You haven't experienced all that life has to offer until you've been in a room filled with people so passionate about their trash pickup service that they wait in a line for a turn to talk about it.
That was the scene Thursday -- at Round Hill Country Club in Alamo, of all places -- when board members of the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority met to determine which company's garbage trucks will rumble through Walnut Creek, Danville and Lamorinda for the next 10 years.
About 100 attendees swept inside when the doors opened to the Vista South ballroom, where potted palms and gold-framed mirrors accent the most elegant setting in which you could hope to stage a refuse and recycling meeting.
Competitive energy charged the atmosphere. A contract worth $500 million was at stake, and from the moment board Chairwoman Candace Andersen brought the meeting to order, it felt like the Super Bowl of East Bay garbage -- challenger Team Mt. Diablo Recology vs. incumbent Team Republic Services/Pacific Rim Recycling.
Three dozen speakers, each limited to three minutes (thank God), addressed the decision-makers during public comment. They wore their sentiments on their sleeves, so there was no need for team jerseys.
Longtime customers praised the service they received from Republic. A Danville man said he was on a "first-name basis" with his garbage collector, although no one asked him what it was. An Orinda woman complimented Republic's drivers for their dumping accuracy ("My can is always right where I left it").
Teamsters officials threw their weight behind Mt. Diablo, where workers are guaranteed "good compensation, benefits and working conditions." Implicit was that those are missing at Pacific Rim, a nonunion operation.
Business owners, residents, educators, activists, environmental experts and attorneys took turns picking sides and generally negating one another's endorsements. Representatives from dueling nonprofits debated whether Republic or Mt. Diablo was more generous toward charities. Why they thought that would matter is hard to imagine.
One speaker who represented the California Compost Coalition -- who knew composters had coalesced? -- asserted that Republic had violated state law by using green waste from Walnut Creek and Lamorinda as landfill cover. He made it sound like a pretty nefarious garbage offense.
A man who spoke on behalf of the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund -- say that quickly three times -- dragged himself from Berkeley to discuss diversion rates (trash that's recycled), but he mainly talked about how much more environmentally conscientious Alameda County is than Contra Costa. It must have pained him to travel to this side of the Caldecott Tunnel.
The principal contestants also spoke. Jim Nejedly (Mt. Diablo), Tim Argenti (Republic) and Steve Moore (Pacific Rim) thanked the board for the chance to bid. Selection of a winner, however, will wait for another day.
After attorney Wilson Wendt, representing Mt. Diablo Recology, charged the authority's ad hoc committee with a Brown Act violation -- he accused them of meeting in private before recommending Republic -- the board opted to reopen the evaluation process rather than defend itself against the charge. The next meeting is set for Feb. 27.
If you like trash talk, you won't want to miss it.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.