Gavin Newsom Not So Green After All

Updated: May 20, 2016

During his time as mayor of the City from January 2004 through January 2011, Gavin Newsom promoted his administration as being many things, including progressive in social policies and green in environmental issues. And earlier while an SF Supervisor in 2002, Gavin sponsored his signature “Care not Cash” program as a substitute for welfare, later touting the program as one of his major successes while mayor. But several actions taken during his mayoral administration—and other recent inactions by our now Lieutenant Governor—show him to be neither progressive nor green.

A decade prior to entering politics, Gavin and a business partner in 1992 started the Plumpjack Group, a high-end wine vintner with several properties including vineyards and tasting rooms in Napa County, a mini-resort at Squaw Valley Ski Area, and two retail stores in San Francisco—Plumpjack Wines Noe Valley on 24th Street and Plumpjack Wines Marina on Fillmore.

As an offshoot to the Care not Cash program, in 2009 Mayor Newsom and his administration devised a plan to deprive homeless persons then living in or around Golden Gate Park of one of their last remaining sources of ready cash, that being the local redemption of CRV beverage containers collected nearby. This was accomplished through legislative and other means leading to the closing down of a longstanding neighborhood recycling center.

For many years the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC) had been operating their recycling center in a small section of the park, and had been accepting recyclable items even prior to the passage of California’s “Bottle Bill” in 1986. But in 2010, Gavin and his minions convinced a majority of the Board of Supervisors to support the eviction of the HANC recycling center, which started the dominoes falling and ultimately triggered the closure of 13 other conveniently located recycling centers including Safeway-15 Marina St.(2013), Whole Foods-1765 California St.(2013), Mollie Stones-2435 California St.(2013), Lucky’s-1750 Fulton St.(2013), Safeway-1335 Webster St.(2013), Safeway-625 Monterey Bl.(2014), Safeway-850 La Playa St.(2014), Safeway-2020 Market St.(2014), Safeway-298 King St.(2015), Safeway-735 7th Av.(2015), Safeway-2350 Noriega St.(2015), Safeway-4950 Mission St.(2015), and Safeway-730 Taraval St.(2015).

Back in November 2010, Mayor Newsom circulated a memo to various City departments informing them of the upcoming closing of the HANC recycling center, and assumed that with HANC’s closing the “dedicated recyclers that use the facility will take their material to another existing site for proper handling . . .”

Mayor Newsom further stated:

“I am confident that the Department of the Environment [DOE] has and will work to make the redemption of bottles and cans, and recycling in general, more convenient in San Francisco. This can include urging supermarkets and other beverage retailers to install reverse vending machines, or redeem bottles and cans in-store.”

(Mayor Newsom Memo – Nov 2010)

After directing the DOE to work with the City’s beverage dealers, Gavin’s Noe Valley wine store signed a recycling affidavit four months later in April 2011, affirming in part that:

“The dealer redeems all empty [CRV] beverage containers . . . during all hours the dealer is open for business.”

(Plumpjack Noe Valley Affidavit – April 2011)

The problem, however, was that the Noe Valley store was NOT redeeming CRV containers during this time, and a sting operation mounted by CalRecycle—the state agency in charge of recycling—eventually busted Gavin’s business and issued a Notice of Noncompliance (NONC) on Nov. 14, 2011 for violating California Public Resources Code (PRC) section 14571.6(a)(1) —Failure to redeem CRV containers.

(Plumpjack Noe Valley NONC – Nov 2011)

Also during the fall of 2011, a San Francisco Chronicle headline stated “Gavin Newsom back on job at Plumpjack.” As explained in the article, Mayor Newsom had stepped back from his day-to-day Plumpjack duties during his 7-year mayorship in the City. But after resigning in January 2011 Gavin was free to pursue running Plumpjack, even though he was by then Lieutenant Governor (which everyone knows is a do-nothing job used mostly for launching further political campaigns). Lt. Gov.

Newsom thus had ample time to become aware of the illegal situation playing out at his Noe Valley store (affidavit signed to avoid the $100 daily fee, yet no redemption of CRV containers). Except, of course, CalRecycle swooped in and busted up the scheme.

After the closing of the HANC recycling center in early 2012, many of the “dedicated recyclers” starting bringing their CRV containers for redemption to the San Francisco Community Recyclers (SFCR) site adjacent to the Safeway at 2020 Market St.  However, this additional influx of recycling activity offended the now well-heeled neighbors (and developers building condos across the street) so much that they persuaded Supervisor Scott Wiener to pressure Safeway into evicting SFCR,  under the guise of achieving a more “dispersed model” of recycling.

As explained by Supervisor Wiener in August 2013:

“San Francisco should be moving toward a more dispersed form of recycling redemption rather than rely on a few large centers with unfair impacts on just a few neighborhoods. In that spirit, I’m working with the Department of the Environment and the Mayor’s Office to create a more dispersed model, with reverse vending machines and the like spread throughout the city.”

In early 2015 this author confirmed that Plumpjack Wines Noe Valley was by then redeeming CRV containers in-store, and had duly posted the required CalRecycle sign at their store entrance. However, one year later and on the other side of town, it’s déjà vu all over again at Plumpjack Wines Marina.

On Sept. 17, 2015 CalRecycle sent a FIRST NOTICE alerting Plumpjack Wines Marina of their official designation as a beverage “dealer” offering CRV beverages for sale to consumers for off-site consumption, and declared that the store is located within a “convenience zone” (CZ), which is the recycling zone created within a one-half mile radius from Marina Supermarket on Chestnut Street. As noted by CalRecycle, there must be a certified recycling center located within the CZ or all other beverage dealers located within the zone must redeem all CRV containers brought in for redemption during regular business hours. CalRecycle suggested that Plumpjack Wines Marina “work with property managers, local government and recycling center operators to establish a recycling center in your area.”  This, however, did not occur.

(Plumpjack Marina First Notice – Sept 2015)

On Oct. 15, 2015 CalRecycle sent a SECOND NOTICE to Plumpjack Wines Marina, basically reiterating the contents of the first notice and notifying Plumpjack they had 30 days left in which to act.

(Plumpjack Marina Second Notice – Oct 2015)

Finally, on Dec. 14, 2015 CalRecycle sent correspondence labeled FINAL NOTICE, with the subtitle IMMEDIATE ACTION REQUIRED TO ENSURE RECYCLING CONVENIENCE. In the letter CalRecycle again advised Plumpjack Wines Marina of their two options:

[Option] A. Pay consumers the refund value for all empty CRV containers they bring to your store for recycling, or

[Option] B: Pay a daily fee of $100 per day to CalRecycle.

The letter also stated the penalties for failing to act on the above options. “Failure to do so will result in the issuance of a notice of Non-compliance or Notice of Violation with Civil Penalties.” In addition, the notice specifically informed the recipient, “If necessary, it is your responsibility to forward this information to your corporate office or store owner.”

(Plumpjack Marina Final Notice – Dec 2015)

CalRecycle also included copies of the Option A and Option B affidavits to be signed by the “owner/manager” of Plumpjack Wines Marina. A visit to the Plumpjack Group website indicates Gavin “still maintains his role as a partner in PlumpJack.” As such, Lt. Gov. Newsom (or his designee) is required to either sign the Option A Affidavit or remit the Option B fees.

(Plumpjack Marina Unsigned Option A & Option B Affidavits – Dec 2015)

On January 20, 2016, this author placed a call to Plumpjack Wines Marina to determine their recycling status.  The store manager, Debbie Brown stated there is no CRV redemption “here in our store. They have to bring it someplace else.”  She further stated “we don’t have enough room to store them” [CRV containers].

But on January 27, 2016, Ms. Brown signed the Option A affidavit, affirming under penalty of perjury that Plumpjack Wines Marina “redeems all empty beverages labeled ‘California Cash Refund’, ‘CA Cash Refund’, CA Redemption Value’, or ‘CA CRV’; during all hours the dealer is open for business.”

(Plumpjack Marina Affidavit – Jan 2016)

During a follow-up call on February 8, 2016, however, Plumpjack employee Paul stated “we do not give money for CRV recycling.”

A few months later on April 17, 2016 this author visited Plumpjack Wines Marina, attempting to redeem CRV containers.  Store employee Aaron, however, refused to redeem the containers, stating that CRV redemption was not allowed at their store.

Notably, on April 6, 2016 a CalRecycle inspector had visited the Marina store to verify compliance with the Option A affidavit signed in January.  However, the store refused to redeem the inspector’s CRV containers and was cited for violations of the state Public Resources Code. And just like earlier with their Noe Valley store, Plumpjack Wines Marina was cited for “Failure to redeem containers in store.”  Additionally, the store was cited for the underlying offense of “Failure to post in store redemption sign,” in violation of PRC section 14570(b).

(Plumpjack Marina NONC – April 2016)

An important part of California’s recycling law is the requirement that store beverage dealers conspicuously display signs containing their CRV redemption policies—or list the nearest certified redemption center—in order to inform the public of the most convenient redemption locations.  In the current situation in San Francisco, this is of paramount importance as over 25 certified recycling centers have shut down in the past five years, leaving over 300 store beverage dealers—including both of the Plumpjack Wines locations—to take up the slack.

Many store beverage dealers refuse to display the signs, however, presumably to discourage members of the public from redeeming cans and bottles in their stores. But this practice conflicts with a store’s signed affidavit, which affirms that “The dealer has posted a sign at all public entrances . . . .”

Thus, although Gavin’s Marina wine store now claims to redeem CRV beverage containers—as attested to in their signed affidavit—in reality the situation is much different.  Store management apparently signed the affidavit only in order to avoid the $100 per day fee, and has no actual intention of redeeming cans and bottles in their store.  This is evidenced by several of their employees’ recent actions and statements, and also confirmed by the two notices of noncompliance issued in April by CalRecycle.

But what’s really disturbing about this entire situation is that during the time Gavin Newsom was mayor, he expressed confidence that the DOE would work with small business owners to assist in the redemption of CRV containers, even using this notion as a reason to shut down the HANC recycling center. Yet when his own small businesses are the ones ordered to redeem CRV containers, his Noe Valley store flouts the law until caught red-handed while his Marina store finally signs the affidavit but is still flouting the law.

But nonetheless, let’s further encourage recycling in the City by promoting their “ZERO WASTE 2020” mantra, with the  additional phrase “RECYCLE AT GAVIN’S.”  Hopefully, the Lt. Gov. will soon comply with the law and we can all recycle there.