History of the Regional Solid Waste Association

Approved October 5, 2017


The Regional Solid Waste Association (RSWA) is a Joint Powers Agency that was formed in 1997. The RSWA is the offspring of two earlier organizations and several years of effort. The following describes that history.

The Early Days (FY1992/1993)

In FY1992/1993, at the request of the County of San Diego, all seventeen incorporated cities throughout the County came together with the County as part of the newly formed Interim Solid Waste Commission charged with the responsibility of determining the most appropriate governance structure for all of the County's solid waste. For clarification purposes, the City of San Diego, which has its own solid waste system, was invited to participate in the meetings of the Commission as an ex officio non-voting member. Each city and the County designated two elected officials to be members of the Commission - one member and one alternate. At that time, Lin Wurbs was hired by the County and designated as the key staff person to work the issue with Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Jansen and Deputy CAO Sheehan from the County.

Why Was the Interim Solid Waste Commission Created?

Decisions had been made solely by the County that adversely affected the viability of the solid waste system and all of the cities in the County directly, with the exception of the City of San Diego. Included among the cities' issues were the lack of information/communication, rising costs, tip fees (cost per ton for disposal at the landfill) increasing significantly, and regional decisions being made with no input.

Specifically concerning was the decision to construct a $134 million Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in north county which increased the cost for trash disposal to everyone. The facility, also known as the North County Resource Recovery Facility (NCRRF), or more commonly the "white elephant", was a negative from the outset. There had been tremendous opposition to the facility, which was originally conceived as a "waste to energy" facility, and the north county cities were successful in their effort to have the burner removed from the plant plans. When the County decided to proceed with the plant there had been no cost benefit analysis or burden of cost analysis done on the plant without the burner. The cost of the facility and the sheer magnitude of the structure were significantly more expensive and larger than the average privately owned and operated MRF elsewhere in the United States. The cost of the County's proposed MRF would need to be absorbed by all of the cities in the County, with the exception of the City of San Diego, and those costs would dramatically increase the tip fee.

At the same time, the County authorized additional funding to extend the life of the San Marcos landfill, which would further increase the total solid waste budget and, therefore, the tip fee.

The reasons identified above, together with the County's passage of the Mandatory Recycling Ordinance (MRO), had a significant adverse effect on the overall solid waste system. First, the MRO forced the local privately owned haulers who collected the trash in the municipalities and the unincorporated area of the County to finance a fleet of vehicles for collection of recyclables, in addition to separate vehicles to collect trash. The cost of that decision also had to be absorbed by the ratepayers (citizens in the cities and the unincorporated area of the county) through their individual trash bills.

The second effect of the MRO was equally devastating. The bottom-line net effect was that all the "gold" (recyclables that had value) was removed from the waste stream prior to it arriving at the MRF. Thus, the MRF essentially became the staging site from which the residue material was trucked less than a quarter of a mile to the San Marcos landfill. The MRF never operated as was originally intended as a waste-to-energy plant, and it never operated as it should have as a MRF because it had no material to recover and sell. Because of this, the operating costs and recycling plant debt service of over $15 million per year needed to be absorbed by the system and the cost to everyone increased. The plant closed in June 1995, eighteen months after it opened.

These aforementioned decisions pertaining to the $134 million MRF, costs associated with extending the life of the San Marcos landfill, and the Mandatory Recycling Ordinance caused the tip fee to increase between 1990 and 1995 from $28.00 per ton to $74.00 per ton. There was even a proposal by the County to increase the tip fee to over $100 per ton, to which the cities vehemently objected and ultimately quashed.

Creation of the Solid Waste Authority (SWA) (1994)

After over a year of intense work by the Solid Waste Commission, the Solid Waste Authority (SWA) was formed in 1994. This separate Joint Powers Agency (JPA) was open to all the cities, as well as the County of San Diego. Only seven cities (Del Mar, Encinitas, Lemon Grove, National City, Poway, Solana Beach, and Vista) and the County (eight members total) joined the SWA. The County had the Commission hire separate legal counsel to assist in drafting the JPA document. That separate legal counsel was Tom Woodruff and Betty Burnett (nee Mrgudich) of the Orange County law firm of Rourke, Woodruff and Spradlin, which is now Woodruff, Spradlin and Smart. The stated purpose of the SWA was to assume responsibility for the entire solid waste system with the County transferring all control and assets to the SWA. The cities that joined the SWA committed their solid waste in perpetuity, commonly referred to as "flow control".

It was thought that the other cities would join the SWA once the promised transition by the County actually occurred and the SWA "owned" the system. The other cities continued to participate as non-voting members for several months. The Regional Planning Board, SANDAG, also established forums for all of the cities and the SWA to discuss the solid waste issue.

Over a period of three years the SWA was tasked with numerous issues as part of transitioning the ownership of the landfill system from the County to the SWA. Because of the unique nature of the solid waste business, the SWA determined it would be beneficial to add a person with private sector expertise to serve as the General Manager. Tom Webster was hired in that capacity. Lin Wurbs (Assistant General Manager} and two administrative assistants, as well as all of the SWA Board Members from the cities and the member city managers, comprised the staff. During that period the elected officials met as often as 10 times a week and served on multiple subcommittees.

Several significant actions during the transition included:

The SWA administered the Solid Waste Department of the County as part of the transition plan.

Additionally, the SWA worked on a plan to transition the Department's employees, as well as their retirement and benefit packages, to the SWA. This entailed creating an entirely new personnel system.

SWA representatives handled the lawsuit regarding differential tip fees between member and nonmember cities, which was settled in 1996. In 1994 the member tip fee was $55 per ton while the nonmembers paid $74 per ton.

The SWA oversaw the lining of the Otay landfill.

The SWA negotiated with the NCRRF operator, Thermo Electron, to both improve operating procedures and reduce costs, which resulted in $100,000 savings a month.

The SWA took a lead role in negotiating the refinancing of the NCRRF. SWA representatives handled the discussion and litigation regarding the closure of the San Marcos landfill.

SWA representatives traveled to New York to meet with municipal bond rating agencies Standard & Poor's, Fitch and Moody's to secure a rating for a $100 million bond issue which could be used to refinance the NCRRF facility and other solid waste system requirements without actually having ownership of any tangible assets. The representatives were successful.

County Disbands the SWA (1996) 

The SWA was successful in everything it was tasked to do. The model organization, with primarily elected officials as staff, worked and worked well. The SWA was successful in reducing costs and tip fees. However, after over three years of transition, in November 1996 the County elected to terminate the Solid Waste Authority Joint Powers Agreement and dissolve the SWA.

(Author's note} As a key historical note, a "tiger team" was secretly created by the County and directed to dismantle the SWA by having the County Sheriff, without any warning whatsoever, close the SWA offices located at 9621 Ridgehaven Ct., San Diego (the County building that also housed the Sheriff) and evict the staff. This was entirely unexpected as there had been little previous conflict with the County in its role as a member of the SWA. The SWA immediately moved all of its information to National City, the only member city with its own Police Department. All materials and computers were removed from the SWA offices over the lunch hour by elected officials and a city manager. When asked to return the computers and laptops, they were returned devoid o f all SWA information.

The elected officials were highly disappointed, but not mad. They immediately went about determining what the next actions should and could be.

In December 1996 the County began exploring the possibility of divesting itself of the entire solid waste system and in August of 1997 sold the landfill system to Allied Waste. The County made no provision in the sale for the household hazardous waste (HHW) program and only a minimal plan for dissolving the debt of the NCRRF plant or for the existing closed County landfills. Additionally, the County sale was completed without any future price or capacity guarantees for any of its customers. The County also did not understand, or take into account, vertical integration by the private sector which was happening all across the country and could leave the individual cities, and the County itself, with no control at all if one company ran everything from collection to disposal.

What Did the Cities of the SWA learn?

That the SWA's strength was in its desire to control its own destiny.

That the seven SWA cities could leverage their 250,000+ tons of trash to get the best deal for the collective whole. Individually, the cities were too small to have bargaining or negotiating strength but together the entities could broker their collective tonnage to affect both the end disposal location and transfer station location.

That individual cities have control of the portion of the rate to the customer that is imposed for the collection of their trash. Each city has a franchise contract with a hauler that is competitively set. What individual cities didn't have was any control of the portion of the rate charged to the customer for the disposal of the trash once it is collected.

The seven cities could benefit by staying together. lemon Grove decided later not to officially participate, and in February 2008 Escondido joined what would later become known as the Regional Solid Waste Authority (RSWA) for the sole purpose of HHW issues.

Creation of the Regional Solid Waste Association (RSWA) (1997)

The cities that were part of the old SWA, both individually and collectively, assessed their needs. They reviewed all options and determined in September 1997 to create the RSWA, a separate joint powers agency whose purpose was to achieve the lowest cost and most stable and environmentally sound solution for solid waste disposal. The organization adopted Bylaws, developed an Environmental Code to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), filed the Notice of Joint Powers Agreement for the Regional Solid Waste Association with the Secretary of State, developed a Travel and Expense Reimbursement Policy, and developed a budget. During this period the member cities also funded the staffing of the organization, which was a significant commitment in 1997.


Del Mar- Mark Whitehead

Encinitas- Chuck DuVivier

National City- Ron Morrison - Treasurer

Poway- Mickey Cafagna - Chairperson

Solana Beach- Paul Tompkins

Vista- Rocco Valluzzi - Vice-Chairperson

There have only been two chairpersons since 1997 - Mickey Cafagna, the Mayor of Poway until his death in 2009, and Ron Morrison, Mayor of National City. The Board has seen noteworthy continuity in the twenty years it has been in existence. Many of the same RSWA Board Members served as representatives to the original Interim Commission, as well as the SWA.

From the beginning, the cities shared in the responsibility of managing the RSWA:

City of Del Mar donated use of space for staff to operate and to hold meetings of the organization, and donated the part-time services of City Manager Brekke-Esparza as a non- voting member to the RSWA;

City of Encinitas donated space for staff to operate and for several years donated time for Ms. Wurbs, while Public Works Director, to act as General Manager of the RSWA (unpaid), for Mr. Wilson to provide continuing staff support to the RSWA, and provided staff (Jace Schwarm) to act as the RSWA's Risk Manager;

City of Poway volunteered to handle the financial responsibilities of the RSWA (i.e. the "check-book") including all payments and the bidding of audit work. Poway also donated the part-time services of City Manager Bowersox to sit as a non-voting member of the RSWA. Poway also contributed to the RSWA by providing the site for one of the two HHW facilities operated by the RSWA (discussed later on page 8);

City of National City donated use of space for storage of organization documents as well as donated time for Ms. Wurbs to act as General Manager of the RSWA (unpaid) during her time of employment with National City as the Assistant City Manager beginning in 2005.

City of Solana Beach volunteered in 2012 to provide the space for Board meetings and also donated Mayor/Council Member Mike Nichols time to work on both the website design and the SR program (described later on pages 9 & 10};

City of Vista volunteered in 2009 to handle the financial responsibilities for the RSWA, a service which had previously been provided by the City of Poway since the RSWA's inception. Additionally the City of Vista contributed by providing the site for one of the two HHW facilities (discussed on page 8), donated the part-time services of City Manager Geldert as a non-voting member of the RSWA, and took the lead role in facilitating the process to determine if a new transfer station should be sited in the City of Vista.

Planning for the RSWA's Future

From the outset in 1997 the Board committed to developing a plan that would minimize cost, protect the cities from cost increases, and minimize risk while not affecting any existing franchise agreement or the ability to franchise in the future. To accomplish these objectives the RSWA developed multiple options that would provide maximum control as well as flexibility.

Initially the RSWA Board had to take into consideration the fact that the premature closure of the San Marcos landfill in the spring of 1997 would limit the availability of landfill destinations. The RSWA also quickly determined that it was not economical to direct haul waste in collection vehicles to more distant disposal options. Several months were spent analyzing the then available options for transfer stations, which were limited to the Palomar Transfer Station in Carlsbad and the EDI facility in Escondido. The lack of cost guarantees at both sites, as well as no assurance of long term availability, were very problematic.

It soon became clear that in order to take advantage of cheaper disposal options, and to control the RSWA's own destiny, that the RSWA have a transfer station of its own. Therefore, simultaneously the RSWA worked to develop a disposal contract with Orange County for use of Prima Deshecha landfill, as well as to construct a transfer station. The "Memorandum of Understanding with Respect to an Option and Agreement for Disposal of Solid Waste" with Orange County was signed in September 1997. The RSWA also undertook a search for property in all of the member cities for a possible transfer station site.

This search for property determined that the City of Vista was not only the largest generator of trash, but was also best located to receive the trash generated in central and north coastal San Diego County. In cooperation with the City of Vista, the RSWA identified 21 acres of available industrially zoned property on North Melrose St. in Vista. This was followed by a full year of due diligence, preparing environmental documents and cost benefit analyses.

EDCO- Transfer and Disposal Agreement with the RSWA (1999)

While working on the transfer station proposal in Vista, the RSWA staff was approached by EDCO to see if the RSWA was interested in developing a plan in cooperation with EDCO that would guarantee disposal tip fees through the use of the EDCO transfer stations. On July 1, 1999 the RSWA signed a contract with EDCO (entitled the Transfer and Disposal Agreement) that provided for a long term stable disposal tip fee (initially 20 years, subsequently extended) and provided environmental protection and indemnification. All of the Board members were involved, but the bulk of the effort fell to Chairperson Mickey Cafagna (Poway) and Vice- Chairperson Ron Morrison (National City).

Specifically, the agreement provided for:

Minimizing costs both short term and long term - less cost now, contract for 20 years, rebate for the RSWA administration;

• A tip fee of $36 per ton for the four north county cities (Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Vista) and $32 per ton for the two southern/centrally located cities (National City and Poway)

• A rebate payment from EDCO based on trash volume which could be utilized to administer the RSWA

Protection from Cost Increases - part of the disposal fee rate tied to CPI (capped) and part of the disposal fee rate tied to RSWA's tonnage increase, which would lower the increase for that part of the disposal fee rate;

Minimized Risk - total indemnification and "most favored nation" clause (the RSWA cities would benefit from the lowest tip fee charged elsewhere in the County served by EDCO). The "most favored nation" section was deleted in 2009 as part of the contract modification, described on page 8 herein;

Maximized Protection - Letter of Credit provided by EDCO as a performance guarantee- $3 million;

Provided Security- in case EDCO sells, the RSWA receives contingency planning money ($1 to $2 million);

Disposal Contract Only - did not affect cities' individual franchise agreements (the contract between the hauler and the city).

The RSWA became a contract manager and would no longer pursue construction of a transfer station in Vista, which would eliminate the necessity to debt finance such a facility and all other issues of ownership and management of a facility.

Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program

As previously mentioned, the County sale to Allied did not take into consideration the HHW facilities that existed in Poway and Vista and which had been grant funded by the State of California in the 1990's. By coincidence, the two facilities were located in the RSWA member jurisdictions. In 1999, the Cities of Poway and Vista requested that the RSWA take over the responsibility of managing the facilities. The RSWA Board accepted the cities' request and moved to expand the HHW program to all of its member cities.

Establishment of the new HHW program was achieved through a contract with a private entity which provided a full range of services. The regional options that the RSWA provided included utilizing either of the two permanent facilities located in Poway and Vista, hosting a special collection event, and using the door-to-door program either for senior and disabled residents and/or for the general population. The innovative menu of different options for the citizens to utilize assisted in encouraging the proper disposal of HHW and accomplishing the goal of maximum disposal volume of HHW.

The RSWA signed interjurisdictional agreements in 2005 with the cities of Carlsbad, San Marcos, Escondido (until Escondido joined the RSWA in 2008 as a Special Contract party for HHW purposes) and Santee (participated for several years) for use of the HHW facilities and/or programs. Nonmember jurisdictions were charged a slightly higher amount for the RSWA's management of the program.

In 2005, EDCO formally agreed to handle the bid process for the HHW subcontractor. The RSWA has coordinated with EDCO ever since to review the contracting process and develop a working plan with each subcontractor to provide the most innovative and cost effective HHW program of services.

EDCO Transfer and Disposal Agreement Modifications (2009)

In 2006, as part of the solid waste tip fee analysis due diligence, the RSWA staff discovered that there was a question as to how the "most favored nation clause" was being interpreted and implemented. General Manager Wurbs and General Counsel Nixon spent two years negotiating with EDCO regarding the methodology for calculating solid waste disposal rates.

In January 2009, the RSWA Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which applied to the 1999 RSWA/EDCO contract and clarified the methodology for calculation of solid waste disposal rates. General Manager Wurbs and Chairperson Morrison were able to reach a resolution with EDCO that could be taken to the Board for approval. The key to the MOU included a series of tip fee freezes as the most fair and equitable solution for moving forward, and also deleting "the most favored nation clause".

For the four north county RSWA cities, the disposal portion of the solid waste rate was frozen in fiscal years 2008/2009, 2009/2010 and again in fiscal year 2015/16. For the two southern/centrally located RSWA cities, rate freezes on the solid waste disposal portion of the trash rate were scheduled in fiscal years 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11 and again in fiscal year 2015/16.

On July 7, 2010 the RSWA Board approved an Amendment to the Transfer and Disposal Services Agreement that provided for two additional disposal rate freezes for all the RSWA cities- a freeze in fiscal year 2019/2020 and a freeze in fiscal year 2023/2024. In consideration of the disposal rate freezes, the RSWA agreed to extend the terms of the Agreement and the MOU through June 30, 2027.


Environmental Enhancement Fund

In the 2007/2008 budget the RSWA Board created the Environmental Enhancement Fund of $100,000 which has increased over time to $150,000 in FY 2016/2017. Each member city receives a distribution of funds based on their solid waste tonnage. This allows each individual member jurisdiction to target specific environmental needs and utilize the money to fund services such as recycling education, HHW program costs for disposal or litter abatement programs to support National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) related activities, among others. The influx of money allows each city to not only be creative but to individualize the program to meet the different and specific needs of each jurisdiction.

Website Design and Creation

On July 3, 2008 the Board directed the General Manager to create a website. With the technical leadership of RSWA Vice-Chairperson Mike Nichols a new website was created. Over several iterations General Manager Wurbs, Vice-Chairperson Nichols and private sector web designer, Anthony Prieto, developed and input information regarding the organization, the RSWA Board, the HHW program, recycling issues, as well as a section for news/press releases. The designers also developed a methodology to provide easy access to agendas and minutes. The new website was reviewed by the Board on April 9, 2009 and several suggestions were then incorporated into the design. The new website launched on July 1, 2009.

R's- Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

In 2010 the RSWA created an HHW Working Group with three elected officials (Mike Nichols representing Solana Beach, Maggie Houlihan representing Encinitas, and Marie Waldron representing Escondido). After just two meetings, the group developed a plan that provided for increased awareness of HHW. Additionally, the HHW Working Group developed the RSWA motto of the 5 Rs- Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle which they brought to the full Board for approval.

A pilot program was set up in fiscal year 2010/2011 in the cities of Encinitas and Solana Beach, and in fiscal year 2012/2013 the RSWA Board authorized $1,000 for each of the RSWA cities to further enhance the understanding and importance of the RSWA "5Rs" motto. Funding each city directly provided maximum flexibility to the individual jurisdiction to meet their specific needs.


The PaintCare program was created as the California paint stewardship program in October of 2012 to provide drop-off sites where the public could take unwanted, leftover paint for recycling. The RSWA put together an extremely novel approach to implementing the program. To the RSWA's knowledge, RSWA was the first entity in the State of California to participate in the PaintCare program by utilizing the approach of working through the RSWA's private sector HHW vendor. The RSWA successfully met the many regulatory requirements of both the State Department of Toxic Substances and Control and the County of San Diego.

The RSWA Board approved the contract on January 10, 2013 which provided that EDCO direct PSC (the vendor at the time) to collect paint at the HHW sites. This plan required that PSC enter into the agreement with PaintCare directly, which was the RSWA's preferred approach. In putting this plan into effect the RSWA was able to accomplish a savings of approximately 25% in every category of the HHW programs. This amounted to substantial savings on an annualized basis to the member cities. The savings were also passed along to the nonmember contract cities.

Management Change at RSWA

On July 11, 2013 the RSWA Board began a new period of management with Tom Nixon, longtime RSWA General Counsel of the firm Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart, also taking over the General Manager role from retiring Lin Wurbs. Tom Nixon served as the General Manager/General Counsel for the RSWA for two years. In July 2015, the role of General Manager/General Counsel, moved to James Eggart also of the firm Woodruff, Spradlin & Smart.

What the RSWA Learned Along the Way

Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Assume the group you are negotiating with knows ten times more about the subject matter at hand than you do. Learn the business and always be prepared to say no. Always have a back-up strategy that you can live with, but never stop negotiating.


Del Mar - Mayor Terry Sinnott

Encinitas - Council Member Mark Muir

Escondido - Council Member Michael Morasco

National City - Mayor Ron Morrison - Chairperson

Poway - Council Member Dave Grosch - Treasurer

Solana Beach - Mayor Mike Nichols - Vice-Chairperson

Vista- Council Member Joe Green - Secretary

2017 RSWA General Manager/General Counsel - James Eggart


Document authored by: Lin Wurbs, Retired RSWA General Manager (1998-2013)