West Side officials, residents target illegal scrap metal recyclers

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Community residents, business owners, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) called on the city’s scrap metal recyclers Wednesday afternoon to follow the law and stop accepting stolen materials, a problem they say is plaguing the West Side.

The group met outside Gomez Recycling, a scrap metal receiver, located at 4600 W. Chicago Ave., which they said has been a “crime haven” in the neighborhood for its lax scrap-metal intake policies. Ervin said the business operates 24 hours, which encourages thieves to commit more crimes in the community, such as stealing metal fences, gutters and other valuable metal, late into the night.

“The company is a cancer on the West Side plaguing the community,” said Nicole Harvey, an Austin resident. “With rising crime rates, the community is stepping forward to raise up their standards and make everyone pay attention.”

Mitts said the city of Chicago issued Gomez Recycling a cease and desist order June 19 for not having a recycling permit from the Commissioner of Public Health and for failing to keep the storage areas in a sanitary matter, among other violations. The business has 14 days to demand a hearing or protest the allegations.

Gomez Recycling did not return AustinTalks’ phone call for an interview.

Mitts said Gomez Recycling is not the only business with a history of accepting stolen material on the West Side, and it’s a widespread problem across the city.

“We’re starting here today saying we do not want to accept bad business in our neighborhood,” she said.

Both aldermen, along with more than 10 residents and business owners, said they’ve been metal-theft victims and more needs to be done to stop the theft.

Ervin and Mitts, along with Ald. Michael Chandler (24th), Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) and Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), hope to amend the city’s municipal code making it illegal for scrap metal recyclers to accept deliveries in garbage cans or shopping carts. The measure would also strengthen ID requirements, require the business to catalog all the accepted material and have video surveillance on the business grounds.

“The day of just taking a picture and writing down some phony information is over,” Ervin said. “People need to know that they have to be held accountable for what they do.”

The aldermen said he planned to introduce the proposed changes during a committee hearing Thursday and bring the measure for a vote at next Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“We hope that this will decrease the people just coming in and stealing indiscriminately from residents in our community,” Ervin said.

This issue hit residents and businesses but also the local churches and non-profits, Ervin said.

“To get calls from churches saying they’ve come to worship and half their fence is gone, that’s unacceptable,” he said, adding that two weeks ago his own home had its catch basin lids and aluminum siding removed.

In addition to the thousands of dollars in property damage, scrap metal thieves often use the city’s garbage cans or shopping carts to transport the material to a recycler.

“We cannot have our community plagued with the loss of our garbage cabs, and the loss of our shopping carts from the retail stores,” Mitts said. “We can ride in our neighborhood any given day and we find as many shopping carts rolling as cars on the streets.”

William Rogers, a community member, said his building he’s rehabbing was hit twice for its metal. Recently, burglars broke into his building early in the morning and stole three large, hot water tanks, cut into his walls and took the copper. He said he’s trying to improve the community by fixing up abandoned properties, but the thefts force him to take “five steps back.”

“The vandalism is here,” Rogers said. “They are causing it. They are riding around in the wee hours of the morning to see whether or not anyone is around and they go. People are very fearful to go up to these people involved because they are ready to battle.”

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