Residents fear proposed recycle center will attract homeless people
By John Earl
OC Voice Editor
A recycling center vendor’s appeal of a denial by the city of Huntington Beach for a conditional use permit to operate a portable recycling center was voted down by the planning commission 6-0 at its Aug. 12 meeting.
The center’s proposed location is behind the Ralphs grocery store at the northeast corner of Adams and Brookhurst. The vendor can appeal again to the city council.
The city denied the permit on the basis that the pre-fabricated 498 square foot unit, which is modeled after a similar facility operated by the same company, SloanVazquez LLC, in the front of the Ralphs shopping center at Garfield and Goldenwest Avenues, is inconsistent with the city’s general plan, which calls for commercial projects abutting residential neighborhoods to protect residents from excessive noise, light, traffic, visual blight and operational hazards.
The recycling center would be open from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. with one attendant present under current plans. Self-serve vending machines would operate out of the front of the unit from 7 a.m. – 11 p.m., but there would be no compactors or power-driven equipment on sight for crushing recyclables, which could consist only of glass, plastic and aluminum containers, according to staff report.
It’s more likely that the real reason for the city’s permit denial is numerous complaints from nearby residents who are concerned that homeless people living along the nearby Santa Ana River will pass through their neighborhoods on their way to the recycling center to redeem cans and bottles or beg from other patrons, an assertion backed but not proven by police reports.
Scores of letters from residents in opposition to the center were received by the city. One writer, Donnie Meakin, believes that transients will “find it [the center] within hours, since their main (and often only) source of income IS recycling. When they do, they will also discover the gate into the back or west side of our complex…But, when they see the gate, they will quickly figure out that our neighborhood would be a really great shortcut to the recycling center.”
During the discussion of the issue at a recent planning commission study session, “homeless” jokes were uttered by several commissioners and chuckles ensued, but not a word was heard about how the homeless and perhaps the near-homeless (in today’s downward spiraling economy) might need the center for badly needed income, except from commissioner Joe Shaw.
Ralphs decided to contract with the recycling vendor to comply with the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, which effectively mandates the existence of at least one recycling center within a half-mile of a supermarket; if none exists, the supermarket must either establish a recycling center like the one proposed, redeem recyclables inside the store or pay a fine of $100 per day. The state had notified Ralphs that it was required to meet take one of those options.
Vendor owner/operator Enrique Varquez told H.B. Planning Commission members and residents present at the study session that he was willing to work with the city and residents to provide adequate security, but that the only practical alternative for Ralphs was to build the center. Planning commissioners discussed possible alternative placements for the recycling center on the Ralphs property and other mitigation measures.
In his appeal to the planning commission Vasquez disputed the city’s claim that the center would be incompatible with the General Plan.”The city code specifically allows for recycling centers to be permitted as an accessory use to a supermarket. There are hundreds of these types of ‘redemption’ centers operated across the State of California located in the parking lots of supermarkets, including several in the City of Huntington Beach,” he wrote.