A recycling center in the park
His rolling suitcase barely zips shut. The overstuffed bag on wheels wobbles awkwardly, bouncing on the uneven pavement as he pulls it behind him like a disobedient dog on a leash.
He reaches his destination and the sound of crashing glass, clanking metal and working machinery is a mismatching of the green-growing garden before him. He picks his spot next to a series of trash bins and unzips his bag and outflows his daily collection of recyclables.
“I’ve been homeless, recycling for about five years now,” says Gregory Paris, a daily customer of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council recycling center.
Paris, says he comes to the center at least once a day. He makes his money by collecting recyclables from the park and the beach. He says that he goes deep into the bush and shrub where no one else will, because for one thing— it needs to be cleaned and for another—he needs money to survive.
“They need [recycling centers] for people,” says Paris. “For people who can’t do a rain dance when they are thirsty!”
The HANC recycling center at 780 Frederick St. was at one point considered to be an innovative contribution to the community for people like Paris. In the present day with citywide curbside services provided by Recology, the center is considered obsolete and an unfitting industrial business that attracts an unwanted homeless population to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, according to the Recreation and Parks Department.
Holding the lease, Recreation and Parks has sent three eviction notices which HANC has ignored and finally appealed. HANC went into an unlawful detainer action arguing that there are political motives behind the eviction. Recreation and Parks plans on using the space for a more “appropriate” use such as a community garden, and nearby neighborhood organizations stand behind that agenda.
“Times have changed,” says Richard Magary, steering committee chair of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association. “Recycling operation necessarily involves noise and large diesel trucks on an on-going basis… the residents [across the street of the center] have complained about the noise for years—with no response.”
Magary argues that Golden Gate Park simply is not a suitable site for a recycling center anymore.
“They’re trying to play by how recycling was done 20, 25, 30 years ago when it’s a completely different situation now,” states Magary.
The changing times
HANC has been at its current location since 1981. At first, the center existed only as a drop off donation center and in 1986 the Bottle Bill was enacted and the center was fully certified for California Redemption Value by 1987.
“The Recycling Center was a tremendous asset for its first 10 years but when the city instituted sidewalk recycling—thanks to the example set by HANC—the drop-off function became redundant,” says Karen Crommie, president of the Cole Valley Improvement Association, who is also in favor of the eviction.
Since the start of curbside disposal in the early ’90s, HANC has been struggling to prove itself to the other neighborhood organizations. According to Ed Dunn, the HANC recycling center site director, the ongoing battle has always been political.
“The recycling center became controversial,” says Dunn. “The HANC political organization… is a very progressive organization and has taken positions over the decades that have been controversial for some people.”
Dunn says that in 2001 the lease had expired and HANC was on a rolling month-to-month contract. After that happening, with the continuance of the group’s political stance on certain issues— such as their opposition to the sit-lie ordinance—came the political feud that fueled the fire for the eviction at hand.
“The neighborhood politics were getting hot as ever,” says Dunn, and in 2010 HANC heard word that various neighborhood organizations teamed up with Recreation and Parks and Gavin Newsom, whom was mayor at the time, and planned to evict the center to replace it with a community garden.
According to Recreation and Parks, HANC provides only .1 percent of the city’s total recycling tonnage. In an agenda dated Nov. 29 2010, just one month before the first eviction notice, Recreation and Parks state that “the San Francisco Department of the Environment is confident that recyclers that use the facility will take their material to another existing site.” Therefore, they feel that there is no longer a practical use for the site and that a community garden would be more beneficial for the neighborhood.
Reasons for eviction evolved
Ted Lowenberg, president of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, says that there are two prominent issues involving the recycling center.
“Rec and Park has the right to terminate the lease with 30 days notice,” says Lowenberg. “Secondly, Rec and Park has the stewardship of public land in San Francisco for recreation.”
Lowenberg states that it is time for the center to vacate and by refusing, HANC is invalidating the legality of their contract which is setting a potentially harmful example for the neighborhood.
“Their lease is over and its their time to go, period,” says Lowenberg.
HANC is aware of the circumstances and is taking it upon itself to do whatever it takes to stay.
“So in the middle of last summer I said, ‘screw it!’ ” says Dunn. He and his team created their own community garden infrastructure.
Crommie says that HANC is trying to “stall” and “undermine” the eviction process.
“The underlying issue is the community anger resulting from the fact that after Rec and Park issued the legal eviction it planned to replace it with a community garden managed by the Rec and Park Department’s community garden program,” says Crommie.
Crommie argues that there were expectations for a Recreation and Parks operated community garden that is now on hold. The fact that HANC took it upon itself to implement a community garden itself is an example of how “HANC feels that the property belongs to them,” according to Crommie.
The multiple viewpoints and standing ground
Many neighboring business throughout the Haight Ashbury are unaware of the debate. Though they are unfamiliar with the politics, some still had a perspective.
Becky Dill of Cold Steel America Piercing and Tattoo, says that her business benefits from the center and that she does not see the recycling center contributing to theft or to the homeless population.
“We want to buy some pretty expensive equipment but it’s expensive to have a business on Haight Street,” says Dill. “So what we’ve been doing is saving bottles and cans for over a year now so we can save some money and by nice equipment.”
Brad Woehl, owner of American Cyclery on Stanyan Street is familiar with the politics, but still is unsure where he stands on the issue.
“People in the neighborhood that use the recycling center come by our store and push their shopping carts full of their bottles and cans… everyday,” says Woehl. He says that not only is it distracting but it is bad for business in that it creates an unpleasant atmosphere.
However, he sees HANC as an asset to the community. The mural painted on the side of the building to his business was done thanks to HANC.
“The funds needed to paint the mural and pay the artists came from money from HANC,” says Woehl.
BVNA, HAIA and CVIA amongst others stand in their fight behind Recreation and Park, and do hope that the current site facilitated by HANC will eventually be vacated.
All organizations involved firmly believe that the “CRV redemption program encourages and provides incentive for illegal poaching” and “enables illegal camping and illicit and unhealthy behavior,” according to the Recreation and Parks proposed agenda.
The appeal at hand is still being processed and there are no court dates scheduled. HANC was granted a stay as of Aug. 13 2011, while the appeal is processed. Dunn says he expects to be in court by June. Nevertheless, he remains hopefull.
“Hopefully at the appropriate time the mayor will look at this issue and tell Rec and Park to lift the eviction,” says Dunn.
Until a decision is made, customers like Gregory Paris will continue to use the facility in hopes that it will remain.
Emptying his bag full of recyclables, swiftly separating bottles from cans, Paris further explains the necessity of recycling centers. He says that it is his lively-hood and the city needs to be cleaned up.
“Imagine if everyone stopped recycling,” says Paris, staring stern faced and still. “It would be a mess… It would be a huge mess!”
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Wednesday Feb. 8 turned out to be quite the adventure. After waking up at 3 a.m., I switched on autopilot and biked to work as usual. One doppio macchiato later, my senses heightened as the buzz in my head signaled overly hyped movements and gestures in jittery nervousness. Caffeinated: Check!
The temporary fix wore off of course. After I worked a full day I wanted nothing more than to sleep, but I then sluggishly biked to school. By the end of class I felt like a zombie. Blaah… Despite my long start, the day had just begun; at about 6 in the early evening I set out to the Haight!
Quickly I was hit by a second wind. It was as if I was reborn in the midst of what seemed to be a revitalization of a long-established bohemian world. The night, full of life, captivated my curiosity and luckily led me to meet a couple of street performers in front of Amoeba Music.
Nate Miarecki and his companion whom chose to go by the alias “Rattlesnake Eyes,” were the first of many musical encounters for the night. According to Nate, they were “just hanging out,” and “trying to have a good time.”
The pair played some music for awhile, teaching each other songs before heading out to the Mission for the night. And then they packed up and left.
I spent the next few hours strolling the streets to see what else I can find to do, who else I can stop and talk to. In the end I came back to the area where I started and found that there was a show going on at the Milk Bar. The venue would become host to a gallery of catchy-garage-band noise.
Vocalist and guitarist of the unnamed opening act, Theo Slavin, was excited to have the opportunity to play their first show at Milk Bar.
“I just want to play,” says Slavin. “You never get to do it a lot.”
Drummer Taylor Meclroy adds that Milk Bar is a “cool spot,” and that “it’s a dope bar.”
The night continued and I mingled with the crowd. To my surprise, I was feeling more comfortable talking to people. I no longer felt like the lost child in the first week on assignment.
Two bands played before it was time for the headlining act. The Machetes were a throwback rock and roll band with a little punk edge. The crowd responded well, accepting the music, letting it absorb into their bodies as the beats pulsed with every dance movement.
At the end of the night, I left the show feeling amped. Being a musician myself, not only did the music resonate through me, but the words of Theo Slavin echoed in my head.
“I just want to play.”
Three times… THREE TIMES, I visited the Haight this week. Each time prepared. I confidently readied myself with my camera strapped on my shoulder and my notepad and pen in hand. I had a plan of action! I hit the streets with an eager heart and keen sight in search of the next big story! There I was… UNSTOPPABLE.
To be honest with you… It was terrifying.
I wandered like a lost child in search for his parents. My head drifted side to side. My eyes were shifty. I tried not to make eye contact for too long as I was constantly approached by panhandlers, weed dealers and petitioners! OH MY!!!
I was not prepared. I fearfully gripped my camera and the sweat profusely streaming from my hand made my notepad soggy and my pen slippery! I’d forgotten my plan! I ran the streets with my heart racing so fast it beat in my throat and my eyes peeled so wide my vision blurred from the tears in my frantic search for an exit! And there I was… hopeless…
Ok ok…. That is a little dramatic. But really, I quickly learned how much courage and confidence it took to approach people and start conversation. Shut down after shut down, I became synonymous to the panhandlers, weed dealers and petitioners in the eyes of the passersby.
I had to get through to the people somehow! So I decided to take a look at some of the neighborhood businesses.
My first stop happened to be a coffee shop, of course. The Grind Cafe on Scott and Haight is where I met barista Nehu Evans, 25, whom in conversation mentioned a few issues in the neighborhood.
“The panhandlers are pretty aggressive,” he said. “Especially towards tourists.”
I continued the conversation failing to mention my nervous encounters from earlier…
It was fairly busy, so he couldn’t talk too long. However, he provided some insight on the communal feel of the neighborhood that I soon discovered.
Not too far down I headed over to Edo Salon & Gallery at 601 Haight St. There I struck up a conversation with Jai Carrillo and Salon Manager Tiffany Ward.
“All of the businesses share interests,” said Carrillo. “Everyone kinda knows each other… especially in Lower Haight .” Ward added that the community hosts an art walk every once and awhile, bringing Haight residents and businesses together.
“We (Edo) continue the art walk every couple of months,” she says, referring to an art exhibit entitled NO FACE, that the salon will be hosting on Feb. 10.
Despite the rugged exterior, with street posts, walls and newsstands marked as artists’ canvases, the Haight that initially struck me as frightening began to feel a little more like home, especially after my encounter with “Lower Haighter” Zoe Jardine.
“I moved here not knowing it was a cool, hotspot neighborhood, ” she says kiddingly. She says seeing all of the familiar faces so frequently is “like going to school…I feel safe living in Lower Haight.”