OAKLAND -- After a monthslong debate that fielded more than 50,000 protest letters, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority on Wednesday narrowly voted to adopt a new $9.55-per-home fee for the disposal of household hazardous waste.
The annual fee must be paid on the property tax bill of all county homeowners for the next decade. The expected $5 million in annual revenue will keep open and expand hours at four drop-off sites where Alameda County residents can discard paint, batteries, solvents and other toxic and corrosive junk that cannot go in the regular trash.
The agency's 17-member governing board representing all of the county's cities needed a two-thirds majority of 12 members to adopt the fee, and got just that. Twelve members voted for the fee, three voted against it and two were absent.
"It's one of the smallest fee proposals, or tax proposals, that I've ever heard of," said Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb, one of the 12 board members endorsing the fee. "And it's going to do some real good."
He called it a "modest cost for a significant gain" of diverting dangerous waste from landfills, street curbs and the San Francisco Bay watershed. The agency said it needs the new revenue because as more people recycle, less money is coming in from landfill fees that pay for the removal of hazardous household waste.
But the process leading up to the fee adoption -- the agency's second attempt at a winning vote after its first try fell one vote short last month -- soured some Alameda County property owners and public officials.
Voting against the fee were Don Biddle of the Dublin City Council, Dave Sadoff of the Castro Valley Sanitary District and Jerry Pentin of the Pleasanton City Council.
"The process has to be clean, and this is a very flawed process," Pentin said before voting.
Pentin and other fee opponents sided with more than 50,000 property owners representing about 100,000 houses, condominiums and apartment units around the county who had sent letters earlier this year opposing the fee. Leading the protest were owners of multifamily apartment buildings who fought for a discount but were denied.
Voting in favor of the fee were Kalb and other city council members representing Hayward, Berkeley, Alameda, Piedmont, Fremont, Albany, Newark, San Leandro, Emeryville and Union City, along with Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson.
Laureen Turner, representing the Livermore City Council, was absent Wednesday but voted against the fee last month. Laython Landis, of the Oro Loma Sanitary District, was present for the meeting but had to leave shortly before the roll call.
Absences counted as 'no' votes. Landis said he would have voted against the fee anyway, believing that the entire waste management authority, also known as StopWaste, is inefficient and should be dismantled.
"There's nothing that organization does that its individual members can't," Landis said in an interview, citing a 2012 report by the Alameda County civil grand jury that criticized StopWaste as a "self-perpetuating" agency that continues to redefine its mission after its goals are met.