People's Ordinance

From San Diego Public Policy and Fiscal History

San Diego, 1900-1920

San Diego’s population grew from 17,700 in 1900 to 74,361 in 1920.[1] During those 20 years, cars and a new trolley system replaced walking and horses as the main modes of transportation. There were few consumer goods and rarely any packaging. In comparison to present day, there was considerably less waste, with the majority of any waste that was generated being organic and fed to livestock.

Creation of the People’s Ordinance

During this population boom, the issue of waste collection arose due to independent trash collectors taking waste to feed to their animals. This created the question of who had the right to collect the trash for feed. As a result, the People’s Ordinance was introduced and enacted by a vote of the people in 1919, passing with 11,908 votes for and 2,111 votes against.[2] The People’s Ordinance gave the City the responsibility of collecting and disposing of residential trash, as well as the option to levy and collect fees and taxes for waste collection. However, the City implemented a no-fee system, meaning that it did not charge for waste collection.[3]

Amendments to the People’s Ordinance

The People’s Ordinance has been amended twice since its creation. In 1981, an amendment allowed the City to charge for the collection of commercial and industrial waste, and, in 1986, an amendment clarified that small businesses and residents in single-family dwellings are entitled to no-fee pickup (while residents in multi-family homes still had to pay a fee). These two amendments also added language that prohibits the City from collecting a fee for trash collection.[4]

Responses to the People’s Ordinance

In 2009, the 2008/2009 San Diego County Grand Jury took the position that the People’s Ordinance was no longer affordable for the City. The paper highlighted the inequities within the measure, specifically the no-fee waste collection for some citizens and paid waste collection for others. The Grand Jury also looked at other economic incentives that could be implemented in its place. The Grand Jury ultimately recommended that the City repeal the People’s Ordinance and instead switch to a variable-rate trash service fee.[5]

Recent Discussions of the People’s Ordinance

The People’s Ordinance reappeared in the political conversation in 2021, when Council President Sean Elo-Rivera proposed the possibility of amending or repealing the measure and ordered a comprehensive analysis of the People’s Ordinance.

An October 2021 San Diego Union-Tribune article examined the case for repealing the People’s Ordinance, highlighting 3 main points: the inequity between free and paid waste collection, creating incentives to reduce waste, and the amount the city spends on short-term rental trash collection.[6]

In March 2022, the San Diego City Council Rules Committee voted to draft a proposed ballot measure to amend the People’s Ordinance and allow the city to charge for waste collection at single-family homes.[7]

Current Proposals

In June of 2022, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association published a reconsideration of their 2015 position that the People’s Ordinance should be repealed. The SDCTA took the position that the People’s Ordinance should be amended based on a number of financing and governing principles, primarily centered around the idea that the City should switch to a pay-as-you-throw model for fees.

  1. [1], San Diego History Timeline
  2. []
  3. [2], San Diego County Grand Jury Report on the People's Ordinance
  4. [3], San Diego County Grand Jury Report on the People's Ordinance
  5. [4], San Diego County Grand Jury Report on the People's Ordinance
  6. [5], San Diego Union Tribune
  7. [6], San Diego Fox 5