Ed Dunn is in the market for scrap metal. Dunn, the Executive Director of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center, is also looking to recycle unused metal chains and padlocks. His plan isn’t to melt them down and turn them into trashcans or anything like that. Dunn claims to have over 1000 volunteers willing to use those chains to affix themselves to the fence of the center in a large-scale act of civil disobedience on the day the embattled recycling facility is scheduled to shut its doors.
Operated by the non-profit Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council on land leased from the city since 1974, the recycling center is perched on the edge of Golden Gate park right next to Kezar Stadium. Last year, after the savage beating of a 53 year-old homeless man near the center prompted a neighborhood outcry, mayor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order to close the center. A 90-day termination notice was sent to HANC in December, and their lease ends March 4.
Even though the center only handles a fraction of one percent of San Francisco’s total recycling, it’s one of the city’s largest recycling facilities and has long been considered a neighborhood landmark. With the adoption of mandatory citywide curbside recycling, the city has been gradually closing down its recycling centers. There were 30 within the city limits in 1990 and now that number has dropped to only 19. San Francisco recycles about 77% of its total waste, but only 5% of that comes from recycling centers. However, as HANC center advocates charge, for a city looking to get that number up to 100%, every little bit helps.
The recycling center’s detractors attest its more of a nuisance than a shining example of San Francisco’s progressive environmental vision. They say the center is a magnet for the homeless and other unsavory elements. Chronicle writer C.W. Nevius, whose column “San Francisco is Scary” has been a driving force behind the effort to shut down the center, called it an “ATM for booze and drugs.”
HANC responded by saying that less than 20% of its patrons are homeless and posted a video of some of the center’s regular recyclers doing an excellent job of not being scary hobos (password: HANC), and by posting a brief, on site interview interview (you can watch it above) with area resident and actor Danny Glover, who called the possible closing of the center “a tragedy.”
Nevius wrote last September, when Newsom initially issued his order closing the center, that “the mayor’s office is…bracing for a backlash. My guess is there won’t be one.” (Through a spokesperson, Mayor Ed Lee confirmed that he wouldn’t overturn Newsom’s order.) In retrospect, his dismissal of a possible uproar seems shortsighted, especially in the light of the bitter fight over the Sit/Lie ordinance he pushed with equal vigor.
In a column last weekend, Nevius similarly poo-pooed HANC’s threat of old school chain-yourself-to-something-you-don’t-want-destroyed activism and called the center’s closure a positive for the city, though as recently as 2000, the city was officially commending the center for the services it provides.
Since then, led by the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, the neighborhood has become increasingly business friendly and made a move to shed its image as a place for burned out street kids and even more burned out old hippies. The HAIA was instrumental both in the creation of the movement to implement Sit/Lie and the newly opened Whole Foods that sits just across Stanyan from the recycling center.
HANC’s Dunn has no plans to go quietly, however, saying in a statement that “1000 people have already pledged to chain themselves together on our last day, so we’ll need a lot. But in any case, if things work out scrap prices for steel are through the roof, so this is a good time to recycle.”
Framed in the context of a fight for the soul of the Haight Ashbury between its gritty past and a sanitized future, Dunn’s dramatic reaction to the closure of the HANC center isn’t that surprising. For the 1000 people he says has lined up to chain themselves to the building to prevent foreclosure, it’s not just about recycling or cutting of one of the rare income streams for the city vast transient population, it’s about trying preserve a neighborhood. For their opponents, this fight is all about trying to change it.
Contact HANC if you have any extra chains lying around you want to donate.