Neighborhood feud over recycling center in Point Loma part of statewide dilemma
by Joshua Emerson Smith
A recycling center in Point Loma has raised the ire of local residents who say it has attracted some drug-addled homeless people to the neighborhood who litter and sometimes defecate in public.
At the same time, supporters of the business, Prince Recycling, have countered that those causing problems are only a small portion of the people who use the conveniently located center in the parking lot of Stump’s Family Marketplace on Voltaire Street
While many residents would like to see the center moved to an industrial area, those defending the business have said the neighborhood should rather address longstanding issues associated with homelessness head on.
The challenges facing Prince Recycling aren’t unique. Private recycling centers located near grocery stores all over the state have faced public opposition. The city of Frenso last year passed an ordinance that significantly restricted where private recyclers can operate in response to public concerns.
At the same time, such businesses have financial challenges. As commodity prices for plastic have dropped, recycled materials have become less competitive.
In the last three years, more than 800 recycling centers around the state have closed down — and to make things even more complicated, that’s put some grocery stores and other retailers in a tough spot financially under state law.
“This is not just Point Loma,” said Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, at a town hall-style event Saturday morning. “Hundreds of these facilities across the state are closing because there’s something wrong with the overall system. There are other neighborhoods within my own district that have this concern.”
Scores of residents showed up to Gloria’s public event Saturday to express their frustration, such as Donna Schmidt, a Point Loma resident of 10 years.
“I have two kids that go to high school in Point Loma, and they used to walk,” she said. “They don’t walk anymore because we have people dragging bags of recyclables through our million-dollar home areas. There’s got to be a better place for Mr. Prince to serve all these communities.”
Laurene Kallstron, who lives across the street from Prince Recycling in the Sea Colony condo complex, voiced concerns echoed by many people at the meeting: “I have seen a man come from the recycling center with his zipper undone and his penis hanging out going to pee. I saw another man go in those bushes, pull his pants down and defecate. That’s what’s happening.
“Our property values have gone down,” she added. “I would never have bought that unit had there been a recycle center there.”
The business’s owner, Jamie Prince, defended his operation at the meeting, telling the crowd that the homeless have frequented the Point Loma and Ocean Beach area long before his business opened in 2014.
“It’s not our job to police what happens down the street,” he said. “I feel it’s very unfair to blame me for what homeless might do. There are plenty of people that recycle that come in that are families. And they just want their money back.”
Thirty-year Ocean Beach resident Gregg Robinson said that he wanted the recycling center to stay in its current location.
“This recycling service is serving a need and it can be difficult,” he said. “If the homeless are defecating (in public), then let’s take care of that. That’s illegal. But why punish somebody who’s doing a service or even the homeless themselves, who are the most vulnerable among us?”
If the recycler moves, it would mean that grocery stores and some markets in the area would have to pay a fee, under state rules intended to incentivize the convenient locating of such businesses.
“We don’t want to go 10 miles to get our $5 worth of cans redeemed,” Mark Oldfield, spokesman for the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle. “We ought to be able to take it to a place that’s near where we paid the CRV (California Redemption Value) to begin with. That’s the notion behind the convenience zones — convenience.”
Under the Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act that was passed in 1987, bottling companies, such as Coca-Cola or Anheuser-Busch, must pay into a recycling fund upfront.
Those costs get passed onto the retailer and eventually the consumer, who can redeem the fee through recycling. That incentive is now 5 cents for containers less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for bigger containers.
That money helps subsidize recycling operations to make them competitive in the marketplace and encourage the reuse of raw materials.
At the same time, grocery stores with gross annual sales of $2 million or more must have a recycling center within a half-mile of their location or pay a fee of $100 a day.
Given the current situation, the California Grocers Association has been trying to get the legislature to loosen those rules.
“Most grocers survive on a 1 to 2 percent profit margin, so $36,500 a year is likely an employee,” said Aaron Moreno, senior director of government relations for the California Grocers Association. “Or they can take back all the garbage in store, which creates safety and health issues. It’s an untenable position and the law is inflexible right now.”
Even with the penalty, many grocers have opted to pay the fee, including Dirk Stump, owner of Stump’s Family Marketplace in Point Loma.
Stump brought in Prince Recycling roughly four years ago to avoid paying the daily $100 fee after a number of other recycler centers within a half-mile of his business closed down.
Today, he’d like to see Price relocate.
“He is not the guy using drugs and leaving needles and crapping in people’s yards, but his business is causing that to happen. He’s not hearing what the neighborhood is saying,” he said.
“The type of individuals that frequent that place, they scare the customers,” he said. “They scare the old ladies. They hassle the school kids. They sleep in the neighbors’ doorways and bushes. They steal product from the store.”
It’s still unclear what’s going to happen at the location. Stump and the owner of the lot are trying to evict the recycling center. At times, Prince has signaled that he would consider leaving, but at the recent town hall on Saturday, he seemed ready to fight the eviction.
What is clear is that a lot of people use these types of recycling facilities — and not just homeless.
About 88 percent of materials are recycled statewide by citizens through buy-back recycling locations, according to the most recent data from CalRecycle. The remaining amount is serviced by curbside haulers and a handful of other smaller programs.
On Thursday morning, Bob Smart had driven about 10 minutes from his home in Point Loma to turn in some cans and bottles at Prince Recycling. He said he makes a modest $10 a month, but he likes to do it when he goes shopping at Stump’s.
“I like it. It’s convenient,” said the 52-year-old, who has lived in the area for the past two decades. “It’s just better than going downtown to try to recycle your stuff.”
The business was busy that morning, including a seemingly endless stream of homeless individuals. Many people, who were living in their vehicles, brought in large hauls of cans and bottles.
Most said that of those recycling there was a small number who could cause a lot of trouble from time to time, but the overall mood was calm and orderly that morning.
Tom Butters, who’s been homeless on and off in Ocean Beach for years, said that he brings in about $50 a week from recycling.
“I’ve never seen a fight here,” said the 62-year-old. “I’ve never seen anybody argue about who’s cutting in line. Everybody’s cool. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
But a 45-year-old who would only identify himself as Miles offered a more nuanced take.
“I know it brings a lot of things that people don’t want to see, but they’re working,” he said, adding: “It can bring a lot of riffraff. I can see their side, too, you know.”