Mike Koozmin/the S.F. ExaminerOrs Csaszar

Mike Koozmin/the S.F. ExaminerOrs Csaszar

Debate heats up over SF’s dwindling recycling centers

As many of San Francisco's recycling centers are being shut down through evictions, one operator is attempting to expand with a planned facility in South of Market.

However, the city permit that would have allowed him to open for business was suspended by a Planning Department official just weeks before the grand opening this month.

Recycling centers have been caught up in San Francisco's politically charged conversation about the homeless and gentrification. Although a certain number of facilities are required by law, and city and local leaders laud recycling as a civic priority, the actual locations accepting materials to recycle in The City are dwindling, pushed out of neighborhoods where some residents have complained they attract the homeless and nuisances like litter and crime.

Ors Csaszar, owner of the 20,000-square-foot facility Our Planet Recycling in the Bayview, thought he had in August found the perfect location to open a second operation at 405 10th St. He went to obtain the proper permits and received one April 1 after entering into a five-year lease.

The site is “very convenient for the people. We should be opened now,” Csaszar said.

But when neighbors found out about the business, they mobilized to fight it. One of their victories was a ruling by city Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez, who said the permit was wrongly issued over the counter since it “creates a new land use” and requires notification to nearby residents, which didn't occur. He suspended it.

Csaszar is appealing the ruling at the Board of Appeals on July 16.

“We made huge financial commitments, many of which are irreversible,” Csaszar said in his appeal, noting that he has spent $136,230 in preparation of opening and has hired 11 workers.

Two online petitions were created over the proposal, one in support with 884 signatures as of Monday and one with 697 signatures in opposition.

Opponents raise concerns about traffic and pedestrian safety, crime, noise and homeless people.

“The corner at 10th and Harrison streets is already chaotic with cars trying to park at Costco, and there is a constant flow of traffic through that intersection at all hours of the day leading to the Bay Bridge and highways 101 and 280,” the petition says.

Jim Meko, a longtime SoMa resident who lives near the proposed recycling center site, said he is most concerned about the increase in traffic and pedestrian safety at an already-dangerous intersection, and not the perceived homeless issues.

“I don't associate myself with any of the homeless bashing,” Meko said in reference to comments by some opponents.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents SoMa, said she has not taken a position on the project, but noted some potential conflicts with pedestrian space.

“We want to support a recycling center but we want to support the right location for it,” Kim said.

At a recent public hearing about recycling centers, Supervisor Eric Mar said the businesses are important for The City to achieve its environmental goal of zero waste by 2020. He also said “many people” rely on recycling centers “for a small but consistent income stream that they really need to survive in this city as the rents go up and prices go up in our city.”

Figures from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, which runs the state's recycling program, show that people dropping off containers at various recycling centers in San Francisco were refunded a total of $18.15 million in 2013.

Jose Ortiz, deputy director for beverage container recycling for CalRecycle, said of the recycling centers that “it's a matter of justice in many ways, making sure that people who pay money in the front end get it back.”

San Francisco had 35 recycling centers in 1990, but today, there are 14.

Based on the state beverage recycling law, which creates so-called convenience zones of a half-mile radius around grocery stores for recycling centers, San Francisco is failing to serve 41 percent of those areas. That figure is four times higher than Los Angeles and three to four times higher than the statewide average, according to CalRecycle.

And that will jump to 57 percent with a pending closure, which means hundreds of businesses will be forced to fill the void by collecting containers themselves to avoid $100 penalties under the state law.

Mar lamented the forced closure in 2012 of the decades-old Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council recycling center in Golden Gate Park by the Recreation and Park Department and other closures at Safeway grocery stores.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, in contrast, has supported the closure of a recycling center at Safeway's upper Market Street location. Last week, Wiener posted a message on his Facebook page calling on Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi to enforce the eviction of the recycling center, which was still present past its court-ordered notice to vacate June 30.

“It's past time for this industrial site, with its significant negative neighborhood impacts, to close down,” Wiener wrote.

Mar is hoping to stem the tide of recycling center evictions, with a resolution being voted on by the Board of Supervisors today calling for a moratorium on evictions of recycling centers and for supermarkets to locate them on their parking lots or nearby.

“The eviction of the HANC recycling center has led to a wave of recycling center evictions in our city,” Mar said. “And the trend is not looking good.”

Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of the Environment, said the “dismal rate of service” can be improved by getting “absentee supermarkets” to step up. There are 54 supermarkets in San Francisco. Safeway accounts for 15 of them.

“We have 650 small businesses that are potentially going to carry the load for these 54 supermarkets — and we don't even need 54, we need 12,” she said about ensuring local businesses won't be impacted by the closures.

The looming 57 percent unserved rate “is deeply embarrassing,” Raphael said. She added that she sympathizes with communities that have expressed concerns about nearby recycling centers because current locations are concentrated in certain parts of The City.

“We are only going to address that if we disperse and spread out the responsibilities,” Raphael said.

Having a conventional recycling center isn't the only option, she noted.

“We can mix things up,” Raphael said. “We can have staff centers, we can have vending machines, we can have rotating sites, mobile centers.”

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