Despite an appeal of the permit for Ekco Metals International by the Southeastern San Diego Planning Group, the city council voted unanimously on Tuesday, February 12, to allow Ekco to run its recycling facility in Grant Hill.
The defeat for the planning group left its chair, Maria Riveroll, wondering why she bothered to work so hard on the community plan — first in 1987, and again in 2009.
"We are supposed to start all over again on the 2020 plan and we worked so carefully and thoughtfully on the last one, so the city can ignore it and issue permits," Riveroll said. "They're telling us to update the plan and then they ignore it."
The 2800 block of Commercial Street in Grant Hill is by no means scenic — the trolley runs down the middle of the street lined with recycling operations. Cars are towed in and out, lines form early in the morning with people hauling bounty bottles and aluminum cans. The buildings are made of cement block and prefabricated metal, and the very tall fences are near flush to the sidewalk — some with concertina wire spooled across the top.
"We don't want to chase the existing businesses away,” said Riveroll, “but we don't want any more, and we hope they'll become less dominant and we can have a revitalization — our neighborhood is historic and it's a gateway to downtown. It’s invisible now, but revitalizing it is our long-term plan….
“Our councilman, David Alvarez, told us he doesn't like the yards any more than we do, but because we didn't rezone by 1997 to not allow those uses, the city doesn't have a legal leg to stand on."
Ekco Metals International worked hard to get their permit. The company volunteered to pull the fences back and add some landscaping — the only landscaping on the block. They promised to not take CRVs (bottles and aluminum cans), which can generate unruly crowds. The company says it will only accept larger items — including the city's old water meters, if they get the contract. Ekco will accept, sort, and ship materials.
"This is a collection recycling facility,” said Ekco president Ely Keenberg. “This is not a euphemism for junkyard. Processing is a highly regulated business — that's not what's proposed on this site."
After the council win, Riveroll went and shook hands with Keenberg, congratulating him on the win. "I'm not a sore loser," she said. "It's not a bad company, we just didn't want any more junkyards. We want the chance to be an area that isn't defined by junkyards."