Recycling center canned

COSTA MESA — Putting in 17 hour days as a young man, Jesse Garcia had a vision to be his own boss.

Fast forward 21 years. Garcia, now 49, owns four businesses in Orange County. But one of them, a recycling center at 739 W. 19th St. in Costa Mesa where customers exchange bottles and cans for cash, is threatened with closure after two decades in operation.

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission recently voted 4 to 1 to revoke the Garcia Recycling Center's conditional use permit, which grants a business permission to operate in the city. The City Council voted 4 to 1 earlier this month to uphold that recommendation.

But the way in which his original license was revoked has perplexed Garcia, his lawyers and City Hall observers.

It all began when Planning Commissioner Steve Mensinger called up the Garcia Recycling center on 19th Street for a review. Mensinger argued that the location can no longer handle the intensity of the business, which handles 4.2 million pounds of recyclables a month.

"I have to take the emotions out of it and say, where's the balance?" said Mensinger, adding that he personally admires Garcia for his entrepreneurial spirit. "We're running out of space, and when uses exceed the capacity of the site, then these kind of problems happen. It's really up to the businessperson to decide what they are going to do to manage that or the community and the city will respond."

There are generally two reasons a business can lose a conditional use permit: violating the permit's terms or creating a public nuisance.

For 20 years Garcia has operated without any violations in an industrially zoned area. And while the recycling center is surrounded by businesses, including a Smart & Final and a nightclub, there are residences nearby.

When city code enforcement went out to investigate complaints about the center, allegedly related to noise, the center was not found to be in violation of its permit.

Yet when it was time to revoke Garcia's license, noise was cited as an issue after resident Steve Chan showed the City Council a home video.

After a few hours of debate Aug. 8, and a lengthy staff report on the issue, at least two commissioners said they could find no reason to revoke Garcia's license.

While a motion was still on the floor to revoke the permit, Mensinger asked the commission to take a break.

Attorney Stephen Miles, who represents Garcia, asserted that the commission may have violated the Brown Act, which requires most public business to be conducted in public, when members broke from the meeting.

"I wouldn't talk about something that's in violation of the Brown Act," Mensinger said, adding that he did not discuss the matter with his peers during the break.

After the commission resumed its meeting, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Righeimer

cited the number of customers who park at Smart & Final and walk over to Garcia's.

"What you got here is an operation of 4.2 million pounds [and] that the parking lot is full in Smart & Final," Righeimer said. "They cannot limit the business to the area that they have."

In addition to the parking issues, Garcia was also found in violation of his permit for parking a truck that exceeded the city's weight limits for the business.

Garcia's lawyers question why the city hasn't addressed these issues in the past and immediately revoked the license without considering other options.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley said she believes the location is not the best fit for the recycling center, but disagrees with the way its permit was revoked.

There was also a good deal of support for the center. Some 1,000 signed a petition to keep it open, Garcia said.

But several residents at the council meeting spoke against the business. Most complained about the types of customers, many of them poor, homeless or both, and termed the business an eyesore.

Emily Griffith visits the center twice a month and disputes that the center is in poor condition.

"They are always very professional and very helpful," she said. "They unload from your car; it's clean. I don't see why the city is shutting it down."

Asked why the city never issued citations, Willa Bouwens-Killeen, chief of code enforcement, said the city first seeks voluntary compliance.

"Code enforcement really tries to work with different people with violations without going to citations," she said.

However, once Garcia's permit was revoked, code enforcement issued two citations.

"Basically, (the citations) were for things like having customers approach the business from the other property, having outdoor work and the cashier booth that was out there, things like that," Bouwens-Killeen said.

But the recycling center is not the only reason why the homeless are attracted to the area, said Danielle Bonilla, Garcia's landlord.

Someone Cares Soup Kitchen is across the street, attracting a steady stream of those who need help.

"Maybe it's the perfect storm," Bonilla said.

Nevertheless, Garcia, a father to 13 children with the youngest being just 6 months old, has three months to close down or relocate. He has already found a new location on Placentia Avenue and plans to approach the city for a permit.

"This is providential for me," Garcia said. "People think this is bad, but I know that it's good and God is testing me. God provides me."

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