homeless recyclers squeezed by LA law FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 20 Apr 1998 14:42:32 -0700 (PDT)

FWD Sunday, April 19, 1998 - LA TIMES




     Every day Tyrone Gilbert pushes his cart from Cahuenga Boulevard to
the Fairfax Avenue area and back to Western Avenue, scavenging recyclable
cans and bottles from trash cans the length and breadth of Hollywood "In
days past I used to hustle two or three times a day," the 54-year-old
homeless man said. "Now, I'm a different story. I'm just a cheated person."
Gilbert used to take his recyclables, which he depends upon for a living
despite not having the mandated permanent address, to a center at El Centro
and Santa Monica Boulevard, until it closed.
     The El Centro facility and others closed following the passage of a
new city recycling ordinance last August, which gave the Department of
Building and Safety more regulatory powers over recycling centers.
     Although the law stipulates that there must be a recycling center
within two miles of a supermarket, there are no such laws governing
independent centers, which are attractive to the homeless because of their
higher exchange rates -- between 1 and 20 cents higher per pound -- than
supermarket recycling operations.
     "They say we are a nuisance, that we bring in the homeless who bring
in drugs and urinate on the street," said Marion Martinez, of Florencio
Martinez Co. which owns a center on Western Avenue in Hollywood.
      The city is trying to close down the independent centers even though
they have a portable restroom on site, Martinez said.
     The proliferation of drugs and alcohol near independent centers
frequented by the homeless is a major source of conflict among residents.
     "The dilemma is a hard one to solve," said Emily Gabel, the city's
associate zoning administrator. "In neighborhoods, where there are a lot of
transients collecting bottles, it's perceived as very disturbing and [has
a] negative impact. In one case a business owner hired an extra security
guard to stop them [from] going through his trash bins.
     "Customers are offended and stop patronizing stores. The city cannot
regulate that and nor should they. Everyone has a right to earn money." But
many of the problems are a result of outdated recycling regulations, which
were "designed for a small neighborhood operation [but] grew into a very
large operation, almost industrial in character," Gabel said.
     The combined effect of the new city ordinance and the hostile
reception of recycling centers in Westside residential areas means that the
Westside has plenty of supermarket recycling outlets but virtually no
independent centers.
     Lupe Vela, manager of the city's integrated solid waste management
office, said that may have as much to do with economics as anything else.
     "The other reason that they aren't on the Westside or the West Valley
is that land is very expensive,"  Vela said. "And you don't have high
tolerance for grimy industry on the Westside. Most of the industrial
corridors are on the North East and South Central areas. Land is cheaper,
so that's basic economics." Finding a workable solution, one that is
amenable to all sections of the community, is still some way off. Ideas
include encouraging sites in more industrialized areas and ensuring that
while independent centers are still easily  reached, they are not too close
to residential areas.
     Vela, a veteran of the city's recycling program, is passionate about
maintaining its accessibility to everyone.
     "Maybe the best thing is to put them in police stations," Vela said.
"Then you wouldn't have any crime."


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