our view is simple: Fix the legislation and clean up the trash.

No neighborhood in Bexar County should be covered in garbage. We said this two years ago. Why do we have to say it again?