Since the 1970s, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council has operated the longest-running recycling center in San Francisco at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, near Kezar Stadium.
Those four decades of history soon come to a close as San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department realizes its multi-year campaign to evict the recycling center and replace it with a community garden.
Over the years, the center has become an area landmark as the sole place in the immediate vicinity to redeem bottles and cans for cash as part of California's recycling buyback program. However, the center has also drawn criticism that, because this buyback program is a major source of income for the city's homeless, it has become a magnet for drugs and crime as well as a source of noise pollution for area neighbors.
The city first made moves to close the center in 2010 under the administration of then-mayor Gavin Newsom. "It kind of became obsolete over the decades," San Francisco deputy attorney Vince Chabria told KTVU. "Everybody started having curbside recycling."
Organizer Ryan Rising, who helped put together a "human be-in" in Golden Gate Park earlier this month to protest the closing of the center, explained to KQED that because the people who use the center pick up recyclable materials that would otherwise litter the streets, it's an important part of the city's ambitious goal of reaching zero waste by 2020.
Even though the center only handles a fraction of one percent of San Francisco's total recycling, it's one of the city's largest recycling facilities and has long been considered a neighborhood landmark. With the adoption of mandatory citywide curbside recycling, the city has been gradually closing down its recycling centers. There were 30 within the city limits in 1990 and now that number has dropped to only 19. San Francisco recycles about 77% of its total waste, but only 5% of that comes from recycling centers. However, as HANC center advocates charge, for a city looking to get that number up to 100%, every little bit helps.
The council sued the city to keep the eviction from going through, but a decision by the California Supreme Court not to hear the case allowed a ruling by the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals defending the legitimacy of the eviction to stand.
HANC attorney Robert De Vries claimed that the eviction served as discrimination against an entire class of San Francisco residents because, he argued, it came as part of a coordinated campaign against the city's homeless population. Said campaign included the passage of the controversial sit-lie ordinance, which criminalized sitting or lying down on the sidewalk during daylight hours--a measure directly targeted at the city's transient population.
"This is part of nonauthentic, nongentrified San Francisco," De Vries told the San Francisco Examiner. "Certainly it's true some new people don't like the old Haight-Ashbury. This is a social issue and I don't think policy should be based on it."
Replacing the recycling center with a community garden initially came from meetings held between city officials and the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, a rival, pro-business neighborhood group that was also the driving force behind the sit-lie ordinance.
HAIA president Ted Loewenberg told neighborhood blog Uppercasing that the idea came about, "in our brainstorming with Rec and Parks. We talked about what other uses could be made of that space, and we all agreed that having a community garden or something that was desirable [would be better than the recycling center]. In fact, there's blatant demand for such a facility and we thought that would certainly be something worth trying there."
Ironically, there is already a community garden on the site, added by the council last year near a native plant nursery.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian notes that supporters of recycling center have charged that the eviction of the center came as "political payback" from Newsom for opposing sit-lie, something his administration strongly backed.
Proceeds generated from the recycling center fund the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council's other community development activities.
The recycling center is hosting a farewell picnic on Sunday, September 30 where, as Uppercasing reports, some eleventh-hour plans are being made for its rescue. "Join us in rallying to save this resource and meet the people who plan to defend us when the Sheriff arrives," wrote council in a recent letter to its mailing list.
In a statement early last year, HANC Director Ed Dunn warned that the center's defenders won't go quietly. "1000 people have already pledged to chain themselves together on our last day, so we'll need a lot [of chains]," said Dunn. "But in any case, if things work out scrap prices for steel are through the roof, so this is a good time to recycle."
Recycling center staff have been told that they can expect eviction to come by early next month.