LONG BEACH — Vivian Sanders, 25, leaves her West Long Beach home 45 minutes early to allow time to drop her three children off at two day-care centers. In the evening, her sister helps pick them up because there is not enough time for Sanders to drive from her office downtown to both centers before they close.
Sanders dreams of finding day care close to work that will accept all three children, but she isn't optimistic. It took a month, and many phone calls, just to find these.
Developer Lloyd Ikerd has proposed a child-care center a few blocks from the General Telephone office where Sanders works. It would accommodate infants and toddlers, so all three of her children could attend.
But Sanders has qualms about the center: "I've heard it will be quite large and have some kind of underground play area," she said. "I'd rather have the kids outside in the summertime. . . . I'm really not sure how I feel about it."
Sanders is not the only one who is uneasy about the Hobbit House preschool, proposed to accommodate 450 children in three shifts--150 children at a time--in the historic and newly refurbished Masonic Temple at 230 Pine Ave.
Convenience Vs. Amenities
City officials, local child-care experts and state officials responsible for licensing the center are also weighing convenience against amenities.
At a Planning Commission hearing recently, Ikerd argued that the project would stimulate foot traffic in a languishing retail area and provide urgently needed child care for the downtown area.
Overruling a staff recommendation, commissioners unanimously approved Ikerd's request for a five-year conditional use permit to transform the vacant brick building into a 24-hour child care center. Commissioners also made procedural and design concessions to assist Ikerd's project.
Ikerd, who owns the 1903 building, and Thomas L. Lange and Karen L. Barker, who would operate the center, have repeatedly promised "a first-class" facility, complete with special-interest classes for children and a child psychologist on the premises.
Fees would be slightly below average for the area. The pre-school would accommodate 150 children during each of its 8-hour shifts. Lang said that 48 of the 450 spaces would be reserved for urgently needed infant care. The Hobbit House would be the only round-the-clock child care center in Long Beach that is open to the public, he said.
The proposed center is opposed by Planning Director Robert Paternoster and Community Development Director Roger Anderman.
Location Called Poor Choice
Both concede child care is an important, unmet need in the downtown area. But they insist that it is a poor choice for Pine Avenue and the Masonic Temple. Both say Ikerd's building is better suited to retail use and suggest using neighborhoods on the outskirts of the central city for a child-care center.
City officials are particularly critical of the play area, which would be mostly indoors in a basement and does not meet state size requirements. They also criticize the drop-off arrangement, which sets aside only two parking spaces for arriving parents and requires children to cross an alley.
Ikerd responds that the alley is lightly trafficked, and that he has proposed working with the city to install a crosswalk and stop sign. He points out that a basement play area would be secure from strangers and usable at night. He said he is proposing child care after an unsuccessful 2 1/2-year search for a retail user.
Downtown Councilman Marc A. Wilder has appealed the Planning Commission approval to the City Council. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 24 in the City Council Chambers.
Wilder refused to discuss his objections in detail. But in general, he said that he too objects to the building's location and suitability. Wilder also said he is "very, very disturbed" by the Planning Commission's decision to bypass Paternoster and allow Ikerd to approach the commission directly with plan revisions.
Alternative Location Possible
Wilder said he is "getting facts together" which could include an alternative location for a child care center.
Local child-care experts generally agree that there is a shortage, but are leery of the new facility.
"I don't think we should sacrifice quality, or be panicked" by the shortage of available child care, said Phyllis Lauritzen, a program supervisor for California Child Care Initiative. "They (Hobbit House) are talking about very limited outdoor play space."
The Child Care Initiative is sponsored by Children's Home Society of California, which operates a child-care resource and referral office in Long Beach. Lauritzen, former director of a Covina preschool, is working to develop more openings for licensed, in-home child care in the Long Beach area.