Parents and caretakers of about 3,500 neurologically handicapped children and adults in the San Gabriel Valley expressed relief this week when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the state Department of Developmental Services erred when it abolished an agency that served the handicapped.
The ruling by Judge Jack Newman is expected to hasten the formation of a new San Gabriel Valley Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled and end the state's controversial contract with the Inland Counties Regional Center in San Bernardino. Inland took over the administration of services for San Gabriel Valley clients in July after a state investigation alleging fiscal mismanagement by the Covina-based agency.
The court ruling was a victory for parents and caretakers who formed a protest group, Parents' Coalition for 120 Days, to fight the state's action. They held several meetings last fall to try to get the state department to reestablish the San Gabriel Valley Regional Center.
The Coalition for 120 Days was joined in the lawsuit filed against the state last summer by Developmental Disabilities Area Board 10, which oversees regional centers in Los Angeles County.
'A Hard Battle'
Bonnie Clemans, who led the coalition and is the mother of a son with cerebral palsy, said, "We won such a hard battle. This will make provision of care much more available to children in our area."
Another member of the coalition, Rosella Alm, whose 20-year-old son is autistic and epileptic, said, "It's too bad we had to use the justice system to get the state to obey the law, but it's a splendid victory. We won ourselves a year of freedom (from Inland administration)."
Department of Developmental Services officials refused to comment on Monday's court decision until they receive a copy of the court order.
The 21 regional centers in California are nonprofit, autonomous agencies whose governing boards contract with the Department of Developmental Services to identify and assess victims of such neurological disorders as retardation, epilepsy and cerebral palsy. The centers assign clients to housing, health care and training programs. The San Gabriel Valley center served 21 cities in the El Monte, Monrovia and Pomona health districts for almost 20 years until it was disbanded.
Contract Extension Planned
The Department of Developmental Services contracted in July with the Inland Counties Regional Center to govern the valley's programs for a year, and spokesmen said in November that they planned to extend the Inland contract for a second year. It was the first time since the regional centers were established in 1966 under the Lanterman Act that an area had been served by an agency outside the county in which its clients lived.
Protesting parents and caretakers contended in the suit that the state's action violated provisions of the Lanterman Act, which calls for forming a new board within 120 days after one has been abolished. The coalition also maintained that, according to law, regional centers must represent the ethnic, economic and geographical makeup of their communities and said that the Inland agency was a rural agency lacking qualifications to govern the more urban San Gabriel Valley.
The court ruled that the state Department of Developmental Services failed to comply with legal requirements calling for local governing boards; that it failed to notify clients and caretakers before ending the San Gabriel Valley center's contract, and that it unlawfully allowed Inland to govern the San Gabriel Valley for more than 120 days. It ordered formation of a new San Gabriel Valley Regional Center by July 6, 120 days from Monday's court hearing.
'Everything We Asked'
"We got it all," said Daniel Stormer, attorney for Area Board 10. "This is everything we asked for."
Because centers are operated by their own governing boards, a new board of about 10 members is expected to be selected from applications that had already been submitted to the state in anticipation of re-establishing the San Gabriel agency.
Bruce Saltzer, executive director of Area Board 10, said, "We are extremely pleased, particularly because the state must now respect the wishes of local communities in guiding the delivery of services. I think it was clear that the court was concerned about the arbitrary nature of many of the actions taken by the department."
Bobbie Seal, an applicant for the new board and owner of Delhaven Community Center in La Puente, which serves about 300 retarded people, said, "This is the only fair thing that could happen to the San Gabriel Valley people."
Seal and Clemans said that since the Inland Counties Regional Center took over the San Gabriel Valley services last June, several services have been reduced and relationships between caretakers and Inland employees have been strained. They said some retarded clients had been disqualified from services after they took part in training programs and then were rated higher on intelligence tests. They also said respite care, which pays for client care when parents need a day off, had been severely cut.