Arden Arcade residents push to shut down suburban recycling center

Arden Arcade residents are asking Sacramento County to shut down a recycling center at the corner of Watt and El Camino avenues, the latest sign of their frustration at a growing homeless population in the suburban neighborhood.

An overflow crowd of more than 100 people packed a small room at the Arden Library last week to voice objections to V. Lopez Recycling, which operates at the busy intersection that has long served as a retail center for the area. V. Lopez Recycling does not comply with new rules imposed by county supervisors last year, but it is asking for an exemption to continue operating after a grace period ends in November.

At least 27 community members got up to tell the Arden Arcade Community Planning Advisory Council about what they described as uncomfortable or scary encounters with people picking through their recycling to find cans and bottles to redeem for cash at the recycling center.

The county planning director makes the final decision on whether to approve a permit for recycling centers. While the Arden Arcade council does not have authority over such permits, it serves as an influential advisory body that represents resident opinion.

Several people said they faced hostility when telling people not to dig through their trash for recyclables. One woman said she’d had a bottle thrown at her truck by someone who brought recyclables to the center.

Representatives from nearby businesses like Diamond Dental of Sacramento and Emigh Ace Hardware complained about abandoned shopping carts and trash strewn through their parking lots after bags are divested of their recyclables.

Joel Alvarado, a representative of the recycling industry who spoke for the recycling center operator during the meeting, said shutting down the center will not solve the community’s problems. The center is providing a service for the community, he said.

“People feel better, like this is going to solve the problem,” he said. “They’re going to be wrong.”

The county said the turnout was unusual. A meeting of the South Sacramento CPAC where three recycling centers’ certificates were under review was attended by half a dozen community members and Arden Arcade meetings are typically attended by fewer than 20 residents.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors in October restricted where and when recycling centers can operate in the unincorporated county, rendering V. Lopez Recycling illegal. Among other requirements, recycling centers must be located in a shopping center with a minimum of 5 acres of land. In addition, they are prohibited from serving people who arrive with their recycling items in a shopping cart, flat bed with wheels, wagons or make-shift carts.

V. Lopez Recycling sits on about three-quarters of an acre. Residents and county officials said the recycling center can’t stop people who abandon their carts in front of other businesses in the area and proceed to the center with bags of recyclables on their backs.

Recycling centers can apply by Nov. 27 for an exemption from the new rules, at a cost of $1,081.58. Seven convenience recycling centers have applied since the ordinance was modified, and the county is aware of two more that can still apply. The county has not shut down any recycling centers or issued exemptions yet. Recycling centers can remain open until the Nov. 27 deadline.

State law mandates that grocery stores and other businesses that sell recyclables either sit within a half-mile of a recycling center or accept the items themselves at retail check-out counters in lieu of paying a $100-a-day fine. In recent years, the number of centers around California has dropped from around 2,100 to under 1,800.

The county planning director makes the final decision on whether to issue a permit for the center, but residents can appeal the decision to the Planning Commission. The Arden Arcade CPAC voted unanimously against recommending a permit for V. Lopez Recycling and to appeal if the county approves one.

The North Highlands/Foothill Farms Community Planning Council will hear certificate applications for two other recycling centers Tuesday evening.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

Related stories from Sacramento Bee