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Talkin’ junkyards with Joe Street

April 23, 2010 - 3:55 pm

The downside to being a print publication is not being able to fit everything into an article I’d like to fit. Take Joe Street for instance. In my article this week about contributions to Ben Hueso’s Assembly campaign, I describe the Otay Mesa property he owns—his tenants are auto dismantlers and recyclers—as verging on a third-world country. Indeed, it’s unsightly. But fascinating. And that’s something that didn’t make it into a story. If you really want to ponder what happens to a car that’s no longer driveable—and the impact that car can have on the environment—take a drive down to Otay Mesa (905 east until you come to Heritage Road). That old car’s gotta go somewhere. As Street put it,

As long as you and I drive to work in a car by ourselves, there’s a need to be getting rid of used cars. The auto wrecking industry is the original recycler. Almost 80 percent of cars are recycled eventually. A city the size of San Diego has to have dismantlers.

As I point out in my article, the junkyards have been pushed just about as far south as they can go:

[Joe Street’s] grandfather’s junkyard business was kicked out of downtown San Diego in the 1940s and, later, asked to leave downtown Chula Vista until it ended up—and expanded—at the very edge of San Diego, only about a mile-and-a-half from the Mexico border.

In the article, I mention that Street’s working with the city on renewing his permit. Under current zoning for that area, junkyards aren’t permitted by right, so every three years, Street has to renew his permit (a draft of the Otay Mesa community plan update would change the zoning for that area to heavy industrial). Conditions attached to the new permit include putting up permanent walls (right now, the property’s surrounded mostly by a chain-link fence), landscaping and putting in roads. “We don’t want to be ugly neighbors,” Street told me. His property is adjacent to Brown Field airport. “Auto dismantling and airports are completely the world’s best neighbors,” he said. “Basically we’re deaf and they’re blind. They don’t see my wrecked cars and I don’t hear their planes.”

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