The People’s Ordinance

San Diego residents are often reminded that they have free municipal trash collection thanks to the People’s Ordinance, an amendment to the city charter approved by voters in 1919. What they may not know is that this entitlement, which has endured for nearly a century, was originally about who had the right to feed garbage to hogs.

Prior to the twentieth century disposal of household waste in San Diego was left up to the individual homeowner. Although some residents hired ‘scavengers’ to cart away their garbage, most disposed of it themselves by burning, burying, feeding it to chickens or other animals, or simply by discarding it in the street or on vacant lots. In 1898 Dr. P. C. Remondino, president of the board of health, reported that garbage collection and storage, ‘hitherto left to the volition and election of the householder’, had been ‘most defective and annoying as well as most decidedly unsanitary’. He added that he knew of many residents who were unable to properly ventilate their homes, ‘owing to the acrid and sickening emanations from decaying swill accumulating in their vicinity’. He recommended a system of municipal collection, whether done by the city or by contract under its supervision. In 1900, responding to complaints about the unsatisfactory manner of garbage disposal in the Ninth Ward, Dr. Remondino again stated that garbage would always be a matter of complaint until a system of free collection was inaugurated; ‘The poor man cannot afford the luxury of a garbage collector very often, and if he can conveniently dump it on his neighbor’s premises or on the street, he cannot be blamed. A public collection would remedy all that.’

The city health officer, Dr. T. C. Stockton, in his annual report to the board of health in 1900, also commented on the necessity of the city adopting some sanitary and more modern method for the collection and disposal of garbage, hoping that the ‘crude and offensive method in use would be superseded by one more in accordance with the requirements of modern sanitation’. In 1901 another member of the board of health, Dr. F. R. Burnham, was requested to make inquiry into the various systems in use for the collection and disposition of garbage in different cities in the east and to prepare a report on the ’most sanitary and best means of disposing of the garbage of this city’. He reported that there were three methods in common use in other cities; by private parties – each individual paying for the removal of his own garbage, by city contract, or by the city doing the work itself. The last two are paid for by general taxation and one or the other would undoubtedly be the best from a sanitary as well equable standpoint. However, it was the first system that was then employed in San Diego and the result was that less than three tons of garbage were carried away daily from a city of twenty thousand and that ‘the balance must be largely thrown into back lots or into the street’. He went on to describe the filthy and unsanitary condition of these streets and vacant lots; ‘Waste paper, tin cans, brush and weeds lining our streets and gathered together in unsightly piles on vacant lots gives our city, to say the least, a most untidy appearance’. In many of the eastern cities, he added, cast iron boxes with covers are placed on the corners of the streets neatly painted in plain letters; passers-by are requested to throw paper and all kinds of refuse into these boxes and not on the pavement.

Nothing was done to follow up on these early reports and a board of health meeting in 1903 was told that the manner of garbage collection was still often a matter of complaint. The subject had been brought to the attention of the board on other occasions and the board had suggested to the city council that garbage collection be taken away from the hands of private parties and managed by the city, but the garbage men rallied to defeat any interference. Finally, in 1908, the city passed an emergency ordinance which required it to enter into a 10-year contract with one company which would be responsible for collecting all city garbage. Anything not of commercial value to the contractor would be burned outside of the city limits. Collection was to be twice a week in outlying districts and daily in the ‘more thickly settled portions of the city’, particularly from hotels, restaurants, etc. The contractor would be responsible for providing an incinerator which the city would have the right to acquire after five years for a fair market value.

The contract for garbage collection and disposal was won by the San Diego Sanitary Reduction Company, which announced that it would make a specialty of manufacturing fertilizer and fuel from the refuse collected. The San Diego Union reported that an experiment of the secret process for deodorizing the garbage was a great success. A particularly offensive lot of garbage was mixed with the chemicals and within three minutes had become absolutely odorless. Not only that, but some of the fuel made from the garbage produced a significant improvement in the power of a steam boiler and burned like coal for 24 hours in a blacksmith’s forge.

However, San Diego Sanitary’s service was apparently unsatisfactory to a major segment of its customer base, San Diego’s hotels and restaurants. The restauranteurs had long complained about the ‘filthy manner’ in which the company had been taking care of their patrons and had responded by hiring other companies to dispose of their garbage. The courts ruled that this violated the Sanitary company’s contract and put an end to this practice, but conditions eventually became so bad that local eating house proprietors decided to take the law into their own hands. The Evening Tribune reported in 1910 that the restaurant men had banded together and purchased the assets of one of the former independent collectors put out of business by the court’s ruling, which included a hog ranch outside the city limits, with ‘wagons, horses, hogs and in fact everything owned by the man whose hogs were receiving the benefit of the collections’. They then hired their own drivers and carted away their own garbage. The Sanitary company objected and for a time attempted to have the drivers arrested, but after failing to win a restraining order it eventually abandoned its contract.

The garbage contract was assumed by San Diego Rubbish Company, which had an interest in a large hog ranch in Chollas Valley, where both San Diego and East San Diego, then a separate city, disposed of their garbage. In December 1915 the city and county health officers took steps to shut down this hog ranch, which housed as many as 5000 hogs, characterizing it as a public nuisance. The owners were arrested and a permanent injunction was asked to keep the defendants from feeding city garbage to the hogs. It was charged that the dumping of garbage there rendered an unwholesome, obnoxious stench that befouled the atmosphere for many blocks. However, before hearings in the suit began in February 1916 the epic floods of January 1916 (the Hatfield flood) had inundated and considerably damaged the hog ranch, and swept much of the offending material (and about 50 of the hogs) downstream and into the bay.

The Evening Tribune announced in April 1916 that the health department was enthusiastic about a new plan for the disposal of garbage. All garbage would be collected by an improved type of wagon and hauled to the incinerator premises. There the water would be extracted by a steam press and it would be reloaded on metal covered trucks and rushed out to the sterilizing plant at a new hog ranch, which would be located at the upper end of Tecolote Canyon. After thorough sterilization by boiling it would be fed to the hogs, which would be housed in a proper manner. Although the hog ranch would be within the city limits it was miles from any population centers and would not affect anyone owing to its remoteness. The health department would make frequent inspections to insure sanitary methods. The hog ranch in Tecolote Canyon was the new home of the San Diego Rubbish Co.’s hogs. The company announced in July 1916 that it had finished the removal of its hog ranch from Chollas Valley to a ‘more isolated part of the city, entirely off the public thoroughfare’. The company also said that it was cleaning up the incinerator and its grounds and that its garbage wagons would be newly painted and provided with new covers.

The city also began cracking down on violations of the laws regarding garbage. In October 1916 the city health officer launched a campaign against alleged ‘promiscuous’ collection of garbage. A special officer, J. J. Willow, who was also an employee of the San Diego Rubbish Co., was assigned to the city health board and began arresting drivers for hauling garbage outside of the authorized hours (11 P.M. to 5 A.M.). However, one of the garbage haulers he persisted in prosecuting was apparently a friend of a council member, and the council held a hearing to consider terminating his position. Willow instead resigned, but the ‘muddle over garbage conditions’ disclosed by his hearing led the city council to direct Police Chief Wilson to recommend a solution to the garbage problem. Chief Wilson’s recommendation was that enforcement of garbage regulations be placed in the hands of the health department, and that the garbage ordinance be amended to permit anyone owning garbage which can be used as food for animals to haul it at the time and in the manner allowed by the garbage ordinance after securing a permit to do such hauling. However, the board of health turned down Chief Wilson’s recommendations.

In March 1917 the public welfare commission took up the issue of municipal garbage collection. Stating that it was assured that they voiced the desire of a large majority of taxpayers and resident population for more sanitary, efficient and economic collection and disposal than the present contract provided, the commission recommended that the city create a municipal hog ranch under the supervision of the board of health and assign the collection and sale of garbage to the highest responsible bidder. The chairman of the health committee of the county federation of women’s clubs also petitioned the council for free municipal garbage collection. The board of health endorsed these recommendations for free garbage collection but again advised against the creation of a municipally owned hog ranch.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917 and among the patriotic calls to contribute to the war effort was the ‘doctrine of the clean plate’; conserving food by eliminating waste. In July 1917 the city of Coronado announced that its garbage business had fallen off 75 percent since the new ideas on food conservation became a recognized patriotic principle. Garbage was said to exist now only in the homes of the super-rich, the few middle-class residents having none excepting tin cans and bones which they bury in their vegetable lawns for fertilizer. In San Diego the mayor received a telegram from Herbert Hoover, then national food administrator, asking for information on the amount of garbage collected compared with the previous year, and also information on the amount of grease extracted from the garbage, which could be used for various war industries.

Despite food conservation there was still garbage to collect and the city’s contract with the San Diego Rubbish Co. for garbage collection was due to expire in October 1917. Although it was contrary to city ordinances, owners of hotels and restaurants had been allowed to haul their own garbage for some time, a result of their difficulty in making their establishments pay. Many of them had gone into the hog business and were taking their garbage to their own ranches. Some said that without this end of the restaurant business they would be forced to close.  However, commercial garbage collectors also sold the garbage they collected to hog ranches and without the business of the restaurants and hotels few would be expected to bid for a new contract. After ‘much discussion and wrangling’ over various propositions, the council decided in November 1917 to accept the offer of George A. Binney & Co. of Los Angeles to collect and dispose of all city garbage for the next three years. Binney would provide all the equipment and pay the city $400 per month while charging residents and businesses a fee and potentially profiting by raising hogs on the garbage collected. The hotels and restaurants which now disposed of their garbage to hog raisers would be prohibited from continuing that arrangement.

The hotel and restaurant owners determined to fight the new contract; according to the Evening Tribune ‘Old Man Garbage still is in the limelight. And he is going to be the subject of a lively “scrap” when the hotel and restaurant men mobilize their forces’. The fight was still going on in January 1918, when the Tribune reported that the council was in conference with attorneys representing the city, Binney & Co. and the hotel and restaurant men ‘regarding the never-ending subject of garbage disposal’. Binney asked the council to direct the police department and the health department to proceed against the hotel and restaurant men who refused to turn over their garbage to the contractors. However, when the police did arrest Joseph Vaubel, garbage hauler for the U. S. Grant Hotel, in February 1918, he was tried and found not guilty.

A month later, in March 1918, the police arrested Robert Brown, who was acting under orders of Harry Rudder, a local restaurant owner, on Binney’s complaint that Brown was collecting garbage without due authorization. Brown was released on $15 bail, which was provided by Rudder ‘in expectation of such a contingency’. The truck load of garbage which Brown was alleged to have collected from Rudder’s restaurant remained at the police station with Brown on guard and Binney, ‘ensconced in his automobile at the police station’, keeping an eye on the garbage. The police threatened to arrest Brown if he attempted to move his truck, but Rudder had also left an additional $45 at the jail to be used as bail money for Brown if he was arrested again. According to the San Diego Union, with Rudder ready to fight the case to a finish and with Brown and Binney standing guard over the truck of garbage at the police station, the situation was still deadlocked at 3 o’clock in the morning; ‘meanwhile the hungry hogs at the National City ranch clamor for food’.

With the city council ‘standing like a Rock of Gibraltar’ against the San Diego hotel and restaurant men who were fighting for the right to feed their own hogs table refuse from their establishments, ‘city hall was a scene of turmoil’. The restaurant men threatened to start injunction proceedings against the city, to increase the price of meals or to openly defy the law. In the meantime they said between 400 and 500 hogs owned by proprietors of their establishments were being allowed to starve to death and that they were prepared to go to any length to protect their rights. To illustrate the importance of the issue, one of the restaurant owners said that he had cleared $2100 in ten months from hogs fed on the table refuse from his establishment. Another declared that he had been offered $40 a month by a private individual for his garbage. All were indignant that they were required to give away their garbage and also required to pay for having it hauled away.

The city council held a closed door meeting with the mayor, the food administrator and a committee of the hotel and restaurant men’s association. Harry Rudder, who was now also chairman of the Commercial War League, claimed that young pigs were starving because the brood sows have nothing to eat except what they can forage since the city had prohibited the hauling of garbage by private parties. Alternative feed, such as bran, could no longer be fed stock because of the food administration’s order to conserve it for food. Because every bit of pork is needed in war time the lack of food for hogs and young pigs was an absolute waste. The Binney company countered that they also had hogs dependent on the garbage that they collected under their exclusive contract with the city, and refused to compromise on the issue. A ‘friendly’ court settlement proved to be impossible and in August 1918 Rudder filed suit to have the city permanently enjoined from enforcing the garbage ordinance which permitted the Binney company exclusively to take away the restaurant’s table scraps. He also asked for $1100 damages for the loss he had already sustained from his inability to feed scraps to hogs on his hog ranch. In October 1918 a superior court judge granted the injunction and also awarded Rudder $440 in damages.

Finally, in January 1919, a mayor’s advisory committee proposed to end the ‘long drawnout controversy’ between the city, the garbage contractor and restaurant men by a charter amendment establishing garbage collection by the city without cost to residents. The city council voted unanimously to submit an ordinance to voters at the regular municipal election in April. The new ordinance would allow restaurant men to haul their own garbage for hog feed. The method of collection and disposal would be supervised by the board of health.

The hotel and restaurant men of San Diego enthusiastically supported the proposed ordinance and on the day before the election made their case in a political advertisement published by the Evening Tribune. They agreed with the Binney company’s claim that the ordinance would increase taxation, but argued that every household would save the $6 to $12 a year that Binney was then charging them for garbage collection, which they then turned into another profit by feeding to their hogs. The ad claimed that the city could also dispose of the garbage at a good price, thus making the garbage collection almost self-supporting and practically eliminating any increase in taxes; ‘You have been paying for the privilege of feeding Binney & Co.’s hogs, 3000 head of hogs, for the past two years. Let our city feed 3000 head of hogs, which will more than supply pork for all the institutions kept up by the taxpayers’.

In the election, held April 8, 1919, People’s Ordinance No. 7691, ‘An ordinance to protect the health of the inhabitants of The City of San Diego, California, by providing for the collection and disposal in a sanitary manner of city refuse and other waste matter’ passed with 11,908 votes for and 2,111 against. The ordinance canceled the existing garbage contract, so the city found itself in the position of being required to collect garbage throughout the city but with no equipment to do so or any method of disposing of what was collected. The city council passed an emergency ordinance to purchase the equipment of the San Diego Rubbish Co., and the company lent the city its horses and wagons on the understanding that the purchase would go through. However, the mayor vetoed the expenditure, claiming the price was excessive; ‘If we want to go into this garbage collection business properly we should get started right and not buy up a lot of for second-hand apparatus’. The mayor added that he would lend the city the horses and wagons from his Jamul ranch until new equipment could be obtained, and if necessary, he would get out and become a garbage collector himself. Instead, the council adopted a resolution temporarily authorizing use of the city street department teams and wagons with which to collect the refuse.

The People’s Ordinance had left it up to the health department to regulate the sanitary handling of garbage. An ordinance adopted in June 1919 prescribed that people must drain all garbage of water before it is deposited in a metal receptacle, nothing but marketable garbage must be thrown into such cans or receptacles, and it was to be punishable to mix broken dishes or any kinds of glass or crockery with kitchen refuse. All garbage cans were to be thoroughly cleaned after being emptied. Garbage haulers were to be licensed and their wagons must be metal with water-tight metal covers.

Harry Rudder’s prediction that the city could make garbage collection almost self-supporting did not come true, and with the city losing about $75,000 a year on garbage collection the city council in September 1920 proposed another charter amendment that would have again prohibited the restaurant men from hauling their own garbage and instead require that it be collected by the city, to be sold to hog ranches to cover some of the budget shortfall. This proposition was voted on in an election in December 1920 and defeated by a vote of 7997 to 2951.

In 1923 the city went into the hog raising business itself when it took over the Tecolote Valley hog ranch. The lessee of the ranch had gotten behind in his payments for garbage delivered by the city and offered to turn over his lease, stock and all equipment in settlement of the debt. In addition to 500 hogs the city became owner of buildings, corrals, pumps, piping, trucks, horses and wagons.

A year later, in December 1924, the Evening Tribune announced that ‘porkers’ raised on the city farm from municipally-collected garbage were accumulating so fast that it was found necessary to dispose of a lot, netting over $5000. Other recent sales had swollen the ‘pork barrel’ from the ‘municipal piggery’ to such an extent that the city manager had decided to go ahead with constructing the Rose Canyon highway. The funds would be used to purchase a power shovel and a fleet of trucks to improve the grade through Rose Canyon and take much of the heavy truck traffic off the paved highway through La Jolla and over the Biological and Torrey Pines grades.

The People’s Ordinance has been amended over the years, for example to allow the city to place limits and charge fees for commercial and industrial trash, but the basic right to free municipal garbage collection for residents established in 1919 is still in force in San Diego. The garbage, however, is now composted or buried in a land fill; farm animals, including hogs, were banned from the city in 1959 and the city stopped selling garbage for hog feed in 1962.