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Fitzpatrick challenges survey's value

Sanitary District board member, whom the other members are trying to oust, contends that the survey 'failed to get critical information.'

May 29, 2012|By Joseph Serna

A recent customer satisfaction survey conducted on behalf of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District failed to ask ratepayers the right questions, according to one of the district's board members.

"We spent $40,000. We bought a Cadillac of a survey," board member Jim Fitzpatrick said. "We failed to get critical information, and if they don't think that's part of this whole trash contract thing, then why did the directors use [the survey] as part of their support document to continue the status quo?"

As Fitzpatrick has done since he was elected to the board in 2010, he raised concerns about the Sanitary District's longtime contract with its trash service company, CR&R. The 10-year agreement can be reopened, but it requires a six-year notice to the service provider.

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The embattled first-term board member said he wanted the survey takers to query residents about their feelings on reopening the contract.

"That wasn't the purpose of the survey," said Board President Bob Ooten.

The survey asked 40 questions of 1,000 Sanitary District ratepayers. The results showed that while most residents don't know who is picking up their trash, they're satisfied with the service nonetheless.

The pertinent information, according to district officials, is that it appears residents are willing to pay $1 to $5 more a month for trash pickup if it increases its recycling rate from 50% to 75%, as they expect the state to soon mandate.

"When the info comes back, it's, 'Gee, we don't have to make the hard policy decisions because our residents are happy,'" Fitzpatrick said.

Since last year, Fitzpatrick has increasingly found himself isolated from the rest of the board members. He resigned his seat from the city Planning Commission earlier this month to try and avoid losing his Sanitary District seat over a potential conflict of interest raised by other board members.

The district has spent an estimated $20,000 trying to unseat him and, despite his Planning Commission resignation, the members are still continuing their effort to remove him.

General Manager Scott Carroll said customers are generally more concerned with service.

"People just want their trash picked up every week and want to pay a fair rate," Carroll said.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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