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DOWNTOWN : Recycling Center Contests Restrictions

February 07, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

A recycling business blamed by city officials and its neighbors for an increase in trash and crime is fighting a city zoning administrator's directive to hire security guards and follow strict rules or face being shut down.

City zoning and police officials say Carousel Recycling Center, at 612-614 1/2 E. 7th St., has become a public nuisance because people who bring recyclables to the center allegedly loiter in the area and drink, litter, urinate and engage in drug activity and prostitution. A police report found that crime in the surrounding area has increased by as much as 200% since the center opened in September, 1991.

City officials and neighboring businesses say the center must be strictly regulated, closed or moved.

Ruy Gomez, operator of the center, is to appear Tuesday before the Board of Zoning Appeals to contest the requirements, which she contends are unfair and unreasonable.

Complaints from neighboring businesses prompted a city zoning administrator in November to order the center to take corrective action. The business was ordered to conduct daily street and graffiti cleanups, hire two security guards to patrol the area, establish a 24-hour telephone hot line for neighbors' complaints, and post signs informing the public about the hot line and the conditions under which the center must operate. The center also faces revocation of its use permits if anyone is arrested on or near the property.

Gomez's attorney, Harold Light, said Gomez has agreed to keep the area clean, post signs and provide a 24-hour beeper number so she can be contacted regarding problems. But the small-scale, four-employee business cannot afford security guards, Light said.

"The recycling center must not be treated as a scapegoat for the problems of the extremely depressed area of the city in which it operates," Light wrote in the appeal application. "Shutting down the one business which gives homeless individuals . . . an opportunity to do something productive, clean up the environment and make a few dollars does not send the right message."

Police Department officials reported in a letter to the zoning board that 40% to 50% of the recycling center's customers are drug or alcohol addicts who commit crimes for and with the money they get by turning in recyclables.

Light said the condition calling for revocation of the center's permits if anyone is arrested on or near the property is unfair. "This basically says, 'You must guarantee no one will commit a crime at or near the premises,' " Light said. "The police can't even guarantee this. How can (Gomez) control that?"

Gomez has tried to meet with neighbors to discuss solutions but community members have not responded, according to Light.

Charles Woo, president of the Central City East Assn. of more than 100 businesses, said he has not responded to Light because he is still soliciting opinions from association members. At least a dozen business owners and residents of a nearby apartment house have submitted letters to the Board of Zoning Appeals to close the center, and the Community Redevelopment Agency and Councilman Richard Alatorre have also expressed opposition to the center, according to zoning officials.

"The one operation has harmed the whole block," Woo said.

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