The Start of the Northern California Gold Rush Chapter

In 1961, several local officials from southern California started a new association which was called the “Governmental Refuse Collection Disposal Association” (GRCDA).

Their objectives were:

  1. To be the center of scientific and technical excellence in the field of municipal and solid waste management 

  2. To represent the best interests of local governments in decisions made locally and nationally about municipal solid waste management.

The start of the Northern California Gold Rush Chapter began when W. Burnett, Sanitation Superintendent for the City of Bakersfield, sent out a letter to officials in Northern California encouraging them to form a chapter of GRCDA. An informal meeting was held in June 1962 in Merced. Those in attendance were William Burnett (City of Bakersfield), Robert Lawrence (City of San Leandro), Austin Melton (City of Merced), Tom King (City of Hanford), Edward Stepaneck (City of San Diego), Harvey Harris (City of Watsonville) and Clarence Davis (City of Watsonville). After the meeting with the members of the Southern California Chapter (the founding chapter of GRCDA/SWANA) that day, it was decided to move forward and recruit other people associated with solid waste collection and disposal to form the second chapter of GRCDA.

The Northern California Charter was passed at the “First annual State Conference and Seminar” held in Culver City’s Veterans Memorial Auditorium on November 21 and 22, 1963. The proceedings were cut short that first year due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Austin Melton was the first President and Robert Lawrence was the first Secretary/Treasurer. The charter members were Robert Lawrence, Austin Melton, Tom King, Harvey Harris, and Clarence Davis. Bob Lawrence and Tom King went on to become international presidents of GRCDA. Bob Lawrence, who served three terms as president of the association, became known as “Mr. GRCDA.” SWANA’s Robert L. Lawrence Distinguished Service Award and Lawrence Lecture were named in his honor.

By 1978 GRCDA had grown to about 900 members in 10 chapters in various western states and parts of Canada and hired its first Executive Director, Lanny Hickman. July 1st of that year, GRCDA established its first permanent office at 16th & K. Street NW, Washington, D.C. In the summer of 1981, GRCDA moved their offices to Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. In 1992 GRCDA changed its name to the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) to reflect how the field had broadened from refuse collection and disposal to all aspects of municipal solid waste management. When Lanny Hickman retired in 1996, John H. Skinner, Ph.D., was selected as Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer. In 2015, Dr. Skinner retired and David Biderman was selected as Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer.

SWANA’s prominent and nationally acclaimed technical conferences and training programs cover all aspects of integrated municipal solid waste management, and the Association is a major policy and technical representative of solid waste management practitioners, executives, companies and government organizations.

Today the Northern California “Gold Rush” chapter has over 400 members and SWANA has more than 11,000 members and 47 chapters.