Alliance Recycling Center in West Oakland will close its doors in August after a decades long battle with neighbors, forfeiting its Conditional Use Permit (CUP). The center’s walk-up, cash model of recycling services smaller recyclers, many of them homeless with shopping carts. The business that has operated since the 1980’s has been battleground for many who think the neighborhood had outgrown the compatibility with a recycling center and the problems associated with it. Alliance is a recycling center, but is also said to serve as a de facto community center for the region’s homeless.
Neighbors have long complained that Alliance’s presence has led to neighborhood blight and that the money redeemed by recyclers has led to loitering, drug sales and drug use in their neighborhood. Drug activity that has made the adjacent Franklin Park and nearby St. Andrews Plaza unwelcoming for use by families. In addition, the center encourages theft by accepting stolen metal from fences, construction sites, tools and smash & grab auto burglaries among other petty crimes. An entire blog has been dedicated to capturing the indiscretions of Alliance patrons at abetteralliance.blogspot.com.
“[Alliance Recycling] has been a consistent nuisance to neighbors since it opened in the 1980s” noted Oakland City Attorney Barbara J. Parker in a 2015 newsletter. “I believe this is a good outcome for neighbors in West Oakland whose quality of life has suffered as a result of this nuisance activity.” Parker notes that despite repeated warnings, the City has issued over 40 violations to Alliance totaling about $17,000 in fines. After the CUP expires on August 20th, Alliance will be penalized $1,000 per day it remains in business and no recycling business will be allowed to reopen at that location.
Alliance was the inspiration for the documentary film Dogtown Redemption when director Amir Soltani moved to West Oakland and observed the migration of “shopping cart wheels rumbling up and down the streets.” “Dogtown” is of course the neighborhood nickname where Alliance conducts its business at 34th & Peralta. According to Wikipedia, Oakland Police officers coined the nickname in the 80’s due to “a large population of stray dogs”. It is bounded on the West by Mandela Parkway, to the East by Adeline Street and North/South by I-580 and 28th Street.
The battle has been brewing for decades and the neighborhood shift was documented in SF Gate as early as 1999. The tension between then District 3 Oakland Councilperson Nancy Nadel and Alliance owner Jay Anast was evident when she referred to him as a “sort of a benevolent slave owner” for perpetuating and even profiting off of their desperation. “I’m not trying to slander the woman, but she’s very upward-scale minded,” Anast retorted. “She’s trying to convert the area into a live-work environment.” Alliance’s website documents its history and contributions to the community.
In 2008, Anast attempted to move Alliance to a new location at Market & 27th. Neighbors successfully fought the new location noting that it was only one block from McClymonds High School and noting “We know what (it will do to the neighborhood).”
The brewing tension between neighbors and the business came to a head at Oakland council meeting involving the city’s efforts to force Alliance to relocate. Jason Witt, one the four recyclers profiled in the Dogtown Redemption documentary, can be viewed standing up for Alliance at the Council Meeting amid cheers and noting that “recycling saved his life”. “If you take away the recycling center, crime will rise again in Oakland worse than you can ever think.” Nadel noted it wasn’t a personal vendetta. “If [the owner] doesn’t want police there, he should stop doing illegal stuff.” [update to this story] Anast recently sold Alliance to new owners Joe Zadik and Lance Finkel and plans for the building remain uncertain. Finkel also owns Lakeside Recycling near Jack London Square.
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Chronicle writer Chip Johnson noted that the center “serves a purpose” in this 2015 piece and implored the city to identify a more appropriate location and not “penalize society’s most vulnerable citizens for gathering scraps of metal and plastic to try and survive”.
While the center’s shuttering may dampen the sounds of shopping carts and reduce blight, concerns have been raised that those that depend on the center may get more desperate. With the opportunity for even a meager source of revenue gone from the neighborhood, the question remains: what do local leaders expect people living in dire poverty to do in order to survive?
Neighbors I’ve personally spoken with are in complete support of trying anything that might address a problem that continues to pit neighbors against those that need our help. The question remains whether paralysis and inaction by our local government will in fact lead to unforeseen consequences.
Watch the official Dogtown Redemption Trailer below:
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Feature Image: (L-R): Landon Goodwin, Miss Hayok Kay, Roslin Sanders and Jason Witt.