The County posted this notice at the recycling station in Patagonia on March 27. Photo by Robert Gay

The Recycling Task Force that grew out of the PRT-sponsored community forum on January 25 is now fully engaged in the task of improving Patagonia’s failing recycling program, but while the group had quickly  succeeded in partnering with town and county officials to work on a new recycling system, just as quickly the coronavirus caused the county to take unilateral action to remove the town’s four recycling trailers and store them at the chipping yard, thus virtually suspending all local recycling activity until further notice.

After holding its organizing meeting on February 15, the task force met with Town of Patagonia and Santa Cruz County officials. The meeting was convened in town council chambers and was attended by Mayor Andy Wood, Vice Mayor Michael Stabile, Town Manager Ron Robinson, County Public Works Director Jesus Valdez, Surveyor Leonard Fontes, Community Development Director Frank Dillon and task force members Robin Kulibert and Bob Brandt. 

At that meeting, Valdez made it clear that he and his staff want to work closely with the town and the task force to bring about changes that will work for the town and larger community. “You tell us what you want, and we’ll work with you to get it,” Valdez said. Robinson suggested that the town needs to take drastic action to build a workable system. “We need to change the image of the facility and educate people on how to properly use it, and to do that we should start over,” he said.

Valdez offered to bring in new specialized receptacles designed to receive only certain recyclable items and to help monitor usage, modify the site to restrict access and improve its appearance. The idea of beautifying the site received considerable attention as the consensus among those in attendance was that the present unsightly condition encourages illegal dumping.

At a meeting on March 14, the task force focused on how the site could be improved to make it more attractive, to encourage proper recycling behavior and to cut down on illegal dumping. Robinson gave a detailed account of the land lease arrangements and related a problem he recently discovered with the boundaries on the recorded plat that may reduce the area of land covered by the lease. According to Robinson, the lease may affect what is possible in terms of allowing vehicular access to the recycling station while restricting access by people on foot. 

The task force discussed whether it would be a good idea to start over by removing all the recycling trailers at some point. Although it would no doubt be protested by some residents, it would bring attention to the fact that something major is happening and it would create an opportunity to carry out a robust public education campaign aimed at preparing the community to properly use the new receptacles once they are installed. The group made no firm decision on this matter at that time, but Santa Cruz County landfill director Jerry Montoya, fearing spread of the Covid-19 virus, made the decision when he announced to Robinson on March 26 that the trailers would be moved the very next day. 

As it turned out, that move was in sync with Robinson’s belief, expressed at the task force meeting, that it would be best to remove the trailers, improve the site’s visual appeal, begin anew with containers that accept only #1 and #2 plastics and cardboard and build a more complete system from there. Now that the trailers are gone, the group at least knows it will be starting from square one in rebuilding the community’s recycling program. 

The task force meets monthly on the second Saturday and will deal with the new reality at its meeting on April 11. That meeting is likely to take place online, depending on an assessment of the coronavirus risk at that point.

Editor’s note: Santa Cruz County has suspended all recycling due to the COVID-19 pandemic.