SACRAMENTO — A bill calling for local regulation of small, community mental-health facilities, prompted by complaints about two Thousand Oaks homes, passed its first major legislative test Tuesday, but not before a tougher provision permitting cities to shut the facilities was removed.
The measure, authored by Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), won unanimous approval in the Assembly Health Committee and now moves to the Ways and Means Committee.
It was introduced in March after Thousand Oaks officials turned to Sacramento for help in controlling two state-licensed homes about 660 feet apart in the city's Newbury Park area. The homes, run by Touch of Care Inc., are licensed to care for 12 "mentally disordered" adults, six at each facility.
Neighborhood homeowners have complained about residents of the homes exposing themselves to children, defecating on lawns and playing with matches. The problems continue, the neighbors say.
"They've shown no interest in being responsive to neighborhood complaints," McClintock said of the homes' operators. "The abuses must be stopped."
McClintock originally proposed that cities have the right to phase out troublesome homes after five years and that the homes be at least a mile apart.
But critics of that provision, including Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles), said it would give cities veto power over community care centers and defeat the state's goal of placing mentally disordered people in community settings whenever possible.
"It had the potential of freezing out these community care facilities," Molina said.
McClintock said that removing the more controversial elements of the bill ensured its passage, and that, later this month, he will introduce another measure to empower municipalities to require special zoning permits for residential mental health facilities.
Proposals to restore local control over the facilities have been made annually since 1979, when the state Legislature ended cities' authority to require that homes obtain zoning permits. To balance the legislation's effect on neighborhoods, homes were to be at least 300 feet apart.
In 1980, a Thousand Oaks residents' group, Casa de la Senda Homeowners Assn., filed suit against Touch of Care in Ventura County Superior Court alleging that the firm had violated restrictions in property deeds in the single-family neighborhood. A judge ruled in favor of the homeowners but a retrial was ordered after an appeal.
Thousand Oaks officials said they were disappointed that McClintock's bill was watered down.
"The Legislature in 1979 preempted all local control, making residents of these neighborhoods like second-class citizens," said City Atty. Mark Sellers, who with Mayor Alex Fiore went to Sacramento to lobby Tuesday. "But we perceive that the pendulum has swung back a bit in favor of the property owners."
The bill approved Tuesday calls on the state Department of Social Services to adopt criteria for screening patients admitted to neighborhood facilities based on their past behavior and current mental state. It also requires that regulations be drawn up on supervision of home residents and training of the supervising staff.
Rosalyn Stock, a member of the homeowners group, said the proposal would help ensure that patients are not dangerous.
Thomas Omestad reported from Los Angeles and Mark Gladstone from Sacramento.