Montebello trash-hauling contract referendum, March 2009

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A Montebello trash-hauling contract referendum was attempted for a 2009 ballot in Los Angeles, California for voters in the City of Montebello. Referendum supporters wanted to give voters in Montebello a chance to vote on a 2008 decision of the Montebello City Council that changed the way that trash is picked up in the city.

However, a lawsuit and a misunderstanding in the signature-gathering phase of the local veto referendum meant that the measure did not qualify for the ballot. On January 30, 2009, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Yaffe dismissed the referendum to give Montebello voters the chance to revoke an Athens Service trash-hauling contract on a legal technicality.[1]

The small trash-haulers who supported the referendum are now seeking to recall two city council members, Kathy Salazar and Robert Urteaga.[2]


  • On July 23, 2008, the Montebello City Council approved a 15-year contract with Athens Trash Services. The contract is worth about $7.8 million annually to Athens Services. The contract was approved on a 3-2 vote by Councilmembers Kathy Salazar, Robert Urteaga and Rosie Vasquez.
  • Independent trash haulers who used to pick up trash for the city feared a loss of their livelihood.
  • They decided to circulate a petition for a veto referendum so that the voters of the city could make the final decision about the trash contract with Athens.
  • The independent trash haulers believed they had to collect their signatures within 30 days of the time that the city approved the contract. In other words, they believed they needed to collect the necessary amount of signatures to force a vote within 30 days of July 23, when the city council ordered the contract with Athens.
  • The independent trash haulers proceeded to organize a petition drive, collecting 6,286 signatures. Of these, 4,578 were found to be valid by Los Angeles County election officials. State law requires 2,550 valid signatures (10 percent of the city's 25,496 registered voters).
  • In October, Irene Villapania of Montebello, with the support of Athens Trash, filed a lawsuit against the city. The suit challenged the validity of the referendum and questioned how signatures were collected.
  • The basis for the lawsuit was the claim that the 30-day window for collecting signatures should have begun when the city clerk signed a contract with Athens Trash, rather than on July 23, the day the City Council approved the contract.
  • On January 30, 2009, a judge agreed with this legal theory and not being able to determine when the city clerk did or didn't sign the contract, ordered that the referendum not appear on the March 3 ballot.

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