Supporters of a to regulate care homes in their neighborhoods are beginning to feel a little bit like Charlie Brown – that is if the ball is the ordinance and the city is Lucy.
For almost four years, every time the measure appeared ready for consideration, it was yanked away. And now it’s apparently happened again.
Seven months after the Los Angeles City Council overwhelmingly voted to finally consider an ordinance, and four months after a final version was written, the proposal languishes in limbo, its future unknown.
The official word is that some Council members have “concerns” that must be resolved. But neighborhood activists believe the real reason is the court-ordered release of state inmates to relieve prison overcrowding. Los Angeles County is expected to receive 9,000 early-release prisoners by July 2013, many with drug and alcohol problems, and the crackdown on group homes could limit housing options for those prisoners.
The idea of hundreds, if not thousands, of early-release inmates being placed in currently unregulated group homes in single-family neighborhoods has some activists up in arms.
“If we’ve got 9,000 prisoners coming to L.A., wow," said Maria Fisk, a member of the Old Granada Hills Residents’ Group.
Most group and sober living homes aren’t neighborhood nuisances, but, like many Los Angeles neighborhoods, Granada Hills has seen its share of problems with facilities that are boardinghouses masquerading as sober living homes. Many rent rooms, or even just beds, to parolees and probationers, often advertising at county probation offices. Problems at such houses are a frequent source of police calls, Fisk and other residents say.
The problem really took off with the collapse of the housing market in 2008. The glut of unsold and foreclosed homes were prime pickings for landlords who, under the guise of creating sober living housing, leased the homes to a number of tenants. Unlike many group homes, sober living facilities aren’t regulated by the state but are protected to some extent by state and federal housing anti-discrimination laws, making it difficult and time-consuming for the city to shut them down.
In 2008, then-Councilman Greig Smith, whose district included Chatsworth, began pushing for city regulations to deal with problem homes. The idea bounced around various committees and public hearings before getting an affirmative Council vote last June. The City Attorney’s Office was ordered to write an ordinance establishing guidelines for group homes allowed in single-family neighborhoods.
Thirty-three Neighborhood Councils, including Chatsworth's, voted to support the measure, and the L.A. Coalition of Neighborhoods submitted its own petition with 500 signatures in support. But the measure also has a legion of detractors, including residents and operators of sober living homes and nonprofit groups who feared the measure’s provisions would drastically reduce housing options for seniors, veterans and the disabled.
The City Attorney’s Office finished writing the ordinance in September and it was ready for a final Council vote. But it contained a new provision, requested by Councilman Paul Krekorian, banning group homes housing parolees and probationers from single-family neighborhoods. On Oct. 1, state inmates began returning to counties.
Krekorian’s office won’t discuss why the provision was requested. The finished ordinance still needs to get a hearing in the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee (PLUM) and that’s when Krekorian will discuss it, his spokesman said.
“Obviously, the councilman is willing to discuss it when it comes up to committee, but feels it would be premature now,” spokesman Jeremy Oberstein said.
But when will it get that hearing, proponents are asking. It’s been four months since the ordinance was prepared. A spokesman for Councilman Mitchell Englander, who succeeded his former boss, Greig Smith, on the Council, said the ordinance is stalled in the committee.
“A couple of councilmembers have concerns about some parts of it, so they are holding it up,” said Smith spokesman Matt Myerhoff. “We are anxious to have it move forward.”
Councilman Ed Reyes is the committee’s chairman and decides which items to place on the agenda. His spokesman denied the prisoner release issue is holding up the ordinance, but rather the councilman’s overall concerns that it would increase homelessness. The councilman will get with Englander to resolve the concerns and PLUM could consider the matter “in a matter of weeks rather than months,” said Tony Perez.
Englander is a member of the committee. Councilman Jose Huizar is vice chairman.
Like Reyes, Englander appears unwilling to discuss whether Krekorian’s parolee provision is a factor. When asked that Englander to comment on Krekorian’s addition and whether he supported it, Myerhoff would only say, “There are no updates now.”
If council members aren’t discussing the parolee issue, others are.
L.A. County’s Sober Living Coalition has long opposed the group home ordinance on the grounds that it would hurt recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. The parolee and probationer issues has added a new wrinkle, said spokesman Jeff Christensen.
He noted the provision had been part of the original proposal, then dropped before the council voted in June to draft an ordinance. When the final draft of the ordinance was finished in September, the parolee provision was back in.
The City Council never formally discussed the provision and, given the court-ordered prisoner release, it deserves a hearing, he said. Also noting that the state Legislature’s bill ordering the prisoner release stipulated that only those serving sentences for “non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual” offenses could be released, Christensen said that leaves primarily drug offenders. A recent Los Angeles Times article quoted county officials as saying 60 percent of the inmates will leave prison with drug or alcohol problems.
“Where are these guys going to be housed?” he asked.
Even proponents of the group home ordinance are split on Krekorian’s addition. Fisk, of the Old Granada Hills Residents’ Group, welcomes the addition, but Rebecca Lobl of the L.A. Coalition of Neighborhoods sees it as a distraction.
Lobl, a Pacific Palisades resident, is, like many of the ordinance’s proponents, frustrated by the delays. With the economy still struggling, the leasing of homes continues and many of those leased homes become boardinghouses, she said.
“This is really impacting R1 and R2 zones in a way we’ve never seen,” Lobl said.
Proponents believed the ordinance was on a path to passage last summer but the addition of the parolee/probationer provision “has stalled everything,” she said. Lobl would like to see the provision removed and considered separately.
“We have worked so hard and come so far … we felt let’s get what we can and, if we have to, fix it later,” Lobl said.
We’re at a policy crossroads,” she added. “The city has to make a policy decision.”
Not everyone is unhappy with the delay.
Christensen says the long hiatus since when the ordinance first passed the Council in June has given opponents time to marshal their forces. Dozens of housing corporations have sent letters opposing the city’s effort and the parole and probationer provision is fueling opposition as well, he said.
“There’s a much bigger movement against the ordinance than since June,” he said.
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