On July 1, James Prince opened a recycling collection center in the parking lot of Stump’s Family Marketplace, the independently owned grocery store at the corner of Voltaire and Worden streets in the Point Loma neighborhood of Loma Portal. The collection center pays cash for recyclable cans, bottles, and plastics. Within ten days, a coordinated group of residents living adjacent to the grocery store began emailing their councilman, Ed Harris, and mayor Kevin Faulconer requesting the recycler be shut down. These emails expressed concerns about community safety and property values due to a perceived increase in homeless activity within their neighborhood, primarily homeless men recycling materials in bulk for the cash payments.
One email states, “It’s pretty amazing how the recycling center immediately attracted the homeless to our neighborhood.” Another contends it “brings in the homeless of Ocean Beach.”
The complaints did not go unheard. By the end of August, the city’s Development Services Department had inspected the collection center and issued an order to cease operations within 30 days, comply with city ordinances, or risk assessment of a $300-per-day penalty.
Technically, it’s only the size of the recycling center that violated municipal code. The city defines a small recycling collection facility as fitting within 500 square feet, which can operate with a city business tax certificate, which Prince acquired. Collection centers exceeding 500 square feet are designated “large facilities,” which may only operate with a neighborhood-use permit, which Prince Recycling does not possess. Code-enforcement officials initially measured Prince’s operational area, including two shipping containers, at about 1350 square feet.
Though the city, albeit temporarily, deemed the collection center to be in violation, its presence in the neighborhood is mandated by California law. In fact, it receives subsidies from the state to be there.
In 1987, California passed the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, establishing a five- or ten-cent California Redemption Value for glass, aluminum, and plastic beverage containers. This law also makes any full-line grocery store selling cans and bottles responsible for providing a convenient buyback center within a half-mile radius, known as a convenience zone. As stated by the website for CalRecycle, the state agency overseeing the program, “Convenience zone recyclers provide opportunities to redeem containers near where beverages were purchased.”
A grocery store doesn’t technically have to provide the buyback service itself, but if no certified collection center operates within its convenience zone, CalRecycle levies the market in question with a $100-per-day fine. To facilitate this process, California pays “handling fees” — a CalRecycle official said they range from “near nothing to thousands of dollars” based on volume — to certified recycling collection centers satisfying the convenience-zone requirements in order to make the redeeming of nickel-and-dime deposits profitable.
For many years, Stump’s received an exemption to this rule, thanks to the presence of Apple Tree Market in neighboring Ocean Beach. Apple Tree created its own convenience zone, which was serviced by Regan’s Recycling, located in the nearby parking lot of the Rite Aid at Niagara Avenue and Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. While this collection center existed outside the half-mile radius around Stump’s, the state granted an exemption due to its proximity to the Ocean Beach store.
When Apple Tree Supermarket closed at the end of 2012, it left Ocean Beach without a full-line grocery store, and as a result, without a convenience zone. Regan Recycling no longer qualified for the handling fees paid by CalRecycle, which reportedly led to its closing at the end of 2013.
This placed the onus of area recycling on Dirk Stump, who was informed by CalRecycle that at the end of a six-month grace period, ending July 1, his market would be fined if he did not redeem California Redemption Value containers in-store or see to the establishment of a certified collection center within a half-mile radius.
That’s when Jamie Prince entered the picture. The ponytailed, longtime Grateful Dead follower may not fit everyone’s idea of an entrepreneur, but he operates two other collection centers in San Diego and understands how the CalRecycle system works. He noted the closure of Regan’s and kept track of local convenience zones that might arise as a result. When the Stump’s convenience zone turned up in the CalRecycle listings, Prince approached Stump with an offer to open a collection center in the market’s parking lot.
Stump agreed and now finds himself caught between the state mandate and the ire of the community his store serves. He emphatically doesn’t want a recycling center in his parking lot. But Prince is there at his consent, because otherwise Stump would be on the hook to CalRecycle for more than $36,000 in annual fines.
Stump knows the recycling center angers his neighbors and says the influx of homeless coming to the property to redeem California Redemption Value containers has led to a slew of problems in and around his store as well. He claims a number of his shopping carts have gone missing — a loss of $115 each — and that several times per week homeless men attempt to shoplift alcohol from his store.
Most complaints — directed to Stump and to the city — center around the Sea Colony condominiums located directly across Worden Street from the recycling center. According to Prince, a Sea Colony resident approached him shortly after the recycling center opened to let him know it wasn’t welcome.
A Sea Colony homeowners association board member described the situation faced by Sea Colony residents on Thursday nights since the recycling center opened. She said that, during the night prior to Friday-morning trash pick-up, “The homeless are all over our complex going through our recycling cans.” She claims they are verbally abusive to Sea Colony security patrols, while others speak of finding vomit, used needles, and other waste.
Shortly after Prince Recycling opened for business, a group of Sea Colony residents contacted the city en masse to complain about the connection between the recycling center and an increase in the presence of homeless men in their community. “The recycling center appears to have increased the transients that already frequent our area,” one email read, while another opines the recycling center would be better suited to the vicinity of Sports Arena, not their “residential community with children and families.”
Councilman Harris has been sympathetic but concedes there’s a larger issue here that needs addressing. A representative of Harris’s office says District 2 counts the second-highest homeless population in San Diego, yet receives a fraction of city resources allocated to assist or treat, compared to those serving downtown.
Prince insists the homeless are a mere fraction of his overall clientele and that “the majority of business is just people in the neighborhood.” He believes recycling “helps a lot of people in all walks of life,” so rather than close shop, he decided to comply with the city’s order by shrinking his operational space to within 500 square feet by reducing the number and size of shipping containers, which he says effectively doubles his shipping costs as he must more frequently transport the collected materials.
City code-enforcement officials have signed off on the smaller facility, which they measured at 420 square feet during a September 29 inspection. For the moment, it would seem the city’s involvement is at an end. Stump’s remains off the hook for California Redemption Value buyback, and Prince Recycling remains open for business.