EDITORIAL: Save the HANC recycling center

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The foes of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council recycling center -- including the mayor and Rec-Park Director Phil Ginsberg, who desperately want to get the low-income riff-raff who sell cans and bottles for a living out of the Haight and Inner Sunset -- pulled out all the stops Dec 2, dragging good ol' Chuck Nevius, who's always ready to stand up for what isw clean and well-manicured and free of urban grit, into the fight. The Nevius column in the Chron is almost too perfect; he describes the center as "a noisy, ugly industrial plant" that doesn't belong in Golden Gate Park. Well, the center is technically in the park, I suppose, but it's not exactly smack amid Speedway Meadow or the Arboretum; it's way off on the edge, in an area that most people don't even think of as the park.

But see, here's the real issue:

It is a magnet for the down and out, some of whom use the can and bottle payout as an ATM for booze and drugs, and even raid the neighborhood bins to fill their carts.

Imagine: A magnet for the "down and out" in the Haight. Imagine: A way for people to make some money without panhandling (which Nevius dislikes) or hassling tourists (which Nevius dislikes) or selling drugs (which Nevius dislikes) or stealing (which all of us dislike). Imagine: A community-run institution that actually creates green jobs for people who might otherwise be homeless (and doing things that Chuck Nevius dislikes).

The real issue is that the mayor never liked HANC (since he lives in the Haight, he ought to stop by a HANC meeting sometime; it's really not that scary) and doesn't like the idea of homeless people congregating around the recycling center, and would just as soon get rid of anything that doesn't fit his vision of a squeaky clean, fully gentrified city.

And it's not as if Ginsberg wants to restore that corner of the park to native flora; it will be, in his vision, a community gardening center. Nice, but not exactly a natural space. The new center would also attract small crowds -- but of a very different demographic. Which, again, is what this is all about.

The HANC recycling center does everything that Gavin Newsom claims to support. It provides green jobs. It offers employment opportunities for people who are on the margins of society, and lets them get back on their feet -- without a penny of taxpayer money. It promotes recycling and sound urban ecology.

The private company that collects our garbage and recycling, which is called Recology, doesn't like the fact that poor people go around and collect cans and bottles from the blue bins on the sidewalk; the stuff is worth money, and the company would rather keep it. But in the end, the material goes to the same place and stays out of the landfills, which ought to be the point. And honestly, isn't scavenging and recycling cans and bottles a better occupation than agressive panhandling and crime?

The center's a bargain for San Francisco, and the personal peeves and suburban sensibilities of Newsom, Ginsberg and Nevius shouldn't shut it down. The Recreation and Parks Commission should direct Ginsberg to back off on eviction proceedings and let the center stay.