A rally on Saturday, February 10, will protest the recycling center behind Stump's Market in Loma Portal. When Prince Recycling opened up in 2014, there were protests then, too. It's the only recycling center within a mile of Ocean Beach and Point Loma residents. Others are five or more miles away.
The petition that organizer and nearby resident Margaret Virissimo put out at the beginning of the week to oust the recycling center got more than 425 signatures within 24 hours. The petition is headed for the desk of state assemblymember Todd Gloria.
This won't be news to Gloria, as he discussed the issue with the Point Loma Association in October. Julie Borcher said Gloria agreed to look into it for the upcoming legislative year, saying his office had complaints from other communities. The deadline to introduce new legislation for the next session is February 15.
Borcher argues the 1987 legislation meant to reduce litter by mandating that recycling centers be located near grocery stores makes no sense. It now has the opposite effect as homeless people scavenge for recyclables and scatter non-redeemable garbage in neighborhoods.
A spokesman for Gloria said, “Assemblymember Gloria is still actively in conversations with CalRecycle and other legislative offices to determine what solutions are available to address the concerns raised by the community. State legislation is potentially one option, but we may be able to accomplish the same through the budget process. For this reason, our office has not decided if we will put forward state legislation at this time — it may not be necessary to achieve what the community is asking for."
Virissimo would prefer recycling centers in larger, more industrial locations such as behind Big Lots on Rosecrans in the Midway District. She and her neighbors say the recycling center has been a magnet for transients and the problems that come with them, including homeless people sleeping in their yards, rooftops, bushes, and rummaging through trashcans at all hours. She is concerned about the recycler's proximity to schools, too.
Calls to police are up since 2015 for the 3700 block of Voltaire (Stump's shopping center) — data from January to August 5, 2017, show "disturbing the peace" as the most common reason for calling.
The rally petition got mixed reviews from Ocean Beach residents — many prefer it stay put, not wanting to see recycling return to Ocean Beach. Some Midway District residents aren't thrilled with the prospect of enticing more transients to their neck of the woods with a new recycling center.
José Ysea from city communications said the location of a recycling center is completely up to the state and that the city has no bearing on location.
Mark Oldfield, CalRecycle communications director, said "Siting and permitting are local considerations and CalRecycle has no role in that." He said what they do is certify the recycling-center operators; they can only decertify operators for non-compliance of recycling laws.
If Stump's gets rid of Prince Recycling there are three options: redeem recyclables in-store, pay a $100-per-day opt-out fee, or get an exemption by having another nearby recycling operation.
Point Loma native and owner of Prince Recycling, James Prince, said he hasn't been part of the conversation. He says he isn't keen on moving to the Midway District because of the homeless issues there. "I feel like where I put it is a good place: not where tourists are, and I can serve both communities. It's not really in Point Loma and it's not really in Ocean Beach, it's in the middle."
He takes issue with his operation being thought of as a homeless outpost. He said getting rid of him won't get rid of the homeless problem. He said a recycling center is better than having an empty lot. "No one is allowed to hang out. If you come to our recycling center and you don't act right, you can't come back."
Prince has a point — after a Clairemont shopping center got rid of its recycling center, transients took over the parking lot. The laundromat was the magnet there.
As far as being near schools, Prince said kids don't walk through the recycling center unless they're with parents recycling.
The argument that he needs more space doesn't wash with Prince either. He said city regulations make him keep it to 500 square feet.
Prince could apply for a neighborhood-use permit to operate a larger facility.
The consensus among neighboring tenants is they would prefer Prince go. Dirk Stump, owner of Stump's Market, has been trying to make that happen for some time. He said Prince thinks everything is fine. Stump told Prince if he spent more time at the recycling center he would see what was going on and might not be so shocked about the rally.
Stump doesn't understand why some areas are getting a pass. "They closed the recycling in the Midway District, behind Ralphs, and the one in Old Town. We get all of those crazies now."
Case-in-point is the homeless woman who came into Stump's last August swinging a steel bar.
"She was swinging it and knocking stuff off the shelves, swinging a case of wine bottles,” said Stump. “She aimed it at an employee, glass went everywhere. I wrangled her out of the store. She got mad and threw the bar at my employee."
Stump said she came back with another steel bar and started repeatedly hitting the windows. She eventually broke through.
"I tackled her into the shopping carts. She whacked my clerk and cracked her head open. She screwed up my hip. I'm going into surgery this April. I had to sell my horse, I can't do anything."
Tamara and Bob Smith live nearby and shop at Stump’s often. They've seen transients getting arrested and being out of control in the parking lot. "I know the employees there, and they said they deal with these issues every day," said Bob. "They've had to close their bathrooms to the public because of it."
Prince maintains that homeless people who recycle aren't the problem, but rather the homeless people who don't recycle.