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Parent Complaints Spur Inquiry Into Anti-Child Bias at Condos

September 06, 1987|KAREN ROEBUCK | Times Staff Writer

Miraleste Canyon Estates is a nice place to live, some residents say, unless you're a kid.

Roylynn and Robert Berman say that their son, 12, and daughter, 6, and other children are not allowed to enjoy all the amenities that the 513-unit San Pedro condominium complex offers.

For more than six years, the Bermans have been fighting for what they consider the children's rights as residents: access to the large, heated pools and the recreation room, and freedom to play outdoors without harassment, Roylynn Berman said.

Fines and Frustrations

And in that time, the Bermans have been threatened with Mace, fined and frustrated by bureaucratic delays, she said.

After trying to resolve the problems in other ways, the Bermans and six other families filed complaints of age discrimination last year with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. After an investigation, the department has accused the Miraleste Canyon Estates homeowners association of discriminating against children and families with children in violation of civil rights and fair-housing laws.

The department is asking the Fair Employment and Housing Commission to order Miraleste to allow children access to the pools and recreation hall. A hearing is scheduled Oct. 13 and 14 before a state hearing officer, who will make a recommendation to the commission.

Miraleste's manager, Ruth Stephens, declined to comment on any of the accusations or complaints and referred a reporter to the association's attorney, J. Howard Goodman. Goodman also declined to comment.

Members of the board of directors could not be reached for comment. However, in a newsletter that the board distributed a year ago, the names of the people who had filed complaints against Miraleste were listed.

The newsletter said that Goodman had "requested that all complaints be dealt with 'in house.' "

Berman said that the Miraleste board of directors had refused even to discuss residents' complaints, so she and the others filed formal complaints with the state as a last resort. Since filing the complaints, two of the families interviewed said they have been harassed by the management, the homeowners association, the complex's security guards and other residents.

They said that all but one piece of play equipment was removed from the complex's small playground after the complaints were filed--a move some residents considered retaliatory. Some said the management told residents in a newsletter that the playground equipment was taken down for liability reasons after a 5-year-old girl fell from the jungle gym and had a concussion.

Residents of the complex at 300 Miraleste Drive said that harassment has increased in recent weeks. The complex has three pools, two large ones for adults only and a smaller, colder and usually dirtier one for families, residents said. Children have been routinely told to leave the adults-only pools, even when they are far less crowded than the family pools, residents said.

$850 a Month Rent

"When you pay what we pay for our units, which is a substantial amount of money," said Charlie Allen Haile, "you expect to be able to use all the facilities--you and your family." Haile, who has lived in a three-bedroom unit since November and pays $850 a month in rent, said that he and his wife were told earlier this year to leave the adults-only pool area because their 5-month-old daughter was there--sleeping in a stroller next to their chairs.

Berman said that her family had stopped using the larger pools six years ago after a security guard threatened her and her husband with Mace because they were swimming in an adults-only pool with their son. Encouraged by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing's accusations, the family has recently been using the adults-only pools, she said, as they and other parents ignore the protests of security guards.

But taking a stand has drawbacks, they said. They have been verbally attacked by other residents and have received threatening or harassing phone calls, the residents said.

Shortly after residents filed complaints against Miraleste, they received calls from people who identified themselves as real estate agents and said: "If you don't like it here, why don't you get out?" Some said they still get such calls occasionally.

Security guards sometimes follow them around the complex and continually ask even longtime residents for identification, they said.

Despite the Department of Fair Employment and Housing's willingness to fight for the children's use of the pools and recreation room, residents feel it is not enough. They want what they see as other disparities in treatment of adults and children resolved and fear that the state will compromise their rights to get a settlement on the pool and club issue.

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