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Limits on Recycling Center Upheld : Zoning: An appeals board rules that the Skid Row business must clean up daily, start a hot line and hire security to combat crime.

February 14, 1993|IRIS YOKOI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A city board has upheld operating restrictions on a Skid Row recycling center and warned that it could be closed unless the owner curbs chronic crime and trash problems.

Area residents, business owners and city officials say the Carousel Recycling Center has become a public nuisance because it draws hordes of homeless people who loiter, litter, urinate, drink and engage in drug activity and prostitution. Neighbors want the business at 612-614 1/2 E. 7th St. to close or move.

The Police Department said in a letter to the city Board of Zoning Appeals that crime has increased in the area by as much as 200% since the center opened in September, 1991. Police estimate 40% to 50% of the center's customers are drug or alcohol addicts who cash in recyclable aluminum cans, glass bottles and plastic.

While members of the zoning board agreed during a Tuesday hearing that the center cannot be blamed for all the woes in the neighborhood, they said the center's operator, Ruy Gomez, has failed to discourage her many homeless customers from loitering, littering and committing crimes.

"You are causing problems," Board Chairwoman Katherine Diamond told Gomez. Diamond then told Gomez's attorney, Harold Light: "She is on the verge of losing her business. You better do creative things to help her survive there."

But Light and several advocates for the homeless argued that the center should not be blamed for problems that have always plagued Skid Row. They accused opponents of being against aid for the homeless and recycling efforts.

"My client was in a position where she was as much a victim," Light said. "She didn't know how to grapple with the problem of all these people in front of her business."

Last week's hearing stemmed from a city zoning administrator's November order that placed a number of restrictions on the recycling center. Among them were daily street and graffiti cleanups, the establishment of a 24-hour hot line to field complaints from neighbors and the posting of signs that inform the public about the hot line and the new restrictions.

The administrator also ordered the center to hire two security guards and recommended that the center's operating permits be revoked if any arrests were made on or near the business.

Gomez agreed to most of the restrictions, but asked the board to reconsider the security guards and arrest rules.

Light said the four-employee business cannot afford to hire even one security guard and that the arrest rule was unreasonable and unfair since Gomez cannot regulate customers' actions.

The board agreed with Light on the arrest issue and eliminated it. But after a three-hour hearing, board members stuck to the need for at least one security guard to discourage loitering and crime. The board added another restriction, requiring the center to close at 5 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

The board also ordered its staff to check in six months on whether the business was following the rules and set another public hearing in a year to so the board can re-evaluate the situation.

"It's a crime in itself the way this business has been run," said board member Valeria Velasco.

More than a dozen neighbors spoke against the center at last week's hearing and said conditions around the business have become so bad it is unfair--even to the homeless.

Business owners said their employees and customers are afraid to walk in the area because of the transients who congregate there. Residents of a nearby apartment house said their children are forced to see drug dealing and use on their walks to school.

Light said he has tried to get community members to work with Gomez to solve the problems, but neighbors said Gomez was "insensitive" to their complaints until city officials stepped in.

"This is not a homeless issue--this is a crime issue," said Capt. Bob Gale, commanding officer of the Newton Division who spoke at the hearing. "It's an inappropriate location for a recycling business."

But Gale also acknowledged that Downtown real estate prices are so high that he did not know of any nearby sites where the center could relocate and still be accessible to customers from Skid Row.

Board member Sherri Franklin urged Gomez and her neighbors to work with local social service agencies to help the homeless and perhaps provide drug rehabilitation counseling near the recycling center.

"It's incumbent on everyone in this room to do something to help," Franklin said.

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