New rules for recycling facilities

Last Summer, as part of the ongoing (yet slow-moving) Citywide zoning update process (an effort to get our zoning into compliance with our General Plan before the Plan expires), the City approved a new zoning code governing industrial areas. During the public discussions on the zoning, there were two major points of debate – live/work (which I wrote about a little bit here) and recycling facilities (which I never got around to covering). They adopted the new code back in June, which prohibits recycling centers within 300 feet of a residentially zoned area, and requires them to obtain a conditional use permit within 600 feet of residential. But they were not able to agree on how the recyclers should be regulated, and directed staff to hold public meetings on the subject to get stakeholder input, and then come back with a proposal to amend the new code based on the discussions there.

I’m sure that right about now, some of you are thinking “Yawn! This is the most boring thing V has ever written about. Who cares about the zoning code for recycling centers?” If you’re among this group, then you’re fortunate enough not to live near one, and probably don’t know anyone who lives near one either.

If, like many residents of West Oakland, you happen to live near a recycling facility, here’s the sort of thing you can expect to deal with on a daily basis. Beginning when the facility opens, you can sit at the window of your home and watch a parade of shopping carts pass through the neighborhood on their way to the facility. The recycler’s customer will rifle through you garbage and recycling containers multiple times a day. They will let themselves into your yard on a regular basis to hunt for recyclable metal.

Once the clients deliver their goods to the facility and receive payment, they will then spend the rest of the day loitering in groups around the neighborhood. They will eat and drink, then discard their waste wherever they find it convenient. Any time you want to take a walk down your sidewalk, you will have to navigate an obstacle course of shopping carts, dirty napkins, candy bar wrappers, empty chip bags, and discarded needles. Since there are no restrooms available, the loiterers will simply urinate and defecate on the street, on the sidewalk, in the park, or on your property.

Walking in or out at any hour of the day, you need to be prepared to confront groups of the recycler’s clients loitering on the sidewalk immediately in front of your home openly selling and smoking crack, and occasionally having sex. Homeless encampments will regularly establish themselves within a block or two of the facility. Eventually, the City or Operation Dignity will come to break up the encampment. Within days, another one will have sprung up on the next block.

In short, it’s a complete nightmare and turns your neighborhood into a total hellhole. If you try to do something about it and call the police, public works, or your Councilmember, you will be told basically that there’s nothing they can do for you. If you try to discuss the problems with the facility operator, your concerns will likely be ignored or dismissed. Perhaps the operator will promise to do something to address the way their clients impact the neighborhood “soon,” but none of the promised mitigations will ever appear. If you live in Dogtown, you can expect a self-righteous diatribe such as the following:

But now I think the question is, should we as a society deny the poorest in our community our garbage? They have been reduced to relying on affluent trash! Should we deny them that? In the 4th highest crime city in the country and in the neighborhood with the
highest crime in all of Oakland should we deny the poorest, many 3rd or 4th generation residents, the ability to pick up garbage and make a few dollars? I suppose it really falls down to a quality of life issue. The quality of life of the homeless, poor, unemployed and uneducated that are unwelcome in most of society, and now unwelcome in what is or was their home.


For some of you new to the neighborhood you should know Alliance Metals was given a SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD for our service to the community by the West Oakland District Council (neighbors association). This award was given in large part because of our active involvement in the community. Then Magnolia Row was built and all of our limited resources were shifted towards defending our existence.

You will either spend all your days being angry and frustrated about the intolerable conditions in your neighborhood and be thwarted in virtually every attempt to do a damn thing about it, or you will eventually just accept that that’s how things are, and try to ignore the blight as much as you can. It sucks.

Anyway. Staff came back with their proposal for new recycling center regulations at Tuesday’s Community and Economic Development Committee meeting, and here’s what they came up with:

  • In CIX-1 and CIX-2 (the two zones that allow a mix of industrial and other commercial uses), recycling centers would be prohibited within 300 feet of a residential zone. A recycler located anywhere else in CIX-1 or CIX-2 would have to obtain a major conditional use permit to either open a new facility or expand an existing one.
  • In IG (the zone reserved for heavy industrial uses), recyclers would be prohibited within 300 feet of a residential zone. Beyond 300 feet, they would be permitted outright (meaning no conditional use permit is necessary).
  • No matter where they were located, recyclers would have to comply with a set of performance standards. In CIX-1 and CIX-2, these performance standards would be the absolute minimum requirement for obtaining a conditional use permit to open or expand, but the City is free to impose additional requirements along with any conditional use permit granted.

Okay, so the performance standards list is long and dry, you can read the whole thing on pages 23-25 of the staff report (PDF), but the basic idea is that they have to provide certain signage, have a wall around their facility, adequately maintain the facility’s appearance, comply with certain noise standards, engage with the community by sending representatives to two NCPC meetings a year, maintain a 24-hour hotline for neighbors to log complaints, and make those complaints available to the City.

So District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel showed up to Tuesday’s meeting to request some changes to the performance standards. Regular readers know that I’m not exactly a big fan of Nancy Nadel, but when it comes to what a recycling facility does to a neighborhood, the woman knows what she’s talking about. After all, living in Dogtown, she has to deal with all the aforementioned misery on a daily basis. She, very reasonably in my opinion, asked for:

  • Signage prohibiting sleeping in front the facility.
  • Regarding the noise aspect, she said that the Police Department had recently informed her that they do not own a decibel meter, nor have any officers trained in its use, and that we need to fund the purchase and training so the noise regulations can be enforced. (At another meeting later on Tuesday, Nadel said that she had since been informed that the officer who told her this was wrong, and that we do have those things.)
  • Facility owned trucks should be stored within their walls, not in the public right of way.
  • Representatives should be required to attend at least 6 NCPC meetings per year.
  • Facility operators be required to pick up carts and trash within five blocks of the facility in every direction daily and pay for monthly homeless encampment clean-up.

District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner mostly seemed concerned about how difficult the clean-up requirements would be for the poor recyclers, who she apparently loves for no reason. Probably because she doesn’t have any in her district and has no idea what they’re like, so instead of asking questions about why such stringent clean-up expectations were necessary, kept comparing them to all the fast food restaurants in North Oakland and completely missing the point:

I don’t think they should pick up everything, but there is certain material that is…From doing the litter stuff, I know you can tell the Wendy’s and the McDonald’s. I’m sure – I don’t know enough about the recycling – but I’m sure they know what is their scrap versus what is someone else’s litter.

Both Jane Brunner and Larry Reid insisted that holding the recyclers accountable for cleaning up homeless encampments was unreasonable, and eventually staff suggested a compromise to Nadel’s proposed changes that would require facilities to have a litter management plan within 2 blocks, and remove shopping carts within 5 blocks, but not have any obligation to deal with homeless encampments.

When it came to attending NCPC meetings, Jane Brunner said that 6 meetings sounded like too much, and that if the recycler wasn’t causing any problems, they shouldn’t have to go. Eventually they agreed that the minimum requirement would be attendance at 2 NCPC meetings annually, but that if the neighbors had a problem with the facility, the NCPC could then request their presence at more.

The new rules (PDF) will be considered by the full City Council on Tuesday, and I hope that Nancy Nadel will make the case for the more stringent performance standards she had originally proposed then. Ultimately, the best possible thing that could happen for West Oakland is to move the damn recyclers out of the neighborhoods, but until that happens, we need to do everything we can to mitigate the way these facilities impact their neighborhoods. Because the people there now should not have to live like this.

69 thoughts on “New rules for recycling facilities

  1. Chris

    Are the recycling centers private companies or run by the county? If the recyclers didn’t pay money for recyclables, then homeless people would not rummage through people’s trash cans or camp out near recycling centers.

    Perhaps the recycling centers should not (be be allowed to) accept “walk-in” recyclables. If they only accepted drops from the county or other companies, then many of these problems would go away.

    I wonder what percentage of recycling donations (by weight) is from “walk-ins”? Probably a very small amount, so they would not be missing much revenue.

  2. Robert

    It sounded like the recyclers are required by state law to accept walk-ups. This issue was brought up.

    I suspect that Oakland can’t prohibit private business from paying for recyclables. And besides, at least these homeless are making an effort to work for an income instead of panhandling or stealing.

  3. Chris

    But what percentage of homeless recycling is actually picked up off the street versus pilfered from curbside recycling bins?

    I would not call pilfering curbside recycling “honest work”. It is a nuisance, creates a mess, and provides no real value: those recyclables were already destined to be recycled (with no cost to the recyclers) and the recycling truck will still “process” the empty bins on the curb.

  4. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    I used to hear complaints all the time from folks who live(d) at the Sierra Condos – at least the ones overlooking the recylcer at 4th & Madison. My feeling was that the recylcer was there long, long, long before the Sierra was built, so why should it be the recycler’s fault?

    But I also heard that it was grandfathered in and that at some point it would go away.

    Are existing recyclers still grandfathered? Just curious. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other personally. In the situation at the Sierra I felt that they moved in knowing it was there, but I guess the opposite arguement could be made that a building with 226 units was built next to it, so what does the City want? Resi, Mixed-Use, or Commercial/Industrial.

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    I don’t think businesses should be allowed to cause ridiculous blight problems in the area surrounding them, regardless of whether or not people are living nearby. Any performance standards adopted will apply to all recycling facilities, new or existing.

  6. das88

    I was at the last planning commission meeting where this was discussed. Few observations:

    1) existing recyclers will be grandfathered in as non-conforming uses
    2) new state regs coming online with lots of requirements for recyclers including issuing checks for all but cans
    3) I was impressed with the company representative that came and spoke. many of them have been in business for generations and seems to listen to input
    4) most of the local recycling was gathering raw materials and then shipping them off to China. That market has collapsed so local prices paid to people are way down.

  7. ConcernedOakFF

    The recyclers knowingly, purposefully and willingly contribute to the culture of homelessness that pervades west oakland. As long as there are these unscrupulous recyclers out there, there will continue to be copper pipe stolen, garbage raided behind private gates, and feces littering our roads.

    Nothing of value comes from these businesses. Get rid of them.

    Please tell me what good come from letting people continue to abuse themselves by getting money from the cans they get from the garbage?

    It is just another example of the city letting things slide.

  8. Patrick

    The neighborhood you describe sounds much like parts of my neighborhood – and I don’t live anywhere near a recycling center.

    And I can’t resist, regarding: “Any time you want to take a walk down your sidewalk, you will have to navigate an obstacle course of shopping carts, dirty napkins, candy bar wrappers, empty chip bags, and discarded needles. Since there are no restrooms available, the loiterers will simply urinate and defecate on the street, on the sidewalk, in the park, or on your property.” Max, THIS is the sidewalk I want you to ride down with your helmet cam. Post it to YouTube, and we can forward it to Brunner and Reid.

  9. Max Allstadt

    Patrick, one of the many late night brainstorming sessions I’ve had came up with something similar to what you just asked for:

    Our Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils should all have their own Flickr pages and YouTube channels. If we upload images and video of the mayhem we put up with every day, perhaps eventually someone will notice. Plus it will put a damper on the kinds of denials we hear from our elected officials.

    In the mean time, if y’all want to get me a helmet cam for Christmas, I promise to ride through the ‘hood at least once a week an post it.


    I hesitate to agree with you on across the board rules regardless of what’s in the area of a recycler. Mainly because I think that the down-and-out crowd will always exist, and that if we tolerate the mess they make in designated areas, it will make it easier to keep them out of other areas. Besides, even if the rules are across the board, we all know enforcement will be highly selective.

  10. Patrick

    OK, Max. One of your redeeming qualities is that I have full confidence that you will do as you say. (I’m not kidding) has a complete 480 line setup for $569.95 plus shipping. Why 480 lines and not the cheaper 380? Because 480 is the standard for computer screens and the best multiple for HD television sets. But I digress.

    The HC-1 Complete Package “kit” includes everything Max needs up to and including the padded DVR pouch! That will hopefully save the DVR recording when he smacks into a pedestrian, punctures a tire on a used needle, or wipes out on errant feces/urine/Wendy’s Frosty on the sidewalk. Prognosis for cyclist and pedestrian are, however, up in the air. I trust the needle and feces et al will hold their own. If someone has a digital cam to lend, we could do this for less. All I know is, this kit includes “the most preferred helmet camera kit by professional riders and the US Military”. I read it on their website and I believe it. And that sounds like the bargain at any price!

    Soooooooo…I pledge $200 towards this venture. I’d offer more but, times being what they are (plus I am saving for a trip to Vietnam and Safeway), I require some assistance from the crowd. Anyone game? Imagine it: Oakland, in glorious color video, on the big screen. It won’t be pretty. I’m thinking ‘American Beauty’ meets the Oakland City Council session.

  11. Chris

    A helmet camera sounds cool, but I think it might be overkill for this project. An inexpensive digital camera would take better quality pictures. And it would be less blurry. ;)

  12. Patrick

    You want to ask Max to ride a bicycle down a sidewalk in anarchist fashion, dodge pedestrians at 10mph, AND compose photographs with a digital camera at the same time? Besides the fact that he would probably do it, we have to draw the line somewhere. Where is your humanity?

  13. SF2OAK

    I think Nancy N. the biggest dope around and you are full of crap V.:
    Signage prohibiting sleeping in front the facility.
    This is not reasonable- there is no camping allowed anywhere in OAK (except parks) so why should these owners have to post a sign? Make every body or nobody and why not arrest the violators. It is city property that the campers are on. Policing the area might help (and stop the thieves that steal from the recyclers.
    Noise- well of course this is another tool that the city does not own a decibel meter, but if you’re going to hassle recycling centers shouldn’t you equally hassle all noise violators? especially those in moving cars. (but also wouldn’t the train violate the noise ordinance?
    Facility owned trucks should be stored within their walls, not in the public right of way. Shouldn’t this rule apply equally to all businesses or none. I go to chinatown all the time and see trucks 2x parked for extended periods and commercial trucks all over the city-why are you picking on recyclers?
    Representatives should be required to attend at least 6 NCPC meetings per year. Then every business should have the same requirement again why are you picking on recyclers? You know they attend many city council meetings and are harassed. Were I them I probably wouldn’t show up to a NCPC meeting either.
    Facility operators be required to pick up carts and trash within five blocks of the facility in every direction daily and pay for monthly homeless encampment clean-up.
    Are you kidding? If the recyclers are violating the law then they should be punished but not more than any other business. Do you make all businesses do this of course not.

    It is unbelievable that Oakland says it wants to be a green city- recycling is a primary example of this and that business has certain needs and requirements. Recycling has been in Oak for a long time- they should get some respect for doing the right thing instead of being hassled to death. Oakland has a way of chasing out business. Oakland is now going broke and needs the money – it is not time to pick on long established businesses.

  14. driver

    No Kidding!!!!

    Oakland does have a decimal meter.Just the same excuse not enough staff to use it.

    Liter pickup is within 1 block or 9 sq blocks radius of facility.

    Shopping cart pick-up is in a 2 block radius of facility.

    Chinatown is a commercial district. Parking semi and commercial trucks in residential neighborhoods to enlarge there operation during business hours.
    I dont see alot of commercial trucks parked on Lawton in Rockridge.
    Now they can only park in around there faility on the same side of the street.

    This is what they passed.

  15. 94610BizMan

    All I can say is WOW that’s some rant there SF2OAK
    But I am in strong agreement with what I think is your central point. Oakland already has lots of laws against unpleasant and antisocial behavior. However, that is far easier for politicos in the City Council to claim that they’re doing something by commissioning a study (that pays their cronies) and recommends additional ordinances. It’s the usual political theater. It’s much more difficult to get the Oakland city government to enforce the ordinances that are already on the books.

    But, “full of crap” is over the line and I think it is likely that the mayor is a bigger dope than Nadel.

  16. Max Allstadt

    I actually wrote to Nancy Nadel about this issue and the decibel meter thing. As a trained audio engineer, I can tell you all that it would cost 80 bucks to buy one, and ten minutes tops to train cops to use one.

    I’m with V on this. Nancy came up with a bunch or totally rational compromises. I would guess that her intent was to allow recycling to remain an income opportunity for poorer Oaklanders, while mitigating the impact. Nancy lives within spitting distance of a problematic recycler. It makes sense that she’d get this issue. I’m not joining the fan club just yet, but the election is over enough that from here on out, if she’s right, I’ll acknowledge it.

  17. driver

    They Have a decimal meter that Larry Reid purchased.Not enough staff to use it.Was mentioned by Quan to Reid last Public Safety meeting.

  18. SF2OAK

    Thank you for recognizing my RANT. I stand corrected Nancy Noodle is not the biggest Dope around, this city is full of them – how they all end up in shitty government is for a sociologist to explain and why Oaklanders keep voting them in office is a mystery to me.

    however Nadel proposal to “reign in” the recyclers is just plain wrong (in her attempt- she could try other ways) and V. agrees with her. I’ve shot a hole in every one of her bullet points because there already are remedies and mostly she is punishing businesses, that are front and center in the “green’ movement and mostly because she is blaming businesses for peoples behaviour outside of the purview of that business- how can you regulate that? If Oak does not like littering it ought to fine the litterer not a business, likewise with shopping carts, likewise with sleeping- they people are sleeping on Oak. property not the recyclers ferevinsake.

    I see a truck parked almost everyday just across the street from the library maybe manilla st?

    Look instead of hasseling recyclers to effing death why not actually pay to relocate them? Has that been explored?

    OK so I get it Oak has a decibel meter- but this is exactly the type of dysfunction that pervades- they don’t have an operator or know how to use it brilliant, and typically OAK. And cops are too expensive to be the operators Max.

  19. V Smoothe Post author

    There’s nothing green destroying neighborhoods, and it’s totally reasonable to expect businesses operating adjacent or within residential communities to take steps to mitigate their deleterious impacts their operations have on the lives of their neighbors.

  20. SF2OAK

    That is true to a certain extent-however those businesses were there before much of the residential development, so Oakland should have mitigated that by either trying to relocate the businesses, or not allowed the development. Further Many of those laws are on the books to mitigate but it is not a businesses responsibility when somebody disregards the law when their present in that business like sleeping on the sidewalk- It’s Oakland’s sidewalk and there is no reason that Oakland city should simply not allow that to haqppen and patrol, likewise with littering, they don’t litter in the facilities citizens litter outside and there’s absolutely no reason to require a business to patrol an area for litter.

    I don’t understand your line “There’s nothing green destroying neighborhoods,…”

    What I am saying is Oakland & Mayor D. has said it wants to be a model green city- recyclers are in the 1st line of that- so accommodate these businesses. Instead Oakland has taken a very harsh tact with these recycling business who operate under massive regulation already.

  21. driver


    You consider a delivery truck for Brass &; Glass parked behind the store on Manila the same as AlliancesMetals fleet of trucks parked everywhere.

    Most homes surrouding Alliance & Aaron Metals are 1920 & 1930 bungallows.
    Aaron Metals EXPANDED there operation without a permit process.

  22. SF2OAK

    I was just responding to the fact that there are lots of commercial vehicles on Oak city streets somebody mentioned Rockridge & yes that is the truck – so you know it too why shouldn’t everybody have to comply with the same laws why single out recyclers? I’m not familiar with Alliance trucks but what is fundamentally the diff.? One truck many trucks all registered all legal.

    I have listened to the planning meetings where basically the recyclers are just getting shafted imo.

    It just shows how unfriendly OAK is to business and how little they care about livelihoods.

  23. V Smoothe Post author

    SF2OAK, I suggest you go spend a day hanging out in Dogtown near the Alliance Metals facility and then come back and tell us how you feel.

  24. SF2OAK

    Fine I will. But I know Schnitzer and Aaron Metals and others’. Fundamentally argue your points that you agree with Ms. Nadel on. To single recyclers out for what is not even in their jurisdiction seems flawed to me- Can you blame MacDonald’s if someone litters their product and why – why is it not the personal responsibility of the litterer? Why would you make these businesses post anti sleeping ordinance- I find it ridiculous – it’s Oakland’s problem not those businesses specifically. I see people sleeping in doorways downtown repeatedly- why not make them have the same posting requirements. I live near the auto repair shops on Broadway- they park cars all the time on public right of ways in the course of their business. The metals businesses are so regulated to be acrimonious seems ridiculous and unfair- unless you want them to leave which is another story…and probably the real story but don’t then say you want green business n OAK.

  25. 94610BizMan

    I don’t doubt that the neighborhood is being trashed. What I don’t understand about the recycling situation is why the Oakland police don’t act now against the people who are trashing the neighborhood. What they are doing is already illegal.

    Is it just the usual laziness and incompetence that makes it easier to hassle a fixed place business? Also if it’s true that the recycling business has expanded illegally why hasn’t the city taken them to court and threatened to shut them down with an injunction?

    if Oakland won’t enforce existing laws against Alliance I can’t believe that new laws, most likely also unenforced, will help the neighborhood.

  26. V Smoothe Post author

    The issue at hand is part of the City’s update to the industrial zoning code. The zoning code dictates what operations are permissible in any given area, and on what conditions. Part of the industrial zoning code governs recycling facilities, as that is a permitted use in the given area. So to write a zoning code, you have to specify what conditions you require to allow a business to operate. That’s what this discussion was about.

    The City acknowledges that Aaron Metals expanded illegally, but has decided not to do anything about it, choosing instead to issue a retroactive approval. The Planning Commission’s decision to do this was appealed to the City Council by the neighbors (PDF). The conditionals of approval attached to the retroactive approval were appealed to the City Council by Aaron Metals. The Council rejected both appeals and upheld the Planning Commisson’s decision, with only Nancy Nadel voting against.

  27. 94610BizMan

    V. I must not be making myself clear. I went back and read everything again. You originally posted “… it’s a complete nightmare… If you try to do something about it and call the police, public works, or your Councilmember, you will be told basically that there’s nothing they can do for you.”

    If your position is that by passing the proposed tougher regulations the city will now take action, I’m skeptical since the city is not enforcing current laws and regs.

  28. V Smoothe Post author

    These aren’t “tougher regulations.” They’re new, and different regulations, because they’re part of the zoning code. If the facility doesn’t comply with the zoning’s required performance standards, they don’t have to do anything – they can just impose fines and, if necessary, revoke their permission to operate if those standards aren’t met.

  29. Patrick

    Dammit, Max! I can’t believe I missed your comment from last night. I ABSOLUTELY want a POV shot of you roshamboing off a parking meter! But I think it would be more believable in video (with sound) as opposed to a still.

  30. 94610BizMan

    I must not understand how this would actually work other than it is just easier to impose fines on a fixed business than to enforce existing laws against individual nightmare behavior. So I will stand by to see what happens.

  31. 94610BizMan

    Driver, yes and I have driven by Alliance. I thought my comments were in agreement with the words on that link regarding “…inaction of Oaklands leadership on…quality of life”. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

    If I thought “…new and different regulations…” would automatically cause Oakland’s leadership to spring into action I would be for them. I’m actually not even against the “new and different regulations” per se.

    I just don’t see the new and different regulations causing automatic effective action by the city.

    If the new regulations pass we will have an empirical test.

  32. Patrick

    It really doesn’t matter if the regulations pass or not. Ultimately, all that matters is enforcement.

    A quick restatement, for those in the balcony…

  33. 94610BizMan

    Patrick and Driver. I am in complete agreement with both of your last posts which was the point of my original post.

    Enough from me on this topic.

  34. SF2OAK

    The city seems to be able to find enough staff to enforce when fines are likely. They will not fine the perpetrators of littering or sleeping, urinating or defecating, tagging, possessing stolen shopping carts, because THERE”S NO MONEY IN IT. However if you have a property or business or car- an easily attachable property the city will take,. take, take and ultimately you will have to make the decision to stay or go. Now I’ve decided this city’s philosophy is, “we are the last piece of the bay area real estate puzzle pay or leave.” While I don’t believe it to be true, it has some element of truth (but there’s also a nightmare coming soon enough, with a Hayward fault quake or some other event, or non event but a tidal wave of uneducated children, massive parolees that just overwhelm the system A’s likely leaving, stores gone, APL gone…By the way I was in Lafayette where I overstayed my time at a parking meter, and thought I had a ticket upon my return, where I was greeted by a note noting that I had overstayed my visit and granting me 1/2 an hour grace period- Do you think that would happen here- Not Bloody Likely. The fact is Lafayette appreciates business Oakland does not. Would you please start a thread of how ridicuolous the parking situation is here?- The new pay slip are a real pain and completely unfair.

    Have a merry holiday,
    the grouch

  35. T-Bone

    Perhaps a solution we can agree with would be the relocation of recycling centers near residential zones to zones where residential development is prohibited or discouraged. I wonder if there is money in the budget for the City to help recyclers relocate…Real estate prices are dropping and if an appropriate piece of land comes on the market, the recycling center owner might be provoked to make a move – but this is only possible with some kind of assurance that the City will not allow (or do whatever they can within their powers to discourage) the encroachment of residential zones near the industrial site where the recycler relocates.

    Another problem is that the zoning map of Oakland is really complicated; residential zones boarder zones “designed for high intensity uses, indeed uses of a much higher intensity than Aaron Metals [recycling] including the manufacture, compounding, and processing of things like aircraft, insecticides, various chemicals, alcohol, asphalt, and linoleum. All of these manufacturing activities would have been allowed by both the zoning and general plan (as all were classified as “general industrial activities “) by right, without public review or discretion on the part of the City” (From the City Staff Report).

    Yet, here at Aaron Metals, we have over 4000 customers from the 94603 zip code. That says to me that there is a critical amount of neighbors who use us as a neighborhood service – much like the local nail salon or library. I hope that those same customers would follow us to a new location should we be forced to move or voluntarily do so.

    Is there any point in posting anonymously?

  36. Michael H

    I tend to disagree that residences near or in industrial areas are less desirable. A city requires all kinds of residences, which tend to fluctuate the cost of housing. You pay for what you get, so trying to do away these situations is a shame. Mixed use developments are the wave of the future, and people should have the opportunity to live next to their work place, even if it is less than desirable for the “normal” citizen. Artist communities tend to locate themselves in areas such as these for the precise reason of cost. Simple argument.

    Michael H

  37. T-Bone

    Michael -

    I think our attitude on this issue is more or less the same. It is very green to live close to work.

    This is our version of what happened here. New-comers moved in to this neighborhood and began to complain to the City about us, citing noise and traffic…

    Let your metal artist friends know that Aaron Metals is a great resource for them to find all kinds of exciting metal shapes and parts. We are open to the pubic Monday through Saturday and our prices are really cheap – especially if you invite is to the showing of your installation.

    But if I said to you – let’s buy property next to the sewage treatment plant and then round up the neighbors to complain to the City about the smell – you would call me crazy. That’s sort of what happened here.

    But what’s done is done. At this point, I think relocation is the answer. We’re a young company (1976) and the recycling industry is still in its infancy. Looking forward – as more people, Cities and corporations adopt green practices – we see growth in our industry. There’s little chance of the City allowing us to expand further at 750 105th Ave. And what would be the point of doing something that you know before hand that your neighbors object to? That would be asking for trouble.

    Time to find a new home.

    The former Oakland Army Base is perfect due to the proximity to the Port.

  38. V Smoothe

    My sympathy for the plight for Aaron Metals is exactly ZERO. Scrap operations have been regulated by the City since before Aaron Metal opened, first with a required Major Variance for a business abutting residential zones, then later that was changed to a Major Conditional Use Permit. Aaron Metals obtained the required permit upon opening for a 10,000 square foot operation. Aaron Metals then repeated illegally expanded their facility to over ten times what was permitted without ever obtaining the required Conditional Use Permit to do so.

    The neighboring residential zone was there well before Aaron Metals existed, and the City had measures in place to mitigate the impacts of industrial businesses near residential areas. Aaron Metals simply choose to IGNORE these requirements. Now it’s the neighbors’ fault for living there? Give me a freaking break.

  39. T-Bone

    That’s not true. To the southwest of our parcel, the first phase of the beautiful residential development by Habitat for Humanity (a project we ideologically and financially supported) was completed in December 2008 and the second phase will be finished this year.

    We perform a great service for the planet. We employ 40+ people many of whom walk to work. We generate sales tax and business license tax revenue for the City. We save the City millions of dollars by diverting solid waste from landfills. We participate in Oakland’s primary economic activity exporting tons of material through the Port of Oakland. Expansions may have occurred without the required permits over the years but if you add up all the pros and cons, our contributions to the City far outweigh the negative impacts.

    We recognize how great Oakland has been to us and we take concepts like giving back to the community very seriously.

    As soon as we were told which permits we needed, we applied and paid the accompanying fees. We were granted a Conditional Use Permit in October 2008.

    Out of curiosity, what would you like to see happen?

  40. V Smoothe Post author

    Yes, Aaron Metals received a retroactive Conditional Use Permit in October 2008, after illegally expanding a business that had permission to occupy 10,000 square feet in an industrial area that abutted a residential zone to over 100,000 square feet. Had Aaron Metals applied for the required permits to legally expand, it is likely that the City would not have allowed such an expansion. At the very least, it is almost certain that impact mitigation would have been part of the conditions of approval if the CUPs had been granted.

    By the time Aaron Metals decided to apply for a retroactive permit, the City was in an impossible position. What were they going to do at that point? Not grant the permit and shut down an existing business? Personally, I think that would have been the right way to go, but our decision makers clearly felt otherwise. In any case, I think that the mitigations attached to the retroactive permit were far from sufficient.

    I think that the City should assist metal recyclers with relocation to a suitable area, but I do not think that any financial assistance be given to businesses that choose to operate for years with wanton disregard for their neighbors and for the law.

  41. T-Bone

    We’re back to where I began this discussion: Relocation. Let’s join forces and petition the city to assist in the smooth relocation of recycling operations (within close proximity to residential zones) to more appropriate zones.

    Its pure conjecture to assume to know what the City would likely do had Aaron Metals applied for permits at the correct times.

    Furthermore, I don’t recall reading anything in Oakland’s General Plan that calls for the City to take steps which would lead to the dissolution of viable recycling businesses.

    By the way, thank you for creating a forum for spirited discussions.

  42. SF2OAK

    V, I think you’re dealing way too harshly about Aaron’s- substitute in any other business name where Aaron’s is in your remedy- shut down any business for an infraction? Oakland is hardly consistent and clear about what requirements are and when do you take away business and therefore jobs when a business has done wrong- where is that line, would it be consistently enforced? You don’t strike me as one who would say to a criminal well you’ve done society wrong so we’ll lock you up for life- but that is what you’re saying to a business that has faithfully served many, and only on a selective basis. At this point in time were Oak to shut down a business, I would if I were that business run not walk to the nearest paper and get my story out of how OAK does not want business. Too bad we don’t have a newspaper in OAK, and the Oakland journalist got himself gunned down while under police surveillance. Dellums has said it is the time to stop focusing on housing and now focus on business- reasonably you cannot think he would send 40 employees, customers and sales taxe$, and the money that people receive from selling scrap packing. He’d be called crazy instead of just plain lazy.

  43. V Smoothe Post author

    What Aaron Metals did is WAY beyond an “infraction,” SF2OAK. We have a zoning code for a reason. The zoning code explicitly what types of businesses are permitted where. The purpose of this is so that we don’t have things like metal recyclers, with their myriad detrimental impacts, operating next door to residents. Although the zoning code did not permit metal recycling in this location, Aaron Metals went ahead and did it anyway.

    I’m far more concerned about the message condoning such behavior sends to residents about how little the City of Oakland cares about them than whatever potential message punitive action would send to the business community. I’m all for Oakland supporting and encouraging business, but businesses that operate here need to understand that they’re expected to comply with our laws.

  44. Max Allstadt

    Exactly. If Aaron Metals didn’t want trouble with the neighbors and the city, they shouldn’t have repeatedly violated ordinances, built and expanded without permits, and behaved like total scofflaws. They should thank their lucky stars they live in a city so economically challenged that the forces of city planning are willing to find ways to keep them in existence even after they spent years giving the law a great big middle finger.

  45. Steve Lowe

    The West Oakland Toxics Reduction Colalition (co-Chairs, Commissioner Gordon and Brian Beveridge) has been advocating for years the wholesale relocation of all Oakland recyclers onto the Army Base, en mass. Not only will this allow for us to build a state-of-the-art, superefficient new facility, it also allows for higher and better (and more community-friendly) uses on the sites being vacated. What a deal, no?

    Standing in the way of such a relocation are, in my opinion, three things: first, a penchant for some Councilmembers to think in terms of their own (or maybe their cronies’) best interests, as opposed to that of the overall city (seeing, for instance, the Base as a location for retail or housing at the expense of logistics, trucking, recycling, etc.); second, the recyclers themselves, each wanting to deal with the city individually (as opposed to forming a real partnership with the community and dealing with the complexity of the problem as an industry committed to reform); and third, the developers themselves (now down to two on the city-owned side of the Army Base and maybe only three on the Port-owned side) who are not as involved in a constructive dialogue with the community as they need to be.

    After all, who among the three factions merits the most sway: the developers who are circling the Base (because community effort has created the opportunity); the Councilmembers (who are supposed to be representing the community’s best interests); or the community itself (lungs working overtime due largely to the impact of trucking, recycling and other grunky uses currently embedded in the neighborhoods)?

    Well, we went through all this before when the produce wholesalers were intersted in moving (again, en mass) onto the Base back in the mid 90′s. The community was squarely behind it, but the Council, the Port and the Mayor just couldn’t get it together, lobbying hard to keep Oakland’s historic (c. 1916) Produce Market out of the Estuary Plan so that the head of CEDA at that time wouldn’t be compelled to deal with a commonsense solution. Let’s trust that such political tomfoolery won’t exert itself this time around and put everything on hold again for yet another decade or so…

    Maybe with someone new in the At Large spot and thinking about comprehensive planning (selectiing an aide with a degree in city planning seems like a good omen), we can actually look forward to Oakland at its highest and best – not the usual buy-in to second rate plans (like Forest City) that the Chronicle and other media seem to delight in as Oakland’s due.


    – S

    [I know it's tough for you die-hard FC minions, but try to think about dropping that same cheesy clump of architectural blah into the very center of San Francisco or Berkeley or Palo Alto, and you might begin to get the idea of what we've gone and done in terms of setting the tone for Oakland's used-to-be fabulous downtown.]

  46. SF2OAK

    Interestingly the city has granted Aaron’s a retroactive conditional Use Permit, the city might have been in a tough position but not impossible. In my mind it is an “infraction” when the city granted a CUP retroactively- i guess we’re are talking about degrees. How many other businesses have “infractions”, of any type, my guess would be 100′s- what’s yours and how would you propose to deal with them?

    I do like T Bones & Steve Lowe’s solution but apparently a lot of moving pieces there and we’re not dealing with a particularly functioning strong team of players.

    Max- Oakland has many types of scofflaws that are constantly giving all law abiding citizens the middle finger.

  47. T-Bone

    We’ve gone on record expressing our wish to relocate to the Oakland Army Base. I think the Army Base is an exciting solution, since. I assume the parcels we would relocate to would be larger than our existing sites. With more room, we could do more business which in turn would generate more tax revenue for the City.

    Not getting the proper permits is not the same thing as giving Oakland the middle finger. We’ve given back to the community and ultimately, I hope, Oakland benefits from our presence.

    If anyone doubts our love of Oakland, I encourage them to look at issues of the Oakland Tribune published shortly after the Oakland Hills Fire (1991) when Aaron Metals participated in the clean up and reconstruction of destroyed homes. We’ve helped create a better Oakland and we will continue to do so.

  48. Max Allstadt

    So sorry I accused you of flipping us the bird.
    You’re right, not getting the proper permits is very easy to do, and deprives CEDA of tens of thousands of dollars in much needed fee income. So it’s less like giving the city the middle finger and more like grand theft, or tax evasion, along with ignoring environmental laws.

    The only reason Aaron Metals could possibly have gotten away with what they did is that CEDA enforcement is complaint driven. As such, enforcement tends to happen mainly in Rockridge and Montclair where the wealthy congregate and enjoy fine restaurants, manicured laws, and ratting their neighbors out to the building inspectors. The industrial areas, by comparison have been a wild west for quite a long time. It behooves industrial businesses to look the other way at each others transgressions.

  49. Patrick

    T-Bone, Al Capone believed that he provided great things for the city of Chicago while skirting the laws. He allowed people to drink alcohol, though it was illegal. But the law was stupid, right? So it didn’t matter – to HIM. Why worry about laws and process when you can “generate more tax revenues” for our city? Do you really expect anyone to believe that is your ultimate goal?

    Oakland may “benefit from your presence”. But the citizens who live near your current, retroactively legal location clearly do not agree. It is not the city’s responsibility to move your operation: it is YOURS. If you truly cared about the city of Oakland, you would effect this change rather than attempting to whitewash your past illegal activities on this blog.

    Congratulations! You’ve created enemies among people that weren’t even aware of your presence!

  50. Patrick

    BTW, I have little doubt that the nearly $1200 worth of copper piping that was recently stolen from my locked garage (while also destroying the garage door, another $900) during the recent re-plumbing of my home has provided a “great resource” to many of our “artist friends”. Another proud enabler.

  51. T-Bone

    Read my original posting.

    If I have said anything offensive or inappropriate in this forum I apologize.

  52. T-Bone

    I never said that the City should fund our relocation. If I have said anything offensive or inappropriate in this forum I apologize.

  53. SF2OAK

    Oh please, comparing Aaron Metals to Capone is ridiculous and shows the futility of your argument. Why aren’t you complaining of all scofflaws-? How much do you think the chase of the minivan where 2 police cars were wrecked by crashing in to each other (has the look of keystone cops) cost the city- that has to be a $100K incident without blinking and the driver got away and the public safety is at risk. I am frankly amazed that the citizenry has not looked to the criminal element where the budget is concerned- each officer being a $150k per year expense and we need more officers we have a crime problem. How is it Aaron Metals fault that you were robbed and your garage door was damaged-it doesn’t follow. How much does crime cost the city (and where’s your outrage? Every time I hear a city council meeting there’s Sanjiv saying how the city has disobeyed the Brown Act, the Sunshine Ordinance, etc. Talk about not respecting process the gov’t of Oak doesn’t even respect that, they couldn’t pass NN because of past failures of raising bond money and then not respecting process & purpose and misspending the money, or mismanaging Oakland’s public schools into BK. I suppose we are all scofflaws to some degree- Apparently now Aaron Metals has the proper permit retroactively, AND he’s saying he’d like to relocate – you all are being way too harsh on a business that has come clean, is being green the original recyclers- hardly one giving OAK the finger.

  54. Patrick

    SF2OAK: please reread your post and translate it into standard English. “How much do you think the chase of the minivan where 2 police cars were wrecked by crashsing in to each other (has the look of keystone cops) cost the city)-.— or at least stick with the subject at hand.

    T-Bone has suggested that flouting our city’s laws – and admittedly negatively affecting the lives of the citizens who live near his(?) business – is in Oakland’s best interest, and cites nebulous support for the fire victims in 1991 (yeah, I googled it, found nothing) as some sort of consolation prize. Gee, thanks.

    “Talk about not respecting process the gov’t of Oak doesn’t even respect that, they couldn’t pass NN because of past failures of raising bond money and then not respecting process & purpose and misspending the money, or mismanaging Oakland’s public schools into BK.” —-Just because our city is fucked up doesn’t give Aaron Metals the right to do as they please.

    “Apparently now Aaron Metals has the proper permit retroactively, AND he’s saying he’d like to relocate – you all are being way too harsh on a business that has come clean, is being green the original recyclers- hardly one giving OAK the finger.” —-The key word here is “retroactively”. And yes, it would be a great service to the surrounding community if they relocated…but I hardly see how anyone can justify city expense to move a business that was illegal, for years, in the first place. Had they followed the law, they wouldn’t be in this position!

    Regarding being “green”, my interpretation of that goal never involved blatant disregard for the law, trampling the rights of the local citizenry or an assumption of entitlement.

  55. SF2OAK

    Patrick for such a rule follower you are advocating(as far as I can tell) selective enforcement on Aaron Metals. I think you get the gist of my point that all scofflaws cost Oakland. The subject at hand is not only Aaron Metals but includes but not limited to – who named you the thread arbiter?-what is good for Oakland, and how much do scofflaws cost. You bring up a theft and damage of your garage door and accuse me of going astray?

    Further I don’t believe what T Bone has suggested is what you claim at all- what he is suggesting are mitigating factors and pointing out some of the benefits which Oakland and Oak residents have taken.

    I didn’t hear T Bone ask the city to pay for his relocation- what he wants is permission

    What I am saying about OAK and your selective treatment or wishful treatment of AM is that we have a culture of flaunting laws, it is from the top of government, to business & residents.

    Have you ever heard of greywater guerrilas- well it’s not in the city building codes to do some of the practices they advocate – it is a blatant disregard for the law and “green”. Sometimes recycling is a dirty business, it is uncharted territory, the city’s zoning is a mess.

    Are you opposed to artists living/working in lofts, the original ones were disregarding the law, trampling the rights and assumed entitlement. You must also be against the Thai Temple breakfast on Russel st. in Berk. after all they are doing the same. Homeless fall under your definition. I can’t wait to read your posts regarding these.

    Finally, apparently AM has secured the permits, recyclers are some of the most scrutinized businesses, I think somewhere in the vicinity of 27 agencies have some jurisdiction. OAK city gov’t has spoken with a retroactive permit, perhaps it came with fees, but now at least that argument should be put to rest.

  56. V Smoothe Post author

    SF2OAK, I’ll overlook your continued defense of Aaron Metals, since the more I read your comments, the more clear it is that you’re simply ignorant of the situation. How else could anyone call Aaron Metals, a company that has continually violated state environmental standards and poisoned public water a “green business”?

    As far as relocation, you misunderstand. Aaron Metals doesn’t need permission to relocate. They’re welcome to move anytime they like to any area zoned to allow their activities. Of course, give their behavior over the last twenty years, they obviously don’t care where their operation is permitted or not. They had the gall to build 100,000 sf of metal recycling operations that were explicitly prohibited because of the location’s proximity to residential, and then complain about the people who live nearby, as if the residents are the ones at fault for living there.

    What they want now – and they have stated this much explicitly at multiple public meetings, is for the City of Oakland to give them land to relocate to and fund their relocation costs. It’s sickening.

  57. Steve Lowe

    The problem with Aaron and most of the other recyclers is that they are trapped in zones that have been encroached on by residential developers, quite a few during the Jerry years. WOCA, the world’s best small business organization, made the case that Oakland needed to protect its industrial land (which everyone recognizes will never see heavy industrial again, as opposed, of course, to light industrial) just as you would protect agricultural land in a rural area from yet another sick clone of Palmacia Gardens or whatever they call those suburby things nowadays.

    Meanwhile, the recyclers were getting another message from the fed when new designatiions were made all over Oakland for “recycling zones,” Enterprise Zones,” Enhanced Enterprise Communities”, etc., each emphasizing recycling – which most lawmakers saw as important to the future economy. Oakland’s policymakers, however, wanted restrictions on the recyclers, especially those closest to residential, even those residential projects recently built right up against a recycling, Enterprise, Enchanced whatever. So, without defending or condemning the industry, as that’s not going to do much more other than get us all hissied up, let’s go for the best solution and move all these guys outta here and onto the Base.

    We have an opportunity to build a state of the art facility, probably right next to the sewage treatment plant where no one wants to be anyway, except for the recyclers. And we retain an important part of Oakland’s economy. At that point, the Aaron controversy becomes academic, moot or maybe just plain inconsequential – plus we all get cleaner air in the bargain. Plus plus, the industry, as part of its contract with the community, reforms: no more suspicious material to be fenced, and therefore no more scavengers breaking into this business or that and ripping the copper out of the air cleaners and other dcevices necessary to the health and safety of Oakland workers.

    What’s not to like?

    This Army Base that we were given has to be looked upon as the best opportunity we have for getting Oakland out of the post-Luddite era and into the new green economy that our new green President is trying to orchestrate. A massive relocation of all the recyclers is something that I bet Obama would prefer to throw a few Barack Bucks at, as opposed to one of those projects where – like Superfund – all the money goes to administratioin and legal fees.

    Let’s buy into a bigger picture than that which is currently being revealed to us by Council and let Nancy, Rebecca and maybe a few others lead the discussion to its highest and best conclusion. Maybe they can’t win over the hearts and minds of their colleagues all by themselves, but with enough backing from the great unwashed (and guess who that is, folks), the Obama team will have cause to pay attention to something really exciting (as opposed to that infernal Airport Connector, the biggest boondoggle Oakland ever came up with, yet paramount on MTC’s icky list of preferred projects being shown to Obama this very minute).

    Where do you want your tax dollars spent?

    Organically yours,

    – S

  58. SF2OAK

    I’ll bite V.

    I won’t castigate you fro not addressing any of my points above.

    bottom line AM now has a permit so your argument is moot.

    It is apparent that they would like to work with OAK, and apparently somebody in OAK wants to work with them. It seems like a good idea to move recyclers to the Army base.

    Oakland may need to provide funding and it would not be unique that a city does that for a business that will employ local residents.

    Why don’t you move forward instead of backwards?

  59. David

    All I want is for the bums to stop fishing through the recycling in my neighborhood. The City collects these materials through their curbside pickup program, so the “canners” add zero economic value through their work, and the recycling companies no longer make economic sense. Meanwhile, I have to live with this blight.

    Canners devalue the properties in the neighborhood by creating a persistent nuisance. The create noise at night, block streets and sidewalk with their carts, and canning creates a convenient cover story for automobile burglary, which is a huge problem in my neighborhood in Temescal.

    The net result is that the lower property values produced by the blight and the crime reduce the amount of property tax derived. This means that canners cause further de-funding of our schools, police, and other vital services, and contribute to the ongoing problems we have with ever increasing parcel taxes. There is no reason we have to live this way. Many of Oakland’s problems could be solved by a consistent addressing of quality of life issues such as canning.

  60. Wow

    So let me guess you moved into the neighborhood with a few of your counter buddies and you haven’t asked the people who live directly across from said recycling center how they feel. You Nimby not all of those folks go around with needles and having sex after they recycle if you recycle im sure you can have sex in the sanctity of your very own dwelling place. Well news flash for you some folks dont have a home to go to. And its not all their fault. While you are worried about the issues of recycling and the noice and trash it will bring and all the many homeless colored folk with out mental health care walking around why dont you go ask your delicate city government why dont they get funding for housing for all folks that are low income so that they dont become chronically homeless and mess up your neighborhood. oh might I add our neighborhood. Why dont you move you gentrifying nimby if i was your council member i would kick all of your crying assess out of my office and neighborhood and start with the real issues by developing policies the city actually implements about homeless issues. Do your self a favor take your crying ass out of our neighborhood. You dont even know how to make Oakland better it certainly isnt covering up homelessness and crying about noice and tell me this when have any of you nimby assholes been pulled over by your protection team of police officers and had your ass kicked. Oh yeah thats right you havent.

  61. Chris Kidd

    Programs for the homeless and preventing the neighborhoods around recycling centers from becoming magnets for blight aren’t mutually exclusive.