DOWNTOWN : Carousel Recycling Ordered to Close

A city zoning official has ordered the Carousel Recycling Center to close down because it has failed to curb its crime and trash problems.

Agreeing with neighbors of the Skid Row facility and area police officers, Associate Zoning Administrator Jon Perica ruled that the center at 612-614 E. 7th St. is a public nuisance that has failed to implement city-ordered improvements aimed at preventing the center's mostly homeless customers from loitering and engaging in crimes.

"The city's attempt to correct the public nuisances caused by Carousel Recycling have not even been given the chance to work," Perica wrote in his ruling dated Sept. 9. "The only alternative remaining . . . is for the city to discontinue the business use."

Perica's ruling gives the city Building and Safety Department authority to revoke the center's permits if it does not close voluntarily.

Harold J. Light, attorney for Carousel Recycling, said he appealed the ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals last week. Light has also filed a lawsuit against the city to fight the mandated improvements, which he called unreasonable.

Light contends that the center has been unfairly blamed for the neighborhood's ills by area property owners who refuse to help solve the problems themselves.

But residents, business owners and police officers have testified in city zoning hearings that the recycling center is directly responsible for hordes of homeless people who loiter, litter, urinate, drink and engage in drug activity and prostitution in the neighborhood.

City zoning officials in February ordered the center to hire a security guard, clean up after and shoo away loiterers, or face closure.

About a dozen area residents and police officers returned to a City Hall hearing room in August to complain to Perica that the center had not complied with the city's orders and that customers continued to crowd the streets and engage in illegal activity.

Light argued that the center's operator, Ruy Gomez, had taken steps to improve conditions, such as hiring an additional employee to clean the streets around the center and to encourage loitering customers to move.

The attorney said the center has not complied with other conditions--including daily graffiti cleanups, hiring a security guard and establishing a 24-hour hot line to field complaints--because they are too costly.

Light countered that he was rebuffed in attempts to meet with neighbors on behalf of his client, who speaks limited English. He accused opponents of being against recycling efforts and assistance for the homeless.

But neighbors said Gomez ignored the problems and community members' attempts to contact and work with her.

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