Eviction of Golden Gate Park recycling center hits snag; collides with state law

by Thomas K. Pendergast, originally published in the Richmond Review November 2012

After San Francisco ran slap-bang up against a California state law, Mayor Ed Lee and SF Supervisor Christina Olague have been talking about finding a new home for the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s (HANC) recycling center in Golden Gate Park.

Meanwhile, the SF Recreation and Park Department (RPD) says it is still planning for HANC’s eviction, and plan to replace it with a community garden.

As the recycling center’s landlord, RPD sent an eviction notice to HANC in June 2011, but then HANC took RPD to court.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled in favor of the RPD’s eviction and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case in September, effectively upholding the eviction. As of presstime, the SF Sheriff’s office has not received an order to evict, so the recycling center’s immediate future appears to be in limbo.

HANC’s Executive Director Ed Dunn says he discussed alternatives with the mayor’s office and city departments, the RPD and the district’s supervisor, Christina Olague, at a recent meeting at City Hall.

It seems it is not just a simple matter to get rid of the recycling center and leave it at that. The problem is a state law known as the California Bottle Act.

The law requires stores with annual sales of $2 million or more to either buy back the recycled bottles and cans brought to them or pay a $100 fine for each day they fail to do so. The law also establishes a “convenience zone” of a half-mile radius around such stores. Within this zone, all other stores selling cans or bottles must do the same.

They are all exempted from the law if there is a recycling center in the area, like HANC. Once that recycling center is gone, the law will probably go into effect because not far to the east of them is a Whole Foods market and nearby to the west sits Andronico’s market.

Also at the meeting was the executive director of the San Francisco Office of Small Business, Regina Dick-Endrizzi.

“They’re required to provide certified recycling but they could get an exemption if there’s an entity, a certified recycling center, that is in that convenience zone area. Or, they can pay a $100 a day fine,” says Dick-Endrizzi.

Rather than go through the trouble of dealing with homeless people or senior citizens showing up with bags full of bottles and cans every day, taking the latter option might be a better option for large markets.

“There are places that have made the decision that they will pay $100 a day, as opposed to provide the recycling on site,” she explains. “If the supermarket is not providing recycling on site and there isn’t an off-site recycling center, then all stores that sell bottles and cans are required to do buy back.”

She says this has already been a problem with a market and surrounding convenience stores in an area south of Market Street.

“Once the convenience zone was established by this one entity and they did not provide a recycling center and nor was there a recycling center in the half-mile radius, people were coming in (to small markets) with bags, and so that was interfering; their customers purchasing their stuff were having to wait in line while they were dealing with this. It creates a certain amount of business disruption.”

Especially when the “mom and pop stores” started getting letters from the state warning them about the monetary consequences of not complying.

A spokesperson for the mayor confirms he was at the meeting.

“I think the mayor participated in the meeting because he is open to hearing about if there’s a lack of resources available to people out there in the City for recycling opportunities, and to see how HANC could maybe fill that need. He was open to hearing about that,” says Christine Falvey, the mayor’s director of communications and public affairs. “So, he asked his SF Department of Environment to work with HANC to come up with a plan, locations, what the purpose is. … How could we beef up recycling throughout the City?”

Falvey says she was not at the meeting and is not aware of any discussion involving a specific alternative site. Instead, they talked about a mobile model where a recycling service could pick up at different locations, at different times.

“As far as I understand it was a discussion about the more mobile aspects of a program moving forward.”

Falvey also says that because the eviction is essentially a landlord-tenant issue between the RPD and the recycling center, she did not think the department needed the mayor’s approval to proceed with the eviction. To do that, however, either a department head or the city attorney would have to go before a judge, who in turn could order the Sheriff’s Office to post an eviction notice.

A spokesperson for District 5 Supervisor Olague’s office says the supervisor was at the meeting to discuss location options for the recycling center.

“Our office has heard from the majority of the surrounding small businesses that their businesses will suffer significantly with the loss of the very important services HANC provides,” says Stephanie Tucker. “We have also heard from neighbors on both sides of the issue, however, the majority support them relocating and staying in the district. Keeping HANC in District 5 is the sentiment our office has heard throughout our community and is a priority.”

“Another idea that has been brought up and has been very well received, is turning HANC into a mobile recycling center/service, with a set schedule of times and locations. Our goal is to identify solutions that will allow HANC to stay open, relocate and continue to serve our community, as they have done very well since 1974. If anyone knows of any spaces available for HANC, please call HANC or our office.”

The RPD, meanwhile, plans to move a community garden into the space and has already allotted $250,000 for the first phase of the conversion.

“We are continuing our planning efforts for a community garden that will open to the public at the east end of Golden Gate Park,” says Connie Chan, deputy director of public affairs for the RPD.

Chan chose not to comment on whether or not the department would push to evict the recycling center anytime soon, nor did she comment on the involvement of the department in finding an alternative site or if the people with garden plots now located on about a third of the HANC site would get to keep their plots.

Dunn says at this point he is still trying to figure out what the next step should be.

“We haven’t done much yet,” Dunn said. “We’re still waiting to hear whether we’re supposed to be in the driver’s seat to come up with something with the mayor, if the Department of the Environment is supposed to come up with something with the mayor … if all of us together are supposed to come up with stuff; I’m just not exactly sure what the next step is.”