Newport Beach is proceeding with negotiations to outsource the city's trash services to a private company.
Council members directed staff in a 4-3 vote to gather more information on the top three bidders and to return with a contract.
The council may still decide to drop the issue in the future, but the members believe this step allows them to better evaluate a proper course of action.
At stake are two main opposing concerns: the desire for the city to save money in the face of looming pension costs versus the widespread appreciation residents hold for their current trash service workers and the quality of service they provide.
Difficult decisions such as this have been made by the council in the past, Councilwoman Nancy Gardner noted at the outset of discussion.
Constituents may not always be happy with the outcomes the council reaches, she said, but Newport Beach has at least been sure to provide ample information about the topic.
"I don't know that we have succeeded in that," she said of the issue at hand.
The city initially solicited requests for proposal from interested companies in May. The consulting firm HF&H evaluated the proposals, releasing their findings to the public last week.
Public testimony called into question the validity of the results.
The leading bidder, CR&R, could provide semi-automated trash pick-up services with a recycling option and save the city $17 million over the next seven years, according to the report.
Trash pickup in some newer areas of the city has already been outsourced, but the services provided by city employees in most of the city are done by hand.
"Is it really possible that a company can provide all of the services for a rate that is so much less?" asked Joe Sloan, who serves as the primary project manager for an Irvine-based waste management consulting firm.
Sloan noted that, even if this number were correct, there was a large discrepancy in projected savings among the different proposers. The discrepancy should be cause for concern because HF&H presented the proposals as equals, Sloan said.
Councilman Mike Henn suggested that staff return with a more thorough evaluation of the offers. He wished to know specifically what the services provided under the proposals would include.
With that caveat, Henn then moved that the negotiations to be pursued with the top two companies, CR&R and Ware, per staff's recommendation. Gardner suggested Rainbow, the third bidder, be considered as well.
Councilmen Tony Petros, Rush Hill and Ed Selich voted against the amended action.
A significant number of residents have pleaded with their representatives to keep the service under the city's purview, Petros and Selich said.
In Newport Beach, some arguments trump fiscal concerns, Petros said.
"There are certain ways that we choose to live," he said. "And there are certain things that we want to be known by."
In the case of the familiar blue trash trucks, then, perhaps the residents' expressed love for their trash men might be more important than concern over pension payments.
Selich, speaking to a nearly full council chamber, said he had not received so much feedback on any one issue in his eight years on the council.