Where will Fresnans recycle?

The answer, based on the Fresno City Council’s unanimous vote Sept. 21, did not satisfy an industry that practically was legislated out of business.

The ordinance will dictate where companies that recycle bottles and cans are allowed to operate. It was done in the name of safety. Staff reports say that there were 260 police calls to recycling centers in a six-and-a-half month period last year. Those numbers have yet to be independently verified.

Despite the pleas of the recycling and grocery industries, and rejection of similar language by the city’s Planning Commission, the council pushed ahead with councilmen Paul Caprioglio’s and Oliver Baines’ plan.

Recyclers will no longer be able to operate in temporary cargo container-like structures in shopping center parking lots. They will have to move into a permanent structure inside a store selling bottles and cans. They must also obtain Conditional Use Permits (which could go for upward of $10,000).

Current recycling centers said this was the latest assault on the city’s homeless population — this time with their businesses caught in the crossfire. Earlier this year, the council approved a Steve Brandau-crafted plan to outlaw the homeless from camping in the city. By the city’s estimate, there are 22 recyclers (the state lists 30) that operate within the city limits.

Recycling Centers are “Mayhem,” Says Mayor

During Caprioglio’s presentation to his council colleagues, he said vagrants and transients loiter, harass, beg, litter and cause a litany of other problems at these recycling centers. He also claimed a man chased after Caprioglio after snapping a photo of him used in the presentation.

Mayor Lee Brand said these areas were “mayhem.”

Brandau presented the concern that cans and bottles were being stolen out of the blue recycling bins in front of homes.

“There’s a racket out there that’s happening,” Brandau said. “A bunch of people who look like cast members of ‘The Walking Dead’ (a zombie TV show) are going out to the neighborhoods of Fresno and they’re grabbing recyclables.”

Only One Recycling Center North of Shaw Avenue 

Of the 22 recyclers, only one is north of Shaw. State law says that if there is a retailer with more than $2 million in yearly sales, a “convenience zone” is then created. That means there has to be a recycler within a half-mile of the store. If not, then any store that sells cans and bottles (not just the large grocery stores) has to accept them back at their stores. The penalty for not doing so is a $100 a day fine, or $36,500 a year.

CalRecycle, the state agency in charge of such issues, provided GV Wire a list of 70 stores that are inside these “convenience zones.” Only four of them have opted to take the penalty.

Public comment during the two-hour debate was divided among business owners complaining about recycling centers near their area. The recycling industry complained that they provide a service and shouldn’t be defined by the small segment of customers who are homeless. The grocery industry also spoke against the ordinance.

Save Mart was one of the grocery chains that voiced its concern, led by Public Affairs Manager (and former TV news reporter) Nannette Miranda. The company says they have 13 Save Mart and FoodMaxx branded stores in the city that would be deemed out of compliance by the recycling ordinance. Save Mart reiterated the health hazard aspect of taking back containers in-store.

Residents Should Use Curbside Blue Bins

Caprioglio responded by saying most stores, like Target, would count the cans at the register, or ask the customer to meet them at a door out back. It said it was “insane to think taking cans inside the store would contaminate” the vegetable or meat aisle. He also said that using the household blue bin helps keep the price of Fresno garbage services low.

Some experts mentioned the economic advantage of recycling. Consultant Leonard Lang said recycling centers redeem at least $15 million to customers. That fact was agreed to by Susan Collins from the Container Recycling Institute.

John Migliazzo, an attorney representing recyclers, warned the city that the ordinance may not be in compliance with the law. Caprioglio, an attorney himself, said the ordinance met legal muster. Migliazzo noted that the ordinance was only publicly available for four business days and differed from the language the Planning Commission rejected last month.

So what is the timetable? After the ordinance goes into effect, the outdoor retailers have six months to comply. On the CalRecycle end, if a convenience zone loses its recycling center, all stores have up to 90 days to start complying.

Fines for stores who opt to accept containers in-store but do not, face penalties ranging from a warning on the first offense to $1,000 for the sixth offense and beyond.

Some members of council were reluctant to restrict businesses from operating but blamed Sacramento legislators for creating unbendable recycling rules. In the end, they felt preserving safety trumped keeping recycling open.

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